‘Well,’ Circe sighed, ‘how fast a minute passes. What is your answer, my dear?’
‘This,’ Annabeth said, and she drew her bronze knife.
The sorceress stepped back, but her surprise quickly passed. She sneered. ‘Really, little girl, a knife against my magic? Is that wise?’
Circe looked back at her attendants, who smiled. They raised their hands as if preparing to cast a spell.
Run! I wanted to tell Annabeth, but all I could make were rodent noises. The other guinea pigs squealed in terror and scuttled around the cage. I had the urge to panic and hide, too, but I had to think of something! I couldn’t stand to lose Annabeth the way I’d lost Tyson.
‘What will Annabeth’s makeover be?’ Circe mused. ‘Something small and ill-tempered. I know … a shrew!’
Blue fire coiled from her fingers curling like serpents around Annabeth.
I watched, horror-struck, but nothing happened. Annabeth was still Annabeth, only angrier. She leaped forward and stuck the point of her knife against Circe’s neck. ‘How about turning me into a panther instead? One that has her claws at your throat!’
‘How!’ Circe yelped.
Annabeth held up my bottle of vitamins for the sorceress to see.
Circe howled in frustration. ‘Curse Hermes and his multivitamins! Those are such a fad! They do nothing for you.’
‘Turn Percy back to a human or else!’ Annabeth said.
‘Then you asked for it.’
Circe’s attendants stepped forward, but their mistress said, ‘Get back! She’s immune to magic until that cursed vitamin wears off.’
Annabeth dragged Circe over to the guinea pig cage, knocked the top off, and poured the rest of the vitamins inside.
‘No!’ Circe screamed.
I was the first to get a vitamin, but all the other guinea pigs scuttled out, too, and checked out this new food.
The first nibble, and I felt all fiery inside. I gnawed at the vitamin until it stopped looking so huge, and the cage got smaller, and then suddenly, bang! The cage exploded. I was sitting on the floor, a human again – somehow back in my regular clothes, thank the gods – with six other guys who all looked disoriented, blinking and shaking wood shavings out of their hair.
‘No!’ Circe screamed. ‘You don’t understand! Those are the worst!’
One of the men stood up – a huge guy with a long tangled pitch-black beard and teeth the same colour. He wore mismatched clothes of wool and leather, knee-length boots, and a floppy felt hat. The other men were dressed more simply – in breeches and stained white shirts. All of them were barefoot.
‘Argggh!’ bellowed the big man. ‘What’s the witch done t’me!’
‘No!’ Circe moaned.
Annabeth gasped. ‘I recognize you! Edward Teach, son of Ares?’
‘Aye, lass,’ the big man growled. ‘Though most call me Blackbeard! And there’s the sorceress what captured us, lads. Run her through, and then I mean to find me a big bowl of celery! Arggggh!’
Circe screamed. She and her attendants ran from the room, chased by the pirates.
Annabeth sheathed her knife and glared at me.
‘Thanks…’ I faltered. ‘I’m really sorry –’
Before I could figure out how to apologize for being such an idiot, she tackled me with a hug, then pulled away just as quickly. ‘I’m glad you’re not a guinea pig.’
‘Me, too.’ I hoped my face wasn’t as red as it felt.
She undid the golden braids in her hair.
‘Come on, Seaweed Brain,’ she said. ‘We have to get away while Circe’s distracted.’
We ran down the hillside through the terraces, past screaming spa workers and pirates ransacking the resort. Blackbeard’s men broke the tiki torches for the luau, threw herbal wraps into the swimming pool and kicked over tables of sauna towels.
I almost felt bad letting the unruly pirates out, but I guessed they deserved something more entertaining than the exercise wheel after being cooped up in a cage for three centuries.
‘Which ship?’ Annabeth said as we reached the docks.
I looked around desperately. We couldn’t very well take our rowboat. We had to get off the island fast, but what else could we use? A sub? A fighter jet? I couldn’t pilot any of those things. And then I saw it.
‘There,’ I said.
Annabeth blinked. ‘But –’
‘I can make it work.’
I couldn’t explain. I just somehow knew an old sailing vessel was the best bet for me. I grabbed Annabeth’s hand and pulled her towards the three-mast ship. Painted on its prow was the name that I would only decipher later: Queen Anne’s Revenge.