Chapter no 25 – I Meet the Goblet Ganker

The Chalice of the Gods

Grover brought mochi donuts. Bonus points for the G-man.

The three of us stood under the big white archway at Washington Square Park while we munched our sugary breakfast and scanned our surroundings.

I’d never been to the park so early. The sun was just coming up, pouring rosy light through the streets and washing the brick facades of the buildings around the square. In front of us stretched the main plaza—a giant circle of gray stonework radiating from the central fountain. Annabeth said the design reminded her of a sundial or a wheel. To me, being born a New Yorker, it looked like a massive manhole cover.

The fountain itself wasn’t running. In the summertime, it made a great wading pool for kids, but now the basin was dry. I imagined it watching me, thinking, Oh, great. Here’s Percy. Now I’ll have to explode or drown a monster or something. As I may have mentioned, water fixtures don’t tend to like me much.

As far as people were concerned, there weren’t many around. A lady was walking her dog down one of the paths. A few commuters hustled across the plaza. A couple of old guys were playing a chess game at one of the tables under the elm trees. The place was about as empty as anywhere in Manhattan ever gets.

“Ready?” Grover asked. He was trying to look brave and determined, but the image was undercut a little by the green sprinkles of matcha in his goatee.

“Let’s do it,” I said.

I’d eaten the last Cookie Monster donut—obviously the best flavor, being fluorescent blue—so now there was nothing left to do but find Gary.

Annabeth wrapped up the rest of her purple ube mochi, stuck it in her backpack, then passed around the tissues and menthol rub.

“Isn’t this what cops do before they examine dead bodies?” Grover asked, plugging up his nostrils.

“Let’s not make that comparison,” Annabeth suggested. “No dead bodies today, okay?”

“Oh-tay,” I said, which was all I could manage with wads of Kleenex up my nose. My eyes watered from the menthol. My throat stung like I was being given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by a koala, but I supposed it was better than going into a nectar coma.

“Here we go.” Annabeth took out her glowing vial and twisted off the cap.

She tipped the vial ever so slightly, and three golden droplets trickled out. Instead of falling, they caught the breeze and floated through the air like soap bubbles. Each one drifted in a different direction.

“That’s not helpful,” Annabeth observed. “Should we split up?” “Always a derrible idea,” I said.

So that’s what we did.

I wasn’t too worried about losing Annabeth and Grover, since they could go halfway across the park and still be in my line of sight. Annabeth followed her nectar drop down the main concourse toward the chess tables. Grover’s bubble led him cross-country through the trees. Mine wobbled toward the children’s play area. I passed a pedestrian hustling along with coffee in her hand, but she gave me a wide berth, as you do when you see a strange kid with tissues hanging out of his nostrils. She didn’t seem to notice the glowing nectar. Fortunately, she didn’t fall into a coma, either. Maybe the scent didn’t work on regular mortals.

As I followed the bouncing ball, I remembered what Grover had said about nature spirits fleeing the park. The place did feel abandoned. No squirrels. No rats. Not even pigeons. Even the trees seemed too quiet, which isn’t something you’d notice unless you’d spent time hanging out with dryads. You get used to their comforting presence, like someone humming a lullaby in your ear. When they’re gone, you miss them.

The gravel crunched under my feet. The Cookie Monster mochi churned in my stomach. When I reached the edge of the playground, I realized how

tranquil everything had become. No cars passed on the street. The breeze had died. The tree canopies spread motionless overhead like sheets of green ice.

The nectar bubble drifted toward the play structure. It floated up the climbing chains to the top of the miniature fort, then burst into flames.

Yeah . . . that was probably normal. I glanced back at my friends.

Grover had stopped next to a big elm tree. His ear was pressed against the trunk as if he were listening for voices. His nectar droplet had vanished.

About fifty yards to his left, Annabeth stood at the first chess table, watching a game. The two old guys were hunched over their board, glowering at the pieces, but neither of them moved a muscle. Annabeth’s glowing nectar bubble had also disappeared.

Something was wrong.

I wanted to call out to her, to break whatever weird trance she was in, but my voice wouldn’t cooperate. The tense silence made me afraid to yell or attract attention.

I felt like something was rewiring my brain, changing the way I perceived time. The last time I’d had this sensation . . . I’d been twelve years old, standing on a beach in Santa Monica, when I first witnessed the power of Kronos.

“It is similar, yes,” said a voice behind me.

I turned, reaching for my pen-sword, but I felt like I was moving through gelatin. Standing on the play structure was an old man . . . or rather, what an old man might look like if he was born old and lived another thousand years. He was as small as a first grader, his back curved in the shape of a fishing hook. His skin hung off his bones in sagging brown folds like moth-eaten curtains. He wore nothing but a loincloth, leaving me a great view of his bent stick legs, gnarled feet, and concave belly. His head reminded me of a boiled egg that had been allowed to sit and rot for a week. And his face . . . The man’s fleshy nose was webbed with red capillaries . . . the most vibrant color in his whole body. His eyes were milky from cataracts. His

mouth looked as if someone had punched in all his teeth with a metal pipe. “Take a picture,” the old man grumbled. “It’ll last longer.”

I tried to speak. The gelatin air seemed to coat my lungs, making it hard to breathe. I took the tissue plugs out of my nose so I wouldn’t suffocate.

“What do you mean?” I croaked.

The old dude rolled his eyes. “I mean pictures last longer than—” “Not that. What did you mean by It is similar?”

“My power,” he said. “It’s similar to the way Kronos stretches time.” “How did you—”

“Know what you were thinking? Sonny boyo, when you get to be my age, nothing surprises. Besides, I know who you are, Percy Jackson. I’ve been watching you.”

The hairs rose on the nape of my neck. An old guy in a diaper had been watching me. That wasn’t creepy at all.

“I’m guessing you’re Gary?”

“Or Geras, if you prefer.” He raised a withered hand to stop my followup questions. “And, yes, I’m a god. I’ll give you a hint what I’m the god of. From my name, you get the word geriatric.”

My mind raced with all kinds of hideous possibilities. I was facing the god of adult incontinency products, bingo parlors, denture cream, fiber supplements . . . or maybe just yelling at crazy kids to get off your lawn. Then my rattled brain managed to put all those things together into one larger category.

“Oh,” I said. “God of old age?”

“Ding, ding.” Gary showed off his toothless gums. “Now perhaps you understand why I stole Ganymede’s little sippy cup.”

He held out his hand. In a flash of light, a ceramic vessel appeared floating above his palm, but it looked more like a flying saucer than a drinking cup. The bowl was wide and shallow with two oversize handles. I was pretty sure my mom had a salad bowl like that.

The exterior gleamed with black-and-gold scenes of the gods at a feast, their silhouettes outlined in threads of Celestial bronze. It was a fancy piece of pottery, but I wasn’t sure how anyone could pour nectar out of it.

“The chalice of the gods,” I guessed.

I wanted to add that of course I understood why Gary had stolen it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t.

“So . . . since you’re already immortal, would the cup make you younger?” I asked. “Or has it been your lifelong dream to serve drinks?”

“Oh, that’s disappointing. . . .” Gary closed his fist and the chalice disappeared. “Perhaps I should have started with Annabeth Chase. I understand she’s smart.”

I couldn’t really get angry. If I were looking for someone who could guess my diabolic master plan so I didn’t have to do the standard villain monologue, I would have started with Annabeth, too. On the other hand . . .

“Wait a minute,” I said. “You separated us with the nectar drops.”

I glanced across the park. Annabeth was still watching the chess match. Grover was still listening to a tree. They didn’t look like they were in immediate danger, but they were moving at super-slow speed, like flies in sap that was rapidly hardening to amber.

“What are you doing to us?” I demanded. “Picking us off one by one?

Afraid to take us all at once?”

Gary snorted. “I could turn all three of you into grave dust with a snap of my fingers. Normally I would, because you’re trying to spoil my fun. But since Ganymede sent Percy Jackson after me . . . well, I thought I would give you a chance. I hoped you of all demigods might understand why I took the chalice. If you don’t, though, I can just disintegrate you now and move on to your friends. Perhaps they’ll do better.”

“No!” I yelped—not just because I didn’t want to be grave dust, but because I couldn’t let him hurt Annabeth or Grover. “I totally get it. Really.”

Gary narrowed his eyes. “I don’t believe you.”

I didn’t believe me, either. Curse the smart old guy.

I tried to imagine what Annabeth would do. I wondered what Grover would do. Then, because my brain was weird, I wondered what would do in the situation I was in.

Something in that mass of cerebral seaweed must have clicked, or squished, or at least sloshed around a little.

“You’re the god of old age,” I said. “And the cup makes mortals immortal.”

Gary smirked, nodding at me to go on.

“Which keeps people from aging,” I said. “And you don’t like that.” “I hate that,” Gary snarled.

“Right,” I said. “Because people are supposed to get old. Not get promoted to godhood like . . .” I thought about Ganymede, all young and handsome and wandering miserably around my school cafeteria, filling people’s cups. “You want to humiliate Ganymede to make an example. You figured I would understand, because I once turned down immortality.”

Gary gave me a little bow, showing off the dark splotches on his cranium. “Perhaps you are not a total fool after all.”

“Thanks,” I said. “My goal for the week was not to be a total fool.” “Ganymede has no business being a god!” Gary said. “Any object that

grants humans immortality is odious and wrong. You are all meant to wither and die and return to dust. That is your purpose!”

“Yay for purpose.”

“You were the first demigod in millennia to turn down immortality,” Gary said. “I respect that. You get me.”

“This has been a nice bonding experience,” I said. “I think you’ve proven your point. Can I have the cup back now?”

Gary glowered. “You can’t be serious. Why would you complete this foolish quest? Walk away! Let Ganymede be punished! Let the gods lose their precious chalice so they have one less way to pass on the curse of immortality to others!”

“I totally would,” I said. “Except I need a letter of recommendation for college. And I promised Ganymede. Besides, do you really think he is the one to punish? He didn’t ask to get kidnapped by Zeus, right?”

“Oh, please!” Gary said. “You think eternal youth and immortality make him the victim here?”

“I mean . . . have you seen the guy? He’s a nervous wreck.”

Gary folded his withered arms. “I’m disappointed, Percy Jackson. If you insist on helping Ganymede, I suppose I was wrong about you. Grave dust it is.”

“Hold on!” I squeaked. Sometimes when I’m in imminent danger of death, my Mickey Mouse voice comes out. “Look, I get why you’re angry. But seeing as we have common ground with the whole mortals shouldn’t be gods thing, isn’t there some way we can reach a deal?”

Gary studied me. The milky splotches drifted across his eyes like clouds on some alien planet.

“Perhaps . . .” His sly tone made me sorry I’d asked. “How about I give you one chance to win the cup? You should feel honored, Percy Jackson. In the history of humankind, I have only made this offer to one other hero.”

“Hercules,” I guessed, because the answer is almost always Hercules.

Gary nodded. “You must defeat me in wrestling. If you win, I will give you the chalice. If I win . . . you will fulfill your purpose sooner than expected, and I will turn you into a pile of powdered bone. Do we have an agreement?”

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