Mr D considered that. I wanted to scream at him to hurry up, but I knew that wouldn’t work. Behind us, footsteps and shouting – the manticore’s troops were closing in.
‘About to die,’ Mr D mused. ‘How exciting. I’m afraid Chiron isn’t here. Would you like me to take a message?’
I looked at my friends. ‘We’re dead.’
Thalia gripped her spear. She looked like her old angry self again. ‘Then we’ll die fighting.’
‘How noble,’ Mr D said, stifling a yawn. ‘So what is the problem, exactly?’
I didn’t see that it would make any difference, but I told him about the Ophiotaurus.
‘Mmm.’ He studied the contents of the fridge. ‘So that’s it. I see.’
‘You don’t even care!’ I screamed. ‘You’d just as soon watch us die!’
‘Let’s see. I think I’m in the mood for pizza tonight.’
I wanted to slash through the rainbow and disconnect, but I didn’t have time. The manticore screamed, ‘There!’ And we were surrounded. Two of the guards stood behind him. The other two appeared on the roofs of the pier shops above us. The manticore threw off his coat and transformed into his true self, his lion claws extended and his spiky tail bristling with poison barbs.
‘Excellent,’ he said. He glanced at the apparition in the mist and snorted. ‘Alone, without any real help. Wonderful.’
‘You could ask for help,’ Mr D murmured to me, as if this were an amusing thought. ‘You could say please.’
When wild boars fly, I thought. There was no way I was going to die begging a slob like Mr D, just so he could laugh as we all got gunned down.
Zoë readied her arrows. Grover lifted his pipes. Thalia raised her shield, and I noticed a tear running down her cheek. Suddenly it occurred to me: this had happened to her before. She had been cornered on Half-Blood Hill. She’d willingly given her life for her friends. But, this time, she couldn’t save us.
How could I let that happen to her?
‘Please, Mr D,’ I muttered. ‘Help.’
Of course, nothing happened.
The manticore grinned. ‘Spare the daughter of Zeus. She will join us soon enough. Kill the others.’
The men raised their guns, and something strange happened. You know how you feel when all the blood rushes to your head, like if you hang upside down and turn right-side up too quickly? There was a rush like that all around me, and a sound like a huge sigh. The sunlight tinged with purple. I smelled grapes and something more sour – wine.
It was the sound of many minds breaking at the same time. The sound of madness. One guard put his pistol between his teeth like it was a bone and ran around on all fours. Two others dropped their guns and started waltzing with each other. The fourth began doing what looked like an Irish clogging dance. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been so terrifying.
‘No!’ screamed the manticore. ‘I will deal with you myself!’
His tail bristled, but the planks under his paws erupted into grapevines that immediately began wrapping round the monster’s body, sprouting new leaves and clusters of green baby grapes that ripened in seconds as the manticore shrieked, until he was engulfed in a huge mass of vines, leaves and full clusters of purple grapes. Finally the grapes stopped shivering, and I had a feeling that somewhere inside there, the manticore was no more.
‘Well,’ said Dionysus, closing his refrigerator. ‘That was fun.’
I stared at him, horrified. ‘How could you… How did you –’
‘Such gratitude,’ he muttered. ‘The mortals will come out of it. Too much explaining to do if I made their condition permanent. I hate writing reports to Father.’
He stared resentfully at Thalia. ‘I hope you learned your lesson, girl. It isn’t easy to resist power, is it?’
Thalia blushed as if she were ashamed.
‘Mr D,’ Grover said in amazement. ‘You… you saved us.’
‘Mmm. Don’t make me regret it, satyr. Now get going, Percy Jackson. I’ve bought you a few hours at most.’
‘The Ophiotaurus,’ I said. ‘Can you get it to camp?’
Mr D sniffed. ‘I do not transport livestock. That’s your problem.’
‘But where do we go?’
Dionysus looked at Zoë. ‘Oh, I think the huntress knows. You must enter at sunset today, you know, or all is lost. Now goodbye. My pizza is waiting.’
‘Mr D,’ I said.
He raised his eyebrow.
‘You called me by my right name,’ I said. ‘You called me Percy Jackson.’
‘I most certainly did not, Peter Johnson. Now off with you!’