Chapter no 37

The Burning Maze

Want to play a game?

It’s easy. You take a guess. Then you burn to death.

This part of the maze had no elevators, wandering government employees, or signs reminding us to honk before turning corners.

We reached the bottom of the stairs and found a vertical shaft in the floor. Grover, being part goat, had no difficulty climbing down. After he called up that no monsters or fallen bears were waiting for us, Meg grew a thick swathe of wisteria down the side of the pit, which allowed us some handholds and also smelled lovely.

We dropped into a small square chamber with four tunnels radiating outward, one from each wall. The air was hot and dry as if the fires of Helios had recently swept through. Sweat beaded on my skin. In my quiver, arrow shafts creaked and fletching hissed.

Grover peered forlornly at the tiny bit of sunlight seeping down from above.

‘We’ll get back to the upper world,’ I promised him. ‘I was just wondering if Piper got my message.’

Meg looked at him over her blue-taped glasses. ‘What message?’

‘I ran into a cloud nymph when I was picking up the Mercedes,’ he said, as if running into cloud nymphs often happened when he was borrowing automobiles. ‘I asked her to take a message to Mellie, tell her what we were up to – assuming, you know, the nymph makes it there safely.’

I considered this, wondering why Grover hadn’t mentioned it earlier. ‘Were you hoping Piper might meet us here?’

‘Not really …’ His expression said, Yes, please, gods, we could use the help. ‘I just thought she should know what we were doing in case …’ His

expression said, in case we combust into flames and are never heard from again.

I disliked Grover’s expressions. ‘Time for the shoes,’ Meg said.

I realized she was looking at me. ‘What?’

‘The shoes.’ She pointed at the sandals hanging from my belt.

‘Oh, right.’ I tugged them from my belt. ‘I don’t suppose, er, either of you want to try them on?’

‘Nuh-uh,’ said Meg.

Grover shuddered. ‘I’ve had bad experiences with enchanted footwear.’

I was not excited to wear an evil emperor’s sandals. I feared they might turn me into a power-hungry maniac. Also, they didn’t go with my arctic camouflage. Nevertheless, I sat on the floor and laced up the caligae. It made me appreciate just how much more of the world the Roman Empire might have conquered if they’d had access to Velcro straps.

I stood up and tried a few steps. The sandals dug into my ankles and pinched at the sides. In the plus column, I felt no more sociopathic than usual. Hopefully I had not been infected with Caligulitis.

‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Shoes, lead us to the Erythraean Sibyl!’

The shoes did nothing. I thrust a toe in one direction, then another, wondering if they needed a kick start. I checked the soles for buttons or battery compartments. Nothing.

‘What do we do now?’ I asked no one in particular.

The chamber brightened with a faint gold light, as if someone had turned up a dimmer switch.

‘Guys.’ Grover pointed at our feet. On the rough cement floor, the faint gold outline of a five-foot square had appeared. If it had been a trapdoor, we would’ve all dropped straight through. Identical connected squares branched off down each of the corridors like the spaces of a board game. The trails were not of equal length. One extended only three spaces into the hallway.

Another was five spaces long. Another was seven. Another six.

Against the chamber wall on my right, a glowing golden inscription appeared in Ancient Greek: Python-slayer, golden-lyred, armed with arrows of dread.

‘What’s going on?’ Meg asked. ‘What’s that say?’ ‘You can’t read Ancient Greek?’ I asked.

‘And you can’t tell a strawberry from a yam,’ she retorted. ‘What’s it say?’ I gave her the translation.

Grover stroked his goatee. ‘That sounds like Apollo. I mean, you. When you used to be … good.’

I swallowed my hurt feelings. ‘Of course it’s Apollo. I mean, me.’ ‘So, is the maze, like … welcoming you?’ Meg asked.

That would have been nice. I’d always wanted a voice-activated virtual assistant for my palace on Olympus, but Hephaestus hadn’t been able to get the technology quite right. The one time he tried, the assistant had been named Alexasiriastrophona. She’d been very picky about having her name pronounced perfectly, and at the same time had an annoying habit of getting my requests wrong. I’d say, Alexasiriastrophona, send a plague arrow to destroy Corinth, please. And she would reply, I think you said: Men blame rows of soy and corn fleas.

Here in the Burning Maze, I doubted a virtual assistant had been installed. If it had been, it would probably only ask at which temperature I preferred to be cooked.

‘This is a word puzzle,’ I decided. ‘Like an acrostic or a crossword. The Sibyl is trying to guide us to her.’

Meg frowned at the different hallways. ‘If she’s trying to help, why can’t she just make it easy and give us a single direction?’

‘This is how Herophile operates,’ I said. ‘It’s the only way she can help us.

I believe we have to, er, fill in the correct answer in the correct number of spaces.’

Grover scratched his head. ‘Does anyone have a giant golden pen? I wish Percy were here.’

‘I don’t think we need that,’ I said. ‘We just need to walk in the right direction to spell out my name. Apollo, six letters. Only one of these corridors has six spaces.’

‘Are you counting the space we’re standing in?’ Meg asked.

‘Uh, no,’ I said. ‘Let’s assume this is the start space.’ Her question made me doubt myself, though.

‘What if the answer is Lester?’ she said. ‘That has six spaces, too.’

The idea made my throat itch. ‘Will you please stop asking good questions?

I had this all figured out!’

‘Or what if the answer is in Greek?’ Grover added. ‘The question is in Greek. How many spaces would your name be then?’

Another annoyingly logical point. My name in Greek was Απολλων. ‘That would be seven spaces,’ I admitted. ‘Even if transcribed in English,


‘Ask the Arrow of Dodona?’ Grover suggested.

The scar in my chest tingled like a faulty electric outlet. ‘That’s probably against the rules.’

Meg snorted. ‘You just don’t want to talk to the arrow. Why not try?’

If I resisted, I imagined she would phrase it as an order, so I pulled forth the Arrow of Dodona.



‘Relax,’ I told it. ‘I just want some advice.’


‘Oh, joy. Oh, happiness.’ I turned to my friends. ‘The arrow loves crosswords.’

I explained our predicament to the arrow, who insisted on getting a closer look at the floor squares and the hint written on the wall. A closer look … with what eyes? I did not know.


‘He sayeth –’ I sighed. ‘He says the answer will be in English. I hope he means modern English and not the strange Shakespearean lingo he speaks –’

’TIS NOT STRANGE! the arrow objected.

‘Because we don’t have enough spaces to spell Apollonius beest thy answereth.’


‘Thanks for playing.’ I sheathed the arrow. ‘So, friends, the tunnel with six squares. Apollo. Shall we?’

‘What if we choose wrong?’ Grover asked.

‘Well,’ I said, ‘perhaps the magic sandals will help. Or perhaps the sandals only allow us to play this game in the first place, and if we stray from the right path, despite the Sibyl’s efforts to assist us, we will open ourselves up to the fury of the maze –’

‘And we burn to death,’ Meg said.

‘I love games,’ Grover said. ‘Lead on.’

‘The answer is Apollo!’ I said, just for the record.

As soon as I stepped to the next square, a large capital A appeared at my feet.

I took this as a good sign. I stepped again, and a P appeared. My two friends followed close behind.

At last we stepped off the sixth square, into a small chamber identical to the last. Looking back, the entire word APOLLO blazed in our wake. Before us, three more corridors with golden rows of squares led onward – left, right and forward.

‘There’s another clue.’ Meg pointed to the wall. ‘Why is this one in English?’

‘I don’t know,’ I said. Then I read aloud the glowing words: ‘Herald of new entrances, opener of the softly gliding year, Janus, of the double.’

‘Oh, that guy. Roman god of doorways.’ Grover shuddered. ‘I met him once.’ He looked around suspiciously. ‘I hope he doesn’t pop up. He would love this place.’

Meg traced her fingers across the golden lines. ‘Kinda easy, isn’t it? His name’s right there in the clue. Five letters, J-A-N-U-S, so it’s got to be that way.’ She pointed down the hallway on the right, which was the only one with five spaces.

I stared at the clue, then the squares. I was beginning to sense something even more unsettling than the heat, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

‘Janus isn’t the answer,’ I decided. ‘This is more of a fill-in-the-blanks situation, don’t you think? Janus of the double what?’

‘Faces,’ Grover said. ‘He had two faces, neither of which I need to see again.’

I announced aloud to the empty corridor: ‘The correct answer is faces!’

I received no response, but as we proceeded down the right-hand corridor the word FACES appeared. Reassuringly, we were not roasted alive by Titan fire.

In the next chamber, new corridors once again led in three directions. This time, the glowing clue on the wall was again in Ancient Greek.

A thrill went through me as I read the lines. ‘I know this! It’s from a poem by Bacchylides.’ I translated for my friends: ‘But the highest god, mighty with his thunderbolt, sent Hypnos and his twin from snowy Olympus to the fearless fighter Sarpedon.’

Meg and Grover stared at me blankly. Honestly, just because I was wearing the Caligula shoes, did I have to do everything?

‘Something is altered in this line,’ I said. ‘I remember the scene. Sarpedon dies. Zeus has his body carried away from the battlefield. But the wording –’

‘Hypnos is the god of sleep,’ Grover said. ‘That cabin makes excellent milk and cookies. But who’s his twin?’

My heart ka-thumped. ‘That’s what’s different. In the actual line, it doesn’t say his twin. It names the twin: Thanatos. Or Death, in English.’

I looked at the three tunnels. No corridor had eight squares for Thanatos.

One had ten spaces, one had four, and one had five – just enough to fit DEATH.

‘Oh, no …’ I leaned against the nearest wall. I felt like one of Aloe Vera’s spikes was making its slimy way down my back.

‘Why do you look so scared?’ Meg asked. ‘You’re doing great so far.’ ‘Because, Meg,’ I said, ‘we are not just solving random puzzles. We are

putting together a word-puzzle prophecy. And so far it says APOLLO FACES DEATH.’

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