Chapter no 19 – I Taste the Rainbow and It’s Pretty Nasty

The Chalice of the Gods

can now cross skipping through a field while making rainbows off my bucket list.

By the time I got out of the river, a few hundred yards downstream, Grover was playing his song of last resort. Distant strains of “YMCA” echoed through the cavern. I knew this was a signal that he was running out of energy and breath. Because when somebody plays “YMCA,” it is almost always a cry for help.

Annabeth had instructed me to skip through the fields while holding Iris’s staff. She was pretty sure this would create a beautiful rainbow, which would draw the serpents’ attention with a high level of Ooh, pretty. Meanwhile, she would turn invisible, find Grover, and escort him to safety, tossing Snakie Bakies as needed to keep the serpents away from them.

“And if I can’t get the staff to work?” I asked. “I have faith,” Annabeth said.

I was pretty sure she was trying not to laugh.

“And if I can’t lose the serpents once they’re following me?”

“Just shut off the rainbow,” she said. “Once you go dark, you should be fine. And whatever you do, don’t stop skipping, Skippy.”

Being a good soldier, I did what she told me. As soon as I trudged out of the river, I put on my shoes and socks—which had washed up in a nearby clump of reeds—and started skipping through the grass.

That lasted about ten feet. Then I realized Annabeth must have been trolling me.

I could run a lot faster than I could skip. I doubted the staff would care. I took off across the fields. Sure enough, after only a few steps, the staff began to glow.

Shimmering ribbons of light unfurled from the Celestial bronze headpiece, glowing brighter the longer I ran. Soon I was trailing a fifty-foot gossamer rainbow, making the fields glow all the colors of a crayon box.

I had a flashback to when I was a kid—like actually a kid, not last week at Hebe Jeebies. My mom had taken me to the East Meadow in Central Park to fly a kite for the first time. I remembered running across the field, grinning with delight as my big blue nylon octopus rose into the air. It kind of made me sad thinking about how long ago that was—and also how the kite had gotten zapped by lightning (in the middle of a sunny day) as soon as it was airborne. Even back then, before I knew I was a demigod, Zeus had been watching me. Because that’s what you do when you’re the king of the gods. You spend your valuable time being as petty as possible, frying forbidden kids’ kites out of the sky for fun.

Anyway, it felt good to have another chance. I sprinted on, holding up the staff, filling the cavern with my one-man rainbow parade. It wasn’t long before I heard the sounds of rustling and hissing in the grass behind me. Snakes—lots of them—were closing in, excited to follow theOoh, pretty and eat whatever was causing it.

That thought helped me run faster.

After another hundred yards or so, I made the mistake of glancing back. The entire field was crashing toward me like a surfer’s wave, the grass collapsing under the weight of thousands of slithering serpents.

Somewhere in the distance, Grover’s music faltered to a stop on theof “YMCA.” I hoped that meant he was safe and Annabeth was now escorting him out of the cave. If I could just keep running for a while longer, I could shut off the rainbow and veer back toward the mouth of the cave. . . .

Hold on. Where was the mouth of the cave?

A bit too late, I realized I’d lost my bearings. I was up to my eyeballs in grass with no other landmarks in sight. All I could hear was the rumbling of the Horned Serpent Battalion behind me. I assumed I was still heading west, directly away from the river, but I couldn’t be sure. The rainbow light was playing tricks on my eyesight. And my growing sense of panic wasn’t helping me think.

I started veering right, hoping I could lead the snakes in a wide arc back toward the river. I didn’t factor in how tired I was, though. Exploding the River Elisson had taken a lot of energy. My legs were getting heavy. My lungs burned.

I was losing speed. The snakes were closing in.

So naturally, I chose that moment to trip on a rock.

I bit the dirt. My ankle screamed in pain. Even after enduring sword wounds, acid burns, and fiery dragon breath, it’s a bummer how much a normal thing like a twisted ankle can hurt. When I tried to stand, it felt like steel spikes were shooting up my leg.

I hobbled a few more feet, using the staff to support my weight, but I was now a slow-moving target. The snakes swarmed me. I staggered to the nearest outcropping of rocks and started to climb, so at least I could see the serpents. When I reached the top, I wasn’t happy about the view.

A sea of snakes completely surrounded my previous resting place. Their eyes gleamed red in the light of the Iris staff. Their horns were terrifyingly adorable: little pink-and-white hooks shaped like goal posts. As the serpents closed in, admiring the rainbow light, their mouths all opened on cue, red throats hissing, black tongues flicking to taste the air. Their tone said YUM!

“Hey,” I said weakly. “Can we talk about this?” They hissed back at me: YUM, YUM!

I wondered if I should draw my sword. Answer: no. There were too many of them. Besides, if I attacked, this quest would become cruelty un-free, and even if I escaped, it would all have been for nothing. Also, I’d probably die anyway.

I hoped Grover and Annabeth got away, at least. I hoped Elisson would enjoy his nice clean river.

The light from the staff seemed to be the only thing stopping the snakes from attacking. The headpiece still pulsed with rainbow energy, and the serpents’ eyes stayed fixed on it, entranced.

I was so tired I could barely keep my balance. I had a feeling that if I stumbled, the staff would stop glowing. Then I would be a buffet lunch. But I had to try something.

I raised the staff. The rainbow brightened. The heads of a thousand serpents rose with it. I waved the staff back and forth. The snakes all followed the light, shaking their heads no.

I moved the staff up and down. A sea of snakes nodded along like cats following a laser dot.

I suppressed a hysterical giggle. I was about to get eaten by horned serpents, but at least I was having fun with them.

I couldn’t stand on these rocks forever waving a magic stick. Eventually I would get tired, or the snakes would get bored. Then the snakes would swarm the rocks and bite me to death because my rainbow was so pretty.

I didn’t want to wait for Annabeth and Grover to try to rescue me, either. I couldn’t imagine how they could distract so many serpents without getting themselves killed.

I thought about all the plans Annabeth and I had made about college and beyond. I thought about all the things I wanted to tell her . . . I wished I could at least let her know how much I loved her.

Suddenly, I felt lighter on my feet. The pressure eased on my twisted ankle. I was raising the staff so high it was pulling my arm out of its socket, and I asked myself, Percy, why are you doing that?

I don’t know,I answered, because I am not very helpful when I talk to myself.

The snakes watched in fascination as the rainbow grew brighter. I found myself on my tiptoes, desperately trying to keep a grip on Iris’s staff. Finally, I realized I wasn’t lifting the staff. The staff was lifting me.

My first thought was Why?

My second thought was Wait a minute. . . . This is a messenger’s staff. Don’t messenger gods fly through the air delivering messages?

Just before the staff had started pulling me upward, I’d been thinking how much I wanted to tell Annabeth I loved her. That was the message.

I held on with both hands.

“Take me to Annabeth,” I told the staff.

My feet left the rocks, and I rose slowly into the dank, dark air. Below me, the snakes watched in amazement.

“Farewell, my friends,” I told them. “Be good to one another.” Then I ascended.

I wondered if I was leaving the snakes with a new religion; if they would tell stories to future generations about the strange rainbow god boy who tripped a lot before returning to the heavens. Or maybe they were just thinking, That kid is really weird.

As I picked up speed, the rainbow shimmered around me, engulfing me in light. My insides twisted. My limbs lost their substance. I wasn’t just flying inside the rainbow . . . I was becoming part of it, which sounds a lot cooler than it felt. All the molecules in my body dissolved into energy. My consciousness elongated, like I existed at each point along the arc of my journey simultaneously. And yet I still had all my physical senses. Don’t ask me why, but the light spectrum tasted like copper. It smelled like burning plastic. I began to wonder if this was why Iris had gotten tired of her messenger job and started a business where she could burn incense and apply essential oils.

I rematerialized at the mouth of the cave, right next to Annabeth and Grover. My satyr buddy was wheezing and clutching his knees, but he looked unharmed.

“Greetings, earthlings,” I said.

Annabeth nearly leaped out of her shoes. “What? How?”

She’s cute when she’s startled. It doesn’t happen very often, so I have to enjoy it when it does.

“I have a message for Annabeth Chase,” I said. “I love you.”

I tried to give her a kiss, but it was difficult, because she started laughing.

“Okay, I get it,” she said, pushing me away gently. “Messenger’s staff.

Nice work!”

“Yeah, I totally planned it.” “You totally had no idea.”

“Just because you’re right doesn’t mean I don’t resent it.” She kissed me back. “I love you, too, Seaweed Brain.” Grover cleared his throat. “I’m fine. Thanks.”

“Love you too, G-man,” I assured him. “That was some fine panpiping.” “Hmph.” He tried to look grumpy, but from the way his ears reddened, I

could tell he was secretly pleased. “Let’s just get back to Manhattan before things get weird.” He hesitated. “I mean even weirder.”

Going back on the train, we looked like three normal kids who’d been rolling around in a muddy field in Yonkers all day, except I was carrying the cleanest, shiniest staff in the universe. And every time I burped, I let out a little cloud of violet or chartreuse.

You'll Also Like