“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 Connor Stoll, 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.”
“That’s not enough.”
“It has to be!”
“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 agreement that 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.”
“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.