How am I going to collect if you die?”
I knelt next to Annabeth. “Hey, I’m sorry. We need to move.”
“I know,” she said. “I’m…I’m all right.”
She was clearly not all right. But she got to her feet, and we started straggling back through the Labyrinth again.
“Back to New York,” I said. “Rachel, can you—”
I froze. A few feet in front of us, my flashlight beam fixed on a trampled clump of red fabric lying on the ground. It was a Rasta cap: the one Grover always wore.
My hands shook as I picked up the cap. It looked like it had been stepped on by a huge muddy boot. After all that I’d gone through today, I couldn’t stand the thought that something might’ve happened to Grover, too.
Then I noticed something else. The cave floor was mushy and wet from the water dripping off the stalactites. There were large footprints like Tyson’s, and smaller ones—goat hooves—leading off to the left.
“We have to follow them,” I said. “They went that way. It must have been recently.”
“What about Camp Half-Blood?” Nico said. “There’s no time.”
“We have to find them,” Annabeth insisted. “They’re our friends.”
She picked up Grover’s smashed cap and forged ahead.
I followed bracing myself for the worst. The tunnel was treacherous. It sloped at weird angles and was slimy with moisture. Half the time we were slipping and sliding rather than walking.
Finally we got to the bottom of a slope and found ourselves in a large cave with huge stalagmite columns. Through the center of the room ran an underground river, and Tyson was sitting by the banks, cradling Grover in his lap. Grover’s eyes were closed. He wasn’t moving.
“Tyson!” I yelled.
“Percy! Come quick!”
We ran over to him. Grover wasn’t dead, thank the gods, but his whole body trembled like he was freezing to death.
“What happened?” I asked.
“So many things,” Tyson murmured. “Large snake. Large dogs. Men with swords. But then…we got close to here. Grover was excited. He ran. Then we reached this room, and he fell. Like this.”
“Did he say anything?” I asked.
“He said, ‘We’re close.’ Then hit his head on rocks.”
I knelt next to him. The only other time I’d seen Grover pass out was New
Mexico, when he’d felt the presence of Pan.
I shined my flashlight around the cavern. The rocks glittered. At the far end was the entrance to another cave, flanked by gigantic columns of crystal that looked like diamonds. And beyond that entrance…
“Grover,” I said. “Wake up.”
Annabeth knelt next to him and splashed icy cold river water in his face.
“Splurg!” His eyelids fluttered. “Percy? Annabeth? Where…”
“It’s okay,” I said. “You passed out. The presence was too much for you.”
“I—I remember. Pan.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Something powerful is just beyond that doorway.”
I made quick introductions, since Tyson and Grover had never met Rachel. Tyson told Rachel she was pretty, which made Annabeth’s nostrils flare like she was going to blow fire.
“Anyway,” I said. “Come on, Grover. Lean on me.”
Annabeth and I helped him up, and together we waded across the underground river. The current was strong. The water came up to our waists. I willed myself to stay dry, which is a handy little ability, but that didn’t help the others, and I could still feel the cold, like wading through a snowdrift.
“I think we’re in Carlsbad Caverns,” Annabeth said, her teeth chattering. “Maybe an unexplored section.”
“How do you know?”
“Carlsbad is in New Mexico,” she said. “That would explain last winter.”
I nodded. Grover’s swooning episode had happened when we passed through New Mexico. That’s where he’d felt closest to the power of Pan.
We got out of the water and kept walking. As the crystal pillars loomed larger, I started to feel the power emanating from the next room. I’d been in the presence of gods before, but this was different. My skin tingled with living energy. My weariness fell away, as if I’d just gotten a good night’s sleep. I could feel myself growing stronger, like one of those plants in a time-lapse video. And the scent coming from the cave was nothing like the dank wet underground. It smelled of trees and flowers and a warm summer day.
Grover whimpered with excitement. I was too stunned to talk. Even Nico seemed speechless. We stepped into the cave, and Rachel said, “Oh, wow.”
The walls glittered with crystals—red, green, and blue. In the strange light, beautiful plants grew—giant orchids, star-shaped flowers, vines bursting with orange and purple berries that crept among the crystals. The cave floor was covered with green moss. Overhead, the ceiling was higher than a cathedral, sparkling like a galaxy of stars. In the center of the cave stood a Roman-style bed, gilded wood shaped like a curly U, with velvet cushions. Animals lounged around it—but they were animals that shouldn’t have been alive. There was a dodo bird, something that looked like a cross between a wolf and a tiger, a huge rodent like the mother of all guinea pigs, and roaming behind the bed, picking berries with its trunk, was a wooly mammoth.
On the bed lay an old satyr. He watched us as we approached, his eyes as blue as the sky. His curly hair was white and so was his pointed beard. Even the goat fur on his legs was frosted with gray. His horns were enormous— glossy brown and curved. There was no way he could’ve hidden those under a hat the way Grover did. Around his neck hung a set of reed pipes.
Grover fell to his knees in front of the bed. “Lord Pan!”
The god smiled kindly, but there was sadness in his eyes. “Grover, my dear, brave satyr. I have waited a very long time for you.”
“I…got lost,” Grover apologized.
Pan laughed. It was a wonderful sound, like the first breeze of springtime, filling the whole cavern with hope. The tiger-wolf sighed and rested his head on the god’s knee. The dodo bird pecked affectionately at the god’s hooves, making a strange sound in the back of its bill. I could swear it was humming “It’s a Small World.”
Still, Pan looked tired. His whole form shimmered as if he were made of Mist.
I noticed my other friends were kneeling. They had awed looks on their faces. I got to my knees.
“You have a humming dodo bird,” I said stupidly.
The god’s eyes twinkled. “Yes, that’s Dede. My little actress.”
Dede the dodo looked offended. She pecked at Pan’s knee and hummed something that sounded like a funeral dirge.
“This is the most beautiful place!” Annabeth said. “It’s better than any building ever designed.”
“I am glad you like it, dear,” Pan said. “It is one of the last wild places. My realm above is gone, I’m afraid. Only pockets remain. Tiny pieces of life. This one shall stay undisturbed…for a little longer.”
“My lord,” Grover said, “please, you must come back with me! The Elders will never believe it! They’ll be overjoyed! You can save the wild!”
Pan placed his hand on Grover’s head and ruffled his curly hair. “You are so young, Grover. So good and true. I think I chose well.”
“Chose?” Grover said. “I—I don’t understand.”
Pan’s image flickered, momentarily turning to smoke. The giant guinea pig scuttled under the bed with a terrified squeal. The wooly mammoth grunted nervously. Dede stuck her head under her wing. Then Pan re-formed.
“I have slept many eons,” the god said forlornly. “My dreams have been dark. I wake fitfully, and each time my waking is shorter. Now we are near the end.”
“What?” Grover cried. “But no! You’re right here!”
“My dear satyr,” Pan said. “I tried to tell the world, two thousand years ago. I announced it to Lysas, a satyr very much like you. he lived in Ephesos, and he tried to spread the word.”
Annabeth’s eyes widened. “The old story. A sailor passing by the coast of Ephesos heard a voice crying from the shore, ‘Tell them the great god Pan is dead.’”
“But that wasn’t true!” Grover said.
“Your kind never believed it,” Pan said. “You sweet, stubborn satyrs refused to accept my passing. And I love you for that, but you only delayed the inevitable. You only prolonged my long, painful passing, my dark twilight sleep. It must end.”
“No!” Grover’s voice trembled.
“Dear Grover,” Pan said. “You must accept the truth. Your companion, Nico, he understands.”
Nico nodded slowly. “He’s dying. He should have died long ago. This…this is more like a memory.”
“But gods can’t die,” Grover said.
“They can fade,” Pan said, “when everything they stood for is gone. When they cease to have power, and their sacred places disappear. The wild, my dear Grover, is so small now, so shattered, that no god can save it. My realm is gone. That is why I need you to carry a message. You must go back to the council. You must tell the satyrs, and the dryads, and the other spirits of nature, that the great god Pan is dead. Tell them of my passing. Because they must stop waiting for me to save them. I cannot. The only salvation you must make yourself. Each of you must—”
He stopped and frowned at the dodo bird, who had started humming again.
“Dede, what are you doing?” Pan demanded. “Are you singing Kumbaya again?”
Dede looked up innocently and blinked her yellow eyes.
Pan sighed. “Everybody’s a cynic. But as I was saying, my dear Grover, each of you must take up my calling.”
“But…no!” Grover whimpered.
“Be strong,” Pan said. “You have found me. And now you must release me. You must carry on my spirit. It can no longer be carried by a god. It must be taken up by all of you.”
Pan looked straight at me with his clear blue eyes, and I realized he wasn’t just talking about satyrs. He meant half-bloods, too, and humans. Everyone.
“Percy Jackson,” the god said. “I know what you have seen today. I know your doubts. But I give you this news: when the time comes, you will not be ruled by fear.”
He turned to Annabeth. “Daughter of Athena, your time is coming. You will play a great role, though it may not be the role you imagined.”
Then he looked at Tyson. “Master Cyclops, do not despair. Heroes rarely live up to our expectations. But you, Tyson—your name shall live among the Cyclopes for generations. And Miss Rachel Dare…”
Rachel flinched when he said her name. She backed up like she was guilty of something, but Pan only smiled. He raised his hand in a blessing.
“I know you believe you cannot make amends,” he said. “But you are just as important as your father.”