I had a crazy idea. I dropped Riptide and grabbed the bow off the wall.
I was the worst archery shot in the world. I couldn’t hit the targets at camp, much less a bull’s eye. But I had no choice. I couldn’t win this fight with a sword. I prayed to Artemis and Apollo, the twin archers, hoping they might take pity on me for once. Please, guys. Just one shot. Please.
I notched an arrow.
Geryon laughed. “You fool! One arrow is no better than one sword.”
He raised his swords and charged. I dove sideways. Before he could turn, I shot my arrow into the side of his right chest. I heard THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, as the arrow passed clean through each of his chests and flew out his left side, embedding itself in the forehead of the grizzly bear trophy.
Geryon dropped his swords. He turned and stared at me. “You can’t shoot. They told me you couldn’t…”
His face turned a sickly shade of green. He collapsed to his knees and began crumbling into sand, until all that was left were three cooking aprons and an oversized pair of cowboy boots.
I got my friends untied. Eurytion didn’t try to stop me. Then I stoked up the barbecue and threw the food into the flames as a burnt offering for Artemis and Apollo.
“Thanks, guys,” I said. “I owe you one.”
The sky thundered in the distance, so I figured maybe the burgers smelled okay.
“Yay for Percy!” Tyson said.
“Can we tie up this cowherd now?” Nico asked.
“Yeah!” Grover agreed. “And that dog almost killed me!”
I looked at Eurytion, who still was sitting relaxed at the picnic table. Orthus had both his heads on the cowherd’s knees.
“How long will it take Geryon to re-form?” I asked him.
Eurytion shrugged. “Hundred years? He’s not one of those fast re-formers, thank the gods. You’ve done me a favor.”
“You said you’d died for him before,” I remembered. “How?”
“I’ve worked for that creep for thousands of years. Started as a regular half-blood, but I chose immortality when my dad offered it. Worst mistake I ever made. Now I’m stuck here at this ranch. I can’t leave. I can’t quit. I just tend the cows and fight Geryon’s fights. We’re kinda tied together.”
“Maybe you can change things,” I said.
Eurytion narrowed his eyes. “How?”
“Be nice to the animals. Take care of them. Stop selling them for food. And stop dealing with the Titans.”
Eurytion thought about that. “That’d be all right.”
“Get the animals on your side, and they’ll help you. Once Geryon gets back, maybe he’ll be working for you this time.”
Eurytion grinned. “Now, that I could live with.”
“You won’t try to stop us leaving?”
Annabeth rubbed her bruised wrists. She was still looking at Eurytion suspiciously. “Your boss said somebody paid for our safe passage. Who?”
The cowherd shrugged. “Maybe he was just saying that to fool you.”
“What about the Titans?” I asked. “Did you Iris-message them about Nico yet?”
“Nope. Geryon was waiting until after the barbecue. They don’t know about him.”
Nico as glaring at me. I wasn’t sure what to do about him. I doubted he would agree to come with us. On the other hand, I couldn’t just let him roam around on his own.
“You could stay here until we’re done with our quest,” I told him. “It would be safe.”
“Safe?” Nico said. “What do you care if I’m safe? You got my sister killed!”
“Nico,” Annabeth said, “that wasn’t Percy’s fault. And Geryon wasn’t lying about Kronos wanting to capture you. If he knew who you were, he’d do anything to get you on his side.”
“I’m not on anyone’s side. And I’m not afraid.”
“You should be,” Annabeth said. “Your sister wouldn’t want—”
“If you cared for my sister, you’d help me bring her back!”
“A soul for a soul?” I said.
“But if you didn’t want my soul—”
“I’m not explaining anything to you!” He blinked tears out of his eyes. “And I will bring her back.”
“Bianca wouldn’t want to be brought back,” I said. “Not like that.”
“You didn’t know her!” he shouted. “How do you know what she’d want?”
I stared at the flames in the barbecue pit. I thought about the line in Annabeth’s prophecy: You shall rise or fall by the ghost king’s hand. That had to be Minos, and I had to convince Nico not to listen to him. “Let’s ask Bianca.”
The sky seemed to grow darker all of a sudden.
“I’ve tried,” Nico said miserably. “She won’t answer.”
“Try again. I’ve got a feeling she’ll answer with me here.”
“Why would she?”
“Because she’s been sending me Iris-messages,” I said, suddenly sure of it. “She’s been trying to warn me what you’re up to, so I can protect you.”
Nico shook his head. “That’s impossible.”
“One way to find out. You said you’re not afraid.” I turned to Eurytion. “We’re going to need a pit, like a grave. And food and drinks.”
“Percy,” Annabeth warned. “I don’t think this is a good—”
“All right,” Nico said. “I’ll try.”
Eurytion scratched his beard. “There’s a hole dug out back for a septic tank. We could use that. Cyclops boy, fetch my ice chest from the kitchen. I hope the dead like root beer.”
WE PLAY THE GAME SHOW OF DEATH
We did our summons after dark, at a twenty-foot-long pit in front of the septic tank. The tank was bright yellow, with a smiley face and red words painted on the side: HAPPY FLUSH DISPOSAL CO. It didn’t quite go with the mood of summoning the dead.
The moon was full. Silver clouds drifted across the sky.
“Minos should be here by now,” Nico said, frowning. “It’s full dark.”
“Maybe he got lost,” I said hopefully.
Nico poured root beer and tossed barbecue into the pit, then began chanting in Ancient Greek. Immediately the bugs in the woods stopped chirping. In my pocket, the Stygian ice dog whistle started to grow colder, freezing against the side of my leg.
“Make him stop,” Tyson whispered to me.
Part of me agreed. This was unnatural. The night air felt cold and menacing. But before I could say anything, the first spirits appeared. Sulfurous mist seeped out of the ground. Shadows thickened into human forms. One blue shade drifted to the edge of the pit and knelt to drink.
“Stop him!” Nico said, momentarily breaking his chant. “Only Bianca may drink!”
I drew Riptide. The ghosts retreated with a collective hiss at the sight of my celestial bronze blade. But it was too late to stop the first spirit. He had already solidified into the shape of a bearded man in white robes. A circlet of gold wreathed his head, and even in death his eyes were alive with malice.
“Minos!” Nico said. “What are you doing?”
“My apologies, master,” the ghost said, though he didn’t sound very sorry. “The sacrifice smelled so good, I couldn’t resist.” He examined his own hands and smiled. “It is good to see myself again. Almost in solid form—”
“You are disrupting the ritual!” Nico protested. “Get—”
The spirits of the dead began shimmering dangerously bright, and Nico had to take up the chant again to keep them at bay.
“Yes, quite right, master,” Minos said with amusement. “You keep chanting. I’ve only come to protect you from these liars who would deceive you.”
He turned to me as if I were some kind of cockroach. “Percy Jackson…my, my. The sons of Poseidon haven’t improved over the centuries, have they?”
I wanted to punch him, but I figured my fist would go right through his face. “We’re looking for Bianca di Angelo,” I said. “Get lost.”
The ghost chuckled. “I understand you once killed my Minotaur with your bare hands. But worse things await you in the maze. Do you really believe Daedalus will help you?”
The other spirits stirred in agitation. Annabeth drew her knife and helped me keep them away from the pit. Grover got so nervous he clung to Tyson’s shoulder.
“Daedalus cares nothing for you, half-bloods,” Minos warned. “You can’t trust him. He is old beyond counting, and crafty. He is bitter from the guilt of murder and is cursed by the gods.”
“The guilt of murder?” I asked. “Who did he kill?”
“Do not changed the subject!” the ghost growled. “You are hindering Nico. You try to persuade him to give up on his goal. I would make him a lord!”
“Enough, Mions,” Nico commanded.
The ghost sneered. “Master, these are your enemies. You must not listen to them! Let me protect you. I will turn their minds to madness, as I did the others.”
“The others?” Annabeth gasped. “You mean Chris Rodriguez? That was you?”
“The maze is my property,” the ghost said, “not Daedalus’s! Those who intrude deserve madness.”
“Be gone, Minos!” Nico demanded. “I want to see my sister!”
The ghost bit back his rage. “As you wish, master. But I warn you. You cannot trust these heroes.”
With that, he faded into mist.
Other spirits rushed forward, but Annabeth and I kept them back.
“Bianca, appear!” Nico intoned. He started chanting faster, and the spirits shifted restlessly.
“Any time now,” Grover muttered.
Then a silvery light flickered in the trees—a spirit that seemed brighter and stronger than the others. It came closer, and something told me to let it pass. It knelt to drink at the pit. When it arose, it was the ghostly form of Bianca di Angelo.
Nico’s chanting faltered. I lowered my sword. The other spirits started to crowd forward, but Bianca raised her arms and they retreated into the woods.
“Hello, Percy,” she said.
She looked the same as she had in life: a green cap set sideways on her thick black hair, dark eyes and olive skin like her brother. She wore jeans and a silvery jacket, the outfit of a Hunter of Artemis. A bow was slung over her shoulder. She smiled faintly, and her whole form flickered.
“Bianca,” I said. My voice was thick. I’d felt guilty about her death for a long time, but seeing her in front of me was five times as bad, like her death was fresh and new. I remembered searching through the wreckage of the giant bronze warrior she’d sacrificed her life to defeat, and not finding any sign of her.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
“You have nothing to apologize for, Percy. I made my own choice. I don’t regret it.”
“Bianca!” Nico stumbled forward like he was just coming out of a daze.