‘What are you talking about?’ Thalia growled. She had her shield and spear ready.
‘Surely it is clear,’ the manticore said. ‘This is your moment. This is why Lord Kronos brought you back to life. You will sacrifice the Ophiotaurus. You will bring its entrails to the sacred fire on the mountain. You will gain unlimited power. And for your sixteenth birthday, you will overthrow Olympus.’
No one spoke. It made terrible sense. Thalia was only two days away from turning sixteen. She was a child of the Big Three. And here was a choice, a terrible choice that could mean the end of the gods. It was just like the prophecy said. I wasn’t sure if I felt relieved, horrified or disappointed. I wasn’t the prophecy kid after all. Doomsday was happening right now.
I waited for Thalia to tell the manticore off, but she hesitated. She looked completely stunned.
‘You know it is the right choice,’ the manticore told her. ‘Your friend Luke recognized it. You shall be reunited with him. You shall rule this world together under the auspices of the Titans. Your father abandoned you, Thalia. He cares nothing for you. And now you shall gain power over him. Crush the Olympians underfoot, as they deserve. Call the beast! It will come to you. Use your spear.’
‘Thalia,’ I said, ‘snap out of it!’
She looked at me the same way she had the morning she woke up on Half-Blood Hill, dazed and uncertain. It was almost like she didn’t know me. ‘I… I don’t –’
‘Your father helped you,’ I said. ‘He sent the metal angels. He turned you into a tree to preserve you.’
Her hand tightened on the shaft of her spear.
I looked at Grover desperately. Thank the gods, he understood what I needed. He raised his pipes to his mouth and played a quick riff.
The manticore yelled, ‘Stop him!’
The guards had been targeting Zoë, and before they could figure out that the kid with the pipes was the bigger problem, the wooden planks at their feet sprouted new branches and tangled their legs. Zoë let loose two quick arrows that exploded at their feet in clouds of sulphurous yellow smoke. Fart arrows!
The guards started coughing. The manticore shot spines in our direction but they ricocheted off my lion’s coat.
‘Grover,’ I said, ‘tell Bessie to dive deep and stay down!’
‘Moooooo!’ Grover translated. I could only hope that Bessie got the message.
‘The cow…’ Thalia muttered, still in a daze.
‘Come on!’ I pulled her along as we ran up the stairs to the shopping centre on the pier. We dashed round the corner of the nearest store. I heard the manticore shouting at his minions, ‘Get them!’ Tourists screamed as the guards shot blindly into the air.
We scrambled to the end of the pier. We hid behind a little kiosk filled with souvenir crystals – wind chimes and dream catchers and stuff like that, glittering in the sunlight. There was a water fountain next to us. Down below, a bunch of sea lions were sunning themselves on the rocks. The whole of San Francisco Bay spread out before us: the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the green hills and fog beyond that to the north. A picture-perfect moment, except for the fact that we were about to die and the world was going to end.
‘Go over the side!’ Zoë told me. ‘You can escape in the sea, Percy. Call on thy father for help. Maybe you can save the Ophiotaurus.’
She was right, but I couldn’t do it.
‘I won’t leave you guys,’ I said. ‘We fight together.’
‘You have to get word to camp!’ Grover said. ‘At least let them know what’s going on!’
Then I noticed the crystals making rainbows in the sunlight. There was a drinking fountain next to me…
‘Get word to camp,’ I muttered. ‘Good idea.’
I uncapped Riptide and slashed off the top of the water fountain. Water burst out of the busted pipe and sprayed all over us.
Thalia gasped as the water hit her. The fog seemed to clear from her eyes. ‘Are you crazy?’ she asked.
But Grover understood. He was already fishing around in his pockets for a coin. He threw a golden drachma into the rainbows created by the mist and yelled, ‘O goddess, accept my offering!’
The mist rippled.
‘Camp Half-Blood!’ I said.
And there, shimmering in the Mist right next to us, was the last person I wanted to see: Mr D, wearing his leopard-skin jogging suit and rummaging through the refrigerator.
He looked up lazily. ‘Do you mind?’
‘Where’s Chiron!’ I shouted.
‘How rude.’ Mr D took a swig from a jug of grape juice. ‘Is that how you say hello?’
‘Hello,’ I amended. ‘We’re about to die! Where’s Chiron?’