Chapter no 30 -I Infiltrate the Lair of Lightning God 3000

The Chalice of the Gods

Sprinting to Mount Olympus sounded cool and heroic, until I got halfway there and realized I still had like a quarter mile to run with a bowling-ball chalice. By the time I reached the other end of the bridge, I was sweating and gasping. I imagined somewhere Gary was laughing at me and

reminiscing about how, when he was a kid, they ran barefoot uphill five miles to Olympus and they liked it.

Twice, I stopped to catch my breath, hugging the side of the road while a group of Olympus-dwellers passed by. I wasn’t sure what they were—minor gods? nature spirits?—but they didn’t seem to notice me. They just drifted past in their shiny golden robes, tittering and chatting in ancient Greek and basically looking like they lived inside a permanent “supernatural beauty” camera filter.

Annabeth’s cap must have been doing its job. I was either invisible to the locals or appeared too unimportant to mess with. That was good, because the longer I wore the hat, the worse the itchy sensation got. My skin felt like it was baking into crispy pork rind. I wondered how Annabeth dealt with this, and also whether Olympus had any pharmacies that sold cortisone cream.

At least the Olympian streets weren’t busy. A couple of chariots were in line at the drive-through window of Sagittarius Coffee. A Hephaestus-made steampunk rhinoceros thing was trundling along the street, power-washing the cobblestones with blasts of steam from its snout. In the park gazebo, a sign read OPEN MIC HOT POETRY WITH ERATO! TONIGHT ONLY! But at the

moment, the gardens were empty except for a few pigeons. (Because yes, even Mount Olympus has pigeons.)

I followed Grover’s directions to the side entrance of Zeus’s palace: Left at the big white oak tree, follow the bed of lilies until I found the two poplar trees. Take a right and look for the wall of jasmine. When your best friend is a satyr, you learn a lot about trees and plants. That’s how they see the world, so it’s also how they give directions.

The chalice helped, pulling me along ever more insistently the closer we got to Ganymede. At least, I hoped that was where it was leading me, and not to the nearest godly high school cafeteria so I could top off everyone’s beverages.

I ended up in an alley at the base of a tall cliff. Far above rose the foundations of an enormous white palace—Chez Zeus, I presumed. Sure enough, the wall in front of me was covered with flowering jasmine, except for a small door inlaid with fancy bronze designs. Even the alleys are high-class on Mount Olympus.

I did the shave and a haircut knock.

The door creaked open. The woman who poked her head out had a hairdo like a tornado funnel. Her eyes were gray and stormy, her face ageless, her scent like oncoming rain. She couldn’t have been more clearly a cloud nymph if she’d had a name tag that said HELLOMY NAME IS CLOUD NYMPH.

“Naomi?” I guessed.

“You brought donuts?” she asked. “Oh, um . . . no.”

“You smell like mochi donuts.”

“That’s because . . . Never mind. I’m actually a friend of Maron’s.” She snorted. “No, you’re not. Maron doesn’t have friends.”

“True. But I am a friend of Grover Underwood’s. He said—” “Come in.” She grabbed my arm and pulled me into the kitchen.

I’m not sure what I expected in a godly kitchen. If I’m being honest, I’d never considered whether the gods even had kitchens. I mean, they could snap their fingers and create anything they wanted. Why go to the fuss of having someone cook for you?

Now, as I looked at all the nymphs rushing from oven to stovetop, pulling cloud-stuff out of the air and mixing it into their soups and pies like strands of cotton candy, I realized that the gods would want servants fussing around, making things for them, the same way they liked it when mortals burned offerings. It was all about being noticed, attended, catered to. Gods

ate the spotlight more than they ate nectar and ambrosia. Of course they would insist things be done the hard way.

About twenty nymphs were at work, all wearing white aprons, with black nets around their billowy hair. Their legs were just wisps of cloud, probably so they could move faster. Their nebulous dresses were stained with various soups, broths, and glazes, so they looked like colorful sunsets.

The kitchen itself was bigger than my high school gym, and dryads kept popping in and out of the bronze double doors, carrying platters of food into the dining room beyond. As the doors opened, I heard voices I recognized: Zeus’s booming baritone, Hera’s laughter. Oh, great. My favorite goddess.

As I had feared, the chefs were cooking up all the usual brunch horrors: eggs Benedict with neon-orange hollandaise sauce, steaks with eggs, soufflés. Yep, there were even a few Mr. Crunchys, along with French toast, bacon burgers, and pineapple pizza, because why not? Let brunch chaos reign.

Naomi studied me with the same distrustful expression I was giving the food.

“So why did Grover . . . ?” Her voice trailed off as I showed her the chalice. “I see. You’re not supposed to have that.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know.”

She scratched under her hairnet. “Are you a god, then?”

A line from an old movie flitted through my head: When someone asks you if you’re a god, you say yes!

I said, “No.”

“Right.” She hesitated. “This would explain why Ganymede is out there sweating Greek fire.”

“I can’t really comment,” I said. “But if you could signal him to come in here—”

“Oh, no.” Naomi folded her arms. She scowled at Annabeth’s Yankees cap in a way that made me think invisibility hats were rude in her kitchen and also ineffective. “I will pretend I don’t see you. Nobody will bother you in here. But if you want to get Ganymede’s attention, you’ll have to do it yourself. He’s right through there.” She pointed at the double doors. “Can’t miss him. He’s the one sweating—”

“Greek fire. Got it. I don’t suppose I could borrow a waiter’s outfit and maybe a fake mustache?”

Naomi grunted. “Friend of Maron. That’s hilarious.” She marched away to check on her soufflés.

I figured that was a no on the waiter’s costume. Since Annabeth’s invisibility cap wasn’t doing much more than making me look out of place and giving me a skin rash, I needed another plan.

I made my way over to the double doors. I waited for a dryad server to go through, then put my foot in between them, keeping them open just enough to peek through the crack.

I’d never seen Zeus’s private palace before. The few times I’d been to Olympus, I’d always made a beeline from the elevators to the gods’ council chamber, which is what you have to do when you’re delivering doomsday weapons or trying to keep the Titans from destroying the world.

Zeus’s dining room looked like an ancient Roman feast hall crossed with a Beverly Hills party pad. In the central conversation pit, gold-embroidered purple sofas surrounded a table laden with platters of fruit. The gold cutlery and dinnerware gleamed so brightly I thought my eyes would melt. Bordering the atrium were alabaster columns etched with gold lightning bolts, just in case you forgot whose palace you were in. I was surprised Zeus hadn’t monogrammed them . . . although maybe he had. If his monogram was just a Z, that was basically the same as a lightning bolt, right? Mind blown.

The view was suitably impressive—vast open balconies overlooking the other Olympian mansions where the lesser-schmuck gods were forced to live. But what really got me were the games. Lined up along the outer walls, every conceivable Zeus-themed arcade machine blinked and flashed—King of Olympus pinball, Mighty Zeus slots, even Lightning God 3000, which I remembered playing once on Coney Island. I wasn’t surprised that Zeus would collect his own memorabilia. That seemed very on-brand. But the fact that he would display it in his dining room was some god-level narcissism. Like, Why look at these amazing views when you can select my avatar in multiplayer mode and realize how much your powers suck compared to mine? I wondered if he sourced his machines from the same wholesaler as Hebe Jeebies.

I forced my ADHD brain to stop obsessing about the blinking lights and focus on the brunch guests instead. Plenty of old friends and frenemies lounged on the sofas. At the head of the table sat the big guy himself, the O.Z., chillaxing in a purple velour toga and gold sandals. Because obviously,

if you are a god and you can look like anything you want, this is the look you would choose.

To his left was my buddy Hera, goddess of making Percy miserable. She looked regal in her sleeveless white dress and elegant braided hairdo, as if to make a point of how gross her husband was.

To Zeus’s right, with her back to me, was a woman I assumed was Rhea, queen of the Titans, aka Grandma Goddess. I’d expected her to look older than the gods, because she was probably pushing six thousand by now, but of course immortals don’t have to show their age. Brown-blond hair cascaded down her back in a waterfall of ringlets. She wore a tie-dyed caftan-style dress with silver bangles on each arm. Curled up asleep at her feet was a lion. Just another apex predator at the table.

Other celebrities in the brunch pit included Athena, Hermes, and Demeter . . . because of course the grain goddess would show up for a morning meal. There were a couple of other guests I didn’t recognize, either because they’d changed their appearance or because I hadn’t met them yet. And standing behind Zeus, trying to figure out what to do with his empty, chalice-free hands, was Ganymede.

He was literally sweating Greek fire. Every so often, a drop of glistening incendiary liquid would pop and smoke on the back of his neck. So far, no one else in the room seemed to be noticing, or maybe he always did that when he served at the boss’s table.

Zeus was holding forth about all the delicacies he had ordered for his mother’s special brunch day. Apparently, she hadn’t been to Olympus in a very long time, and nobody was allowed to start eating or drinking until Zeus finished his speech about how awesome she was. All their cups were empty.

Good. Now all I had to do was get the chalice into Ganymede’s hands without being noticed. It seemed so doable, and yet . . .

I stared at the cupbearer, willing him to look in my direction. Finally, as Zeus was extolling the virtues of phoenix eggs Benedict (they have a spicy kick!), Ganymede glanced at the kitchen doors. After a moment of hazy confusion, he saw me holding up the chalice.

His expression changed from surprise to relief to terrified pleading in less time than it would’ve taken him to pour a drink. His eyes said, Oh, thank the gods! I gestured at him to come to the kitchen.

He shuffled to one side, but immediately Zeus reached back and grabbed his wrist. “Stay, Ganymede. I want you to hear this! Then you can pour our drinks and we’ll have a nice toast.”

Nobody remarked on the obvious fact that the cupbearer didn’t have his cup. I suppose, being a servant, he was even more invisible than I was in my borrowed hat.

Ganymede looked in my direction again. Help!

“I thought,” Zeus told the group, “that I would honor our dear mother, Rhea, with a special story about her.”

“Oh, baby, you don’t have to,” Rhea said.

The other gods wore pained smiles as if they agreed that Zeus really didn’t have to.

“So, one time,” Zeus began, “back when I was just a lad and the rest of you were rolling around in Kronos’s stomach . . .”

At that moment, two horrible things became clear to me. First, I would have to listen to this story. Second, if Ganymede could not come to the chalice, I would have to bring the chalice to Ganymede.

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