Chapter no 14

The Burning Maze

Bedrossian Man Bedrossian Man, runs as Fast as … yoga pants

‘Don’t judge,’ Piper warned as she re-emerged from her room.

I would not have dreamed of it.

Piper McLean looked fashionably ready for combat in her bright white Converses, distressed skinny jeans, leather belt and orange camp tee. Braided down one side of her hair was a bright blue feather – a harpy feather, if I wasn’t mistaken.

Strapped to her belt was a triangular-bladed dagger like the kind Greek women used to wear – a parazonium. Hecuba, future queen of Troy, sported one back when we were dating. It was mostly ceremonial, as I recalled, but very sharp. (Hecuba had a bit of a temper.)‌

Hanging from the other side of Piper’s belt … Ah. I guessed this was the reason she felt self-conscious. Holstered to her thigh was a miniature quiver stocked with foot-long projectiles, their fletching made from fluffy thistles. Slung across her shoulder, along with a backpack, was a four-foot tube of river cane.

‘A blowpipe!’ I cried. ‘I love blowpipes!’

Not that I was an expert, mind you, but the blowpipe was a missile weapon – elegant, difficult to master and very sneaky. How could I not love it?

Meg scratched her neck. ‘Are blowpipes Greeky?’

Piper laughed. ‘No, they’re not Greeky. But they are Cherokee-y. My Grandpa Tom made this one for me a long time ago. He was always trying to get me to practise.’

Grover’s goatee twitched as if trying to free itself from his chin, Houdini-style. ‘Blowpipes are really difficult to use. My Uncle Ferdinand had one.

How good are you?’

‘Not the best,’ Piper admitted. ‘Nowhere near as good as my cousin in Tahlequah; she’s a tribal champion. But I’ve been practising. Last time Jason and I were in the maze –’ she patted her quiver – ‘these came in handy. You’ll see.’

Grover managed to contain his excitement. I understood his concern. In a novice’s hands, a blowpipe was more dangerous to allies than to enemies.

‘And the dagger?’ Grover asked. ‘Is that really –?’ ‘Katoptris,’ Piper said proudly. ‘Belonged to Helen of Troy.’‌

I yelped. ‘You have Helen of Troy’s dagger? Where did you find it?’ Piper shrugged. ‘In a shed at camp.’

I felt like pulling out my hair. I remembered the day Helen had received that dagger as a wedding present. Such a gorgeous blade, held by the most beautiful woman ever to walk the earth. (No offence to the billions of other women out there who are also quite enchanting; I love you all.) And Piper had found this historically significant, well-crafted, powerful weapon in a shed?

Alas, time makes bric-a-brac of everything, no matter how important. I wondered if such a fate awaited me. In a thousand years, somebody might find me in a toolshed and say, Oh, look. Apollo, god of poetry. Maybe I can polish him up and use him.

‘Does the blade still show visions?’ I asked.

‘You know about that, huh?’ Piper shook her head. ‘The visions stopped last summer. That wouldn’t have anything to do with you getting kicked out of Olympus, would it, Mr God of Prophecy?’

Meg sniffed. ‘Most things are his fault.’

‘Hey!’ I said. ‘Er, moving right along, Piper, where exactly are you taking us? If all your cars have been repossessed, I’m afraid we’re stuck with Coach Hedge’s Pinto.’

Piper smirked. ‘I think we can do better than that. Follow me.’

She led us to the driveway, where Mr McLean had resumed his duties as a dazed wanderer. He meandered around the drive, head bowed as if he were looking for a dropped coin. His hair stuck up in ragged rows where his fingers had raked through it.

On the tailgate of a nearby truck, the movers were taking their lunch break, casually eating off china plates that had no doubt been in the McLeans’ kitchen not long before.

Mr McLean looked up at Piper. He seemed unconcerned by her knife and blowpipe. ‘Going out?’

‘Just for a while.’ Piper kissed her father on the cheek. ‘I’ll be back tonight.

Don’t let them take the sleeping bags, okay? You and I can camp out on the terrace. It’ll be fun.’

‘All right.’ He patted her arm absently. ‘Good luck … studying?’ ‘Yep,’ Piper said. ‘Studying.’

You have to love the Mist. You can stroll out of your house heavily armed, in the company of a satyr, a demigod and a flabby former Olympian, and, thanks to the Mist’s perception-bending magic, your mortal father assumes you’re going to a study group. That’s right, Dad. We need to go over some maths problems that involve the trajectory of blowpipe darts against moving targets.

Piper led us across the street to the nearest neighbour’s house – a Frankenstein’s mansion of Tuscan tiles, modern windows and Victorian gables that screamed, I have too much money and not enough taste! HELP!

In the wraparound driveway, a heavy-set man in athleisure-wear was just getting out of his white Cadillac Escalade.

‘Mr Bedrossian!’ Piper called.

The man jumped, facing Piper with a look of terror. Despite his workout shirt, his ill-advised yoga pants, and his flashy running shoes, he looked like he’d been more leisurely than athletic. He was neither sweaty nor out of breath. His thinning hair made a perfect brushstroke of black grease across his scalp. When he frowned, his features gravitated towards the centre of his face as if circling the twin black holes of his nostrils.

‘P-Piper,’ he stammered. ‘What do you –?’

‘I would love to borrow the Escalade, thank you!’ Piper beamed. ‘Uh, actually, this isn’t –’

‘This isn’t a problem?’ Piper supplied. ‘And you’d be delighted to lend it to me for the day? Fantastic!’

Bedrossian’s face convulsed. He forced out the words, ‘Yes. Of course.’ ‘Keys, please?’

Mr Bedrossian tossed her the fob, then ran into his house as fast as his tight-fitting yoga pants would allow.

Meg whistled under her breath. ‘That was cool.’ ‘What was that?’ Grover asked.

‘That,’ I said, ‘was charmspeaking.’ I reappraised Piper McLean, not sure if I should be impressed or if I should run after Mr Bedrossian in a panic. ‘A rare gift among Aphrodite’s children. Do you borrow Mr Bedrossian’s car a lot?’

Piper shrugged. ‘He’s been an awful neighbour. He also has a dozen other cars. Believe me, we’re not causing him any hardship. Besides, I usually bring back what I borrow. Usually. Shall we go? Apollo, you can drive.’

‘But –’

She smiled that sweetly scary I-could-make-you-do-it smile. ‘I’ll drive,’ I said.


We took the scenic coastal road south in the Bedrossian-mobile. Since the Escalade was only slightly smaller than Hephaestus’s fire-breathing hydra

tank, I had to be careful to avoid sideswiping motorcycles, mailboxes, small children on tricycles and other annoying obstacles.

‘Are we going to pick up Jason?’ I asked.

Next to me in the passenger’s seat, Piper loaded a dart into her blowpipe. ‘No need. Besides, he’s in school.’

‘You’re not.’

‘I’m moving, remember? As of next Monday, I’m enrolled at Tahlequah High.’ She raised her blowpipe like a champagne glass. ‘Go, Tigers.’

Her words sounded strangely unironic. Again, I wondered how she could be so resigned to her fate, so ready to let Caligula expel her and her father from the life they had built here. But, since she had a loaded weapon in her hand, I didn’t challenge her.

Meg’s head popped up between our seats. ‘We won’t need your ex-boyfriend?’

I swerved and almost ran over someone’s grandmother.

‘Meg!’ I chided. ‘Sit back and buckle up, please. Grover –’ I glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw the satyr chewing on a strip of grey fabric. ‘Grover, stop eating your seat belt. You’re setting a bad example.’

He spat out the strap. ‘Sorry.’

Piper ruffled Meg’s hair, then playfully pushed her into the back seat. ‘To answer your question, no. We’ll be fine without Jason. I can show you the way into the maze. It was my dream, after all. This entrance is the one the emperor uses, so it should be the straightest shot to the centre, where he’s keeping your Sibyl.’

‘And when you went inside before,’ I said, ‘what happened?’

Piper shrugged. ‘The usual Labyrinth stuff – traps, changing corridors.

Also some strange creatures. Guards. Hard to describe. And fire. Lots of that.’

I remembered my vision of Herophile, raising her chained arms in the room of lava, apologizing to someone who wasn’t me.

‘You didn’t actually find the Oracle?’ I asked.

Piper was silent for half a block, gazing at flashes of ocean vista between houses. ‘I didn’t. But there was a short time when we got separated, Jason and me. Now … I’m wondering if he told me everything that happened to him.

I’m pretty sure he didn’t.’

Grover refastened his mangled seat belt. ‘Why would he lie?’

‘That,’ Piper said, ‘is a very good question and a good reason to go back there without him. To see for myself.’

I had a sense that Piper was holding back quite a bit herself – doubts, guesses, personal feelings, maybe what had happened to her in the Labyrinth.

Hooray, I thought. Nothing spices up a dangerous quest like personal drama between formerly romantically involved heroes who may or may not be telling each other (and me) the whole truth.

Piper directed me into downtown Los Angeles.

I considered this a bad sign. ‘Downtown Los Angeles’ had always struck me as an oxymoron, like ‘hot ice cream’ or ‘military intelligence’. (Yes, Ares, that was an insult.)

Los Angeles was all about sprawl and suburbs. It wasn’t meant to have a downtown, any more than pizza was meant to have mango chunks. Oh, sure, here and there among the dull grey government buildings and closed-up shopfronts, parts of downtown had been revitalized. As we zigzagged through the surface streets, I spotted plenty of new condos, hip stores and swanky hotels. But, to me, all those efforts seemed about as effective as putting makeup on a Roman legionnaire. (And, believe me, I’d tried.)

We pulled over near Grand Park, which was neither grand nor much of a park. Across the street rose an eight-storey honeycomb of concrete and glass. I seemed to recall going there once, decades before, to register my divorce from Greta Garbo. Or was it Liz Taylor? I couldn’t recall.

‘The Hall of Records?’ I asked.

‘Yeah,’ Piper said. ‘But we’re not going inside. Just park in the fifteen-minute loading zone over there.’

Grover leaned forward. ‘What if we’re not back in fifteen minutes?’ Piper smiled. ‘Then I’m sure the towing company will take good care of

Mr Bedrossian’s Escalade.’

Once on foot, we followed Piper to the side of the government complex, where she put her finger to her lips for quiet, then motioned for us to peek around the corner.

Running the length of the block was a twenty-foot-high concrete wall, punctuated by unremarkable metal doors that I assumed were service entrances. In front of one of those doors, about halfway down the block, stood a strange-looking guard.

Despite the warm day, he wore a black suit and tie. He was squat and burly, with unusually large hands. Wrapped around his head was something I couldn’t quite figure out, like an extra-large Arabic kaffiyeh made of fuzzy white terrycloth, which draped across his shoulders and hung halfway down his back. That alone might not have been so strange. He could have been a private security guard working for some Saudi oil tycoon. But why was he standing in an alley next to a nondescript metal door? And why was his face entirely covered in white fur – fur that exactly matched his headdress?

Grover sniffed the air, then pulled us back around the corner. ‘That guy isn’t human,’ he whispered.

‘Give the satyr a prize,’ Piper whispered back, though I wasn’t sure why we were being so quiet. We were half a block away, and there was plenty of street noise.

‘What is he?’ Meg asked.

Piper checked the dart in her blowpipe. ‘That’s a good question. But they can be real trouble if you don’t take them by surprise.’

‘They?’ I asked.

‘Yeah.’ Piper frowned. ‘Last time, there were two. And they had black fur. Not sure how this one is different. But that door is the entrance to the maze, so we need to take him out.’

‘Should I use my swords?’ Meg asked.

‘Only if I miss.’ Piper took a few deep breaths. ‘Ready?’

I didn’t imagine she would accept no as an answer, so I nodded along with Grover and Meg.

Piper stepped out, raised her blowpipe and fired.

It was a fifty-foot shot, at the edge of what I consider practical blowpipe range, but Piper hit her target. The dart pierced the man’s left trouser leg.

The guard looked down at the strange new accoutrement protruding from his thigh. The shaft’s fletching matched his white fur perfectly.

Oh, great, I thought. We just made him angry.

Meg summoned her golden swords. Grover fumbled for his reed pipes. I prepared to run away screaming. ‘Wait,’ Piper said.

The guard listed sideways, as if the whole city were tilting to starboard, then passed out cold on the sidewalk.

I raised my eyebrows. ‘Poison?’

‘Grandpa Tom’s special recipe,’ Piper said. ‘Now, come on. I’ll show you what’s really weird about Fuzz Face.’

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