“Can you open it?” I asked.
Hal shook his head.
“Do you know what’s inside?” Thalia asked.
Again, Hal shook his head.
“It’s trapped,” I guessed.
Hal nodded emphatically, then traced a finger across his neck.
I knelt next to the safe. I didn’t touch it, but I held my hands close to the combination lock. My fingers tingled with warmth as if the box were a hot oven. I concentrated until I could sense the mechanisms inside. I didn’t like what I found.
“This thing is bad news,” I muttered. “Whatever’s inside must be important.”
Thalia knelt next to me. “Luke, this is why we’re here.” Her voice was full of excitement. “Zeus wanted me to find this.”
I looked at her skeptically. I didn’t know how she could have such faith in her dad. Zeus hadn’t treated her any better than Hermes treated me. Besides, a lot of demigods had been led here. All of them were dead.
Still, she fixed me with those intense blue eyes, and I knew this was another time Thalia would get her way.
I sighed. “You’re going to ask me to open it, aren’t you?”
I chewed my lip. Maybe next time I teamed up with someone, I should choose someone I didn’t like so much. I just couldn’t say no to Thalia.
“People have tried to open this before,” I warned. “There’s a curse on the handle. I’m guessing whoever touches it gets burned to a pile of ashes.”
I looked up at Hal. His face turned as gray as his hair. I took that as a confirmation.
“Can you bypass the curse?” Thalia asked me.
“I think so,” I said. “But it’s the second trap I’m worried about.”
“The second trap?” she asked.
“Nobody’s managed to trigger the combination,” I said. “I know that because there’s a poison canister ready to break as soon as you hit the third number. It’s never been activated.”
Judging from Hal’s wide eyes, this was news to him.
“I can try to disable it,” I said, “but if I mess up, this whole apartment is going to fill with gas. We’ll die.”
Thalia swallowed. “I trust you. Just…don’t mess up.”
I turned to the old man. “You could maybe hide in the bathtub. Put some wet towels over your face. It might protect you.”
Hal shifted uneasily. The snakeskin fabric of his suit rippled as if it were still alive, trying to swallow something unpleasant. Emotions played across his face—fear, doubt, but mostly shame. I guess he couldn’t stand the idea of cowering in a bathtub while two kids risked their lives. Or maybe there was a little demigod spirit left in him after all. He gestured at the safe like: Go ahead.
I touched the combination lock. I concentrated so hard I felt like I was dead-lifting five hundred pounds. My pulse quickened. A line of sweat trickled down my nose. Finally I felt gears turning. Metal groaned, tumblers clicked, and the bolts popped back. Carefully avoiding the handle, I pried open the door with my fingertips and extracted an unbroken vial of green liquid.
Thalia kissed me on the cheek, which she probably shouldn’t have done while I was holding a tube of deadly poison.
“You are so good,” she said.
Did that make the risk worth it? Yeah, pretty much.
I looked into the safe, and some of my enthusiasm faded. “That’s it?”
Thalia reached in and pulled out a bracelet.
It didn’t look like much, just a row of polished silver links.
Thalia latched it around her wrist. Nothing happened.
She scowled. “It should do something. If Zeus sent me here—”
Hal clapped his hands to get our attention. Suddenly his eyes looked almost as crazy as his hair. He gesticulated wildly, but I had no idea what he was trying to say. Finally he stamped his snakeskin boot in frustration and led us back to the main room.
He sat at his computer and started to type. I glanced at the clock on his desk. Maybe time traveled faster in the house, or maybe time just flies when you’re waiting to die, but it was already past noon. Our day was half over.
Hal showed us the short novel he’d written: You’re the ones!! You actually got the treasure!! I can’t believe it!! That safe has been sealed since before I was born!! Apollo told me my curse would end when the owner of the treasure claimed it!! If you’re the owner—
There was more, with plenty more exclamation points, but before I could finish reading, Thalia said, “Hold it. I’ve never seen this bracelet. How could I be the owner? And if your curse is supposed to end now, does that mean the monsters are gone?”
A clack, clack, clack from the hallway answered that question.
I frowned at Hal. “Do you have your voice back?”
He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. His shoulders slumped.
“Maybe Apollo meant we’re going to rescue you,” Thalia said.
Hal typed a new sentence: Or maybe I die today.
“Thank you, Mr. Cheerful,” I said. “I thought you could tell the future. You don’t know what will happen?”
Hal typed: I can’t look. It’s too dangerous. You can see what happened to me last time I tried to use my powers.
“Sure,” I grumbled. “Don’t take the risk. You might mess up this nice life you’ve got here.”
I knew that was mean. But the old man’s cowardice annoyed me. He’d let the gods use him as a punching bag for too long. It was time he fought back, preferably before Thalia and I became the leucrotae’s next meal.
Hal lowered his head. His chest was shaking, and I realized he was crying silently.
Thalia shot me an irritated look. “It’s okay, Hal. We’re not giving up. This bracelet must be the answer. It’s got to have a special power.”
Hal took a shaky breath. He turned to his keyboard and typed: It’s silver. Even if it turns into a weapon, the monsters can’t be hurt by any metal.
Thalia turned to me with a silent plea in her eyes, like: Your turn for a helpful idea.
I studied the empty enclosure, the metal panel through which the monsters had exited. If the apartment door wouldn’t open again, and the window was covered by man-eating acid drapes, then that panel might be our only exit. We couldn’t use metal weapons. I had a vial of poison, but if I was right about that stuff, it would kill everyone in the room as soon as it dispersed. I ran through another dozen ideas in my head, quickly rejecting them all.
“We’ll have to find a different kind of weapon,” I decided. “Hal, let me borrow your computer.”
Hal looked doubtful, but he gave me his seat.
I stared at the screen. Honestly, I’d never used computers much. Like I said, technology attracts monsters. But Hermes was the god of communication, roadways, and commerce. Maybe that meant he had some power over the Internet. I could really use a divine Google hit right about now.
“Just once,” I muttered to the screen, “cut me some slack. Show me there’s an upside to being your son.”
“What, Luke?” Thalia asked.
“Nothing,” I said.
I opened the Web browser and started typing. I looked up leucrotae, hoping to find their weaknesses. The Internet had almost nothing on them, except that they were legendary animals that lured their prey by imitating human voices.
I searched for “Greek weapons.” I found some great images of swords, spears, and catapults, but I doubted we could kill monsters with low-resolution JPEGs. I typed in a list of things we had in the room—torches, Celestial bronze, poison, Snickers bars, golf club—hoping that some sort of magic formula would pop up for a leucrota death ray. No such luck. I typed in “Help me kill leucrotae.” The closest hit I got was Help me cure leukemia.
My head was throbbing. I didn’t have any concept of how long I’d been searching until I looked at the clock: four in the afternoon. How was that possible?
Meanwhile, Thalia had been trying to activate her new bracelet, with no luck. She’d twisted it, tapped it, shaken it, worn it on her ankle, thrown it against the wall, and swung it over her head yelling “Zeus!” Nothing happened.
We looked at each other, and I knew we were both out of ideas. I thought about what Hal Green had told us. All demigods started off hopeful. All of them had ideas for escape. All of them failed.
I couldn’t let that happen. Thalia and I had survived too much to give up now. But for the life of me (and I mean that literally) I couldn’t think of anything else to try.
Hal walked over and gestured at the keyboard.
“Go ahead,” I said dejectedly.
We changed places.
Running out of time, he typed. I’ll try to read the future.
Thalia frowned. “I thought you said that was too dangerous.”
It doesn’t matter, Hal typed. Luke is right. I’m a cowardly old man, but Apollo can’t punish me any worse than he already has. Perhaps I’ll see something that will help you. Thalia, give me your hands.
He turned to her.
Outside the apartment, the leucrotae growled and scraped against the corridor. They sounded hungry.
Thalia placed her hands in Halcyon Green’s. The old man closed his eyes and concentrated, the same way I do when I’m reading a complicated lock.
He winced, then took a shaky breath. He looked up at Thalia with an expression of sympathy. He turned to the keyboard and hesitated a long time before starting to type.
You are destined to survive today, Hal typed.
“That’s—that’s good, right?” she asked. “Why do you look so sad?”
Hal stared at the blinking cursor. He typed, Someday soon, you will sacrifice yourself to save your friends. I see things that are…hard to describe. Years of solitude. You will stand tall and still, alive but sleeping. You will change once, and then change again. Your path will be sad and lonely. But someday you will find your family again.
Thalia clenched her fists. She started to speak, then paced the room. Finally she slammed her palm against the bookshelves. “That doesn’t make any sense. I’ll sacrifice myself, but I’ll live. Changing, sleeping? You call that a future? I—I don’t even have a family. Just my mom, and there’s no way I’m going back to her.”
Hal pursed his lips. He typed, I’m sorry. I don’t control what I see. But I didn’t mean your mother.
Thalia almost backed up into the drapes. She caught herself just in time, but she looked dizzy, as if she’d just stepped off a roller coaster.
“Thalia?” I asked, as gently as I could. “Do you know what he’s talking about?”
She gave me a cornered look. I didn’t understand why she seemed so rattled. I knew she didn’t like to talk about her life back in L.A., but she’d told me she was an only child, and she’d never mentioned any relatives beside her mom.
“It’s nothing,” she said at last. “Forget it. Hal’s fortune-telling skills are rusty.”
I’m pretty sure not even Thalia believed that.
“Hal,” I said, “there’s got to be more. You told us that Thalia will survive. How? Did you see anything about the bracelet? Or the goat? We need something that will help.”