‘I don’t have any money!’ He tried to get up and run, but I locked my arms round his chest. His rotten fish smell was awful, but I held on.
‘I don’t want money,’ I said as he fought. ‘I’m a half-blood! I want information!’
That just made him struggle harder. ‘Heroes! Why do you always pick on me?’
‘Because you know everything!’
He growled and tried to shake me off his back. It was like holding on to a roller coaster. He thrashed around, making it impossible for me to keep on my feet, but I gritted my teeth and squeezed tighter. We staggered towards the edge of the pier and I got an idea.
‘Oh, no!’ I said. ‘Not the water!’
The plan worked. Immediately, Nereus yelled in triumph and jumped off the edge. Together, we plunged into San Francisco Bay.
He must’ve been surprised when I tightened my grip, the ocean filling me with extra strength. But Nereus had a few tricks left, too. He changed shape until I was holding a sleek black seal.
I’ve heard people make jokes about trying to hold a greased pig but, I’m telling you, holding onto a seal in the water is harder. Nereus plunged straight down, wriggling and thrashing and spiralling through the dark water. If I hadn’t been Poseidon’s son, there’s no way I could’ve stayed with him.
Nereus spun and expanded, turning into a killer whale, but I grabbed his dorsal fin as he burst out of the water.
A whole bunch of tourists went, ‘Whoa!’
I managed to wave at the crowd. Yeah, we do this every day here in San Francisco.
Nereus plunged into the water and turned into a slimy eel. I started to tie him into a knot until he realized what was going on and changed back to human form. ‘Why won’t you drown?’ he wailed, pummelling me with his fists.
‘I’m Poseidon’s son,’ I said.
‘Curse that upstart! I was here first!’
Finally he collapsed on the edge of the boat dock. Above us was one of those tourist piers lined with shops, like a mall on water. Nereus was heaving and gasping. I was feeling great. I could’ve gone on all day, but I didn’t tell him that. I wanted him to feel like he’d put up a good fight.
My friends ran down the steps from the pier.
‘You got him!’ Zoë said.
‘You don’t have to sound so amazed,’ I said.
Nereus moaned. ‘Oh, wonderful. An audience for my humiliation! The normal deal, I suppose? You’ll let me go if I answer your question?’
‘I’ve got more than one question,’ I said.
‘Only one question per capture! That’s the rule.’
I looked at my friends.
This wasn’t good. I needed to find Artemis, and I needed to figure out what the doomsday creature was. I also needed to know if Annabeth was still alive, and how to rescue her. How could I ask all that in one question?
A voice inside me was screaming Ask about Annabeth! That’s what I cared about most.
But then I imagined what Annabeth might say. She would never forgive me if I saved her and didn’t save Olympus. Zoë would want me to ask about Artemis, but Chiron had told us the monster was even more important.
I sighed. ‘All right, Nereus. Tell me where to find this terrible monster that could bring an end to the gods. The one Artemis was hunting.’
The Old Man of the Sea smiled, showing off his mossy green teeth.
‘Oh, that’s too easy,’ he said evilly. ‘He’s right there.’
Nereus pointed to the water at my feet.
‘Where?’ I said.
‘The deal is complete!’ Nereus gloated. With a pop, he turned into a goldfish and did a backflip into the sea.
‘You tricked me!’ I yelled.
‘Wait.’ Thalia’s eyes widened. ‘What is that?’
I looked down, and there was my friend the cow serpent, swimming next to the dock. She nudged my shoe and gave me the sad brown eyes.
‘Ah, Bessie,’ I said. ‘Not now.’
Grover gasped. ‘He says his name isn’t Bessie.’
‘You can understand her… er, him?’
Grover nodded. ‘It’s a very old form of animal speech. But he says his name is the Ophiotaurus.’
‘It means serpent bull in Greek,’ Thalia said. ‘But what’s it doing here?’
‘He says Percy is his protector,’ Grover announced. ‘And he’s running from the bad people. He says they are close.’
I was wondering how you got all that out of a single moooooo.
‘Wait,’ Zoë said, looking at me. ‘You know this cow?’
I was feeling impatient, but I told them the story.