3.10 Distractions

I followed Beroe back to the river bank in case she changed her mind about Orpheus’ secret, but it didn’t happen. Instead, she summoned Dionysus. I decided to stick around and keep an eye on things.

Dionysus had appeared, sprawled on the ground and wrapped in velvet, with a large chuck of flesh ripped out of his bare shoulder. “You could’ve finished up whatever you were in the middle of,” said Beroe.

“No worries, I already finished a few times,” he said. His shoulder was repairing itself as they spoke. By the time he’d finished his sentence, it looked like he’d never been injured in the first place. “But I’m ready to go again.”

“No,” said Beroe. “I summoned you because I want to practice with the thyrsus underwater.”

“It’d be a simple matter to get your own thyrsus,” said Dionysus. “Hephaestus is practically family to you.”

“It’s a signature weapon,” said Beroe. “Legally, I couldn’t have one made without you authorizing it anyway, so I figured, why not just borrow yours and save the time? Which is becoming more of a moot point the longer we discuss it.”

Dionysus produced his thyrsus and handed it over. “Mind if I watch?”

“Go ahead,” she permitted, taking hold of the stalk. “As long as that’s all you do.”

“If that’s what you want,” he said, “though I imagine it’d be more helpful if I showed you a few tricks with it.”

“There are more moves than the vine grab?” Beroe asked with sincere interest. I was interested, too, since I’d never thought about the thyrsus being used as a weapon before all this. Dionysus had gone into battle before, but he hadn’t done much actual fighting. His forte was more making up insane maneuvers on the spot and sending his expendable minions to carry them out.

I got some popcorn.

“Watch,” said Dionysus. He plucked and ate a grape from one of the vines wrapped around the thyrsus. “Now,” he said, “imagine me doing anything.”

As if moved by a marionette’s string, Dionysus’ left hand slapped his face on one cheek, then the other. This movement was repeated a few times until Beroe decided he was enjoying it too much. Dionysus sat down in lotus position with his hands at his side, still in ecstasy.

“Whoever holds the thyrsus controls the actions of whoever eats from it,” Beroe surmised. “Do they have to be holding it while the subject eats from it?”

“Don’t know,” he said. “Never was much for experiments. Well, that’s not true, but not in the sense that you science types do them.”

“I’m not a science type,” she said. “That’d be Athena or Apollo. Or my brother, kind of. Anyway, how long does the effect last?”

Dionysus shrugged. “Few hours? I just give or take another grape when it starts wearing off if I’m not already bored with it.”

“‘A few’ isn’t very helpful,” said Beroe. Dionysus did a handspring and nailed the landing. I held up an invisible “9.8” scorecard. “The match doesn’t start for a few hours. Stick around so I can see when the effect wears off,” she said.

“I’m yours to command, during and after,” he said.

Beroe twirled the thyrsus and shot some vines around a nearby sapling. “Athena said we won’t be using signature weapons until the last round anyway,” she said. She gave a slight tug on the thyrsus. The vines uprooted the sapling and brought it to her. “But I figure it doesn’t hurt to get in some practice. Here.” She took off her bow and quiver and tossed them to Dionysus. “Put this on,” she said.

He put on the quiver and picked up the bow in a disaffected, random manner. Then suddenly he was holding it in a perfect position. He fit two arrows to his bow, each at a different angle. He let them fly. Two leaves fell from a tree, each neatly severed at the stem.

“You’ve really never thought to weaponize this?” said Beroe.

“Not ’til today,” he said.

Obviously Dionysus was well within Beroe’s control, so I let my guard down. I could’ve just gone home, I suppose. But I couldn’t think of any particularly compelling reason to. If Apollo asked where I’d been all day, I’d tell him I was keeping an eye on Beroe. He surely couldn’t object to that. Anyway, it seemed unlikely that he’d ask. He would’ve summoned me by now if he was bothered by my absence. It was nice to have a break, I silently laughed to myself. I’d been trying to get Apollo off my back for the last five years, and it turned out all I had to do was make out with him. If only I’d- “Ah!”

Crap. I hadn’t even noticed Dionysus doing an evasion roll toward me, and I was too lost in thought to stop myself from crying out when he knocked into me. I scrunched back, hoping he hadn’t felt me and no one had heard me. Then I saw that it was a moot point since I’d spilled my now-visible popcorn.

“Show yourself!” Beroe commanded. I could’ve just teleported home, but I imagined she must be getting flashbacks of mortals and demigods killed by invisible enemies. I didn’t want to give her more anxiety than she was already dealing with. So I took my helmet off.

Beroe surveyed me with justified suspicion. “Seen your sons lately?” she asked.

“You mean my nephews?” I said. I hoped that was clear enough to assure Beroe that I was myself and not a shapeshifter, yet vague enough not to give Dionysus more information than he needed.

“Why are you here?” asked Beroe.

“I didn’t feel like going home, so I stuck around after the meeting adjourned this morning,” I said. “I didn’t know anyone was coming back.”

This answer appeared to satisfy her. “Since you’re here, you might as well make yourself useful,” she said. She held out the thyrsus toward me. “Eat a grape,” she said.

“Why?” I said. “You already tested it on him.”

“I need to see if I can control more than one subject in different ways,” said Beroe.

“You can,” said Dionysus. “I think a hundred and forty-seven is the most I’ve done.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” I said. “As long as you can get Poseidon, it’ll be easy for you to wipe out any of his minions on your own. The tricky part is going to be getting him to eat the grape while you’re holding the thyrsus.”

Beroe smacked herself in the forehead. “So friggin’ obvious! Why did I not think of that?”

“I thought she might feed the Maenads before the match,” said Dionysus.

“That’s what I was thinking, too,” said Beroe.

“Oh, yeah. That’d make more sense,” I said. “Go with that. Forget I said anything about tricking Poseidon. Or having any more contact with him than you have to, ever.”

“No, you’re right,” said Beroe. “Why bother with the Maenads when I can just make Poseidon stand still and take damage for the whole match? I can even make him impale himself with his own trident. So, how do we get him to eat a grape?”

“How should I know?” I said.

“It was your idea,” said Beroe.

“I imagine you could persuade Poseidon to do anything you want, love,” said Dionysus.

“No way,” said Beroe. “I literally would die before I’d pull the ‘Give me this because sex’ thing.”

“Does it matter who feeds the grape to the subject?” I asked. “I mean, would you still be able to control Poseidon if someone else feeds him the grape?”

“Let’s find out,” said Beroe. She shifted the thyrsus toward Dionysus. He took a grape. Beroe ran down the riverbank until she was out of our sight. Dionysus handed me the grape, and I ate it.

Before I knew what was happening, I was turning cartwheels in a figure eight path.

Beroe quickly rejoined us. “Give the thyrsus to Dionysus,” I said, thankful that my musical theater experience gave me the ability to talk while doing a backflip.

Dionysus took the thyrsus from Beroe. My hand involuntarily crept to my shoulder and started teasing at the knot that held my gown in place. “Give it back to Beroe,” I ordered.

Beroe grabbed it back. “Okay, then,” she said. “We’ll get some grapes, turn them into wine, and make sure Poseidon drinks it before the match. And make sure I’m holding the thyrsus the entire time.”

“I can think of so many ways that could go very, very wrong,” I said. “Potentially hilarious ways, but some are potentially fatal. No, not fatal. Lethal. No, not that word, either. You die. No, no, you don’t die! But you could. But you won’t. You will live happily ever after. Because I said so.”

“You can turn grapes into wine instantly, can’t you?” Beroe asked Dionysus.

“Darling, I can turn water into wine,” he said.

“Guys, let’s please not do a cup-switching scheme,” I said.

Beroe grinned. “That’s perfect!” she said. “We’ll switch out his cup before the match.”

“It’s brilliant!” said Dionysus.

“No, it’s not brilliant,” I said. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen. Unless…you’re the god of wine. Can you enchant a goblet so that only one person can drink out of it?”

“I’ve never tried, but there’s a first time for everything,” said Dionysus. He threw a seductive smile at Beroe.

“Mine won’t be with you,” she muttered under her breath.

“I don’t mind if you want to get a bit of practice first,” he said.

“Hey, remember our deal?” she said at full volume.

“Yes, yes; marriage of convenience, mother’s death story, got it,” he waved her off. “I’d best get to practicing goblet enchantments, and you’d best be off before your entourage comes looking for you.” He disappeared, leaving the thyrsus in Beroe’s hand.

“I can hang out and practice if you want,” I said. “You probably ought to test more variables, like how long it takes the effect to wear off.”

“You’re right,” she said, “and I’d rather not summon him back. Thanks for sticking around.”

“No problem,” I said. “I’ve got plenty of time.”

 

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We worked through lunch, which, thankfully, Beroe provided. Every few minutes I lost control of my body and found myself doing handstands or high jumps or something. After a couple hours, this activity tapered down to handclaps or standing on one foot for a few seconds.

“Are you not able to make me do bigger movements now?” I asked.

“I’m just getting bored,” said Beroe. To prove it, she crouched down and made me take a flying leap over her head. I nailed the landing. Rather, she nailed my landing. I predicted much soreness over the next few days. “We have to be at the stadium in less than an hour, so I guess I’m not going to find out how long the effect lasts. You’re still trying to resist, right?”

“Um. Yeah. Still.” Oops. How could I leave out the most important factor? This function of the thyrsus was almost certainly designed for willing participants. Poseidon wouldn’t be one.

Beroe’s head fell back as she sighed in frustration. “You haven’t been trying to resist at all?”

“Honestly, I’ve been kind of zoning out the whole time, except for lunch,” I said. “But, hey, I’ve got everyone’s outfits picked out for the tournament!” My winsome smile was not returned.

“Start running up the riverbank and focus all your energy on getting to that boulder,” she said, pointing to one about a hundred yards away. “Now.”

“Ma’am, yes, sir!”

I started jogging in that direction. After a few paces, I was frozen in place. As Beroe said, I focused all my power toward reaching that rock. I tried with all my might to move my limbs forward. All I got for my effort was pain, tachycardia, and sweat, as though I were straining against invisible titanium bonds. I kept straining. I felt my body being turned in the other direction. I fought the turn with everything in me, but it didn’t have any effect other than increasing the strain on my body. My legs started running away from the rock, my arms pumping along. I did everything I could to dig my heels in, to fall to the ground, to do anything but run in the direction Beroe was pushing me. It was all to no avail.

Wait. In my path was a smallish tree root. Beroe might not be able to see it from her vantage point. I directed all the energy in my being into my right pinky toe. When I ran by the root, I managed to move my toe a half inch to the right, though it felt like I was breaking my shin in the process. My toe caught the root. I tripped and fell forward.

I felt my bonds release. Beroe ran to me. “Did I trip you, or did you trip yourself?” she asked.

“I did,” I said, rubbing my poor, broken pinky toe. “I don’t suppose you have a first aid kit on you?”

“You live with a healing god, who you’re supposed to meet up with in-” she looked at a little sundial that hung on a cord around her neck “-less than half an hour. Let him take care of it.”

“That’ll be a fun conversation,” I said.

“Don’t care. So, what did you do?”

“I stuck out my toe,” I said. “That was the only movement I could manage.”

“Hm. I wish we’d been doing this earlier. I don’t know if you were able to do that because of your resistance ability or because the effect is getting weaker.” I felt my hands clap in a rhythm behind my head, then above it, then in front of me. “I can still control you easily enough without resistance. Oh, well. We’ll do some more practicing before the final round.”

“Yay!” I gave a half-hearted cheer.

“You’d better get home and get cleaned up,” said Beroe. “I don’t want anyone asking questions.”

“Sounds good to me,” I said. I’d barely have time to snap myself clean and  presentable. Which was unfortunate, because a bubble bath would’ve been awesome right about then.

“Here.” She handed me the thyrsus. “You hang onto this until after the match. I don’t want anyone else to start puppeting you and Dionysus and figure out what we’re doing.”

“Also sounds good.” All I’d have to do was come up with a believable story as to why I wasn’t letting the thyrsus out of my sight for the rest of the day.

Beroe disappeared. I snapped myself clean. Then I snapped up a full-length mirror and a small trunk full of clothes and accessories. Why bother going home when I could bring home to me? Once I was sufficiently glammed up, I sent it all back to my room and teleported to the beach.

 

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I went straight to the announcer’s box, because otherwise it would look like I was deliberately avoiding Apollo, which of course was ridiculous. As it happened, I was the first one there, so who was avoiding whom now?

I took my seat and positioned the thyrsus so that the bar hid it but I could still keep my hand on it. Then I took a look up at the crowd. Zeus, Athena, Aphrodite, and Dionysus-as-Beroe were already on their dais at the front of the floating bleachers. I was certain it was really Dionysus because no one seemed particularly fixated on him.

Hera was again absent. Ixion was, too, though I doubt anyone noticed his absence anymore than they noticed his presence these days. Euphrosyne was sitting with Eros and Psyche in the bleachers. I couldn’t see Aglaea, so I figured she was in the medic tent. Calliope, seated with the rest of our sisters, waved to me. I waved back. Hermes fluttered over to her, then sped to the announcer’s box.

“Calliope wants to know where you were all day,” he said.

“Working out,” I said. I flexed my bare right arm, my left still holding onto the thyrsus. “I work out now.”

“If you say so,” Hermes shrugged. He swiftly returned to Calliope, then back to me again, just as Apollo appeared in the box. “Calliope said to tell you that she’s sending me to Persephone for a weather report, because she doesn’t believe Tartarus has frozen over. But she’s not really.”

“Tell Calliope to sit back and enjoy the game,” I said. “Bye.”

Hermes left.

“I don’t want to know,” said Apollo.

“I concur,” I said. “So, how are we doing this?” I asked as he got situated next to me. “Are we going underwater in a bubble as soon as the match starts?”

“The water’s clear,” he said. “We should be fine with spectator vision.”

“Have you ever seen a sea battle?” I asked.

“Have you?” he asked.

“No,” I admitted. “I imagine there’s a lot of churning.”

“Spectator vision can see through it,” said Apollo. “Which is why a theater god has more of an advantage in battle than one might think.”

“Whatever. Ow!” His sandal had brushed against my broken toe. He hastily moved his legs to the other side of his seat at an angle.

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s so cramped in here.”

“It’s okay, I stubbed it earlier, so it’s kind of sensitive.”

“Want me to take a look at it?” he offered.

“It’s no big deal,” I said. “By the end of the match it should be healed on its own.” But my misdirection was too little, too late.

“Why are you holding the thyrsus?” he asked.

“To make sure Dionysus doesn’t try to use it during the match,” I said.

“Who’s holding the trident?” asked Apollo. “Poseidon’s’ the one who cheated last time.”

“I don’t know, I’m just doing what I was told,” I shrugged. Judging by Apollo’s expression, that line sounded as believable to him as it did to me.

Apollo signaled toward the stadium. Hermes appeared in the box again. “I hear some people come to these games for fun,” said Hermes. “Entertainment? Recreation? Not work?”

“Would you ask Athena who’s guarding the trident?” Apollo asked.

“Might as well; got nothing better to do,” said Hermes. He flew to Athena and back. “She says she doesn’t know, but to trust Thalia,” he said. Then he flew back to his seat.

“There you have it,” I said, “straight from the Goddess of Wisdom herself. Want to repeat that message just so I know you heard it? I should get the Twerps to incorporate it into a musical number.”

“Give me that.” Before I could stop him, Apollo grabbed the thyrsus and put it on the other side of him.

I decided to let it go. Fighting would only make him more suspicious, as would telling him any part of the truth. I wasn’t sure which part would give him a bigger anxiety attack; the fact that Beroe was the one fighting Poseidon, or the fact that she was spending more time alone with Dionysus. Besides, this was likely the safest snafu possible. Apollo wouldn’t use the thyrsus against me since he didn’t even know how, nor would he have any motivation to return it to Dionysus sooner than absolutely necessary.

Heralds sounded trumpets. Zeus, Athena, and Aphrodite rose. The intro was pretty much the same spiel as last time, so I tuned it out. I felt a twinge of pain as my toe absent-mindedly brushed against Apollo’s ankle. “Sorry,” I whispered, pulling my foot back toward my corner of the box and making a mental note to stop fidgeting.

“You’re fine,” Apollo whispered back. “But pay attention.”

“I am,” I lied.

Two cloud platforms appeared before the dais. Poseidon was on one platform, and Beroe-as-Dionysus was on the other. Poseidon’s loins were girded with a pure gold cloth, which struck me as kind of a dumb choice in regard to comfort. “Dionysus” wore a one-shoulder chiton covered with purple sequins and trimmed with metallic green beadwork. The top half of her hair was pulled back in an elaborate braid that had a golden grapevine woven through it. My baby was learning how to put the fun in functional. Or maybe Euphrosyne had picked it out. Whatever.

“Contestants will now surrender all weapons,” said Athena. Neither of them made a move. “All weapons,” she repeated with a pointed look at Poseidon.

Poseidon whipped off his loincloth. Dionysus-as-Beroe looked on with a nod of appreciation. Beroe-as-Dionysus gave her counterpart a warning glare. “Sorry, My Lady,” Poseidon said to Athena. “You should’ve taken this one when you had the opportunity. It’d be a bit difficult to remove.”

“It wouldn’t,” said Athena. “But seeing as it won’t be of any use to you in the match, I’ll let you keep it for now. The two of you will fight this round with no weapons. You will, however, each have an ally. You may each choose one sea monster to command. Poseidon may choose from among his own stables. Special thanks to Amphitrite for loaning hers to us for Dionysus’ use.”

“Hers?” Poseidon protested. “All creatures of the sea are my subjects!”

“Amphitrite has retained custody of all the monsters she created,” said Zeus. “It was in the terms of the divorce.”

Aphrodite shook her head and clucked her tongue. “Should’ve read it before you signed,” she said.

A scroll stretching hundreds of feet toward the ground hung in the air before each contestant. “Scylla,” Poseidon said without bothering to look at his scroll.

“That’s on mine,” said Beroe-as-Dionysus. “I pick Scylla.”

Poseidon growled as he flicked his scroll, making it slowly roll itself up. “Charybdis, then,” he declared.

“Please confirm your selections,” said Athena.

“Charybdis,” said Poseidon.

“Scylla,” said Beroe at the same time.

Well within sight, but far into the deep waters, two gigantic creatures appeared about ten battleship lengths apart. The one on the right was Scylla. Imagine a sea lion. Now imagine an evil sea lion. Jagged fur, glowing red eyes, spiked flippers, and three rows of razor-sharp teeth. Now imagine six evil sea lions, each the size of a house, joined at the tails like blades on a fan. Now imagine the tails merging into a sea serpent’s body. That’s Scylla.

The one on the left was Charybdis. Imagine a lamprey. Now imagine just the lamprey’s mouth, a circle bearing an endless spiral of teeth, elegantly designed to suck in anything unfortunate enough to meet its grasp. Now imagine that mouth being supported only by a bag made of blubber. Now imagine this thing being big enough to swallow Scylla whole if it wanted to. That’s Charybdis.

Charybdis’ mouth was pursed closed. Scylla’s heads were awake, but at rest. A warship with purple sails appeared next to Scylla. An identical ship with blue sails appeared next to Charybdis. A large buoy appeared behind each ship. “Your objective,” said Athena, “is to be the first to cross your opponent’s buoy. You may use your monster, which is enchanted to follow your commands, to impede your opponent in any way that you can. Each ship is equipped with mechanical oarsmen who will respond to your steering. You will hear the starting bell thirty seconds from right…NOW.”

At stage volume, I called out, “And they’re off! Dionysus’ and Poseidon’s clouds are speeding toward their ships. No jump starts today. They’ll lose time if they land in the water.”

“For those less familiar with warship technology, these vessels are called triremes, named for the three banks of oars used to steer them,” said Apollo. “There’s one man, or in this case one automaton, to an oar.”

“For those interested in the action, both contestants are on deck!” I said. “Dionysus has taken the wheel, and Poseidon is…dropping anchor?”

Of course. He had Charybdis. All he had to do was stay in place, wait for Beroe and Scylla to get inside range, let Charybdis swallow them both, and proceed to the goal unhindered. I hoped Beroe would have the sense to leave Scylla guarding her buoy.

Nope.

“Yes, Poseidon has anchored his ship at the starting point,” Apollo confirmed. “Dionysus is charging forward with Scylla by the bow. The unison of the mechanical oarsmen is spectacular. It looks like Dionysus is controlling their speed as well.” I felt Apollo’s hand remove mine from his knee. That was weird. I hadn’t even noticed that I’d moved my hand in the first place. I folded my hands in my lap and tried to focus on the race.

“They’re a third of the way between the buoys, and Poseidon is still anchored,” I said. “Apollo, can you give us some stats on the monsters? What’s Charybdis’ area of effect?” Okay, I was definitely not fingering his forearm on purpose or by accident. It had to be the thyrsus, though Apollo’s perplexed expression told me he had no idea. I dropped out of stage volume and whispered, “Give me back the thyrsus.”

“Area of effect? Once Dionysus passes the halfway point, he’ll be inside it,” Apollo announced. Then he whispered back, “Whatever you’re up to, don’t even think about it,” and tightened his grip on the thyrsus. I tried to take my hand back. It worked. Good. Either he’d snapped out of whatever reverie he was in, or the thyrsus’ effect was finally wearing off. “Of course,” he said, back at stage volume, “the rules didn’t say anything about having to sail in a straight line, but I’d be surprised if Dionysus is lucid enough to think of that.”

“Good thing you didn’t just tell him,” I said, also back at stage volume.

“There’s no way the contestants can hear us over the wind and waves,” said Apollo.

“So it would seem,” I said, “because Dionysus is still charging ahead in a straight line, and he’s about to hit the halfway point. Wait, he’s slowing down, but Scylla isn’t. In fact, it looks like Scylla’s going faster. Oh god, Charybdis!”

“What Thalia’s trying to say,” said Apollo, who so wasn’t any more composed than I was, “is that Charybdis is opening its mouth! Charybdis has sunk out of sight. Those ripples are about to turn into a massive, inescapable vortex. Poseidon is raising his anchor and Dionysus is dropping his, but Scylla is still advancing.”

“And here comes the vortex!” I was trying not to cheer since Charybdis was on Poseidon’s side, but it was just so freakin’ cool. “Poseidon’s ship is getting sucked in, and so is Scylla. The vortex is pulling on Dionysus’ ship, but the anchor seems to be holding. Oh my god, the vortex is pulling Scylla closer to Poseidon’s ship! Scylla’s caught him! Poseidon’s climbing the mast, but Scylla’s got control of the ship.”

“As much control as anyone could have in this vortex,” said Apollo. “Scylla’s legs have a firm grip on the ship. The heads are snapping at Poseidon, but he’s evading them.”

“Shredding the sails, though,” I said. “And now they’re out of sight. Charybdis’ mouth is closing again.” I felt my arm moving. I tried to keep it in my lap, but it felt like the strain would break it. I didn’t see the point in overexerting myself when Apollo could just not be an idiot, so I gave up. “Give me the thyrsus,” I whispered to Apollo again.

“Why?” he whispered back.

“I can’t tell you right now; just do it,” I hissed as my hand came to rest on his inner thigh.

“You know if one of us gets caught rigging the match-”

“It has nothing to do with the match, just let go of the damn thing,” I said as my hand crept further up his thigh.

“Um, you want to move your hand, maybe?” he said.

“Yes, that’s why I need you to give me the thyrsus, or at least let go of it.”

“What in Tartarus?”

“I’m not doing this,” I said. “You are. Let go of the damn thyrsus.”

He let go. My hand snapped back with so much force that I would’ve been knocked off my seat if the box were any bigger. We both turned our attention back to the match. “Dionysus is sailing past Charybdis at full speed,” I announced. “But can he make it before Charybdis opens her mouth again? She never just does it once.”

“Actually, it could be to his advantage if – It’s happening!” cried Apollo. “Charybdis is regurgitating her prey in a massive tidal wave! Dionysus is riding the wave toward the  buoy!”

“There’s the skeleton of Poseidon’s ship!” I pointed. “Scylla’s still hanging on and chomping away, and the wave is spitting broken oarsmen all over the place, but there’s just enough left that you can still call it a ship. And Poseidon’s straddling one of Scylla’s necks! Charybdis’ wave is thrusting him toward Dionysus’ buoy. That must’ve been his strategy all along.”

“But Dionysus is closer to Poseidon’s,” said Apollo. “It’s a question of whether he can pass the buoy before the vortex starts again.”

“He can’t,” I said. “There it goes! Dionysus is trying to drop anchor, but it’s too late! The vortex is sucking his ship straight into Charybdis’ mouth, and Poseidon’s clear of it this time.”

“Scylla’s still going at his ship, though,” said Apollo. “Will it still be a win if he swims past the buoy clinging to a plank of what was once his ship?” Hermes appeared in our box, dropped a piece of paper on the desk, and flew off.

“Athena says it will,” Apollo and I read the message together.

“Here comes the wave!” I said. “Dionysus’ ship has taken some damage, but the oars are still rowing. Which is good, because Charybdis spit him out way to the left of his buoy.”

“Scylla’s pulled Poseidon and what’s left of his ship underwater,” said Apollo. “The contestants’ chances of making it to the finish lines look equally bad.”

“And Charybdis is making one more vortex,” I said. “Apollo, do you think Poseidon’s commanding this one, or it’s just reflexive?”

“Charybdis’ vortexes and regurgitations happen in threes,” said Apollo. “Poseidon commanded the first one, I’m sure, but he’d know that from there out, the process is all reflex.”

“Well, the Fates must be looking out for Dionysus,” I said, “because the third regurgitation is shooting him straight toward the finish line!”

“And there’s Poseidon near his!” said Apollo. “He’s floating on one of the Scylla’s heads and steering himself with a plank of wood from the ship.”

“How long does he have before Scylla’s missing head grows back?” I asked.

“About half a second is my guess,” said Apollo.

“They’re both so close, the race could go either way at this point,” I said. My breath stopped as both of them advanced toward their painfully close goals. Closer…closer…closer…

The two buoys erupted in blue and purple fireworks at so very close to the same moment. But I could swear Poseidon was the first one to cross.

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