"Go over the side!" Zoe 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?"

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.

Zoe 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.

SNAP!

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 grape vines, which immediately began wrapping around 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 Zoe. "Oh, I think the huntress knows. You must enter at sunset today, you know, or all is lost. Now good-bye. 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!"

He waved his hand, and his image disappeared in the mist.

All around us, the manticore's minions were still acting completely nuts. One of them had found our friend the homeless guy, and they were having a serious conversation about metal angels from Mars. Several other guards were harassing the tourists, making animal noises and trying to steal their shoes.

I looked at Zoe. "What did he mean… 'You know where to go'?"

Her face was the color of the fog. She pointed across the bay, past the Golden Gate. In the distance, a single mountain rose up above the cloud layer.

"The garden of my sisters," she said. "I must go home."

SIXTEEN

WE MEET THE DRAGON OF ETERNAL BAD BREATH

"We will never make it," Zoe said. "We are moving too slow. But we cannot leave the Ophiotaurus."

"Mooo," Bessie said. He swam next to me as we jogged along the waterfront. We'd left the shopping center pier far behind. We were heading toward the Golden Gate Bridge, but it was a lot farther than I'd realized. The sun was already dipping in the west.

"I don't get it," I said. "Why do we have to get there at sunset?"

"The Hesperides are the nymphs of the sunset," Zoe said. "We can only enter their garden as day changes to night."

"What happens if we miss it?"

"Tomorrow is winter solstice. If we miss sunset tonight, we would have to wait until tomorrow evening. And by then, the Olympian Council will be over. We must free Lady Artemis tonight."

Or Annabeth will be dead, I thought, but I didn't say that.

"We need a car," Thalia said.

"But what about Bessie?" I asked.

Grover stopped in his tracks. "I've got an idea! The Ophiotaurus can appear in different bodies of water, right?"

"Well, yeah," I said. "I mean, he was in Long Island Sound. Then he just popped into the water at Hoover Dam. And now he's here."

"So maybe we could coax him back to Long Island Sound," Grover said. "Then Chiron could help us get him to Olympus."

"But he was following me" I said. "If I'm not there, would he know where he's going?"

"Moo," Bessie said forlornly.

"I… I can show him," Grover said. "I'll go with him."

I stared at him. Grover was no fan of the water. He'd almost drowned last summer in the Sea of Monsters, and he couldn't swim very well with his goat hooves.

"I'm the only one who can talk to him," Grover said. "It makes sense."

He bent down and said something in Bessie's ear. Bessie shivered, then made a contented, lowing sound.

"The blessing of the Wild," Grover said. "That should help with safe passage. Percy, pray to your dad, too. See if he will grant us safe passage through the seas."

I didn't understand how they could possibly swim back to Long Island from California. Then again, monsters didn't travel the same way as humans. I'd seen plenty evidence of that.

I tried to concentrate on the waves, the smell of the ocean, the sound of the tide.

"Dad," I said. "Help us. Get the Ophiotaurus and Grover safely to camp. Protect them at sea."

"A prayer like that needs a sacrifice," Thalia said. "Something big."

I thought for a second. Then I took off my coat.

"Percy," Grover said. "Are you sure? That lion skin… that's really helpful. Hercules used it!"

As soon as he said that, I realized something.

I glanced at Zoe, who was watching me carefully. I realized I did know who Zoe's hero had been—the one who'd ruined her life, gotten her kicked out of her family, and never even mentioned how she'd helped him: Hercules, a hero I'd admired all my life.

"If I'm going to survive," I said, "it won't be because I've got a lion-skin cloak. I'm not Hercules."

I threw the coat into the bay. It turned back into a golden lion skin, flashing in the light. Then, as it began to sink beneath the waves, it seemed to dissolve into sunlight on the water.

The sea breeze picked up.

Grover took a deep breath. "Well, no time to lose."

He jumped in the water and immediately began to sink. Bessie glided next to him and let Grover take hold of his neck.

"Be careful," I told them.

"We will," Grover said. "Okay, um… Bessie? We're going to Long Island. It's east. Over that way."

"Moooo?" Bessie said.

"Yes," Grover answered. "Long Island. It's this island. And… it's long. Oh, let's just start."

"Mooo!"

Bessie lurched forward. He started to submerge and Grover said, "I can't breathe underwater! Just thought I'd mention—" Glub!

Under they went, and I hoped my father's protection would extend to little things, like breathing.

"Well, that is one problem addressed," Zoe said. "But how can we get to my sisters' garden?"

"Thalia's right," I said. "We need a car. But there's nobody to help us here. Unless we, uh, borrowed one."

I didn't like that option. I mean, sure this was a life-or-death situation, but still, it was stealing, and it was bound to get us noticed.

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