‘Nico, what happened?’ I asked. ‘Can you talk?’
He nodded weakly. ‘Never tried to summon so many before. I – I’ll be fine.’
We helped him sit up and gave him some more nectar. He blinked at all of us, like he was trying to remember who we were, and then he focused on someone behind me.
‘Daedalus,’ he croaked.
‘Yes, my boy,’ the inventor said. ‘I made a very bad mistake. I came to correct it.’
Daedalus had a few scratches that were bleeding golden oil, but he looked better than most of us. Apparently his automaton body healed itself quickly. Mrs O’Leary loomed behind him, licking the wounds on her master’s head so Daedalus’s hair stood up funny. Briares stood next to him, surrounded by a group of awed campers and satyrs. He looked kind of bashful, but he was signing autographs on armour, shields and T-shirts.
‘I found the Hundred-handed One as I came through the maze,’ Daedalus explained. ‘It seems he had the same idea, to come and help, but he was lost. And so we fell in together. We both came to make amends.’
‘Yay!’ Tyson jumped up and down. ‘Briares! I knew you would come!’
‘I did not know,’ the Hundred-handed One said. ‘But you reminded me who I am, Cyclops. You are the hero.’
Tyson blushed, but I patted him on the back. ‘I knew that a long time ago,’ I said. ‘But, Daedalus… the Titan army is still down there. Even without the string, they’ll be back. They’ll find a way sooner or later, with Kronos leading them.’
Daedalus sheathed his sword. ‘You are right. As long as the Labyrinth is here, your enemies can use it. Which is why the Labyrinth cannot continue.’
Annabeth stared at him. ‘But you said the Labyrinth is tied to your life force! As long as you’re alive –’
‘Yes, my young architect,’ Daedalus agreed. ‘When I die, the Labyrinth will die as well. And so I have a present for you.’
He slung a leather satchel off his back, unzipped it and produced a sleek silver laptop computer – one of the ones I’d seen in the workshop. On the lid was the blue symbol Δ.
‘My work is here,’ he said. ‘It’s all I managed to save from the fire. Notes on projects I never started. Some of my favourite designs. I couldn’t develop these over the last few millennia. I did not dare reveal my work to the mortal world. But perhaps you will find them interesting.’
He handed the computer to Annabeth, who stared at it like it was solid gold. ‘You’re giving me this? But this is priceless! This is worth… I don’t even know how much!’
‘Small compensation for the way I have acted,’ Daedalus said. ‘You were right, Annabeth, about children of Athena. We should be wise, and I was not. Someday you will be a greater architect than I ever was. Take my ideas and improve them. It is the least I can do before I pass on.’
‘Whoa,’ I said. ‘Pass on? But you can’t just kill yourself. That’s wrong!’
He shook his head. ‘Not as wrong as hiding from my crimes for two thousand years. Genius does not excuse evil, Percy. My time has come. I must face my punishment.’
‘You won’t get a fair trial,’ Annabeth said. ‘The spirit of Minos sits in judgement –’
‘I will take what comes,’ he said. ‘And trust in the justice of the Underworld, such as it is. That is all we can do, isn’t it?’
He looked straight at Nico, and Nico’s face darkened.
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Will you take my soul for ransom, then?’ Daedalus asked. ‘You could use it to reclaim your sister.’
‘No,’ Nico said. ‘I will help you release your spirit. But Bianca has passed. She must stay where she is.’
Daedalus nodded. ‘Well said, son of Hades. You are becoming wise,’ Then he turned towards me. ‘One last favour, Percy Jackson. I cannot leave Mrs O’Leary alone. And she has no desire to return to the Underworld. Will you care for her?’
I looked at the massive black hound, who whimpered pitifully, still licking Daedalus’s hair. I was thinking that my mom’s apartment wouldn’t allow dogs, especially dogs bigger than the apartment, but I said, ‘Yeah. Of course I will.’
‘Then I am ready to see my son… and Perdix,’ he said. ‘I must tell them how sorry I am.’
Annabeth had tears in her eyes.
Daedalus turned towards Nico, who drew his sword. At first I was afraid Nico would kill the old inventor, but he simply said, ‘Your time is long since come. Be released and rest.’
A smile of relief spread across Daedalus’s face. He froze like a statue. His skin turned transparent, revealing the bronze gears and machinery whirring inside his body. Then the statue turned to grey ash and disintegrated.