The Battle of the Labyrinth – Chapter 6: WE MEET THE GOD WITH TWO FACES

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Chapter 6: WE MEET THE GOD WITH TWO FACES

We made it a hundred feet before we were hopelessly lost. 

  The tunnel looked nothing like the one Annabeth and I had stumbled into before. Now it was round like a sewer, constructed of red brick with iron-barred portholes ever ten feet. I shined a light through one of the portholes out of curiosity, but I couldn’t see anything. It opened into infinite darkness. I thought I heard voices on the other side, but it may have been just the cold wind. 

  Annabeth tried her best to guide us. She had this idea that we should stick to the left wall. 

  “If we keep one hand on the left wall and follow it,” she said, “we should be able to find our way out again by reversing course. ”

  Unfortunately, as soon as she said that, the left wall disappeared. We found ourselves in the middle of a circular chamber with eight tunnels leading out, and no idea how we’d gotten there. 

  “Um, which way did we come in?” Grover said nervously. 

  “Just turn around,” Annabeth said. 

  We each turned toward a different tunnel. It was ridiculous. None of us could decide which way led back to camp. 

  “Left walls are mean,” Tyson said. “Which way now?”

  Annabeth swept her flashlight beam over the archways of the eight tunnels. As far as I could tell, they were identical. “That way,” she said. 

  “How do you know?” I asked. 

  “Deductive reasoning. ”

  “So…you’re guessing. ”

  “Just come on,” she said. 

  The tunnel she’d chosen narrowed quickly. The walls turned to gray cement, and the ceiling got so low that pretty soon we were hunching over. Tyson was forced to crawl. 

Grover’s hyperventilating was the loudest noise in the maze. “I can’t stand it anymore,” he whispered. “Are we there yet?”

  “We’ve been down here maybe five minutes,” Annabeth told him. 

  “It’s been longer than that,” Grover insisted. “And why would Pan be down here? This is the opposite of the wild!”

  We kept shuffling forward. Just when I was sure the tunnel would get so narrow it would squish us, it opened into a huge room. I shined my light around the walls and said, “Whoa. ”

  The whole room was covered in mosaic tiles. The pictures were grimy and faded, but I could still make out the colors—red, blue, green, gold. The frieze showed the Olympian gods at a feast. There was my dad, Poseidon, with his trident, holding out grapes for Dionysus to turn into wine. Zeus was partying with satyrs, and Hermes was flying through the air on his winged sandals. The pictures were beautiful, but they weren’t very accurate. I’d seen the gods. Dionysus was not that handsome, and Hermes’s nose wasn’t that big. 

  In the middle of the room was a three-tiered fountain. It looked like it hadn’t held water in a long time. 

  “What is this place?” I muttered. “It looks—”

  “Roman,” Annabeth said. “Those mosaics area bout two thousand years old. ”

  “But how can they be Roman?” I wasn’t that great on ancient history, but I was pretty sure the Roman Empire never made it as far as Long Island. 

  “The Labyrinth is a patchwork,” Annabeth said. “I told you, it’s always expanding, adding pieces. It’s the only work of architecture that grows by itself. ”

  “You make it sound like it’s alive. ”

  A groaning noise echoed from the tunnel in front of us. 

  “Let’s not talk about it being alive,” Grover whimpered. “Please?”

  “All right,” Annabeth said. “Forward. ”

  “Down the hall with the bad sounds?” Tyson said. Even he looked nervous. 

  “Yeah,” Annabeth said. “The architecture is getting older. That’s a good sign. Daedalus’s workshop would be in the oldest part. ”

  That made sense. But soon the maze was toying with us—we went fifty feet and the tunnel turned back to cement, with brass pipes running down the sides. The walls were spray-painted with graffiti. A neon tagger sign read MOZ RULZ. 

  “I’m thinking this is not Roman,” I said helpfully. 

  Annabeth took a deep breath, then forged ahead. 

  Every few feet the tunnels twisted and turned and branched off. The floor beneath us changed from cement to mud to bricks and back again. There was no sense to any of it. We stumbled into a wince cellar—a bunch of dusty bottles in wooden racks—like we were walking through somebody’s basement, only there was no exit above us, just more tunnels leading on. 

  Later the ceiling turned to wooden planks, and I could hear voices above us and the creaking of footsteps, as if we were walking under some kind of bar. It was reassuring to hear people, but then again, we couldn’t get to them. We were stuck down here with no way out. Then we found our first skeleton. 

  He was dressed in white clothes, like some kind of uniform. A wooden crate of glass bottles sat next to him. 

  “A milkman,” Annabeth said. 

  “What?” I asked. 

  “They used to deliver milk. ”

  “Yeah, I know what they are, but…that was when my mom was little, like a million years ago. What’s he doing here?”

  “Some people wander in by mistake,” Annabeth said. “Some come exploring on purpose and never make it back. A long time ago, the Cretans sent people in here as human sacrifices. ”

  Grover gulped. “He’s been down here a long time. ” He pointed to the skeleton’s bottles, which were coated with white dust. The skeleton’s fingers were clawing at the brick wall, like he had died trying to get out. 

  “Only bones,” Tyson said. “Don’t worry, goat boy. The milkman is dead. ”

  “The milkman doesn’t bother me,” Grover said. “It’s the smell. Monsters. Can’t you smell it?”

  Tyson nodded. “Lots of monsters. But underground smells like that. Monsters and dead milk people. ”

  “Oh, good,” Grover whimpered. “I thought maybe I was wrong. ”

  “We have to get deeper into the maze,” Annabeth said. “There has to be a way to the center. ”

  She led us to the right, then the left, through a corridor of stainless steel like some kind of airshaft, and we arrived back in the Roman tile room with the fountain. 

  This time, we weren’t alone. 

  ***

  What I noticed first were his faces. Both of them. They jutted out from either side of his head, staring over his shoulders, so his head was much wider than it should’ve been, kind of like a hammerhead shark’s looking straight at him, all I saw were two overlapping ears and mirror-image sideburns. 

  He was dressed like a New York City doorman: a long black overcoat, shiny shoes, and a black top-hat that somehow managed to stay on his double-wide head. 

  “Well, Annabeth?” said his left face. “Hurry up!”

  “Don’t mind him,” said the right face. “He’s terribly rude. Right this way, miss. ”

  Annabeth’s jaw dropped. “Uh…I don’t…”

  Tyson frowned. “That funny man has two faces. ”

  “The funny man has ears, you know!” the left face scolded. “Now come along, miss. ”

  “No, no,” the right face said. “This way, miss. Talk to me, please. ”

  The two-faced man regarded Annabeth as best he could out of the corners of his eyes. It was impossible to look at him straight on without focusing on one side or the other. And suddenly I realized that’s what he was asking—he wanted Annabeth to choose. 

  Behind him were two exits, blocked by wooden doors with huge iron locks. They hadn’t been there our first time through the room. The two-faced doorman held a silver key, which he kept passing from his left hand to his right hand. I wondered if this was a different room completely, but the frieze of the gods looked exactly the same. 

  Behind us, the doorway we’d come through had disappeared, replaced by more mosaics. We wouldn’t be going back the way we came. 

  “The exits are closed,” Annabeth said. 

  “Duh!” the man’s left face said. 

  “Where do they lead?” she asked. 

  “One probably leads the way you wish to go,” the right face said encouragingly. “The other leads to certain death. ”

  “I—I know who you are,” Annabeth said. 

  “Oh, you’re a smart one!” The left face sneered. “But do you know which way to choose? I don’t have all day. ”

  “Why are you trying to confuse me?” Annabeth asked. 

  The right face smiled. “You’re in charge now, my dear. All the decisions are on your shoulders. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”

  “I—”

  “We know you, Annabeth,” the left face said. “We know what you wrestle with every day. We know your indecision. You will have to make your choice sooner or later. And the choice may kill you. ”

  I didn’t know what they were talking about, but it sounded like it was about more than a choice between doors. 

  The color drained out of Annabeth’s face. “No…I don’t—”

  “Leave her alone,” I said. “Who are you, anyway?”

  “I’m your best friend,” the right face said. 

  “I’m your worst enemy,” the left face said. 

  “I’m Janus,” both faces said in harmony. “God of Doorways. Beginnings. Endings. Choices. ”

  “I’ll see you soon enough, Perseus Jackson,” said the right face. “But for now it’s Annabeth’s turn. ” He laughed giddily. “Such fun!”

  “Shut up!” his left face said. “This is serious. One bad choice can ruin your whole life. It can kill you and all of your friends. But no pressure, Annabeth. Choose!”

  With a sudden chill, I remembered the words of the prophecy: the child of Athena’s final stand. 

  “Don’t do it,” I said. 

  “I’m afraid she has to,” the right face said cheerfully. 

  Annabeth moistened her lips. “I—I chose—”

  Before she could point to a door, a brilliant light flooded the room. 

  Janus raised his hands to either side of his head to cover his eyes. When the light died, a woman was standing at the fountain. 

  She was tall and graceful with long hair the color of chocolate, braided in plaits with gold ribbons. She wore a simple white dress, but when she moved, the fabric shimmered with colors like oil on water. 

  “Janus,” she said, “are we causing trouble again?”

  “N-no, milady!” Janus’s right face stammered. 

  “Yes!” the left face said. 

  “Shut up!” the right face said. 

  “Excuse me?” the woman asked. 

  “Not you, milady! I was talking to myself. ”

  “I see,” the lady said. “You know very well your visit is premature. The girl’s time has not yet come. So I give you a choice: leave these heroes to me, or I shall turn you into a door and break you down. ”

  “What kind of door?” the left face asked. 

  “Shut up!” the right face said. 

  “Because French doors are nice,” the left face mused. “Lots of natural light. ”

  “Shut up!” the right face wailed. “Not you, milady! Of course I’ll leave. I was just having a bit of fun. Doing my job. Offering choices. ”

  “Causing indecision,” the woman corrected. “Now be gone!”

  The left face muttered, “Party power,” then he raised his silver key, inserted it into the air, and disappeared. 

  The woman turned toward us, and fear closed around my heart. Her eyes shined with power. Leave these heroes to me. That didn’t sound good. For a second, I almost wished we could’ve taken our chances with Janus. But then the woman smiled. 

  “You must be hungry,” she said. “Sit with me and talk. ”

  She waved her hand, and the old Roman fountain began to flow. Jets of clear water sprayed into the air. A marble table appeared, laden with platters of sandwiches and pitchers of lemonade. 

  “Who…who are you?” I asked. 

  “I am Hera. ” The woman smiled. “Queen of Heaven. ”

  ***

  I’d seen Hera once before at a Council of the Gods, but I hadn’t paid much attention to her. At the time I’d been surrounded by a bunch of other gods who were debating whether or not to kill me. 

  I didn’t remember her looking so normal. Of course, gods are usually twenty feet tall when they’re on Olympus, so that makes them look a lot less normal. But now, Hera looked like a regular mom. 

  She served us sandwiches and poured lemonade. 

  “Grover, dear,” she said, “use your napkin. Don’t eat it. ”

  “Yes, ma’am,” Grover said. 

“Tyson, you’re wasting away. Would you like another peanut butter sandwich?”

  Tyson stifled a belch. “Yes, nice lady. ”

  “Queen Hera,” Annabeth said. “I can’t believe it. What are you doing in the Labyrinth?”

  Hera smiled. She flicked one finger and Annabeth’s hair combed itself. All the dirt and grime disappeared from her face. 

  “I came to see you, naturally,” the goddess said. 

  Grover and I exchanged nervous looks. Usually when the gods come looking for you, it’s not out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s because they want something. 

  Still, that didn’t keep me from chowing down on turkey-and-Swiss sandwiches and chips and lemonade. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was. Tyson was inhaling one peanut butter sandwich after another, and Grover was loving the lemonade, crunching the Styrofoam cup like an ice-cream cone. 

  “I didn’t think—” Annabeth faltered. “Well, I didn’t think you liked heroes. ”

  Hera smiled indulgently. “Because of that little spat I had with Hercules? Honestly, I got so much bad press because of one disagreement. ”

  “Didn’t you try to kill him, like, a lot of times?” Annabeth asked. 

  Hera waved her hand dismissively. “Water under the bridge, my dear. Besides, he was one of my loving husband’s children by another woman. My patience wore thin, I’ll admit it. But Zeus and I have had some excellent marriage counseling sessions since then. We’ve aired our feelings and come to an understanding—especially after that last little incident. ”

  “You mean when he sired Thalia?” I guessed, but immediately wished I hadn’t. As soon as I said the name of our friend, the half-blood daughter of Zeus, Hera’s eyes turned toward me frostily. 

  “Percy Jackson, isn’t it? One of Poseidon’s…children. ” I got the feeling she was thinking of another word besides children. “As I recall, I voted to let you live at the winter solstice. I hope I voted correctly. ”

  She turned back to Annabeth with a sunny smile. “At any rate, I certainly bear you no ill will, my girl. I appreciate the difficulty of your quest. Especially when you have troublemakers like Janus to deal with. ”

  Annabeth lowered her gaze. “Why was he here? He was driving me crazy. ”

  “Trying to,” Hera agreed. “You must understand, the minor gods like Janus have always been frustrated by the small parts they play in the universe. Some, I fear, have little love for Olympus, and could easily be swayed to support the rise of my father. ”

  “Your father?” I said. “Oh, right. ”

  I’d forgotten that Kronos was Hera’s dad, too, along with being the father to Zeus, Poseidon, and all the eldest Olympians. I guess that made Kronos my grandfather, but that thought was so weird I put it out of my mind. 

  “We must watch the minor gods,” Hera said. “Janus. Hecate. Morpheus. They give lip service to Olympus, and yet—”

  “That’s where Dionysus went,” I remembered. “He was checking on the minor gods. ”

  “Indeed. ” Hera stared at the fading mosaics of the Olympians. “You see, in times of trouble, even gods can lose faith. They start putting their trust in the wrong things. They stop looking at the big picture and start being selfish. But I’m the goddess of marriage, you see. I’m used to perseverance. You have to rise above the squabbling and chaos, and keep believing. You have to always keep your goals in mind. ”

  “What are your goals?” Annabeth asked. 

  She smiled. “To keep my family, the Olympians, together, of course. At the moment, the best way I can do that is by helping you. Zeus does not allow me to interfere much, I am afraid. But once every century or so, for a quest I care deeply about, he allows me to grant a wish. ”

  “A wish?”

  “Before you ask it, let me give you some advice, which I can do for free. I know you see Daedalus. His Labyrinth is as much a mystery to me as it is to you. But if you want to know his fate, I would visit my son Hephaestus at his forge. Daedalus was a great inventor, a mortal after Hephaestus’s heart. There has never been a mortal Hephaestus admired more. If anyone would have kept up with Daedalus and could tell you his fate, it is Hephaestus. ”

  “But how do we get there?” Annabeth asked. “That’s my wish. I want a way to navigate the Labyrinth. ”

  Hera looked disappointed. “So be it. You wish for something, however, that you have already been given. ”

  “I don’t understand. ”

  “The means is already within your grasp. ” She looked at me. “Percy knows the answer. ”

  “I do?”

  “But that’s not fair,” Annabeth said. “You’re not telling me what it is!”

  Hera shook her head. “Getting something and having the wits to use it…those are two different things. I’m sure your mother Athena would agree. ”

  The room rumbled like distant thunder. Hera stood. “That would be my cue. Zeus grows impatient. Think on what I have said, Annabeth. Seek out Hephaestus. You will have to pass through the ranch, I imagine. But keep going. And use all the means at your disposal, however common they may seem. ”

  She pointed toward the two doors and they melted away, revealing twin corridors, open and dark. “One last thing, Annabeth. I have postponed your day of choice, I have not prevented it. Soon, as Janus said, you will have to make a decision. Farewell!”

  She waved a hand and turned into white smoke. So did the food, just as Tyson chomped down on a sandwich that turned to mist in his mouth. The fountain trickled to a stop. The mosaic walls dimmed and turned grungy and faded again. The room was no longer any place you’d want to have a picnic. 

  Annabeth stamped her foot. “What sort of help was that? ‘Here, have a sandwich. Make a wish. Oops, I can’t help you!’ Poof!”

  “Poof,” Tyson agreed sadly, looking at his empty plate. 

  “Well,” Grover sighed, “she said Percy knows the answer. That’s something. ”

  They all looked at me. 

  “But I don’t,” I said. “I don’t know what she was talking about. ”

  Annabeth sighed. “All right. Then we’ll just keep going. ”

  “Which way?” I asked. I really wanted to ask what Hera had meant— about the choice Annabeth needed to make. But then Grove and Tyson both tensed. They stood up together like they’d rehearsed it. “Left,” they both said. 

  Annabeth frowned. “How can you be sure?”

  “Because something is coming from the right,” Grover said. 

  “Something big,” Tyson agreed. “In a hurry. ”

  “Left is sounding pretty good,” I decided. Together we plunged into the dark corridor. 

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