‘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 centre of the room ran an underground river, and Tyson was sitting by the bank, 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 he hit his head on rocks.’
I knelt next to him. The only other time I’d seen Grover pass out was in New Mexico, when he’d felt the presence of Pan.
I shone 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 had 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 soft green moss. Overhead, the ceiling was higher than a cathedral, sparkling like a galaxy of stars. In the centre 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 woolly 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 grey. 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.