“Maybe if you told me the last line of the prophecy, it would help.”
Annabeth shivered. “Not here. Not in the dark.”
“What about the choice Janus mentioned? Hera said—”
“Stop,” Annabeth snapped. Then she took a shaky breath. “I’m sorry, Percy. I’m just stressed. But I don’t…I’ve got to think about it.”
We sat in silence, listening to strange creaks and groans in the maze, the echo of stones grinding together as tunnels changed, grew, and expanded. The dark made me think about the visions I’d seen of Nico di Angelo, and suddenly I realized something.
“Nico is down here somewhere,” I said. “That’s how he disappeared from camp. He found the Labyrinth. Then he found a path that led down even farther—to the Underworld. But now he’s back in the maze. He’s coming after me.”
Annabeth was quiet for a long time. “Percy, I hope you’re wrong. But if you’re right…” she stared at the flashlight beam, casting a dim circle on the stone wall. I had a feeling she was thinking about her prophecy. I’d never seen her look more tired.
“How about I take first watch?” I said. “I’ll wake you if anything happens.”
Annabeth looked like she wanted to protest, but she just nodded, slumped into her bedroll, and closed her eyes.
When it was my turn to sleep, I dreamed I was back in the old man’s Labyrinth prison.
It looked more like a workshop now. Tables were littered with measuring instruments. A forge burned red hot in the corner. The boy I’d seen in the last dream was stoking the bellows, except he was taller now, almost my age. A weird funnel device was attached to the forge’s chimney, trapping the smoke and heat and channeling it through a pipe into the floor, next to a big bronze manhole cover.
It was daytime. The sky above was blue, but the walls of the maze cast deep shadows across the workshop. After being in tunnels so long, i found it weird that part of the Labyrinth could be open to the sky. Somehow that made the maze seem like even a crueler place.
The old man looked sickly. He was terribly thin, his hands raw and red from working. White hair covered his eyes, and his tunic was smudged with grease. He was bent over a table, working on some kind of long metal patchwork—like a swath of chain mail. He picked up a delicate curl of bronze and fitted it into place.
“Done,” he announced. “It’s done.”
He picked up his project. It was so beautiful, my heart leaped—metal wings constructed from thousands of interlocking bronze feathers. There were two sets. One still lay on the table. Daedalus stretched the frame, and the wings expanded twenty feet. Part of me knew it could never fly. It was too heavy, and there’d be no way to get off the ground. But the craftsmanship was amazing. Metal feathers caught the light and flashed thirty different shades of gold.
The boy left the bellows and ran over to see. He grinned, despite the fact that he was grimy and sweaty. “Father, you’re a genius!”
The old man smiled. “Tell me something I don’t know, Icarus. Now hurry. It will take at least an hour to attach them. Come.”
“You first,” Icarus said.
The old man protested, but Icarus insisted. “You made them, Father. You should get the honor of wearing them first.”
The boy attached a leather harness to his father’s chest, like climbing gear, with straps that ran from his shoulders to his wrists. Then he began fastening on the wings, using a metal canister that looked like an enormous hot-glue gun.
“The wax compound should hold for several hours,” Daedalus said nervously as his son worked. “But we must let it set first. And we would do well to avoid flying too high or too low. The sea would wet the wax seals—”
“And the sun’s heat would loosen them,” the boy finished. “Yes, Father. We’ve been through this a million times!”
“One cannot be too careful.”
“I have complete faith in your inventions, Father! No one has ever been as smart as you.”
The old man’s eyes shone. It was obvious he loved his son more than anything in the world. “Now I will do your wings, and give mine a chance to set properly. Come!”
It was slow going. The old man’s hands fumbled with the straps. He had a hard time keeping the wings in position while he sealed them. His own metal wings seemed to weigh him down, getting in his way while he tried to work.
“Too slow,” the old man muttered. “I am too slow.”
“Take your time, Father,” the boy said. “The guards aren’t due until—”
The workshop doors shuddered. Daedalus had barred them from the inside with a wooden brace, but still they shook on their hinges.
“Hurry!” Icarus said.
Something heavy was slamming into the doors. The brace held, but a crack appeared in the left door.
Daedalus worked furiously. A drop of hot wax spilled onto Icarus’s shoulder. The boy winced but did not cry out. When his left wing was sealed into the straps, Daedalus began working on the right.
“We must have more time,” Daedalus murmured. “They are too early! We need more time for the seal to hold.”
“It’ll be fine,” Icarus said, as his father finished the right wing. “Help me with the manhole—”
CRASH! The doors splintered and the head of a bronze battering ram emerged through the breach. Axes cleared the debris, and two armed guards entered the room, followed by the king with the golden crown and the spear-shaped beard.
“Well, well,” the king said with a cruel smile. “Going somewhere?”
Daedalus and his son froze, their metal wings glimmering on their backs.
“We’re leaving, Minos,” the old man said.
King Minos chuckled. “I was curious to see how far you’d get on this little project before I dashed your hopes. I must say I’m impressed.”
The king admired their wings. “You look like metal chickens,” he decided. “Perhaps we should pluck you and make a soup.”
The guards laughed stupidly.
“Metal chickens,” one repeated. “Soup.”
“Shut up,” the king said. Then he turned again to Daedalus. “You let my daughter escape, old man. You drove my wife to madness. You killed my monster and made me the laughingstock of the Mediterranean. You will never escape me!”
Icarus grabbed the wax gun and sprayed it at the king, who stepped back in surprise. The guards rushed forward, but each got a stream of hot wax in his face.
“The vent!” Icarus yelled to his father.
“Get them!” King Minos raged.
Together, the old man and his son pried open the manhole cover, and a column of hot air blasted out of the ground. The king watched, incredulous, as the inventor and son shot into the sky on their bronze wings, carried by the updraft.
“Shoot them!” the king yelled, but his guards had brought no bows. One threw his sword in desperation, but Daedalus and Icarus were already out of reach. They wheeled above the maze and the king’s palace, then zoomed across the city of Knossos and out past the rocky shores of Crete.
Icarus laughed. “Free, Father! You did it.”
The boy spread his wings to their full limit and soared away on the wind.
“Wait!” Daedalus called. “Be careful!”
But Icarus was already out over the open sea, heading north and delighting in their good luck. He soared up and scared an eagle out of its flight path, then plummeted toward the sea like he was born to fly, pulling out of a nosedive at the last second. His sandals skimmed the waves.
“Stop that!” Daedalus called. But the wind carried his voice away. His son was drunk on his own freedom.
The old man struggled to catch up, gliding clumsily after his son.
They were miles from Crete, over deep sea, when Icarus looked back and saw his father’s worried expression.
Icarus smiled. “Don’t worry, Father! You’re a genius! I trust your handiwork—”
The first metal feather shook loose from his wings and fluttered away. Then another. Icarus wabbled in midair. Suddenly he was shedding bronze feathers, which twirled away from him like a flock of frightened birds.
“Icarus!” his father cried. “Glide! Extend the wings. Stay as still as possible!”
But Icarus flapped his arms, desperately trying to reassert control.
The left wing went first—ripping away from the straps.
“Father!” Icarus cried. And then he fell, the wings stripped away until he was just a boy in a climbing harness and a white tunic, his arms extended in a useless attempt to glide.
I woke with a start, feeling like I was falling. The corridor was dark. In the constant moaning of the Labyrinth, I thought I could hear the anguished cry of Daedalus calling his son’s name, as Icarus, his only joy, plummeted toward the sea, three hundred feet below.
There was no morning in the maze, but once everyone woke up and had a fabulous breakfast of granola bars and juice boxes, we kept traveling. I didn’t mention my dream. Something about it had really freaked me out, and I didn’t think the others needed to know that.
The old stone tunnels changed to dirt with cedar beams, like a gold mine or something. Annabeth started getting agitated.
“This isn’t right,” she said. “It should still be stone.”
We came to a cave where stalactites hung low from the ceiling. In the center of the dirt floor was a rectangular pit, like a grave.
Grover shivered. “It smells like the Underworld in here.”
Then I saw something glinting at the edge of the pit—a foil wrapper. I shined my flashlight into the hole and saw a half-chewed cheeseburger floating in brown carbonated muck.
“Nico,” I said. “He was summoning the dead again.”
Tyson whimpered. “Ghosts were here. I don’t like ghosts.”
“We’ve got to find him.” I don’t know why, but standing at the edge of that pit gave me a sense of urgency. Nico was close, I could feel it. I couldn’t let him wander around down here, alone except for the dead. I started to run.
“Percy!” Annabeth called.
I ducked into a tunnel and saw light up ahead. By the time Annabeth, Tyson, and Grover caught up with me, I was staring at daylight streaming through a set of bars above my head. We were under a steel grate made out of metal pipes. I could see trees and blue sky.
“Where are we?” I wondered.
Then a shadow fell across the grate and a cow stared down at me. It looked like a normal cow except with was a weird color—bright red, like a cherry. I didn’t know cows came in that color.
The cow mooed, put one hoof tentatively on the bars, then backed away.
“It’s a cattle guard,” Grover said.
“A what?” I asked.
“They put them at the gates of ranches so cows can’t get out. They can’t walk on them.”
“How do you know that?”
Grover huffed indignantly. “Believe me, if you had hooves, you’d know about cattle guards. They’re annoying!”