The Battle of the Labyrinth
"Think positive. Tomorrow you're off to camp! After orientation, you've got your date-"
"It's not a date!" I protested. "It's just Annabeth, Mom. Jeez!"
"She's coming all the way from camp to meet you."
"You're going to the movies."
"Just the two of you."
She held up her hands in surrender, but I could tell she was trying hard not to smile.
I burst out of the alley onto East 81st and ran straight into Annabeth.
"Hey, you're out early!" She laughed, grabbing my shoulders to keep me from tumbling into the street. "Watch where you're going, Seaweed Brain."
For a split second, she was in a good mood and everything was fine. She was wearing jeans and an orange camp T-shirt and her clay bead necklace. He blond hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Her gray eyes sparkled. She looked like she was ready to catch a movie, have a cool afternoon hanging out together.
Then Rachel Elizabeth Dare, still covered in monster dust, came charging out of the alley, yelling. "Percy, wait up!"
She frowned at me. "What did you do this time? And who is this?"
Annabeth stared at me for a second. Then she turned and took off.
"Hey!" I jogged after her. "There were these two empousai," I tried to explain. "They were cheerleaders, see, and they said camp was going to burn, and-"
"You told a mortal girl about half-bloods?"
"She can see through the Mist. She saw the monsters before I did."
"So you told her the truth."
"She recognized me from Hoover Dam, so-"
"You've met her before?"
"Um, last winter. But seriously, I barely know her."
"She's kinda cute."
"I-I never thought about it."
Annabeth kept walking toward York Avenue.
"I'll deal with the school," I promised, anxious to change the subject "Honest, it'll be fine."
Annabeth wouldn't even look at me. "I guess our afternoon is off, now that the poilce will be searching for you."
Someone else slid next to me on the bench: Annabeth.
"I'll tell you what it's about," she said. "The Labyrinth."
It was hard to concentrate on what she was saying, because everybody in the dining pavilion was stealing glances at us and whispering. and Annabeth was right next to me. I mean right next to me.
Annabeth nodded. Despite how serious she was acting, I was happy she wasn't mad at me anymore. and I kind of liked the fact that she'd broken the rules to come sit next to me.
Over at the head table, Quintus cleared his throat. I got the feeling he didn't want to make a scene, but Annabeth was really pushing it, sitting at my table so long.
"We'll talk later." Annabeth squeezed my arm a little to hard. "Convince him, will you?"
She returned to the Athena table, ignoring all the people who were staring at her.
Quintus kept rattling off names until he said, "Percy Jackson with Annabeth Chase."
"Nice." I grinned at Annabeth.
"Your armor is crooked," was her only comment, and she redid my straps for me.
I started forward, but Annabeth stopped me. "Don't take another step," she warned. "We need to find the exit."
She sounded really scared now.
"It's okay," I promised. "It's right-"
I looked up and realized I couldn't see where we'd fallen in. The ceiling was solid stone. The corridor seemed to stretch endlessly in both directions.
Annabeth's hand slipped into mine. Under different circumstances, I would've been embarrassed, but here in the dark I was glad to know where she was. It was about the only thing I was sure of.
"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.
Annabeth stood in the back of the room, rifling through old scrolls.
"Knock, knock?" I said.
She turned with a start. "Oh...hi. Didn't hear you."
She frowned at the scroll in her hands. "Just trying to do some research. Daedalus's Labyrinth is so huge. none of the stories agree about anything. The maps just lead from nowhere to nowhere."
I thought about what Quintus had said, how the maze tries to distract you. I wondered if Annabeth knew that already.
"We'll figure it out," I promised.
Her hair had come loose and was hanging in a tangled blond curtain around her face. Her gray eyes looked almost black.
"I've wanted to lead a quest since I was seven," she said.
"You're going to do awesome."
She looked at me gratefully, but then stared down at all the books and scrolls she'd pulled from the shelved. "I'm worried, Percy. Maybe I shouldn't have asked you to do this. Or Tyson or Grover."
"Hey, we're your friends. We wouldn't miss it."
"But..." She stopped herself.
"What is it?" I asked. "The prophecy?"
"I'm sure it's fine," she said in a small voice.
"What was the last line?"
Then she did something that really surprised me. She blinked back tears and put out her arms.
I stepped forward and hugged her. Butterflies started turning my stomach into a mosh pit.
"Hey, it's...it's okay." I patted her back.
I was aware of everything in the room. I felt like I could read the tiniest print on any book on the shelves. Annabeth's hair smelled like lemon soap. She was shivering.
"Chiron might be right," she muttered. "I'm breaking the rules. But I don't know what else to do. I need you three. It just feels right."
"Then don't worry about it," I managed. "We've had plenty of problems before, and we solved them."
"This is different. I don't want anything happening to...any of you."
Behind me, somebody cleared his throat.
It was one of Annabeth's half-brothers, Malcolm. His face was bright red. "Um, sorry," he said. "Archery practice is starting, Annabeth. Chiron said to come find you."
I stepped away from Annabeth. "We were just looking at maps," I said stupidly.
Malcolm stared at me. "Okay."
"Tell Chiron I'll be right there," Annabeth said, and Malcolm left in a hurry.
"Annabeth rubbed her eyes. "You go ahead, Percy. I'd better get ready for archery."
I nodded, feeling more confused than I ever had in my life. I wanted to run from the cabin...but then again I didn't.
I tried to fall asleep, but I couldn't. Something about getting chased by a large dragon lady with poison swords made it real hard to relax. I picked up my bedroll and dragged it over to where Annabeth was sitting, keeping watch.
I sat down next to her.
"You should sleep," she said.
"Can't. You doing all right?"
"Sure. First day leading the quest. Just great."
"We'll get there," I said. "We'll find the workshop before Luke does."
She brushed her hair out of her face. She had a smudge of dirt on her chin, and i imagined what she must've looked like when she was little, wandering around the country with Thalia and Luke. Once she'd saved them from the mansion of the evil Cyclops when she was only seven. Even when she looked scared, like now, I knew she had a lot of guts.
"I just wish the quest was logical," she complained. "I mean, we're traveling but we have no idea where we'll end up. How can you walk from New York to California in a day?"
"Space isn't the same in the maze."
"I know, I know. it's just..." She looked at me hesitantly. "Percy, I was kidding myself. All that planning and reading. I don't have a clue where we're going."
"You're doing great. Besides, we never know what we're doing. It always works out. Remember Circe's island?"
She snorted. "You made a cute guinea pig."
"And Waterland, how you got us thrown off that ride?"
"I got us thrown off? That was totally your fault!"
"See? It'll be fine."
"I'm a child of Athena," she insisted. and this is an insult to my intelligence. I won't answer these questions."
Part of me was impressed with her for standing up like that. but part of me thought her pride was going to get us all killed.
I didn't dare call after her, but I didn't like the idea of her approaching the forge on her own. If those things out there could sense a god coming, would Annabeth be safe?
The Infamous Page 203
"Put your cap back on," I said. "Get out!"
"What?" Annabeth shrieked. "No! I'm not leaving you."
"I've got a plan. I'll distract them. you can use the metal spider-maybe it'll lead you back to Hephaestus. You have to tell him what's going on."
"But you'll be killed!"
"I'll be fine. Besides, we've got no choice."
Annabeth glared at me like she was going to punch me. And then she did something that surprised me even more. She kissed me.
"Be careful, Seaweed Brain." She put on her hat an vanished.
I probably would've sat there for the rest of the day, staring at the lava and trying to remember what my name was, but the sea demons jarred me back to reality.
Annabeth turned to face the audience. She looked terrible. Her eyes were puffy from crying, but she managed to say, "He was probably the bravest friend I've ever had. He..." Then she saw me. Her face went blood red. "He's right there!"
Heads turned. People gasped.
"Percy!" Beckendorf grinned. A bunch of other kids crowded around me and clapped me on the back. I heard a few curses from the Ares cabin, but Clarisse just rolled her eyes, like she couldn't believe I'd had the nerve to survive. Chiron cantered over and everyone made way for him.
"Well," he sighed with obvious relief. "I don't believe I've ever been happier to see a camper return. But you must tell me-"
"WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?" Annabeth interrupted, shoving aside the other campers. I thought she was going to punch me, but instead she hugged me so fiercely she nearly cracked my ribs. The other campers fell silent. Annabeth seemed to realize she was making a scene and pushed me away. "I-we thought you were dead, Seaweed Brain!"
"I'm sorry," I said. "I got lost."
"LOST?" she yelled. "Two weeks, Percy? Where in the world-"
"Annabeth," Chiron interrupted. "Perhaps we should discuss this somewhere more private, shall we? The rest of you, back to your normal activities!"
Annabeth glared at me. "You are the single most annoying person I have ever met!" And she stormed out of the room.
I stared at the doorway. I felt like hitting something. "So much for being the bravest friend she's ever had."
"She will calm down," Chiron promised. "She's jealous, my boy."
"That's stupid. She's not...it's not like..."
Chiron chuckled. "It hardly matters. Annabeth is very territorial about her friends in case you haven't noticed. She was quite worried about you. And now that you're back, I think she suspects where you were marooned."
"We'll try, Ms. Jackson," Annabeth said. "Keeping your son safe is a big job, though." She folded her arms and glared out the kitchen window. I picked at my napkin and tried not to say anything.
My mom frowned. "What's been going on with you two? Have you been fighting?"
Neither of us said anything.
"I see," my mom said, and I wondered if she could see through more than just the Mist. It sounded like she understood what was going on with Annabeth and me, but I sure as heck didn't. "Well, remember," she said, "Grover and Tyson are counting on you two."
"I know," Annabeth and I said at the same time, which embarrassed me even more.
Annabeth stood. "The fire's getting low. I'll go look for some more scraps while you guys talk strategy." And she marched off into the shadows.
Rachel drew another figure with her stick-an ashy Antaeus dangling from his chains.
"Annabeth's not usually like this," I told her. "I don't know what her problem is."
Rachel raised her eyebrows. "Are you sure you don't know?"
"What do you mean?"
"Boys," she muttered. "Totally blind."
Kampê landed on the Athena command tent, smashing it flat. I ran after her and found Annabeth at my side, keeping pace, her sword in hand.
"This might be it," she said.
"Nice fighting with you, Seaweed Brain."
Annabeth and I pretty much skirted around each other. I was glad to be with her, but it also kind of hurt, and it hurt when I wasn't with her, too.
I hoped Annabeth would be riding into Manhattan with me, but she only came to see me off. She said she'd arranged to stay at camp a little longer. She would tend to Chiron until his leg was fully recovered, and keep studying Daedalus's laptop, which had engrossed her for the past two months. Then she would head back to her father's place in San Francisco.
"There's a private school out there that I'll be going to," she said. 'I'll probably hate it, but..." She shrugged.
"Yeah, well, call me, okay?"
"Sure," she said half-heartedly. "I'll keep my eyes open for..."
There it was again. Luke. She couldn't even say his name without opening up a huge box of hurt and worry and anger.
"I'm sorry," Annabeth told me. "I-I should get back. I'll keep in touch."
"Listen, Annabeth-" I thought about Mount St. Helens, Calypso's Island, Luke, and Rachel Elizabeth Dare, and how suddenly everything had gotten so complicated. I wanted to tell Annabeth that I didn't really want to be so distant from her.
Then Argus honked his horn down the road, and I lost my chance.
"You'd better get going," Annabeth said. "Take care, Seaweed Brain."
She jogged down the hill. I watched her until she reached that cabins. She didn't look back once.
"You've had a rough summer," he said. "I'm guessing you lost someone important. And...girl trouble?"
I stared at him. "How did you know that? Did my mom-"
He held up his hands. 'Your mom hasn't said a thing. And I won't pry. I just know there's something unusual about you, Percy. You've got a lot going on that I can't figure. But I was also fifteen once, and I'm just guessing from your expression...Well, you've had a rough time."
"You'd better go," Poseidon said. "But, Percy, one last thing you should know. that incident at Mount St. Helens..."
For a second I thought he was talking about Annabeth kissing me, and I blushed, but then I realized he was talking about something a lot bigger.