17 The Lost God Speaks
We ran until we were exhausted. Rachel steered us away from traps, but we had no destination in mind – only away from that dark mountain and the roar of Kronos.
We stopped in a tunnel of wet white rock, like part of a natural cave. I couldn’t hear anything behind us, but I didn’t feel any safer. I could still remember those unnatural golden eyes staring out of Luke’s face, and the feeling that my limbs were slowly turning to stone.
‘I can’t go any further,’ Rachel gasped, hugging her chest.
Annabeth had been crying the entire time we’d been running. Now she collapsed and put her head between her knees. Her sobs echoed in the tunnel. Nico and I sat next to each other. He dropped his sword next to mine and took a shaky breath.
‘That sucked,’ he said, which I thought summed things up pretty well.
‘You saved our lives,’ I said.
Nico wiped the dust off his face. ‘Blame the girls for dragging me along. That’s the only thing they could agree on. We needed to help you or you’d mess things up.’
‘Nice that they trust me so much.’ I shone my flashlight across the cavern. Water dripped from the stalactites like a slow-motion rain. ‘Nico … you, uh, kind of gave yourself away.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘That wall of black stone? That was pretty impressive. If Kronos didn’t know who you were before, he does now – a child of the Underworld.’
Nico frowned. ‘Big deal.’
I let it drop. I figured he was just trying to hide how scared he was, and I couldn’t blame him.
Annabeth lifted her head. Her eyes were red from crying. ‘What … what was wrong with Luke? What did they do to him?’
I told her what I’d seen in the coffin, the way the last piece of Kronos’s spirit had entered Luke’s body when Ethan Nakamura pledged his service.
‘No,’ Annabeth said. ‘That can’t be true. He couldn’t –’
‘He gave himself over to Kronos,’ I said. ‘I’m sorry, Annabeth. But Luke is gone.’
‘No!’ she insisted. ‘You saw when Rachel hit him.’
I nodded, looking at Rachel with respect. ‘You hit the Lord of the Titans in the eye with a blue plastic hairbrush.’
Rachel looked embarrassed. ‘It was the only thing I had.’
‘But you saw,’ Annabeth insisted. ‘When it hit him, just for a second, he was dazed. He came back to his senses.’
‘So maybe Kronos wasn’t completely settled in the body, or whatever,’ I said. ‘It doesn’t mean Luke was in control.’
‘You want him to be evil, is that it?’ Annabeth yelled. ‘You didn’t know him before, Percy. I did!’
‘What is it with you?’ I snapped. ‘Why do you keep defending him?’
‘Whoa, you two,’ Rachel said. ‘Knock it off.’
Annabeth turned on her. ‘Stay out of it, mortal girl! If it wasn’t for you …’
Whatever she was going to say, her voice broke. She put her head down again and sobbed miserably. I wanted to comfort her, but I didn’t know how. I still felt stunned, like Kronos’s time-slowing effect had affected my brain. I just couldn’t comprehend what I’d seen. Kronos was alive. He was armed. And the end of the world was probably close at hand.
‘We have to keep moving,’ Nico said. ‘He’ll send monsters after us.’
Nobody was in any shape to run, but Nico was right. I hauled myself up and helped Rachel to her feet.
‘You were great back there,’ I told her.
She managed a weak smile. ‘Yeah, well. I didn’t want you to die.’ She blushed. ‘I mean … just because, you know. You owe me too many favours. 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 through the Labyrinth again.
‘Back to New York,’ I said. ‘Rachel, can you –’
I froze. A few metres 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.