Chapter no 14 – Iris Gives Me a Stick

The Chalice of the Gods

Color me excited.

We told the goddess about our adventures so far. I’ll give this to Iris: she

was a good listener. Gods tend to be pretty impatient with mortal problems, but I guess since Iris was a messenger, she’d had to learn to pay attention to what people said.

When I mentioned Ganymede’s missing chalice, she grimaced like she’d gotten a crystal shard stuck somewhere uncomfortable. When we described our time in Hebe Jeebies, Iris closed her eyes and sighed like, Gods, give me patience. Except, of course, she was one of the gods, and I wasn’t sure if praying to yourself would work.

“Obviously, we don’t think you took the chalice,” Annabeth concluded. “That would be silly.”

“Though if you did,” Grover said, “we’d love to get it back.”

Annabeth frowned at him. Grover didn’t seem to notice. He had a photogenic glow to him, like now that he was a portrait model for Blanche, he was invulnerable.

“But of course you didn’t take it,” I said to the goddess. “Did you?”

I didn’t mean to put the question mark on the last part. It just kind of slipped out.

Iris pursed her lips. She ran her fingers across the crystal pendants on display, sending fresh bursts of colored light dancing through the market. I had the uncomfortable feeling that with just a thought, she could turn all those light beams into lasers and cut us into demigod mincemeat.

“Do you have any idea how thankless a cupbearer’s job is?” she asked.

I recalled Ganymede obsessively walking around my school cafeteria, filling people’s cups and cans with Olympian beverage number five.

“Doesn’t seem like fun,” I admitted. “No, Percy Jackson. Not fun.”

That was the first indication that she remembered me, or at least knew my name. The information did not make me feel any safer.

“So,” I said, “the chalice isn’t something you’d want back. Like, not even to mess with Ganymede.”

This time I managed not to make it sound like a question. But Iris still looked miffed. Nothing is scarier than a hippie grandmother suddenly scowling at you.

“I do not ‘mess’with people,” she said. “I feel nothing but sympathy for that poor young god. Swept up by Zeus just because he was attractive, used as an eternal party decoration, and having to endure the scowls of Hera and the others as Zeus dotes on him? No. So many young men and maidens have been the victims of Zeus and those other good ol’ gods who do whatever they want with impunity. It’s terrible.”

I looked at my friends. Obviously, we agreed with Iris, but it was a surprise to hear a god say something like that out loud. It was the kind of opinion Zeus might censor with a lightning bolt upside the head.

“I can see we came to the right place,” Annabeth said. “You are perceptive, kind, wise . . . all the things we need to find this cup thief. Your advice is as precious as a rainbow.”

Iris smirked. “I see what you’re doing. Trying to flatter me.” “The rainbow comment was too much?” Annabeth asked.

“Completely over-the-top.” Iris curled her fingers in a Keep it coming


“We could use your guidance,” Annabeth continued. “You know the gods. You see those who resent Ganymede. Who do you think took his chalice?”

Iris spent a moment in silence, thinking. This was another unusual trait for a god. Usually, they just assumed they knew everything and spouted it out.

“I do have a thought,” she said. “But I need to look into the idea . . . discreetly.”

“Of course,” Grover said, his shoulders relaxing. “That’s great! Thank you.”

“Oh, the information won’t be free,” Iris added.

I barely managed to bite back a comment. Of course not.

“Not because I don’t want to help you,” Iris said, apparently reading my expression. “I know you think we gods can’t resist giving demigods little errands . . . and you’re right. You show up on our doorsteps, and we suddenly remember a dozen things we’d love to check off our to-do lists. But it’s more than that.”

“Knowledge has value,” Annabeth guessed. “The more valuable, the more it has to be earned.”

Iris beamed. “Spoken like a true daughter of Athena. Also, this will give you something to do while I investigate my hunch.”

I didn’t point out that we already had lots to do. I suspected that the gods, even the nice ones like Iris, assumed demigods just stood in a utility closet somewhere, deactivated and covered in dust cloths, until we were needed to perform a mission.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “My quest shouldn’t take long. And you still have fifteen days until Ganymede’s shame is revealed.”

Grover flinched. “Why fifteen days?”

“That’s when Zeus is planning to hold his next feast.” Iris stared at our blank expressions, then sighed. “But of course . . . Zeus didn’t bother to tell Ganymede that, did he?” She turned to Annabeth. “It’s the Epulum Minerva

—the old Roman feast to honor your mother. Zeus decided to throw her a party, probably because he wants something from her. A new invention. A war. A pit-less variety of olive. Who knows? If the chalice isn’t found by the feast date, all the gods will realize Ganymede has lost it. Zeus will be outraged. Ganymede will be . . . probably no longer with us.”

Grover’s lower lip trembled. His photo-op glow had faded. “What do you need us to do?”

Iris smiled. “That’s the spirit.”

She turned and started removing crystal pendants from a stand in the back of her stall. As she cleared away the necklaces, I realized the display post wasn’t just a post. It was a wooden staff the size of a broomstick, with some kind of fancy metal decoration at the top.

Iris picked up the staff. She laid it on the table between us. Her eyes gleamed, like she was waiting to hear what we’d offer her for it on Pawn Shop High Jinks.

Annabeth inhaled sharply. “That’s your kerykeion!”

“Ah, right,” I said. “A kerykeion.”

I was going to guess it was Greek for rug beater, but I didn’t want to be wrong.

Annabeth rolled her eyes. “It’s a herald’s staff, Percy. Like the one Hermes uses.”

“Yes . . .” Iris agreed wistfully. “Another former job of mine. I was the gods’ herald.”

I studied the staff. Unlike Hermes’s caduceus, there were no living snakes coiled around it, but as I looked more closely, I realized the metal headpiece was indeed shaped like a pair of serpents. They had tiny horns and were coiled into a figure eight, facing each other at the top. The metal had gotten coated with grime over the years, so it was hard to make out many details. The wood was also in pretty bad shape, with dark soot stains and grease spots.

I wondered how long ago Iris had been the messenger goddess. . . . Maybe before Hermes was born, which was like, yeah . . . quite some time ago. It looked like this staff hadn’t been used as anything but a clearance-rack display ever since.

I also wondered how many times a god could change jobs. Could Iris just decide one day to become the goddess of plant-based proteins? Could Ares give up war and become the god of knitting? I would pay real golden drachmas to see that.

“Percy?” Grover asked, letting me know I’d spaced out. “Sorry. What?”

“You heard that, right?” he asked. “Iris was just explaining that the top is Celestial bronze, and the base is Dodonan oak.”

“Got it.” I had no idea what Dodonan oak was, but it didn’t look very sanitary. And the headpiece looked more like Celestial grunge than Celestial bronze. “So we’re supposed to deliver a message with it?”

“Oh, no,” Iris said. “Those days are well behind me. But in ancient times, I used my staff to create wonderful rainbows as I flew through the sky, traveling from place to place. I miss that. ” She sighed. “I would like

you to give the staff a proper cleaning. Bring it back to its former glory. I admit, I should’ve done this a while ago, but I suppose . . . Well, I was bitter about losing that job to Hermes.”

I thought about what she’d said before . . . that she hadn’t held it against Ganymede when she lost the cupbearer’s job. But losing the messenger gig

had left her bitter. It made me wonder how much we could trust this friendly rainbow grandma.

“I’m guessing we can’t just use Windex,” I said. “Or take the staff to a dry cleaner?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “It can only be washed in the River Elisson.” Annabeth blinked. “I don’t know that one.”

“I do,” Grover said. He didn’t look happy about it. “Back in the day, the Elisson was known for its crystal-clear magical water. Supposedly it could clean anything, no matter how polluted. And . . . certain creatures took advantage.”

“That’s true,” Iris agreed. “The Furies sometimes bathe there. The River Elisson is the only thing that can get the stench of the Underworld off them when they have to move among mortals.”

I shuddered, thinking about my former math teacher Mrs. Dodds, aka the Fury Alecto. I did not like the image of her bathing in a river prior to teaching us pre-algebra.

“Other monsters, too,” Grover said, glancing at the staff’s snaky headpiece. “Like horned serpents.”

“Yes, very good, young satyr,” Iris said. “In fact, you must cleanse my staff in the very river where the serpents bathe.”

“And these serpents are super friendly,” I guessed.

Iris gasped. “Oh, no. They will try to kill you.” Like Hebe, she was apparently immune to sarcasm. “But be careful: you must not harm the serpents.”

“Because they’re sacred to you?”

“Not at all. However, I want this quest to be cruelty-free. You must find a way to accomplish my task without harming any creatures at the river. Good luck, demigods! Now I must return to my duties.”

A gaggle of customers descended on Iris’s booth and started oohing and ahhing over her crystals. We were dismissed. I grabbed my rainbow staff of grunge, which did not conveniently turn into a smaller form. As I walked through the market, I felt like a low-rent wizard.

“Cruelty-free,” Annabeth grumbled. “I guess that doesn’t include cruelty to demigods.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Grover said, surprisingly cheerful again. “I’ve always wanted to see the River Elisson. There’s only one problem.”

“Aside from the monsters we can’t kill?” I asked.

He waved that away. “I mean the actual River Elisson in Greece no longer exists. The mythical river could be anywhere. I heard that the god of the river got so disgusted with all the monsters bathing in his waters, he hid the river so it’s almost impossible to find. And Iris didn’t tell us where it is.”

“I suppose she’d say we have to find it on our own,” I guessed. “Because knowledge is valuable, blah, blah.”

Annabeth poked me in the ribs. “What we need is an upper-level water spirit to give us directions. Those Nereids and naiads all know each other. I wonder where we could find a Nereid to ask. . . .” She looked at me pointedly.

I ground my teeth some more. “Fine. I’ll wait until Monday and ask my guidance counselor. I just hope she doesn’t flush me again.”

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