“I know,” Annabeth and I said at the same time, which embarrassed me even more.
My mom smiled. “Percy, you’d better use the phone in the hall. Good luck.”
I was relieved to get out of the kitchen, even though I was nervous about what I was about to do. I went to the phone and placed the call. The number had washed off my hand a long time ago, but that was okay. Without meaning to, I’d memorized it.
We arranged a meeting in Times Square. We found Rachel Elizabeth Dare in front of the Marriott Marquis, and she was completely painted gold.
I mean, her face, her hair, her clothes—everything. She looked like she’d been touched by King Midas. She was standing like a statue with five other kids all painted metallic—copper, bronze, silver. They were frozen in different poses while tourists hustled past or stopped to stare. Some passerby threw money at the tarp on the sidewalk.
The sign at Rachel’s feet said, URBAN ART FOR KIDS, DONATIONS APPRECIATED.
Annabeth and I stood there for like five minutes, staring at Rachel, but if she noticed us she didn’t let on. She didn’t move or even blink that I could see. Being ADHD and all, I could not have done that. Standing still that long would’ve driven me crazy. It was weird to see Rachel in gold, too. She looked like a statue of somebody famous, an actress or something. Only her eyes were normal green.
“Maybe if we push her over,” Annabeth suggested.
I thought that was a little mean, but Rachel didn’t respond. After another few minutes, a kid in silver walked up from the hotel taxi stand, where he’d been taking a break. He took a pose like he was lecturing the crowd, right next to Rachel. Rachel unfroze and stepped off the tarp.
“Hey, Percy.” She grinned. “Good timing! Let’s get some coffee.”
We walked down to a place called the Java Moose on West 43rd. Rachel ordered an Espresso Extreme, the kind of stuff Grover would like. Annabeth and I got fruit smoothies and we sat at a table right under the stuffed moose. Nobody even looked twice at Rachel in her golden outfit.
“So,” she said, “it’s Annabell, right?”
“Annabeth,” Annabeth corrected. “Do you always dress in gold?”
“Not usually,” Rachel said. “We’re raising money for our group. We do volunteer art projects for elementary kids ’cause they’re cutting art from the schools, you know? We do this once a month, take in about five hundred dollars on a good weekend. But I’m guessing you don’t want to talk about that. You’re a half-blood, too?”
“Shhh!” Annabeth said, looking around. “Just announce it to the world, how about?”
“Okay.” Rachel stood up and said really loud, “Hey, everybody! These two aren’t human! They’re half Greek god!”
Nobody even looked over. Rachel shrugged and sat down. “They don’t seem to care.”
“That’s not funny,” Annabeth said. “This isn’t a joke, mortal girl.”
“Hold it, you two,” I said. “Just calm down.”
“I’m calm,” Rachel insisted. “Every time I’m around you, some monster attacks us. What’s to be nervous about?”
“Look,” I said. “I’m really sorry about the band room. I hope they didn’t kick you out or anything.”
“Nah. They asked me a lot of questions about you. I played dumb.”
“Was it hard?” Annabeth asked.
“Okay, stop!” I intervened. “Rachel, we’ve got a problem. And we need your help.”
Rachel narrowed her eyes at Annabeth. “You need my help?”
Annabeth stirred her straw in her smoothie. “Yeah,” she said suddenly. “Maybe.”
I told Rachel about the Labyrinth, and how we needed to find Daedalus. I told her what had happened the last few times we’d gone in.
“So you want me to guide you,” she said. “Through a place I’ve never been.”
“You can see through the Mist,” I said. “Just like Ariadne. I’m betting you can see the right path. The Labyrinth won’t be able to fool you as easily.”
“And if you’re wrong?”
“Then we’ll get lost. Either way, it’ll be dangerous. Very, very dangerous.”
“I could die?”
“I thought you said monsters don’t care about mortals. That sword of yours—”
“Yeah,” I said. “Celestial bronze doesn’t hurt mortals. Most monsters would ignore you. But Luke…he doesn’t care. He’ll use mortals, demigods, monsters, whatever. And he’ll kill anyone who gets in his way.”
“Nice guy,” Rachel said.
“He’s under the influence of a Titan,” Annabeth said defensively. “He’s been deceived.”
Rachel looked back and forth between us. “Okay,” she said. “I’m in.”
I blinked. I hadn’t figured it would be so easy. “Are you sure?”
“Hey, my summer was going to be boring. This is the best offer I’ve gotten yet. So what do I look for?”
“We have to find an entrance to the Labyrinth,” Annabeth said. “There’s an entrance at Camp Half-Blood, but you can’t go there. It’s off-limits to mortals.”
She said mortals like it was some sort of terrible condition, but Rachel just nodded. “Okay. What does an entrance to the Labyrinth look like?”
“It could be anything,” Annabeth said. “A section of wall. A boulder. A doorway. A sewer entrance. But it would have the mark of Daedalus on it. A Greek Δ, glowing in blue.”
“Like this?” Rachel drew the symbol Delta in water on our table.
“That’s it,” Annabeth said. “You know Greek?”
“No,” Rachel said. She pulled a big blue plastic hairbrush from her pocket and started brushing the gold out of her hair. “Let me get changed. You’d better come with me to the Marriott.”
“Why?” Annabeth said.
“Because there’s an entrance like that in the hotel basement, where we store our costumes. It’s got the mark of Daedalus.”
MY BROTHER DUELS ME TO THE DEATH
The metal door was half hidden behind a laundry bin full of dirty hotel towels. I didn’t see anything strange about it, but Rachel showed me where to look, and I recognized the faint blue symbol etched in the metal.
“It hasn’t been used in a long time,” Annabeth said.
“I tried to open it once,” Rachel said, “just out of curiosity. It’s rusted shut.”
“No.” Annabeth stepped forward. “It just needs the touch of a half-blood.”
Sure enough, as soon as Annabeth put her hand on the mark, it glowed blue. The metal door unsealed and creaked open, revealing a dark staircase leading down.
“Wow.” Rachel looked calm, but I couldn’t tell if she was pretending or not. She’d changed into a ratty Museum of Modern Art T-shirt and her regular marker-colored jeans, her blue plastic hairbrush sticking out of her pocket. Her red hair was tied back, but she still had flecks of gold in it, and traces of the gold glitter on her face. “So…after you?”
“You’re the guide,” Annabeth said with mock politeness. “Lead on.”
The stairs led down to a large brick tunnel. It was so dark I couldn’t see two feet in front of us, but Annabeth and I had restocked on flashlights. As soon as we switched them on, Rachel yelped.
A skeleton was grinning at us. It wasn’t human. It was huge, for one thing—at least ten feet tall. It had been strung up, chained by its wrists and ankles so it made a kind of giant X over the tunnel. But what really sent shivers down my spine was the single black eye socket in the center of its skull.
“A Cyclops,” Annabeth said. “It’s very old. It’s not…anybody we know.”
It wasn’t Tyson, she meant. But that didn’t make me feel much better. I still felt like it had been put here as a warning. Whatever could kill a grown Cyclops, I didn’t want to meet.
Rachel swallowed. “You have a friend who’s a Cyclops?”
“Tyson,” I said. “My half brother.”
“Your half brother.”
“Hopefully we’ll find him down here,” I said. “And Grover. He’s a satyr.”
“Oh.” Her voice was small. “Well then, we’d better keep moving.”
She stepped under the skeleton’s left arm and kept walking. Annabeth and I exchanged looks. Annabeth shrugged. We followed Rachel deeper into the maze.
After fifty feet we came to a crossroads. Ahead, the brick tunnel continued. To the right, the walls were made of ancient marble slabs. To the left, the tunnel was dirt and tree roots.
I pointed left. “That looks like the tunnel Tyson and Grover took.”
Annabeth frowned. “Yeah, but the architecture to the right—those old stones—that’s more likely to lead to an ancient part of the maze, toward Daedalus’s workshop.”
“We need to go straight,” Rachel said.
Annabeth and I both looked at her.
“That’s the least likely choice,” Annabeth said.
“You don’t see it?” Rachel asked. “Look at the floor.”
I saw nothing except well-worn bricks and mud.
“There’s a brightness there,” Rachel insisted. “Very faint. But forward is the correct way. To the left, farther down the tunnel, those tree roots are moving like feelers. I don’t like that. To the right, there’s a trap about twenty feet down. Holes in the walls, maybe for spikes. I don’t think we should risk it.”
I didn’t see anything like she was describing, but I nodded. “Okay. Forward.”
“You believe her?” Annabeth asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Don’t you?”
Annabeth looked like she wanted to argue, but she waved at Rachel to lead on. Together we kept walking down the brick corridor. It twisted and turned, but there were no more side tunnels. We seemed to be angling down, heading deeper underground.
“No traps?” I asked anxiously.
“Nothing.” Rachel knit her eyebrows. “Should it be this easy?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It never was before.”
“So, Rachel,” Annabeth said, “where are you from, exactly?”
She said it like, What planet are you from? But Rachel didn’t look offended.
“Brooklyn,” she said.
“Aren’t your parents going to be worried if you’re out late?”
Rachel exhaled. “Not likely. I could be gone a week and they’d never notice.”
“Why not?” This time Annabeth didn’t sound as sarcastic. Having trouble with parents was something she understood.
Before Rachel could answer, there was a creaking noise in front of us, like huge doors opening.
“What was that?” Annabeth asked.
“I don’t know,” Rachel said. “Metal hinges.”