"Di immortales, Chiron," Mr. D said. "I thought you taught this boy the basics. My father is Zeus, of course."
I ran through D names from Greek mythology. Wine. The skin of a tiger. The satyrs that all seemed to work here. The way Grover cringed, as if Mr. D were his master.
"You're Dionysus," I said. "The god of wine."
Mr. D rolled his eyes. "What do they say, these days, Grover? Do the children say, 'Well, duh!'?"
"Y-yes, Mr. D."
"Then, well, duh! Percy Jackson. Did you think I was Aphrodite, perhaps?"
"You're a god."
"A god. You."
He turned to look at me straight on, and I saw a kind of purplish fire in his eyes, a hint that this whiny, plump little man was only showing me the tiniest bit of his true nature. I saw visions of grape vines choking unbelievers to death, drunken warriors insane with battle lust, sailors screaming as their hands turned to flippers, their faces elongating into dolphin snouts. I knew that if I pushed him, Mr. D would show me worse things. He would plant a disease in my brain that would leave me wearing a strait-jacket in a rubber room for the rest of my life.
"Would you like to test me, child?" he said quietly.
"No. No, sir."
The fire died a little. He turned back to his card game. "I believe I win."
"Not quite, Mr. D," Chiron said. He set down a straight, tallied the points, and said, "The game goes to me."
I thought Mr. D was going to vaporize Chiron right out of his wheelchair, but he just sighed through his nose, as if he were used to being beaten by the Latin teacher. He got up, and Grover rose, too.
"I'm tired," Mr. D said. "I believe I'll take a nap before the sing-along tonight. But first, Grover, we need to talk, again, about your less-than-perfect performance on this assignment."
Grover's face beaded with sweat. "Y-yes, sir."
Mr. D turned to me. "Cabin eleven, Percy Jackson. And mind your manners."
He swept into the farmhouse, Grover following miserably.
"Will Grover be okay?" I asked Chiron.
Chiron nodded, though he looked a bit troubled. "Old Dionysus isn't really mad. He just hates his job. He's been ... ah, grounded, I guess you would say, and he can't stand waiting another century before he's allowed to go back to Olympus."
"MountOlympus," I said. "You're telling me there really is a palace there?"
"Well now, there's MountOlympus in Greece. And then there's the home of the gods, the convergence point of their powers, which did indeed used to be on MountOlympus. It's still called MountOlympus, out of respect to the old ways, but the palace moves, Percy, just as the gods do."
"You mean the Greek gods are here? Like ... in America?"
"Well, certainly. The gods move with the heart of the West."
"Come now, Percy. What you call 'Western civilization.' Do you think it's just an abstract concept? No, it's a living force. A collective consciousness that has burned bright for thousands of years. The gods are part of it. You might even say they are the source of it, or at least, they are tied so tightly to it that they couldn't possibly fade, not unless all of Western civilization were obliterated. The fire started in Greece. Then, as you well know—or as I hope you know, since you passed my course—the heart of the fire moved to Rome, and so did the gods. Oh, different names, perhaps—Jupiter for Zeus, Venus for Aphrodite, and so on—but the same forces, the same gods."
"And then they died."
"Died? No. Did the West die? The gods simply moved, to Germany, to France, to Spain, for a while. Wherever the flame was brightest, the gods were there. They spent several centuries in England. All you need to do is look at the architecture. People do not forget the gods. Every place they've ruled, for the last three thousand years, you can see them in paintings, in statues, on the most important buildings. And yes, Percy, of course they are now in your United States. Look at your symbol, the eagle of Zeus. Look at the statue of Prometheus in RockefellerCenter, the Greek facades of your government buildings in Washington. I defy you to find any American city where the Olympians are not prominently displayed in multiple places. Like it or not—and believe me, plenty of people weren't very fond of Rome, either—America is now the heart of the flame. It is the great power of the West. And so Olympus is here. And we are here."
It was all too much, especially the fact that I seemed to be included in Chiron's we, as if I were part of some club.
"Who are you, Chiron? Who ... who am I?"
Chiron smiled. He shifted his weight as if he were going to get up out of his wheelchair, but I knew that was impossible. He was paralyzed from the waist down.
"Who are you?" he mused. "Well, that's the question we all want answered, isn't it? But for now, we should get you a bunk in cabin eleven. There will be new friends to meet. And plenty of time for lessons tomorrow. Besides, there will be s'mores at the campfire tonight, and I simply adore chocolate."
And then he did rise from his wheelchair. But there was something odd about the way he did it. His blanket fell away from his legs, but the legs didn't move. His waist kept getting longer, rising above his belt. At first, I thought he was wearing very long, white velvet underwear, but as he kept rising out of the chair, taller than any man, I realized that the velvet underwear wasn't underwear; it was the front of an animal, muscle and sinew under coarse white fur. And the wheelchair wasn't a chair. It was some kind of container, an enormous box on wheels, and it must've been magic, because there's no way it could've held all of him. A leg came out, long and knobby-kneed, with a huge polished hoof. Then another front leg, then hindquarters, and then the box was empty, nothing but a metal shell with a couple of fake human legs attached..
I stared at the horse who had just sprung from the wheelchair: a huge white stallion. But where its neck should be was the upper body of my Latin teacher, smoothly grafted to the horse's trunk.
"What a relief," the centaur said. "I'd been cooped up in there so long, my fetlocks had fallen asleep. Now, come, Percy Jackson. Let's meet the other campers."
6. I BECOME SUPREME LORD OF THE BATHROOM
Once I got over the fact that my Latin teacher was a horse, we had a nice tour, though I was careful not to walk behind him. I'd done pooper-scooper patrol in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade a few times, and, I'm sorry, I did not trust Chiron's back end the way I trusted his front.
We passed the volleyball pit. Several of the campers nudged each other. One pointed to the minotaur horn I was carrying. Another said, "That's him."
Most of the campers were older than me. Their satyr friends were bigger than Grover, all of them trotting around in orange CAMPHALF-BLOOD T-shirts, with nothing else to cover their bare shaggy hindquarters. I wasn't normally shy, but the way they stared at me made me uncomfortable. I felt like they were expecting me to do a flip or something.
I looked back at the farmhouse. It was a lot bigger than I'd realized—four stories tall, sky blue with white trim, like an upscale seaside resort. I was checking out the brass eagle weather vane on top when something caught my eye, a shadow in the uppermost window of the attic gable. Something had moved the curtain, just for a second, and I got the distinct impression I was being watched.
"What's up there?" I asked Chiron.
He looked where I was pointing, and his smile faded. "Just the attic."
"Somebody lives there?"
"No," he said with finality. "Not a single living thing."
I got the feeling he was being truthful. But I was also sure something had moved that curtain.
"Come along, Percy," Chiron said, his lighthearted tone now a little forced. "Lots to see."
We walked through the strawberry fields, where campers were picking bushels of berries while a satyr played a tune on a reed pipe.. . . . . . . . . .
Chiron told me the camp grew a nice crop for export to New York restaurants and MountOlympus. "It pays our expenses," he explained. "And the strawberries take almost no effort."
He said Mr. D had this effect on fruit-bearing plants: they just went crazy when he was around. It worked best with wine grapes, but Mr. D was restricted from growing those, so they grew strawberries instead.
I watched the satyr playing his pipe. His music was causing lines of bugs to leave the strawberry patch in every direction, like refugees fleeing a fire. I wondered if Grover could work that kind of magic with music. I wondered if he was still inside the farmhouse, getting chewed out by Mr. D.
"Grover won't get in too much trouble, will he?" I asked Chiron. "I mean ... he was a good protector. Really."
Chiron sighed. He shed his tweed jacket and draped it over his horses back like a saddle. "Grover has big dreams, Percy. Perhaps bigger than are reasonable. To reach his goal, he must first demonstrate great courage by succeeding as a keeper, finding a new camper and bringing him safely to Half-Blood Hill."
"But he did that!"
"I might agree with you," Chiron said. "But it is not my place to judge. Dionysus and the Council of Cloven Elders must decide. I'm afraid they might not see this assignment as a success. After all, Grover lost you in New York. Then there's the unfortunate ... ah ... fate of your mother. And the fact that Grover was unconscious when you dragged him over the property line. The council might question whether this shows any courage on Grover's part."
I wanted to protest. None of what happened was Grover's fault. I also felt really, really guilty. If I hadn't given Grover the slip at the bus station, he might not have gotten in trouble.
"He'll get a second chance, won't he?"
Chiron winced. "I'm afraid that was Grover's second chance, Percy. The council was not anxious to give him another, either, after what happened the first time, five years ago. Olympus knows, I advised him to wait longer before trying again. He's still so small for his age... ."
"How old is he?"
"What! And he's in sixth grade?"
"Satyrs mature half as fast as humans, Percy. Grover has been the equivalent of a middle school student for the past six years."
"Quite," Chiron agreed. "At any rate, Grover is a late bloomer, even by satyr standards, and not yet very accomplished at woodland magic. Alas, he was anxious to pursue his dream. Perhaps now he will find some other career... ."
"That's not fair," I said. "What happened the first time? Was it really so bad?"
Chiron looked away quickly. "Let's move along, shall we?"
But I wasn't quite ready to let the subject drop. Something had occurred to me when Chiron talked about my mother's fate, as if he were intentionally avoiding the word death. The beginnings of an idea—a tiny, hopeful fire—started forming in my mind.
"Chiron," I said. "If the gods and Olympus and all that are real ..."
"Does that mean the Underworld is real, too?"
Chiron's expression darkened.