‘Dragons chew eucalyptus leaves?’
‘Believe me,’ Zoë said, ‘if you had dragon breath, you would chew eucalyptus, too.’
I didn’t question her, but I did keep my eyes peeled as we drove. Ahead of us loomed Mount Tamalpais. I guess, in terms of mountains, it was a small one, but it looked plenty huge as we were driving towards it.
‘So that’s the Mountain of Despair?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ Zoë said tightly.
‘Why do they call it that?’
She was silent for almost a mile before answering. ‘After the war between the Titans and the gods, many of the Titans were punished and imprisoned. Kronos was sliced to pieces and thrown into Tartarus. Kronos’s right-hand man, the general of his forces, was imprisoned up there, on the summit, just beyond the Garden of the Hesperides.’
‘The General,’ I said. Clouds seemed to be swirling round its peak, as though the mountain were drawing them in, spinning them like a top. ‘What’s going on up there? A storm?’
Zoë didn’t answer. I got the feeling she knew exactly what the clouds meant, and she didn’t like it.
‘We have to concentrate,’ Thalia said. ‘The Mist is really strong here.’
‘The magical kind or the natural kind?’ I asked.
The grey clouds swirled even thicker over the mountain, and we kept driving straight towards them. We were out of the forest now, into wide open spaces of cliffs and grass and rocks and fog.
I happened to glance down at the ocean as we passed a scenic curve, and I saw something that made me jump out of my seat.
‘Look!’ But we turned a corner and the ocean disappeared behind the hills.
‘What?’ Thalia asked.
‘A big white ship,’ I said. ‘Docked near the beach. It looked like a cruise ship.’
Her eyes widened. ‘Luke’s ship?’
I wanted to say I wasn’t sure. It might be a coincidence. But I knew better. The Princess Andromeda, Luke’s demon cruise ship, was docked at that beach. That’s why he’d sent his ship all the way down to the Panama Canal. It was the only way to sail it from the East Coast to California.
‘We will have company, then,’ Zoë said grimly. ‘Kronos’s army.’
I was about to answer, when suddenly the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Thalia shouted, ‘Stop the car. NOW!’
Zoë must’ve sensed something was wrong, because she slammed on the brakes without question. The yellow VW spun twice before coming to a stop at the edge of the cliff.
‘Out!’ Thalia opened the door and pushed me hard. We both rolled onto the pavement. The next second: BOOOM!
Lightning flashed, and Dr Chase’s Volkswagen erupted like a canary-yellow grenade. I probably would’ve been killed by shrapnel except for Thalia’s shield, which appeared over me. I heard a sound like metal rain, and when I opened my eyes, we were surrounded by wreckage. One of the VW’s doors had impaled itself in the street. The smoking bonnet was spinning in circles. Pieces of yellow metal were strewn across the road.
I swallowed the taste of smoke out of my mouth, and looked at Thalia. ‘You saved my life.’
‘One shall perish by a parent’s hand,’ she muttered. ‘Curse him. He would destroy me? Me?’
It took me a second to realize she was talking about her dad. ‘Oh, hey, that couldn’t have been Zeus’s lightning bolt. No way.’
‘Whose, then?’ Thalia demanded.
‘I don’t know. Zoë said Kronos’s name. Maybe he –’
Thalia shook her head, looking angry and stunned. ‘No. That wasn’t it.’
‘Wait,’ I said. ‘Where’s Zoë? Zoë!’
We both got up and ran round the blasted VW. Nothing inside. Nothing either direction down the road. I looked down the cliff. No sign of her.
‘Zoë!’ I shouted.
Then she was standing right next to me, pulling me by my arm. ‘Silence, fool! Do you want to wake Ladon?’
‘You mean we’re here?’
‘Very close,’ she said. ‘Follow me.’
Sheets of fog were drifting right across the road. Zoë stepped into one of them, and, when the fog passed, she was no longer there. Thalia and I looked at each other.
‘Concentrate on Zoë,’ Thalia advised. ‘We are following her. Go straight into the fog and keep that in mind.’
‘Wait, Thalia. About what happened back on the pier… I mean, with the manticore and the sacrifice –’
‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘You wouldn’t actually have… you know?’