The Battle of the Labyrinth – Chapter 4: ANNABETH BREAKS THE RULES

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Chapter 4: ANNABETH BREAKS THE RULES

Chiron had insisted we talk about it in the morning, which was kind of like, Hey, your life’s in mortal danger. Sleep tight! It was hard to fall asleep, but when I finally did, I dreamed of a prison. 

  I saw a goy in a Greek tunic and sandals crouching alone in a massive stone room. The ceiling was open to the night sky, but the walls were twenty feet high and polished marble, completely smooth. Scattered around the room were wooden crates. Some were cracked and tipped over, as if they’d been flung in there. Bronze tools spilled out of one—a compass, a saw, and a bunch of other things I didn’t recognize. 

  The boy huddled in the corner, shivering from cold, or maybe fear. He was spattered in mud. His legs, arms, and face, were scraped up as if he’d been dragged here along with the boxes. 

  Then the double oak doors moaned open. Two guards in bronze armor marched in, holding an old man between them. They flung him to the floor in a battered heap. 

  “Father!” The boy ran to him. The man’s robes were in tatters. His hair was streaked with gray, and his beard was long and curly. His nose had been broken. His lips were bloody. 

  The boy took the old man’s head in his arms. “What did they do to you?” then he yelled at the guards. “I’ll kill you!”

  “There will be no killing today,” a voice said. 

  The guards moved aside. Behind them stood a tall man in white robes. He wore a thin circlet of gold on his head. His beard was pointed like a spear blade. His eyes glittered cruelly. “You helped the Athenian kill my Minotaur, Daedalus. You turned my won daughter against me. ”

  “You did that yourself, Your Majesty,” the old man croaked. 

  A guard planted a kick in the old man’s ribs. He groaned in agony. The young boy cried, “Stop!”

  “You love your maze so much,” the king said, “I have decided to let you stay here. This will be your workshop. Make me new wonders. Amuse me. Every maze needs a monster. You will be mine!”

“I don’t fear you,” the old man groaned. 

  The king smiled coldly. He locked his eyes on the boy. “But a man cares about his son, eh? Displease me, old man, and the next time my guards inflict a punishment, it will be on him!”

  The king swept out of the room with his guards, and the doors slammed shut, leaving the boy and his father alone in the darkness. 

  “What shall we do?” the boy moaned. “Father, they will kill you!”

  The old man swallowed with difficulty. He tried to smile, but it was a gruesome sight with his bloody mouth. 

  “Take heart, my son. ” He gazed up at the stars. “I—I will find a way. ”

  A bar lowered across the doors with a fatal BOOM, and I woke in a cold sweat. 

  ***

  I was still feeling shaky the next morning when Chiron called a war council. We met in the sword arena, which I thought was pretty strange— trying to discuss the fate of the camp while Mrs. O’Leary chewed on a life-size squeaky pink rubber yak. 

  Chiron and Quintus stood at the front by the weapon racks. Clarisse and Annabeth sat next to each other and led the briefing. Tyson and Grover sat as far away from each other as possible. Also present around the table: Juniper the tree nymph, Silena Beauregard, Travis and ConnorStoll, Beckendorf, Lee Fletcher, even Argus, our hundred-eyed security chief. That’s how I knew it was serious. Argus hardly ever shows up unless something really major is going on. The whole time Annabeth spoke, he kept his hundred blue eyes trained on her so hard his whole body turned bloodshot. 

  “Luke must have known about the Labyrinth entrance,” Annabeth said. “He knew everything about camp. ”

  I thought I heard a little pride in her voice, like she still respected the guy, evil as he was. 

  Juniper cleared her throat. “That’s what I was trying to tell you last night. The cave entrance has been there a long time. Luke used to use it. ”

  Silena Beauregard frowned. “You knew about the Labyrinth entrance, and you didn’t say anything?”

  Juniper’s face turned green. “I didn’t know it was important. Just a cave. I don’t like yucky old caves. ”

  “She has good taste,” Grover said. 

  “I wouldn’t have paid any attention except…well, it was Luke. ” She blushed a little greener. 

  Grover huffed. “Forget what I said about good taste. ”

  “Interesting,” Quintus polished his sword as he spoke. “And you believe this young man, Luke, would dare use the Labyrinth as an invasion route?”

  “Definitely,” Clarisse said. “If he could get an army of monsters inside Camp Half-Blood, just pop up in the middle of the woods without having to worry about our magical boundaries, we wouldn’t stand a chance. He could wipe us out easy. He must’ve been planning this for months. ”

  “He’s been sending scouts into the maze,” Annabeth said. “We know because…because we found one. ”

  “Chris Rodriguez,” Chiron said. He gave Quintus a meaningful look. 

  “Ah,” Quintus said. “The one in the…Yes, I understand. ”

  “The one in the what?” I asked. 

  Clarisse glared at me. “The point is, Luke has been looking for a way to navigate the maze. He’s searching for Daedalus’s workshop. ”

  I remembered my dream the night before—the bloody old man in tattered robes. “The guy who created the maze. ”

  “Yes,” Annabeth said. “The greatest architect, the greatest inventor of all time. If the legends are true, his workshop is in the center of the Labyrinth. He’s the only one who knew how to navigate the maze perfectly. If Luke managed to find the workshop and convince Daedalus to help him, Luke wouldn’t have to fumble around searching for paths, or risk losing his army in the maze’s traps. He could navigate anywhere he wanted—quickly and safely. First to Camp Half-Blood to wipe us out. Then…to Olympus. ”

  The arena was silent except for Mrs. O’Leary’s toy yak getting disemboweled: SQUEAK! SQUEAK!

  Finally Beckendorf put his huge hands on the table. “Back up a sec, Annabeth, you said ‘convince Daedalus’? Isn’t Daedalus dead?”

  Quintus grunted. “I would hope so. He lived, what, three thousand years ago? And even if he were alive, don’t the old stories say he fled from the Labyrinth?”

  Chiron clopped restlessly on his hooves. “That’s the problem, my dear Quintus. No one knows. There are rumors…well, there are many disturbing rumors about Daedalus, but one is that he disappeared back into the Labyrinth toward the end of his life. He might still be there. ”

  I thought about the old man I’d seen in my dreams. He’d looked so frail, it was hard to believe he’d lasted another week, much less three thousand years. 

  “We need to go in,” Annabeth announced. “We have to find the workshop before Luke does. If Daedalus is alive, we convince him to help us, not Luke. If Ariadne’s string still exists, we make sure it never falls into Luke’s hands. ”

  “Wait a second,” I said. “If we’re worried about an attack, why not just blow up the entrance? Seal the tunnel?”

  “Great idea!” Grover said. “I’ll get the dynamite!”

  “It’s not so easy, stupid,” Clarisse growled. “We tried that at the entrance we found in Phoenix. It didn’t go well. ”

  Annabeth nodded. “The Labyrinth is magical architecture, Percy. It would take huge power to seal even one of its entrances. In Phoenix, Clarisse demolished a whole building with a wrecking ball, and the maze entrance just shifted a few feet. The best we can do is prevent Luke from learning to navigate the Labyrinth. ”

  “We could fight,” Lee Fletcher said. “We know where the entrance is now. We can set up a defensive line and wait for them. If an army tries to come through, they’ll find us waiting with our bows. ”

  “We will certainly set up defenses,” Chiron agreed. “But I fear Clarisse is right. The magical borders have kept this camp safe for hundreds of years. If Luke manages to get a large army of monsters into the center of camp, bypassing our boundaries…we may not have the strength to defeat them. ”

  Nobody looked real happy about that news. Chiron usually tried to be upbeat and optimistic. If he was predicting we couldn’t hold off an attack, that wasn’t good. 

  “We have to get to Daedalus’s workshop first,” Annabeth insisted. “Find Ariadne’s string and prevent Luke from using it. ”

  “But if nobody can navigate in there,” I said, “what chance do we have?”

  “I’ve been studying architecture for years,” she said. “I know Daedalus’s Labyrinth better than anybody. ”

  “From reading about it. ”

  “Well, yes. ”

  “That’s not enough. ”

  “It has to be!”

  “It isn’t!”

  “Are you going to help me or not?”

  I realized everyone was watching Annabeth and me like a tennis match. Mrs. O’Leary’s squeaky yak went EEK! As she ripped off its pink rubber head. 

  Chiron cleared his throat. “First things first. We need a quest. Someone must enter the Labyrinth, find the workshop of Daedalus, and prevent Luke from using the maze to invade this camp. ”

  “We all know who should lead this,” Clarisse said. “Annabeth. ”

  There was a murmur of agreement. I knew Annabeth had been waiting for her own quest since she was a little kid, but she looked uncomfortable. 

  “You’ve done as much as I have, Clarisse,” she said. “You should go, too. ”

  Clarisse shook her head. “I’m not going back in there. ”

  Travis Stoll laughed. “Don’t tell me you’re scared. Clarisse, chicken?”

  Clarisse got to her feet, I thought she was going to pulverize Travis, but she said in a shaky voice: “You don’t understand anything, punk. I’m never going in there again. Never!”

  She stormed out of the arena. 

  Travis looked around sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to—”

  Chiron raised his hand. “The poor girl has had a difficult year. Now, do we have agreementthat Annabeth should lead the quest?”

  We all nodded except Quintus. He folded his arms and stared at the table, but I wasn’t sure anyone else noticed. 

  “Very well,” Chiron turned to Annabeth. “My dear, it’s your time to visit the Oracle. Assuming you return to us in one piece, we shall discuss what to do next. ”

  ***

  Waiting for Annabeth was harder than visiting the Oracle myself. 

  I’d heard it speak prophecies twice before. The first time had been in the dusty attic of the Big House, where the spirit of Delphi slept inside the body of a mummified hippie lady. The second time, the Oracle had come out for a little stroll in the woods. I still had nightmares about that. 

  I’d never felt threatened by the Oracle’s presence, but I’d heard stories: campers who’d gone insane, or who’d seen visions so real they died of fear. 

  I paced the arena, waiting. Mrs. O’Leary ate her lunch, which consisted of a hundred pounds of ground beef and several dog biscuits the size of trash-can lids. I wondered where Quintus got dog biscuits that size. I didn’t figure you could just walk into Pet Zone and put those in your shopping cart. 

  Chiron was deep in conversation with Quintus and Argus. It looked to me like they were disagreeing about something. Quintus kept shaking his head. 

  On the other side of the arena, Tyson and the Stoll brothers were racing miniature bronze chariots that Tyson had made out of armor scraps. 

  I gave up on pacing and left the arena. I stared across the fields at the Big House’s attic window, dark and still. What was taking Annabeth so long? I was pretty sure it hadn’t taken me this long to get my quest. 

  “Percy,” a girl whispered. 

  Juniper was standing in the bushes. It was weird how she almost turned invisible when she was surrounded by plants. 

  She gestured me over urgently. “You need to know: Luke wasn’t the only one I saw around that cave. ”

  “What do you mean?”

  She glanced back at the arena. “I was trying to say something, but he was right there. ”

  “Who?”

  “The sword master,” she said. “He was poking around the rocks. ”

  My stomach clenched. “Quintus? When?”

  “I don’t know: I don’t pay attention to time. Maybe a week ago, when he first showed up. ”

  “What was he doing? Did he go in?”

  “I—I’m not sure. He’s creepy, Percy. I didn’t even see him come into the glade. Suddenly he was just there. You have to tell Grover it’s too dangerous—”

  “Juniper?” Grover called from inside the arena. “Where’d you go?”

  Juniper sighed. “I’d better go in. Just remember what I said. Don’t trust that man!”

  She ran into the arena. 

  I stared at the Big House, feeling more uneasy than ever. If Quintus was up to something…I needed Annabeth’s advice. She might know what to make of Juniper’s news. But where the heck was she? Whatever was happening with the Oracle, it shouldn’t be taking this long. 

Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore. 

  It was against the rules, but then again, nobody was watching. I ran down the hill and headed across the fields. 

  ***

  The front parlor of the Big House was strangely quiet. I was used to seeing Dionysus by the fireplace, playing cards and eating grapes and griping at satyrs, but Mr. D was still away. 

  I walked down the hallway, floorboards creaking under my feat. When I got to the base of the stairs, I hesitated. Four floors above would be a little trapdoor leading to the attic. Annabeth would be up there somewhere. I stood quietly and listened. But what I heard wasn’t what I had expected. 

  Sobbing. And it was coming from below me. 

  I crept around the back of the stairs. The basement door was open. I didn’t even know the Big House had a basement. I peered inside and saw two figures in the far corner, sitting amid a bunch of stockpiled cases of ambrosia and strawberry preserves. One was Clarisse. The other was a teenage Hispanic guy in tattered camouflage pants and a dirty black T-shirt. His hair was greasy and matted. He was hugging his shoulders and sobbing. It was Chris Rodriguez, the half-blood who’d gone to work for Luke. 

  “It’s okay,” Clarisse was telling him. “Try a little more nectar. ”

  “You’re an illusion, Mary!” Chris backed farther into the corner. “G-get away. ”

  “My name’s not Mary. ” Clarisse’s voice was gentle but really sad. I never knew Clarisse could sound that way. “My name is Clarisse. Remember. Please. ”

  “It’s dark!” Chris yelled. “So dark!”

  “Come outside,” Clarisse coaxed. “The sunlight will help you. ”

  “A…a thousand skulls. The earth keeps healing him. ”

  “Chris,” Clarisse pleaded. It sounded like she was close to tears. “You have to get better. Please. Mr. D will be back soon. He’s an expert in madness. Just hang on. ”

  Chris’s eyes were like a cornered rat’s—wild and desperate. “There’s no way out, Mary. No way out. ”

  Then he caught a glimpse of me and made a strangled, terrified sound. “The son of Poseidon! He’s horrible!”

  I backed away, hoping Clarisse hadn’t seen me. I listened for her to come charging out and yell at me, but instead she just kept talking to Chris in a sad pleading voice, trying to get him to drink the nectar. Maybe she thought it was part of Chris’s hallucination, but…son of Poseidon? Chris had been looking at me, and yet why did I get the feeling he hadn’t been talking about me at all?

  And Clarisse’s tenderness—it had never even occurred to me that she might like someone; but the way she said Chris’s name…She’d known him before he changed sides. She’d known him a lot better than I realized. And now he was shivering in a dark basement, afraid to come out, and mumbling about someone named Mary. No wonder Clarisse didn’t want anything to do with the Labyrinth. What had happened to Chris in there?

  I heard a creak from above—like the attic door opening—and I ran for the front door. I needed to get out of that house. 

  ***

  “My dear,” Chiron said. “You made it. ”

  Annabeth looked at me first. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to warn me, or if the look in her eyes was just plain fear. Then she focused on Quintus. “I got the prophecy. I will lead the quest to find Daedalus’s workshop. ”

  Nobody cheered. I mean, we all liked Annabeth, and we wanted her to have a quest, but this one seemed insanely dangerous. After what I’d seen of Chris Rodriguez, I didn’t even want to think about Annabeth descending into that weird maze again. 

  Chiron scraped a hoof on the dirt floor. “What did the prophecy say exactly, my dear? The wording is important. ”

  Annabeth took a deep breath. “I, ah…well, it said, you shall delve in the darkness of the endless maze. . . ”

  We waited. 

  “The dead, the traitor, and the lost one raise. ”

  Grover perked up. “The lost one! That must mean Pan! That’s great!”

  “With the dead and the traitor,” I added. “Not so great. ”

  “And?” Chiron asked. “What is the rest?”

  “You shall rise or fall by the ghost king’s hand,” Annabeth said, “the child of Athena’s final stand. ”

  Everyone looked around uncomfortably. Annabeth was a daughter of Athena, and a final stand didn’t sound good. 

  “Hey…we shouldn’t jump to conclusions,” Silena said. “Annabeth isn’t the only child of Athena, right?”

  “But who’s this ghost king?” Beckendorf asked. 

  No one answered. I thought about the Iris-message I’d seen of Nico summoning spirits. I had a bad feeling the prophecy was connected to that. 

  “Are there more lines?” Chiron asked. “The prophecy does not sound complete. ”

  Annabeth hesitated. “I don’t remember exactly. ”

  Chiron raised an eyebrow. Annabeth was known for her memory. She never forgot something she heard. 

  Annabeth shifted on her bench. “Something about…Destroy with a hero’s final breath. ”

  “And?” Chiron asked. 

  She stood. “Look, the point is, I have to go in. I’ll find the workshop and stop Luke. And…I need help. ” She turned to me. “Will you come?”

  I didn’t even hesitate. “I’m in. ”

  She smiled for the first time in days, and that made it all worthwhile. “Grover, you too? The wild god is waiting. ”

  Grover seemed to forget how much he hated the underground. The line about the “lost one” had completely energized him. “I’ll pack extra recyclables for snacks!”

  “And Tyson,” Annabeth said. “I’ll need you too. ”

  “Yay! Blow-things-up time!” Tyson clapped so hard he woke up Mrs. O’Leary, who was dozing in the corner. 

  “Wait, Annabeth,” Chiron said. “This goes against the ancient laws. A hero is allowed only two companions. ”

  “I need them all,” she insisted. “Chiron, it’s important. ”

  I didn’t know why she was so certain, but I was happy she’d included Tyson. I couldn’t imagine leaving him behind. He was huge and strong and great at figuring out mechanical things. Unlike satyrs, Cyclopes had no problem underground. 

  “Annabeth. ” Chiron flicked his tail nervously. “Consider well. You would be breaking the ancient laws, and there are always consequences. Last winter, five went on a quest to save Artemis. Only three came back. Think on that. Three is a sacred number. There are three fates, three furies, three Olympian sons of Kronos. It is a good strong number that stands against many dangers. Four…this is risky. ”

  Annabeth took a deep breath. “I know. But we have to. Please. ”

  I could tell Chiron didn’t like it. Quintus was studying us, like he was trying to decide which of us would come back alive. 

  Chiron sighed. “Very well. Let us adjourn. The members of the quest must prepare themselves. Tomorrow at dawn, we send you into the Labyrinth. ”

  ***

  Quintus pulled me aside as the council was breaking up. 

  “I have a bad feeling about this,” he told me. 

  Mrs. O’Leary came over, wagging her tail happily. She dropped her shield at my feet, and I threw it for her. Quintus watched her romp after it. I remembered what Juniper had said about him scouting out the maze. I didn’t’ trust him, but when he looked at me, I saw real concern in his eyes. 

  “I don’t like the idea of you going down there,” he said. “Any of you. but if you must, I want you to remember something. The Labyrinth exists to fool you. It will distract you. That’s dangerous for half-bloods. We are easily distracted. ”

  “You’ve been in there?”

  “Long ago. ” His voice was ragged. “I barely escaped with my life. Most who enter aren’t that lucky. ”

  He gripped my shoulder. “Percy, keep your mind on what matters most. If you can do that, you might find the way. And here, I wanted to give you something. ”

  He handed me a little silver tube. It was so cold I almost dropped it. 

  “A whistle?” I asked. 

  “A dog whistle,” Quintus said. “For Mrs. O’Leary. ”

  “Um, thanks, but—”

  “How will it work in the maze? I’m not a hundred percent certain it will. But Mrs. O’Leary is a hellhound. She can appear when called, no matter how far away she is. I’d feel better knowing you had this. If you really need help, use it; but be careful, the whistle is made of Stygian ice. ”

  “What ice?”

  “From the River Styx. Very hard to craft. Very delicate. It cannot melt, but it will shatter when you blow it, so you can only use it once. ”

  I thought about Luke, my old enemy. Right before I’d gone on my first quest, Luke had given me a gift, too—magic shoes that had been designed to drag me to my death. Quintus seemed nice. So concerned. And Mrs. O’Leary liked him, which had to count for something. She dropped the slimy shield at my feet and barked excitedly. 

  I felt ashamed that I could even think about mistrusting Quintus. But then again, I’d trusted Luke once. 

  “Thanks,” I told Quintus. I slipped the freezing whistle into my pocket, promising myself that I would never use it, and I dashed off to find Annabeth. 

  ***

  As long as I’d been at camp, I’d never been inside the Athena cabin. 

  It was a silvery building, nothing fancy, with plain white curtains and a carved stone owl over the doorway. The owl’s onyx eyes seemed to follow me as I walked closer. 

  “Hello?” I called inside. 

  Nobody answered. I stepped in and caught my breath. The place was a workshop for brainiac kids. The bunks were all pushed against one wall as if sleeping didn’t matter very much. Most of the room was filled with workbenches and tables and sets of tools and weapons. The back of the room was a huge library crammed with old scrolls and leather-bound books and paperbacks. There was and architect’s drafting table with a bunch of rulers and protractors, and some 3-D models of buildings. Huge old war maps were plastered to the ceiling. Sets of armor hung under the windows, their bronze plates glinting in the sun. 

  Annabeth stood in the back of the room, rifling through old scrolls. 

  “Knock, knock?” I said. 

  She turned with a start. “Oh…hi. Didn’t hear you. ”

  “You okay?”

  She frowned at the scroll in her hands. “Just trying to do some research. Daedalus’s Labyrinth is so huge. None of the stories agree about anything. The maps just lead from nowhere to nowhere. ”

  I thought about what Quintus had said, how the maze tries to distract you. I wondered if Annabeth knew that already. 

  “We’ll figure it out,” I promised. 

  Her hair had come loose and was hanging in a tangled blond curtain all around her face. Her gray eyes looked almost black. 

  “I’ve wanted to lead a quest since I was seven,” she said. 

  “You’re going to do awesome. ”

She looked at me gratefully, but then stared down at all the books and scrolls she’d pulled from the shelves. “I’m worried, Percy. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked you to do this. Or Tyson or Grover. ”

  “Hey, we’re your friends. We wouldn’t miss it. ”

  “But…” She stopped herself. 

  “What is it?” I asked. “The prophecy?”

  “I’m sure it’s fine,” she said in a small voice. 

  “What was the last line?”

  Then she did something that really surprised me. She blinked back tears and put out her arms. 

  I stepped forward and hugged her. Butterflies started turning my stomach into a mosh pit. 

  “Hey, it’s…it’s okay. ” I patted her back. 

  I was aware of everything in the room. I felt like I could read the tiniest print on any book on the shelves. Annabeth’s hair smelled like lemon soap. She was shivering. 

  “Chiron might be right,” she muttered. “I’m breaking the rules. But I don’t know what else to do. I need you three. It just feels right. ”

  “Then don’t worry about it,” I managed. “We’ve had plenty of problems before, and we solvedthem. ”

  “This is different. I don’t want anything happening to…any of you. ”

  Behind me, somebody cleared his throat. 

  It was one of Annabeth’s half-brothers, Malcolm. His face was bright red. “Um, sorry,” he said. “Archery practice is starting, Annabeth. Chiron said to come find you. ”

  I stepped away from Annabeth. “We were just looking at maps,” I said stupidly. 

  Malcolm stared at me. “Okay. ”

  “Tell Chiron I’ll be right there,” Annabeth said, and Malcom left in a hurry. 

  Annabeth rubbed her eyes. “You go ahead, Percy. I’d better get ready for archery. ”

  I nodded, feeling more confused than I ever had in my life. I wanted to run from the cabin…but then again I didn’t. 

  “Annabeth?” I said. “About your prophecy. The line about a hero’s last breath—”

  “You’re wondering which hero? I don’t know. ”

  “No. Something else. I was thinking the last line usually rhymes with the one before it. Was it something about—did it end in the word death?”

  Annabeth stared down at her scrolls. “You’d better go, Percy. Get ready for the quest. I’ll—I’ll see you in the morning. ”

  I left her there, staring at maps that led from nowhere to nowhere; but I couldn’t shake the feeling that one of us wasn’t going to come back from this quest alive. 

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