The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians 4) - Page 16


“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.

SEVEN

TYSON LEADS A JAILBREAK

The good news: the left tunnel was straight with no side exits, twists, or turns. The bad news; it was a dead end. After sprinting a hundred yards, we ran into an enormous boulder that completely blocked our path. Behind us, the sounds of dragging footsteps and heavy breathing echoed down the corridor. Something—definitely not human—was on our tail.

“Tyson,” I said, “can you—”

“Yes!” He slammed his shoulder against the rock so hard the whole tunnel shook. Dust trickled from the stone ceiling.

“Hurry!” Grover said. “Don’t bring the roof down, but hurry!”

The boulder finally gave way with a horrible grinding noise. Tyson pushed it into a small room and we dashed through behind it.

“Close the entrance!” Annabeth said.

We all got on the other side of the boulder and pushed. Whatever was chasing us wailed in frustration as we heaved the rock back into placed and sealed the corridor.

“We trapped it,” I said.

“Or trapped ourselves,” Grover said.

I turned. We were in a twenty-foot-square cement room and the opposite wall was covered with metal bars. We’d tunneled straight into a cell.

***

“What in Hades?” Annabeth tugged on the bars. They didn’t budge. Through the bars we could see rows of cells in a ring around a dark courtyard—at least three stories of metal doors and metal catwalks.

“A prison,” I said. “Maybe Tyson can break—”

“Shh,” said Grover. “Listen.”

Somewhere above us, deep sobbing echoed through the building. There was another sound, too—a raspy voice muttering something that I couldn’t make out. The words were strange, like rocks in a tumbler.

“what’s that language?” I whispered.

Tyson’s eye widened. “Can’t be.”

“What?” I asked.

He grabbed two bars on our cell door and bent them wide enough for even a Cyclops to slip through.

“Wait!” Grover called.

But Tyson wasn’t about to wait. We ran after him. The prison was dark, only a few dim fluorescent lights flickering above.

“I know this place,” Annabeth told me. “This is Alcatraz.”

“You mean that island is near San Francisco?”

She nodded. “My school took a field trip here. It’s like a museum.”

It didn’t seem possible that we could’ve popped out of the Labyrinth on the other side of the country, but Annabeth had been living in San Francisco all year, keeping an eye on Mount Tamalpais just across the bay. She probably knew what she was talking about.

“Freeze,” Grover warned.

But Tyson kept going. Grover grabbed his arm and pulled him back with all his strength. “Stop, Tyson!” he whispered. “Can’t you see it?”

I looked where he was pointing, and my stomach did a somersault. On the second-floor balcony, across the courtyard, was a monster more horrible than anything I’d ever seen before.

It was sort of like a centaur, with a woman’s body from the waist up. But instead of a horse’s lower body, it had the body of a dragon—at least twenty feet long, black and scaly with enormous claws and a barbed tail. Her legs looked like they were tangled in vines, but then I realized they were sprouting snakes, hundreds of vipers darting around, constantly looking for something to bite. The woman’s hair was also made of snakes, like Medusa’s. weirdest of all, around her waist, where the woman part met the dragon part, her skin bubbled and morphed, occasionally producing the heads of animals—a vicious wolf, a bear, a lion, as if she were wearing a belt of ever-changing creatures. I got the feeling I was looking at something half formed, a monster so old it was from the beginning of time, before shapes had been fully defined.

“It’s her,” Tyson whimpered.

“Get down!” Grover said.

We crouched in the shadows, but the monster wasn’t paying us any attention. It seemed to be talking to someone inside a cell on the second floor. That’s where the sobbing was coming from. The dragon woman said something in her weird rumbling language.

“What’s she saying?” I muttered. “What’s that language?”

“The tongue of the old times.” Tyson shivered. “What Mother Earth spoke to Titans and…her other children. Before the gods.”


Tags: Rick Riordan Percy Jackson and the Olympians Fantasy
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