Chapter no 20 – Iris Takes Venmo

The Chalice of the Gods

The next afternoon we returned the staff to Iris.

I was glad to get it out of my room, because it tended to glow and shoot

rainbows around the apartment whenever I thought of a message I needed to tell someone, or whenever a mail truck drove by. That morning, my mom had gotten a special delivery of books from her publisher, and the staff nearly beat up the FedEx guy. I guess it thought he was competition.

Anyway, I met up with Annabeth after school. Grover wasn’t with us, since he was downtown doing his photo shoot with Blanche. Apparently, she was going to dress him in a kilt of withered palm leaves, drape him across a burnt log, and photograph him surrounded by dead insects. Grover planned to frame the photo and present it to Juniper as a gift on her bloom day in January. I don’t understand a single part of what I just said, but nobody asked my opinion.

Finding Iris was the easy part. I just willed the staff to take me to her. I was afraid it might turn Annabeth and me into a rainbow and beam us to Wisconsin. Then we’d be coughing in twenty different colors all evening, and we’d also be in Wisconsin. Instead, the staff just pointed north and started pulling me along First Avenue like a dowsing rod.

It led us into lower Harlem, where we found the goddess hawking her crystals among a row of sidewalk produce sellers. I wondered if the dude selling cucumbers and the lady selling dried-pepper wreaths knew that the person between them was actually the immortal goddess of the rainbow. Probably not, but I doubt they would’ve been surprised. When you’re a street vendor in Manhattan, you’ve seen pretty much everything.

“Oh, my!” Iris gasped when she saw us. She took the staff and gave it a full inspection like it was a samurai blade just back from the sword-repair shop. “Mercedes, you look amazing!”

“You named your staff Mercedes?” Annabeth asked. Then she quickly added, “That’s a beautiful name.”

“She seems so happy!” Iris gushed, rainbow tears trickling from her eyes. “I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you.”

Foolish me. I was about to accept her apology when I realized she was talking to Mercedes.

“Oh, my sweet.” She cradled the staff and continued weeping. “I should have had you cleaned years ago! I will never use you as a display rack again!”

“The quest went well,” I offered. “Completely cruelty-free.”

“What?” Iris stirred slightly. “Oh, yes. Cruelty-free. Of course. Good.”

I got the feeling that I could have destroyed acres of snakes and Iris never would have known the difference. Then again, I was glad it didn’t go down like that, since the horned serpents were cute in a deadly, eat your face off kind of way.

“So,” Annabeth said, keeping her tone upbeat, “does this mean you’ll do some of your Iris-messaging in person again?”

“Hmm?” Iris pulled her eyes away from her beautiful herald’s stick. “No, no. Those days are over, though it’s wonderful seeing Mercedes in such good condition again. I appreciate your help!” She began humming to herself as she arranged her crystal displays around the table, slowly covering up Mercedes.

I glanced at Annabeth, who gestured for me to be patient.

“Did you have a chance to ask around?” Annabeth prompted the goddess.

Iris looked startled that we were still there. “Ask around?”

My heart sank. If Iris hadn’t honored her part of the deal, we really had gone to the River Elisson for nothing—except to start a Percy-based religious cult among the reptiles of Yonkers.

“About Ganymede?” I asked. “The missing cup?”

Iris blinked. “Yes. Of course. I . . . asked around. But are you sure you wouldn’t rather have a crystal for your reward? Perhaps a package of cleansing sage bath salts?”

She kept piling merchandise over Mercedes: sashes, beads, pouches of rocks, as if she wanted to hide the staff as quickly as possible. Why did she seem so nervous?

“Just the information would be great,” Annabeth said. “You . . . did get information?”

“Mm-hmm.” Iris sighed. “It’s just that you seem like such nice young people. I would hate . . .”

She let the thought drift away into the Land of Half-Formed Thoughts About Things That Could Kill Percy Jackson. I spent a lot of my time in that land.

“You found where the cup is,” I guessed. “I have a fairly good idea.”

Her grim tone made me wonder if I should just take the bath salts. Then I looked at Annabeth. I remembered this was about going to college with her. Being with her. That was nonnegotiable, no matter how difficult the challenge or how cleansing the sage.

“Tell all,” I said.

Iris picked at the macramé bracelet around her wrist. “I have narrowed your search down to Greenwich Village.”

Annabeth frowned. “That’s a pretty big area.”

“He will be there,” Iris insisted. “If, indeed, I am right about the thief’s identity.”

“He . . . ?” I prompted.

I waited for more. It’s never a good sign when your informant avoids naming the Big Bad. Especially when that informant is a god. Who could make Iris so nervous?

“I should have guessed,” she mumbled to herself. She picked up a bundle of incense and waved it around, maybe hoping to clear the air, which it did not. “He would, of course, hate Ganymede. And the goblet. But . . .” She shook her head. “I hope I am wrong. I am probably not wrong.”

“Who is it?” Annabeth asked. “We need a name.”

She had more courage than I did. I’d already resigned myself to the idea of searching the entire Village for random dudes carrying chalices.

Iris looked over one shoulder, then leaned toward us conspiratorially. “He will go by the name . . . Gary.”

I didn’t dare laugh, but all I could think about was the cartoon snail from

SpongeBob SquarePants. Usually, the things that sound the most

ridiculous are the ones that kill you the quickest. You laugh, then you get murdered in the silliest way possible.

“Gary,” Annabeth repeated.

“Yes,” Iris said. “I do not know how he managed the theft. Or what he hopes to achieve. But this information came from a reliable cloud nymph.”

“So, we go to Greenwich Village,” I summed up, “and start asking around for Gary.”

Iris tilted her head. “I suppose you could do that. It would be quicker, however, to use nectar.”

She plucked a vial from her display rack of essential oils, then held it up like she was modeling for a television commercial. I’d seen nectar before. I’d drunk my fair share of it whenever I’d needed to heal from cuts, contusions, sick burns, and the other daily injuries of demigod life. But this little vial seemed particularly bright and golden, like sunlight suspended in honey.

Annabeth leaned in. “Is that . . . ?”

“One hundred percent pure concentrate,” Iris said with a smug little smile. “Collected from the dew in the groves on Mount Olympus at dawn on the first day of spring. With no additives or preservatives. Do not consume this. Unblended nectar would burn you demigods to cinders.”

I edged away from the happy golden death juice. “Then what do we do with it?”

Iris swirled the little vial, making the insides glow even more. “The chalice of the gods is designed to mix nectar. All nectar is naturally attracted to it. Release a drop or two of this liquid into the air in Greenwich Village, and if the chalice is anywhere in the vicinity, you should be able to follow the droplets right to Gary.”

“That’s surprisingly helpful,” I admitted. “Thank you.” I reached for the vial, but Iris withdrew her hand.

“Ah-ah,” she chided. “There is a price.”

I suppressed a groan. I wondered what magic item she wanted cleaned now, or what special crystals she needed us to collect from the depths of the Underworld.

“How much?” Annabeth asked.

Iris gave us her best hard-bargaining stare. “Five dollars.” “That’s it?” I asked.

Annabeth elbowed me.

“I mean . . . five dollars?” I tried to sound outraged. “Cash?” “I also take Venmo,” the goddess offered.

I dug around in my pockets. I came up with my pen-sword Riptide, a paper clip, and a receipt from Himbo Juice. Annabeth took out her purse and produced a five-dollar bill. Because of course, along with every other strange and archaic ancient tool that she might need, she carried cash.

“Deal,” she said.

The exchange was made. Annabeth slipped the golden vial into her purse.

“Anything else we should know?” I asked. “Like who Gary is?”

“No,” Iris said. “It’s better you do not know. Otherwise . . .” She shook her head, then slipped the five-dollar bill into her embroidered fanny pack.

I got the feeling she wanted to say something else. Nice seeing you. Good luck. Something like that. Instead, she just gave us a pained smile and turned to arrange her collection of tie-dyed shawls.

I suppose otherwise was the only thing you really needed to say when sending demigods out on a dangerous mission. That way, all your bases were covered. Succeed. Otherwise . . .

Well, you can fill in the blank.

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