We Play Ball With Giants

I screamed.

Then promptly woke up in a tub full of tepid water, sending it sloshing all over the floor. Heart pounding, I stepped out of the tub and grabbed a robe from the hook on the door. I had just barely managed to put it on before both Chuck and Sam burst into the room.

Chuck was already swinging his bat, almost hitting Sam in the process. He had to dodge before snatching the blunt weapon out of the satyr's hands and holding it aloft outside his reach.

"Hey!" Chuck protested.

Sam ignored him and addressed me instead, "Charlie?" What happened? I heard you screaming."

"You heard me scream?" I asked while trying to gain control of my erratic heartbeat.

Sam flushed, having just noticed what I was wearing-, a robe and nothing else. His cheeks turned red, and it spread to the tip of his ears.

He quickly turned away, "Yeah, are you okay?"

"It was a dream...a very vivid dream," I said, wrapping my arms around myself, feeling a bit self-conscious.

Taking in the scene properly, Chuck coughed and cleared his throat, "Uh, yeah, how about we go wait for you in the other room. We can talk about that dream when you're decent."

The boys excused themselves, trying their best not to make eye contact as they hurried out of the en suite. They left me alone to put some clothes on and clean up the mess. I changed first, discarding the hotel robe in favor of a pair of skinny sweatpants and a matching tank top. I tackled the small flood on the bathroom floor with a bit of Sea God magic, siphoning all of the water back into the tub. Once everything was dry, I pulled the plug on the drain, and that was that.

They were waiting for me in the living room with a mug of hot chocolate. I gratefully accepted the drink from Sam and sat in the armchair, cradling it on my lap. It took me a moment to gather my thoughts, and I can imagine the following words out of my mouth would seem out of the left-field for both of them.

"Sam, do you still have the map we were using earlier?" I asked.

He reached for the tourist packet on the coffee table, sifting through the advertisements. To my surprise, one of them had a picture of the domed building I saw in my dream.

"Wait!" I exclaimed, "that's it. That's the place I saw in my dream."

Sam looked at me in surprise, then read the name of the place from the pamphlet. Science World?"

I got up and snatched it out of his hand to get a better look, "It was nighttime in the dream, but I'm sure it's the same building with that huge dome. How far is this place from the hotel?"

"I've got the right here," Sam said, spreading the map out on the table and pointing out one of the circles he'd made. "This hotel is here, and I marked everywhere else we've been today. Science World is right over here roughly about a mile and a half."

He pointed out Science World and circled it with the pen he'd been carrying around, "we can probably take another bus there in the morning. I can check the schedule and—"

"No," I warned, "We're going have to hoof it the entire way, and we're going to have to do it before dawn. In the dream, I saw a group of Laistrygonian giants waiting for us."

"Then let's go bash in some heads!" Chuck suggested eagerly. "Sam, where'd you put my bat?"

I rolled my eyes at him, "We're not doing that either, Chuck. We take them by surprise. Early before the streets get busy. The less we involve the mortals, the better. It'll be easier to search the place too. I still have no idea what we would be looking for exactly, but if we're following the North Star, that's our next stop."

"Then we should get some sleep while we can, " Sam added, frowning. "A pack of those cannibals can be dangerous."

I nodded in agreement. "And those monsters outnumber us. We have to be careful. Keep your things packed and ready. We leave before first light."

Chuck groaned, "why do quests always involve fighting uglies and waking up at ungodly hours?"

"Sleep now, whine later," I said.

I left my friends to get settled for bed and tried to do the same in the bedroom. Before laying down to sleep, I checked to make sure everything was packed. I dug through the bag to layout a change of clothes and saw my music box. It made me a little nostalgic for my lullaby, so I opened it and set the ornate box on the nightstand. I hoped the familiar melody would help soothe my nerves.

I turned down the blankets and got into bed, turning the lights off with the techy bedside controls. After saying a prayer to Pops, I let the music serenade me into a dreamless sleep.

...

I woke up to a soft wrap at the door backdropped by my music box's melody.

I groaned and rolled over, pulling one of the pillows over my head, hoping to go back to sleep. Maybe I had been too hasty in wanting to get started before the sun. It was the second day of waking up at such an ungodly hour, and if I could just have a few more minutes—

"Charlie," Sam persisted. He knocked on the door again. This time a little louder.

No rest for the weary.

I sat up and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes with the palm of my hands before calling out to him, "Yeah, I'm up. I'll be out in a minute."

"Okay. Chuck just got back with some coffee," Sam informed me.

I murmured something unintelligible in response, but he went away and left me to get ready. I changed, splashed some water on my face in the bathroom, and gave my hair a quick brushing before pulling it back into a ponytail. I said my thanks to Poseidon for keeping the nightmares at bay and packed the last of my things. Backpack draped over my shoulder; I went to join my friends in the next room.

"Are we ready to go?" I asked.

"Yep. Locked and loaded. Ready to kick some cannibal butt." Chuck replied, handing me a cup of something called, Flavored Iced Latte Supreme from some popular franchised coffee shop in the area. The drink tasted like it was loaded with tons of artificial flavor, sugar, and caffeine. The sudden jolt of energy was what I needed.

We took one last sweep of the room to ensure we didn't forget anything before checking out of the hotel. It wasn't long before Sam led the way to the science center with his map, illuminated by the street lights in the eerie predawn.

"I think that's the building right by the waterfront," he said after a half-hour of walking.

The large dome came into view, and there was no mistaking that it was the right place. It was just like in my dream. Dawn was just breaking, and the songbirds were making their presence known among the city's noise coming to life. I motioned for them to follow me into one of the backstreets behind a shopping center. I didn't want to chance being seen before making our move. We threw our empty drink cups into a nearby dumpster and considered our options.

"How confident are you feeling with that bow?" I asked Sam.

"Very."

I nodded, "then we need to get you a good view. I just wish I knew exactly where the giants were. They could have moved since last night."

Sam unshouldered his pack and bow; then, he handed them to me. "I can take care of that too. Don't go anywhere. I'll be right back."

He looked around, searching, and he must have found it because he took off at a run and was suddenly changing form. A small bird fluttered about in his place, then took off towards the cluster of buildings around Science World.

"Now that's pretty cool," Chuck commented, sounding impressed.

I couldn't help but agree. It wasn't the first time I'd seen Sam change, and it still amazed me. Watching him go made me anxious, though. Apollo had warned us to stick together, but we didn't have many options. We had to take the Laestrygonians by surprise before they wreak havoc in Vancouver.

The longer Sam took, the more worried I became until I was pacing in the alley. Chuck grabbed my arm, and I stopped to look at him.

"Hey, it's going to be okay. I'm sure Sam will be back soon." Chuck assured me.

I bit my lip. "I can't help it. What could be taking so long?"

Chuck shrugged, but then our little bird friend flew in and landed on my head. He took two tiny hops then nipped at my ear before fluttering off to take his human form. Relief washed over me, and I was eager to hear what he'd found out about the giants.

"They're there alright. Five of them just like you said," Sam said, reaching for his bow and quiver of arrows. "I found a good position to snipe them from, but there is no way I'm getting them all at once. We need a plan."

Both boys turned towards me expectantly.

I nervously took a breath before gathering my thoughts and speaking again, "Okay, we gotta get you into position first, Sam, then Chuck and I will have to get in close. The fact that they are by the water gives me the advantage. Chuck can come in to get their attention while I get around back by False Creek. You can use your whistle to signal me. Sam takes a shot whenever he can from his vantage point."

"As long as I get to bash some heads in, I'm good." Chuck agreed.

Sam nodded, "I have no complaints. Let's go."

We followed the centurion to a building with a perfect view of the big dome and used the fire escape to reach the roof. Sam pointed out the Laistragonians, all five lumbering around somehow managing to remain inconspicuous to any mortal passerby behind the mist.

"Are you sure you can take the shot from here?" I asked. I wasn't as experienced with ranged weapons, so I depended on his expertise.

Sam grinned, "Don't worry, Charlie. They're giants. Kind of hard to miss."

I rolled my eyes at him and went on speaking, "okay, then just wait for us to get into position. If we get this right, we'll get at least two down before they even figure out what's happening."

Chuck and I parted ways on the street. He continued to Science World while I went out to one of the piers. Once the coast was clear, I dove into the water. The minute I was submerged, I used the currents to help propel me in the right direction. I came up behind the building in no time.

The giantess' voice that I distinctly remembered from my dream boomed from above then I heard Chuck make some smart-ass remark about her mom, followed by the sound of the satyr's shrill whistle. All Hades broke loose. There was no time to waste. Urging the water to propel me up and over the railing surrounding the science center, I landed in a crouch. Chuck was charging the giants but not making much progress, having to dodge and roll every time they launched a volley of flaming cannonballs. The pavement was becoming riddled with potholes.

"Chuck, stay down!" I yelled over the noise.

WOOSH… THUNK THUNK THUNK

Three arrows hit their mark. A giant froze, a look of shock on its face before it burst into yellow dust. Having heard my voice, the other four Lastrygonians turned to face me, stomping thunderously.

The female came forward growling and pointing a humongous, crude-looking bat at me, "Blood of Poseidon, are you so frightened that you send a puny satyr to confront me? And another coward hiding somewhere in the wind picking off my brethren. I expected more from you, not a scared little girl.

"Scared of what? You?" I laughed.

I'm terrified, I thought to myself.

"My father and uncle put your boyfriend back in Tartarus. I intend to do it again. Honestly, how stupid are you to try and face me here?" I motioned to the body of water behind me. "You really didn't think this through now, did you?"

"We will eat well tonight, Sea Scum! I will tear into your flesh." Babycakes bellowed.

"You won't be tearing into anything with those rotting teeth," I mocked. "Might want to get that looked at first. I can recommend a good dentist in New York."

One of the giants charged. I pulled Maelstrom from around my waist, and it felt like an extension of my arm as I flicked it into action, forming an 'X' pattern. The giant hesitated at the sight of celestial bronze and the crack of the whip, but it was too late. He was within range, and I didn't hesitate to flick the weapon again—the whip wrapped tightly around his legs. I pulled hard, and the monster's legs gave out, and he toppled backward.

"Timber!" I shouted as the monster crashed into the pavement.

I whirled Malstrom over my head, and the weapon changed form. The healthy weight of a trident settled in my hand, which I threw at the prone creature like a harpoon. Like its brother, the Laistrygonian disintegrated. Two down. Our odds had definitely improved by a wide margin.

Holding out my right hand, I willed my weapon to return. The remaining giants aimed with their cannonballs again and let them fly. With my free hand, I summoned the creek's water as a shield. I spun, and the water wrapped around me like a funnel. Scooping up the projectiles, I used their momentum to hurl them back. They plowed into JB, center mass, and he went up in a plume of dust at the same time that another arrow pierced the fourth giant.

I released the water, letting it recede into the creek, and smirked at Babycakes. She was the last giant standing, and I knew she wasn't going down easily. She released a guttural roar closing the distance between us in a few long strides, moving faster than I could have expected. She tackled me into the railing, and we fell into the water, with her huge, sausage-like fingers around my neck. The force of her crashing into me sent my trident flying out of my hands.

Gasping for air, I struggled and kicked to break free as we sank into the depths. I tried to focus on calling Maelstrom to me, but it was difficult to think with Babycakes attempting to crush my windpipe. It was starting to get hard to breathe. I couldn't get a feel for the trident, so I called to the water instead, making pressure build beneath us. Then I let it all go.

The giantess and I careened several feet out of the creek like the cork out of a wine bottle. Babycake lost her grip on me, and the last thing I saw before free-falling into the water again was the three prongs of Maelstrom protruding through her chest. She shrieked, dissolving into puffs of dust in the wind.

My trident fell into the creek after me. I retrieved it before swimming to the surface, exhausted and out of breath. I saw Chuck's face appear over the railing, calling out my name. My throat still felt pretty soar from nearly being choked, so I waved at him and gestured that I was OK. A moment later, Sam appeared next to the satyr. He must have flown over in bird form to get to us so fast. A look of pure relief washed over Sam's features when he saw me.

"Do I need to go get you?" Sam called down to me.

"N-no," I coughed and tried to talk again, "just give me a minute."

Using what little energy I could muster, I had the water boost me over the railing again, only this time, I wasn't quite so graceful. Letting the trident slip out of my hands, I rolled over and felt content to lay there for several minutes, letting my breathing ease until I could convince myself to sit up. Maelstrom turned back into an inconspicuous belt gleaming in the morning sun. I was so exhausted and thoroughly soaked from my dip into False Creek that I didn't make an effort to reach for it yet.

Sam offered his hand to help me up, "come on, we have to get out of here before we attract any more attention."

"We can't leave. There is something about this place—" I trailed off, shaking my head while accepting his help.

He pulled me up to my feet, "I left all of our supplies on that rooftop. Let's go back and get them. We'll get some nectar and breakfast in you, then come back. We should probably get you out of those wet clothes too."

Sam's firm grip on my arm was the only thing holding me steady. There was concern in his eyes as he watched me warily. Chuck picked up my belt, handing it back to me as he joined us.

"Sorry for borrowing the Trident, but I thought I had a shot. I got her good, though, didn't I?" Chuck asked with apprehension while I clipped Maelstrom back around my waist.

"My hero." I grinned and nudged him, "You were awesome. Super Protector."

He grinned back, and the three of us made our way to the rooftop, where we left our belongings.

Samuel insisted on getting breakfast. He found a hole in the wall greasy spoon-type diner about ten minutes away from Science World. The place was pretty busy with a breakfast rush. The boys waited to get a table for a table while I slipped into the restroom to change clothes. I was tired of getting strange looks for walking around in wet clothing and shoes that squelched with each step. I was starting to get cold—nothing like slogging around in damp socks to make you feel miserable.

I changed in one of the stalls. The dry clothes and my favorite pair of converse made me feel a whole lot better. I made sure to wear a hoodie to ward off the leftover chill. There wasn't much I could do for my hair, so I pulled it up into a messy bun and walked back out to join my friends.

Sam and Chuck were already seated at a booth. I made my way toward them and slid into the seat beside Chuck. I reached for one of the menus and noticed the name of the place for the first time.

I glanced up at Sam, brow raised in amusement, "really, Sam, you have a whole neighborhood of places to choose from and decide on the Argo Cafe?"

He chucked, drumming his fingers on the table, "fitting, isn't it? Besides, they've got chicken and waffles."

"Noted." I acknowledged as I gave the menu another cursory inspection.

The three of us decided to order the chicken and waffles. The waitress went to place our requests in the kitchen. I sighed and tugged the sleeves of my hoodie over my hands, then put my head down on the table, using my arms as a pillow. I closed my eyes for a few minutes, wishing there was time for a nap.

Chuck asked about the dream I'd had the day before. He was concerned that there would be more Laistrygonians lurking around the science museum. I didn't expect more giants, but there was no way to be sure what to expect. There hadn't been time to talk to Mom about what happened when she recovered the Parthenos the first time. It was the one quest my parents didn't discuss.

"We took care of the ones I saw in my dream," I confirmed, "I don't know what else to expect, though."

I sighed, straightening up, splaying my hands on the table, and looked down at them thoughtfully. I was starting to understand how my parents felt when they went on their first quest. They couldn't have known what to do any more than I do now.

"Well, whatever monsters come our way is no big deal. We'll clobber them and get that statue back. Easy as pie." Chuck said.

I smiled at the encouragement.

"Blueberry?" I queried in a teasing tone.

Chuck laughed, "whatever you want, Mermaid girl."

"I just wish I knew what I was doing, guys," I confessed.

"Don't worry about it," Sam assured me. "We did just fine today, thanks to you. I don't think our parents were prepared for anything back in their questing days either."

"I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I have the feeling this only gets harder from here on out."

The conversation shifted when the waitress arrived with our food. We decided to enjoy the meal and dialed down the chatter to something less doom and gloom. There would be plenty of time to worry about what comes next once we search Science World. There had to be some kind of clue or sign from the Mark of Athena.