Chapter no 9 – The Chickens Draw First Blood

The Chalice of the Gods

If you’ve never had to run through an arcade pursued by killer chickens . . . you wanna trade lives for a while? Because seriously, you are welcome to mine.‌

The birds were small, but they were fast, vicious, and surprisingly strong. They stormed across the space in a wave of feathers and claws, shredding more furniture, scattering the customers, and driving up the high scores on the Dance Dance Revolution machines. The whole time, their unblinking eyes stayed fixed on us, their beaks and talons gleaming like polished steel.

I’d heard stories of people staging rooster fights, putting razor blades on the birds’ feet for extra damage—because people do terrible things—but these hens were even scarier. They were killing machines au naturel, and they looked like they really enjoyed their job.

My eight-year-old legs were not up to the chase. I’d never been a great runner, and now I was falling behind Annabeth and Grover.

“Hurry!” Annabeth yelled back at me, like I hadn’t thought of that. “Over here!” She bolted toward the play structure with big plastic crawl tubes.

I wanted to ask what her plan was, but I was already out of breath. “Guys, grab that table!” She pointed to a high café table, the kind you’d

stand around to mingle at a fancy party or whatever.

It took me only a second to understand why she wanted it. By now, we’d had enough adventures together that I was usually only a few steps behind Annabeth’s thought process, rather than a few days.

Grover grabbed the top. I grabbed the pedestal base. It was heavy, and I wasn’t nearly as strong as a feral chicken, but we managed to lug the table over to the entrance of the play structure. Annabeth plunged into the tunnel first, then Grover and I followed, pulling the base of the table in behind us like we were corking a bottle. The circular tabletop was just big enough to block the entrance, leaving no room for chickens.

A moment later, the flock slammed into the play structure, making the plastic tubes shudder. The chickens screamed in outrage. But for the moment, we were safe.

“How long until they figure out there are other ways into the tube?” I asked.

“Not long.” Annabeth’s eyes blazed with intensity. I could see how afraid she was, but I also knew she lived for these situations. She was at her most Annabeth when she was thinking her way out of an impossible predicament.

That was good, because we tended to have a lot of those. “Why chickens?” I grumbled. “Of all the animals . . .” “Would you prefer jaguars?” she asked.

“It’s because of Hebe’s temples,” Grover said, chewing his knuckle. “The priestesses always kept hens and chicks. Roosters were kept in Hercules’s temple. The birds only got together on Hebe’s holy day.”



“Oh, right,” Annabeth said. “Hebe married Hercules when he became a god.” She shuddered. “I almost feel sorry for her.”

“Hold up,” I said. “Grover, how do you know about the hen/rooster thing?”

“Daycare,” he said miserably. “Hebe sponsors daycare centers for young satyrs. We used to sing ‘Happy the Holy Hen’ every morning.”

Suddenly, I had a new theory about why satyrs aged half as fast as humans, but I decided this might not be the moment to discuss it.

“You’re a member of the Council of Cloven Elders,” I said. “Can’t you ask the chickens to back off?”

“I can try.” He bleated something in Goatenese.

The chickens slammed into the play structure with even more force. A steely beak punctured the plastic between my legs.

“I guess that’s a no,” Grover said.

“Hebe’s holy day,” Annabeth mused. “Baby chicks . . .”

I frowned. “What are you thinking? Some kind of distraction? I don’t have any roosters handy.”

“No, but there were chicks in that coop. ”



“So?” I yelled as another beak almost gave me a thigh piercing. “So we need to get back to the coop. And grab a chick.”

“Killer hens are chasing us,” Grover said, “and you want to run to their coop and steal their babies?”

“Yes. And then run again.” She raised her hands defensively. “Percy, I know you’re going to say this is a terrible idea—”

“This is a terrible idea.”

“—but you have to trust me. Let’s go.”

She crawled deeper into the play tube. I grumbled under my breath and followed. As much as I hated her idea, I had none of my own—and I did trust her.

The tunnel angled upward until we were crawling just below the ceiling. I glanced out one of the Plexiglas bubble windows and saw most of the flock still running around on the floor, squawking angrily. A few of the smarter birds had figured out that, hey, they had wings! Some flapped up and body-checked the play tube. Others ran along the top, pecking at the plastic, but so far they hadn’t figured out how to get to us.

We stopped at a T.

“Grover, go left,” Annabeth said. “Distract the flock while Percy and I go right and make a break for the coop. We’ll rendezvous back at the karaoke bar.”

“Do I get to say this is a terrible idea, too?” Grover asked.

“Just do your best,” Annabeth said. “You’re the fastest runner. You’re also the only one who speaks Chicken.”

“Technically Chicken isn’t a distinct language,” he said, “though many animal dialects sound just like Chicken. ”

“Dude, just yell at them,” I suggested. “Do you know any fowl insults?” “This is a family amusement center!”

“Where they are trying to kill us for complaining.”



“Good point,” Grover said. “I will insult the chickens.” He shouldered past me and crawled down the left-hand tunnel, his hooves moving like cloven pistons.

“Let’s go,” Annabeth said in her best squad-leader voice. And off we went down the right-hand tube.

We slid down a bendy-straw chute and plunged into a ball pit, which wasn’t great for making a quick escape. Fortunately, the chickens were preoccupied. At the opposite end of the play structure, Grover had emerged in all his insult-flinging glory and was bounding across the Skee-Ball machines, throwing the wooden balls behind him, making the hens trip and weave. I remembered some myth about a woman throwing gold apples behind her to slow down guys who were chasing her. Skee-Balls seemed to work pretty well, too.

“SQUAWK!” Grover yelled. “CLUCK! CLUCK!”

Judging by how much this enraged the flock, it must have been a scathing comment about chicks’ mothers. Grover disappeared into the arcade, followed by most of the poultry mob.

“Keep up.” Annabeth waded through the ball pit, holding her hands above her head like she didn’t want her nonexistent rifle to get wet. Meanwhile, I kept my ballpoint pen handy, which I guess would’ve been super useful if the chickens had decided they wanted an autograph.

“Whatever you do,” Annabeth warned, “don’t hurt the hens. They’re still Hebe’s sacred animals.”

“That’s my top priority,” I muttered. “Not hurting the chickens.”

“I’m serious,” she said. “This will only work if we don’t make Hebe even angrier.”

I didn’t know what Annabeth’s plan was, or how it would work, but you can file that under I Had No Better Ideas, which was already a pretty thick folder.

Annabeth climbed out of the ball pit and offered me a hand. I’d like to say I got out gracefully. I didn’t. I shook about a dozen plastic balls out of my big pant cuffs and scraped a half-chewed cheeseburger off the bottom of my shoe. I wondered what else might be slowly turning into fossil fuel at the bottom of that ball pit . . . probably a bunch of demigods who had dared to lodge age-based complaints.

“Coop,” Annabeth said, and took off running.



Even as an eight-year-old, she had more single-mindedness than I ever would, which might have bothered me if I’d had the bandwidth to focus on it.

We found the chicks in the coop, right where we’d left them. They didn’t look happy about missing out on the chase. When Sparky had unleashed the predators, she’d apparently triggered a control that rolled the chicken-wire

fence down exactly halfway—low enough for the adult hens to jump over, but too high for the baby chicks to clear. I guess this was Hebe’s version of an amusement-ride sign: YOU HAVE TO BE THIS TALL TO MURDER OUR CUSTOMERS!

Annabeth studied the chicks, which were running in circles, stomping in the straw, and hurling untranslatable insults in our direction. The chick I’d noticed earlier with the pink fluff on her face seemed particularly angry— she was peeping at the top of her tiny lungs.

“Hope I can catch one,” Annabeth muttered, mostly to herself.

Before I could say, For a wise girl, that does not seem like a wise move, she reached into the coop.


Li’l Killer had bitten her finger and clamped on. Annabeth yanked her hand back, shaking the fluffy little chick around like a sock with static cling, but Li’l Killer refused to let go.

“Remember not to hurt her,” I said. “Really helpful,” Annabeth grumbled.

Blood dripped from her finger, but she cupped her free hand around the chick, holding it against her chest so it wouldn’t get away, assuming it ever got tired of the taste of human flesh. “Let’s get to the karaoke bar.”

“Is one chick enough?” I asked.

“If you’re jealous, you can have this one.” “She is kinda cute for a killer chicken.”

From across the arcade came a sudden roar of customers cheering, hens screeching BAWK! BAWK!, and one panicked satyr yelling, “Incoming!”

How quickly I’d forgotten the herd of holy hens that wanted to tear us apart.

Annabeth and I raced for the karaoke bar, though with my newly youngified legs, it was more of a waddle. I didn’t even have the time or energy to make the diving pool explode as we ran by.




Grover reached the lounge at the same time we did. He had feathers stuck in his fur, and the back of his shirt was shredded like he’d been rolling around on a really dangerous mattress.

“That was super fun,” he wheezed. “Get the doors!” Annabeth said.

Grover and I grabbed the big mahogany panels and started sliding them together. Why the karaoke bar had its own partition, I wasn’t sure—maybe

to protect the rest of the center from the music, or to create a private event space for birthday parties or intimate interrogation sessions.

We’d just closed the doors when the flock slammed against them.

The hens squawked in outrage. The mahogany panels shuddered and creaked. I couldn’t imagine they’d hold for long under a full chicken onslaught.

“What now?” Grover asked, gasping for breath.

He looked so young and terrified that I felt bad for getting a little kid like him into this situation. Then I remembered I was also a little kid like him.

“Now comes the hard part,” Annabeth said. “That was the easy part?” I demanded.

Annabeth winced as she yanked Li’l Killer off her finger and set the chick on the floor.

Li’l Killer ruffled her blood-speckled feathers. She looked up at us with her shiny black eyes, peeped in a smug sort of way, like, Yeah, you best put me down, then wandered off, contentedly pecking pizza crumbs off the carpet.

Annabeth wrapped a napkin around her wounded finger. “This karaoke bar is Hebe’s temple, right? Her inner sanctum?”

I usually didn’t associate those words with karaoke bars, but I nodded. “And?”

“On Hebe’s holy days, petitioners used to come to her altar,” Annabeth continued.

“That’s right,” Grover said. “They’d ask forgiveness, and Hebe would give them sanctuary.”

“But this isn’t her holy day, is it?” I asked. “No way we could be that lucky.”

“Probably not,” Annabeth said. “But we’ll have to try.”




The doors shuddered, bending inward under the weight of the evil poultry.

“Grover,” Annabeth said, “do what you can to barricade the doors. Percy and I will look for the right song.”

“Song?” I asked. “You’re not really talking about a ‘Shallow’ duet?” “No, an apology song, Seaweed Brain! We beg Hebe for forgiveness.

Once she shows, we ask for sanctuary and a second chance.” “What if she refuses?”

Annabeth looked at Li’l Killer. “Then I hope Plan Chick works.

Otherwise, we’re dead.”

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