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A God Buys Us Cheeseburgers is the sixty-third chapter of The Gift of a Best Friend. It was first published on June 28th, 2018.

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Chapter

Annabeth's POV

The next afternoon, June 14, seven days before the solstice, our train arrived in Denver.

We hadn’t eaten much since the night before in the dining car, somewhere in Kansas. We hadn’t taken a shower since Half-Blood Hill, and I was sure that was obvious.

“Let’s try to contact Chiron,” I said. “I want to tell him about your talk with the river spirit.”

“We can’t use phones, right?” Percy asked.

“I’m not talking about phones.”

“Even though we do have ours,” Jasmine said.

We wandered through downtown for about half an hour. The air was dry and hot.

Finally we found an empty do-it-yourself car wash. We veered toward the stall farthest from the street, keeping our eyes open for patrol cars. We were four adolescents with a current baby dragon hanging out at a car wash without a car; any cop would figure we were up to no good.

“What exactly are we doing?” Percy asked, as Grover took out the spray gun.

“It’s seventy-five cents,” he grumbled. “I’ve only got two quarters left. Annabeth?”

“Don’t look at me,” I said. “The dining car wiped me out.”

Jasmine was about to give him the rest of the change, but Percy got it covered by passing Grover a quarter.

“Excellent,” Grover said. “We could do it with a spray bottle, of course, but the connection isn’t as good, and my arm gets tired of pumping.

“What are you talking about?” Percy asked.

Grover fed in the quarters and set the knob to FINE MIST. “I-M’ing.”

“Instant messaging?”

Iris-messaging,” I corrected. “The rainbow goddess Iris carries messages for the gods. If you know how to ask, and she’s not too busy, she’ll do the same for half-bloods.”

“You summon the goddess with a spray gun?”

Grover pointed the nozzle in the air and water hissed out in a thick white mist. “Unless you know an easier way to make a rainbow.”

The late afternoon light filtered through the vapor and broke into colors.

I held my palm out to Percy. “Drachma, please.”

He handed it over.

I raised the coin over my head. “O goddess, accept our offering.”

I threw the drachma into the rainbow. It disappeared in a golden shimmer.

“Half-Blood Hill,” I requested.

After a moment, we were looking through the mist at the strawberry fields, and the Long Island Sound in the distance. We were on the porch of the Big House. I recognized someone standing with his back to us at the railing wearing shorts and an orange tank top. He was holding his bronze sword and seemed to be staring intently at something down in the meadow.

“Luke!” Percy called.

He turned, eyes wide. It’s like we were Skyping each other, but with a much better clear screen.

“Percy!” His scarred face broke into a grin. “Is that Annabeth and Jasmine, too? Thank the gods! Are you guys okay?”

“We’re . . . uh . . . fine,” I stammered. I was madly straightening my dirty T-shirt, trying to comb the loose hair out of my face.

Jasmine laughed at me, which made me feel even more self-conscious of how I looked. It’s like she was trying to make me look bad, especially in front of Luke.

“We thought—Chiron—I mean—”

“He’s down at the cabins.” Luke said, his smile faded. “We’re having some issues with the campers. Listen, is everything cool with you? Is Grover all right?”

“I’m right here,” Grover called. He held the nozzle out to one side and stepped into Luke’s line of vision. “What kind of issues?”

“Yeah,” Jasmine agreed, crossing her arms over her chest. “What the hell’s going on now?”

Just then a big Lincoln Continental pulled into the car wash with its stereo turned to maximum hip-hop. As the car slid into the next stall, the bass from the subwoofers vibrated so much, it shook the pavement.

“Chiron had to—what’s that noise?” Luke yelled.

“We’ll take care of it!” I yelled back, very relieved to have an excuse to get out of sight. “Grover, Jasmine, come on!”

“What?” Grover said. “But—”

“Give Percy the nozzle and come on!” I ordered.

Grover muttered something about girls being harder to understand than the Oracle at Delphi, then he handed Percy the spray gun and he, Jasmine, and Toothless followed me.

“Well, you were sounding a lot like me just now,” Jasmine said.

“I know,” I agreed. “Now let’s turn that damn thing down.”

We reached the car with the loud music and the guy driving it was washing it.

“Hey!” Jasmine yelled to him. “If you’re going to play music loudly, at least play good music.”

“You like hip-hop,” I argued. “You dance to it all the time.”

Good hip-hop. I hate that song.”

“Hey! It’s a good song,” the guy said.

“To you it is.”

“Can you please turn it down?” I asked, yelling over it. “It’s too loud.”

“So?” he said.

“So, turn it down,” Jasmine said.

“Make me.”

“Gladly. Toothless.”

She still had him as a baby dragon when we got off the train, but she used her powers and grew him back into a full-size dragon. He stood in front of the guy and growled at him with his teeth showing. I had to admit, he was intimidating when he wanted to be, and the guy seemed to agree.

“Now,” Jasmine said, enjoying the terror in his eyes. “Are you going to turn that damn music off willingly or do you want Toothless here to burn your car to a crisp?”

The man did the smart thing: he screamed in terror, got into his car and turned the music off completely. Then he slammed the door and drove out of the car wash.

We all started laughing, and we continued to until we went back around the corner and saw Percy. The water was off and the image of Luke was gone.

“What happened, Percy?” I asked. “What did Luke say?”

“Not much,” he replied, although I questioned that by how nervous he was. “Come on, let’s find some dinner.”

———————————————————————————————————————

A few minutes later, we were sitting in a booth in a gleaming chrome diner. Jasmine turned Toothless back to a baby dragon and he sat next to her.

All around us, families were eating burgers and drinking malts and sodas.

Finally the waitress came over. She raised her eyebrow skeptically. “Well?”

“We, um, want to order dinner,” Percy said.

“You kids have money to pay for it?”

Jasmine was about to answer when a rumble shook the whole building; a large motorcycle had pulled up to the curb.

All conversation in the diner stopped. The motorcycle’s headlight glared red. Its gas tank had flames painted on it, and a shotgun holster riveted to either side, complete with shotguns. The seat was leather—but leather that looked like . . . well, Caucasian human skin.

The guy on the bike looked very familiar. He was dressed in a red muscle shirt and black jeans and a black leather duster, with a hunting knife strapped to his thigh. He wore red wraparound shades, and he had the cruelest, most brutal face I’d ever seen—handsome, I guess, but wicked—with an oily black crew cut and cheeks that were scarred from many, many fights.

I knew who he was. I remembered him from Olympus when I was last there. I could tell Jasmine and Toothless did too, and neither of them liked seeing him now.

As he walked into the diner, a hot, dry wind blew through the place. All the people rose, as if they were hypnotized, but the biker waved his hand dismissively and they all sat down again. Everybody went back to their conversations. The waitress blinked.

“You kids have money to pay for it?” she asked us again.

And again, Jasmine was about to answer, but the biker interrupted her.

“It’s on me,” he said.

He slid into our booth, which was way too small for him, and crowded me and Jasmine against the window.

I was the closest to him. I could tell that Jasmine didn’t want to, but for me without me even asking, she made us both switch seats so that she would be closest to the biker and that I wouldn’t be as uncomfortable.

The biker looked up at the waitress, who was gaping at him.

“Are you still here?” he asked.

He pointed at her, and she stiffened. She turned as if she’d been spun around, then marched back toward the kitchen.

The biker looked at Percy, who looked just as angry to see him as Jasmine was.

The biker gave him a wicked grin. “So you’re old Seaweed’s kid, huh?”

“What’s it to you?” Percy asked.

I flashed him a warning. “Percy, this is—”

The biker raised his hand.

“S’okay,” he said. “I don’t mind a little attitude. Long as you remember who’s the boss. You know who I am, little cousin?”

“You’re Clarisse’s dad,” Percy said. “Ares, god of war.”

Ares grinned and took off his shades. Where his eyes should’ve been, there was only fire, empty sockets glowing with miniature nuclear explosions. “That’s right, punk. I heard you broke Clarisse’s spear.”

“She was asking for it.”

“She was,” Jasmine agreed.

“Probably,” Ares said. “That’s cool. I don’t fight my kids’ fights, you know? What I’m here for—I heard you were in town. I got a little proposition for you.”

The waitress came back with heaping trays of food—cheeseburgers, fries, onion rings, and chocolate shakes.

Ares handed her a few gold drachmas.

She looked nervously at the coins. “But, these aren’t . . .”

Ares pulled out his huge knife and started cleaning his fingernails. “Problem, sweetheart?”

The waitress swallowed, then left with the gold.

“You can’t do that,” Percy told Ares. “You can’t just threaten people with a knife.”

“He’s right,” Jasmine agreed, glaring at him. “I know that I may threaten people with bodily harm, but only when they’re being unfair and assholes, which she wasn’t.”

Ares laughed. “Are you kidding? I love this country. Best place since Sparta. Don’t you carry a weapon, punk? You should. Dangerous world out there. Which brings me to my proposition. I need you to do me a favor.”

“What favor could I do for a god?” Percy asked.

“Something a god doesn’t have time to do himself. It’s nothing much. I left my shield at an abandoned water park here in town. I was going on a little . . . date with my girlfriend. We were interrupted. I left my shield behind. I want you to fetch it for me.”

“Why don’t you go back and get it yourself?”

The fire in his eye sockets glowed a little hotter.

“Why don’t I turn you into a prairie dog and run you over with my Harley? Because I don’t feel like it. A god is giving you an opportunity to prove yourself, Percy Jackson. Will you prove yourself a coward?” He leaned forward. “Or maybe you only fight when there’s a river to dive into, so your daddy can protect you.”

Percy was really angry, and I knew Ares was causing it, but not just by what he was saying. He was provoking him to hit him. I really hope, for his sack, Percy doesn’t.

“We’re not interested,” he said. “We’ve already got a quest.”

“I know all about your quest, punk,” Ares said. “When that item was first stolen, Zeus sent his best out looking for it: Apollo, Athena, Artemis, and me, naturally. If I couldn’t sniff out a weapon that powerful . . .” He licked his lips, as if the very thought of the master bolt made him hungry. “Well . . . if I couldn’t find it, you got no hope. Nevertheless, I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. Your dad and I go way back. After all, I’m the one who told him about my suspicions about old Corpse Breath.”

“You told him Hades stole the bolt?”

“Sure. Framing somebody to start a war. Oldest trick in the book. I recognized it immediately. In a way, you got me to thank for your little quest.

“Thanks,” Percy grumbled.

“Hey, I’m a generous guy. Just do my little job, and I’ll help you on your way. I’ll arrange a ride west for you and your friends.”

“We’re doing fine on our own.”

“Yeah, right. No money. No wheels. No clue what you’re up against. Help me out, and maybe I’ll tell you something you need to know. Something about your mom.”

“My mom?”

Ares grinned. “That got your attention. The water park is a mile west on Delancy. You can’t miss it. Look for the Tunnel of Love ride.”

“What interrupted your date?” Percy asked. “Something scare you off?”

Ares barred his teeth, but I’d seen his threatening look before on Clarisse. There was something false about it, almost like he was nervous. Jasmine smirked, because she and I could probably figure what it was. Or who.

“You’re lucky you met me, punk, and not one of the other Olympians,” Ares said. “They’re not as forgiving of rudeness as I am. I’ll meet you back here when you’re done. Don’t disappoint me.”

After that I must’ve fainted, or fallen into a trance, because when I opened my eyes again, Ares was gone.

“Not good,” Grover said. “Ares sought you out, Percy. This is not good.”

Percy stared out the window.

The motorcycle had disappeared. Percy didn’t seem so angry anymore.

“It’s probably some kind of trick,” he said. “Forget Ares. Let’s just go.”

“I second that,” Jasmine said, and Toothless nodded his head in agreement too.

“We can’t,” I said. “Look, I hate Ares as much as anybody, but you don’t ignore the gods unless you want serious bad fortune. He wasn’t kidding about turning you into a rodent.”

Percy looked down at his cheeseburger. “Why does he need us?”

“Maybe it’s a problem that requires brains,” I said. “Ares has strength. That’s all he has. Even strength has to bow to wisdom sometimes.”

“But this water park . . . he acted almost scared. What would make a war god run away like that?”

Grover and I glanced nervously at each other. Jasmine just smirked again.

“I’m afraid we’ll have to find out,” I said.

And off we went.

———————————————————————————————————————

The sun was sinking behind the mountains by the time we found the water park. Judging from the sign, it once had been called WATERLAND, but now some of the letters were smashed out, so it read WAT R A D.

The main gate was padlocked and topped with barbed wire. Inside, huge dry waterslides and tubes and pipes curled everywhere, leading to empty pools. Old tickets and advertisements fluttered around the asphalt. With night coming on, the place looked sad and creepy.

“If Ares brings his girlfriend here for a date,” Percy said, staring up at the barbed wire, “I’d hate to see what she looks like.”

“Percy,” I warned. “Be more respectful.”

“Why? I thought you hated Ares.”

“He’s still a god. And his girlfriend is very temperamental.”

“You’ve got that right,” Jasmine said.

“You don’t want to insult her looks,” Grover added.

“Who is she?” Percy asked. “Echidna?”

“No, Aphrodite,” Grover said, a little dreamily. “Goddess of love.”

“I thought she was married to somebody. Hephaestus.”

“What’s your point?”

“Oh.”

“Percy, I know what you’re point is, and you’re right,” Jasmine said. “But you should know by now that practically everybody in Greek mythology isn’t known to be faithful to their spouses, especially the gods.”

“Uh, right. So how do we get in?”

Maia!” Grover’s shoes sprouted wings.

He flew over the fence, did an unintended somersault in midair, then stumbled to a landing on the opposite side. He dusted off his jeans, as if he planned the whole thing.

“You guys coming?” he asked.

Jasmine had me and Percy climb onto Toothless’s back and they flew over the fence. Percy had to hold onto my waist. Even though it only lasted about half a minute, the feeling still made my face feel hot.

The shadows grew long as we walked through the park, checking out the attractions. There was Ankle Biter Island, Head Over Wedgie, and Dude, Where’s My Swimsuit? Jasmine laughed at about half of those weird names.

We found a souvenir shop that had been left open. Merchandise still lined the shelves: snow globes, pencils, postcards, and racks of—

“Clothes,” I said. “Fresh clothes.”

“Yeah,” Percy said. “But you can’t just—”

“Watch me.”

“I agree with you, Percy,” Jasmine said. “But I agree with Annabeth more. Some of these clothes actually look cute.”

She and I both snatched an entire row of clothes off the racks and went into the changing room.

A few minutes later I came out in Waterland flower-print shorts, a big red Waterland T-shirt, and commemorative Waterland surf shoes. I also slung a Waterland backpack over my shoulder, stuffed with more goodies.

“Damn, Annabeth,” Jasmine said. “You look great.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, a little sarcastically. “So do you in the exact same clothes.”

I’m not kidding. Jasmine just put on the exact same clothes. The shirt, shorts, and shoes that I put on. The only difference was that she didn’t have the backpack, just her regular dual blades strapped across her back.

She smiled sheepishly. “Hey, great minds think alike.”

“Yes, they certainly do,” I had to agree.

I really don’t like us both wearing the exact same outfit, but I tolerated it this time.

“What the heck.” Grover shrugged.

Soon, all four of us, except Toothless, were decked out like walking advertisements for the defunct theme park.

We continued searching for the Tunnel of Love.

“So Ares and Aphrodite,” Percy said, “they have a thing going?”

“That’s old gossip, Percy,” I told him. “Three-thousand-year-old gossip.”

“Yes,” Jasmine agreed. “Old gossip that I don’t like to hear.”

“What about Aphrodite’s husband?” Percy asked.

“And that’s why I don’t like to hear it.”

“Well, you know,” I told Percy in response to his question. “Hephaestus. The blacksmith. He was crippled when he was a baby, thrown off Mount Olympus by Zeus. So he isn’t exactly handsome. Clever with his hands, and all, but Aphrodite isn’t into brains and talents, you know?”

“She likes bikers,” Percy said.

“Whatever.”

“Hephaestus knows?”

“Oh sure,” I said. “He caught them together once. I mean, literally caught them, in a golden net, and invited all the gods to come and laugh at them. Hephaestus is always trying to embarrass them. That’s why they meet in out-of-the-way places, like . . .” I stopped, looking straight ahead. “Like that.”

In front of us was an empty pool that would’ve been awesome for skateboarding. It was at least fifty yards across and shaped like a bowl.

Around the rim, a dozen bronze statues of Cupid stood on guard with wings spread and bows ready to fire. On the opposite side from us, a tunnel opened up, probably where the water flowed into when the pool was full. The sign above it read, THRILL RIDE O’LOVE: THIS IS NOT YOUR PARENTS’ TUNNEL OF LOVE!

Grover crept toward the edge. “Guys, look.”

Marooned at the bottom of the pool was a pink-and-white two-seater boat with a canopy over the top and little hearts painted all over it. In the left seat, glinting in the fading light, was Ares’s shield, a polished circle of bronze.

“This is too easy,” Percy said. “So we just walk down there and get it?”

I ran my fingers along the base of the nearest Cupid statue.

“There’s a Greek letter carved here,” I said. “Eta. I wonder . . .”

“Grover,” Percy said, “you smell any monsters?”

He sniffed the wind. “Nothing.”

“Nothing—like, in-the-Arch-and-you-didn’t-smell-Echidna nothing, or really nothing?”

“Percy,” Jasmine scolded.

Grover looked hurt. “I told you, that was underground.”

“Okay, I’m sorry.” Percy said, taking a deep breath. “I’m going down there.”

“I’ll go with you.” Grover didn’t sound too enthusiastic, but I got the feeling he was trying to make up for what had happened in St. Louis.

“No,” Percy told him. “I want you to stay up top with the flying shoes. You’re the Red Baron, a flying ace, remember? I’ll be counting on you for backup, in case something goes wrong.”

Grover puffed up his chest a little. “Sure. But what could go wrong?”

“I don’t know. Just a feeling. Annabeth, come with me—”

“Are you kidding?” I looked at him with wide eyes, my face feeling hot.

“What’s the problem now?” Percy demanded.

“Me, go with you to the . . . the ‘Thrill Ride of Love’? How embarrassing is that? What if somebody saw me?”

“Who’s going to see you?” But Percy face was blushing, too.

“I think it would be cute,” Jasmine said, which made Percy and I blush even more.

I didn’t like that comment. So much that I ended up pushing Jasmine down the empty pool.

Did she deserve it? I’d say so.

Toothless called to her, quickly flying down and catching her before she hit the bottom of the pool.

“You bitch!” she yelled. “If I didn’t have my powers, or Toothless, I’d probably be dead by now with a cracked skull.”

“And wouldn’t we all like that,” I said.

“Shut up. God, you have a serious self-imaging problem. Stop worrying about what other people will think about you and just worry about yourself.”

“Easy for you to say.”

“Oh my God. Annabeth! Do you want me to show everybody at camp this when we get back?”

“Me pushing you down there? Yeah.”

“No. You know damn well I meant the reason as to why you pushed me down here.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Try me.”

I wanted to think she was bluffing, but I’m hardly ever sure.

“Look, it’s not like you’re going to be alone with Percy,” Jasmine said. “I’ll be with you too, so it won’t feel like a love ride because there’s definitely no love here. But I might feel like a third wheel. Ok?”

I sighed. “Fine.”

“Good. Now both of you get your asses down here and let’s go. Toothless, you stay with Grover and keep him company.”

He nodded in agreement and flew back up to the top.

Percy and I looked at each other, both of us still blushing a little, and we started down the side of the pool. Jasmine met us when we reached the bottom and we went to the boat.

The shield was propped up on one seat, and next to it was a lady’s silk scarf, obviously Aphrodite’s. I noticed something I hadn’t seen from up top: mirrors all around the rim of the pool, facing this spot. We could see ourselves no matter which direction we looked. While Ares and Aphrodite were smooching with each other they could look at their favorite people: themselves.

Percy picked up the scarf. It shimmered pink. He smiled, a little dreamy, and was about to rub the scarf against his cheek when I ripped it out of his hand and stuffed it in my pocket.

“Oh, no you don’t,” I said. “Stay away from that love magic.”

“What?” he asked.

“Just get the shield, Seaweed Brain, and let’s get out of here.”

The moment he touched the shield, I knew we were in trouble.

His hand broke through something that had been connecting it to the dashboard. it was some kind of metal filament, so fine it was almost invisible. A trip wire.

“Annabeth,” Jasmine said.

I saw what she was looking at.

“Wait,” I said.

“Too late,” Percy said.

“There’s another Greek letter on the side of the boat, another Eta. This is a trap.”

Noise erupted all around us, of a million gears grinding, as if the whole pool were turning into one giant machine.

“Guys!” Grover yelled.

Up on the rim, the Cupid statues were drawing their bows into firing position. They shot, but not at us. They fired at each other, across the rim of the pool. Silk cables trailed from the arrows, arcing over the pool and anchoring where they landed to form a huge golden asterisk. Then smaller metallic threads started weaving together magically between the main strands, making a net.

“We have to get out,” Percy said.

“Duh!” Jasmine and I both said.

Percy grabbed the shield and we ran, but going up the slope of a pool was not as easy as going down.

“Come on!” Grover shouted.

He and Toothless were trying to hold open the section of the net for us, but wherever they touched it, the golden threads started to wrap around their hands and paws.

The Cupids’ heads popped open. Out came video cameras. Spotlights rose up all around the pool, blinding us with illumination, and a loudspeaker voice boomed: “Live to Olympus in one minute . . . Fifty-nine seconds, fifty-eight . . .”

“Hephaestus!” I screamed. “I’m so stupid! Eta is ‘H.’ He made this trap to catch his wife with Ares. Now we’re going to be broadcast live to Olympus and look like absolute fools!”

We’d almost made it to the rim when the row of mirrors opened like hatches and thousands of tiny metallic . . . things poured out. I realized what they were immediately.

Jasmine and I both screamed.

It was an army of wind-up creepy crawlies: bronze-gear bodies, spindly legs, little pincer mouths, all scuttling toward us in a wave of clacking, whirring metal.

“Spiders!” I said. “Sp—sp—aaaah!”

I fell backward in terror and almost got overwhelmed by the spider robots before Percy and Jasmine pulled me up and dragged me back toward the boat.

Jasmine was terrified almost as much as I was, but she was holding herself a little bit better than I was.

The things were coming out from all around the rim now, millions of them, flooding toward the center of the pool, completely surrounding us.

I remembered those nights, just before I ran away when I was seven, and how I was surrounded and bitten by so many real spiders. Now I’m experiencing those nights all over again, but at least they’re not talking to me this time.

Percy, Jasmine, and I climbed into the boat.

Since there were only two seats, Jasmine managed to turn herself into something smaller. A Pikachu, for some reason.

Percy started kicking away the spiders as they swarmed aboard, and Jasmine zapped them away with her electricity while standing on my shoulders or head.

Percy yelled at me to help him, but I was too paralyzed to do much more than scream, and Jasmine knew that.

“Thirty, twenty-nine,” the loudspeaker called.

The spiders started spitting out strands of metal thread, trying to tie us down. The strands were easy enough to break at first, but there were so many of them, and the spiders just kept coming. Percy kicked one away from my leg and its pincer took a chunk out of his new surf shoe.

Grover and Toothless hovered above the pool, trying to pull the net loose and Toothless plasma blasting it, but it wouldn’t budge.

“Fifteen, fourteen,” the loudspeaker said.

“Grover!” Percy yelled. “Get into that booth! Find the ‘on’ switch!”

“But—”

“Do it!”

The spiders were all over the prowl of the boat now. I was screaming my head off, which Jasmine was getting really annoyed about since I was kind of screaming in her ear, and no matter what the circumstances were, she hates screaming people.

Grover was in the controller’s booth now, slamming away at the buttons.

“Five, four—”

Grover looked up at Percy hopelessly, raising his hands. He was letting him know that he’d pushed every button, but still nothing was happening.

“Two, one, zero!”

Then something weird happened.

Water exploded out of the pipes. It roared into the pool, sweeping away the spiders. Percy pulled me and Jasmine into the seat next to him and fastened my seat belt, Jasmine being crushed against my chest, just as the tidal wave slammed into our boat, over the top, whisking the spiders away and dousing us completely, but not capsizing us. The boat turned, lifted in the flood, and spun in circles around the whirlpool.

The water was full of short-circuiting spiders, some of them smashing against the pool’s concrete wall with such force they burst.

Spotlights glared down at us. The Cupid-cams were rolling, live to Olympus.

Percy seemed to will the boat to ride the current, to keep away from the wall, and it seemed to respond to him. At least, it didn’t break into a million pieces.

We spun around one last time, the water level now almost high enough to shred us against the metal net. Then the boat’s nose turned toward the tunnel and we rocketed through into the darkness.

Percy and I held tight, both of us screaming and Jasmine bracing herself against my chest as the boat shot curls and hugged corners and took forty-five-degree plunges past pictures of Romeo and Juliet and a bunch of other Valentine’s Day stuff.

Then we were out of the tunnel, the night air whistling through our hair as the boat barreled straight toward the exit.

If the ride had been in working order, we would’ve sailed off a ramp between the golden Gates of Love and splashed down safely in the exit pool. But there was a problem. The Gates of Love were chained. Two boats that had been washed out of the tunnel before us were now piled against the barricade—one submerged, the other cracked in half.

“Unfasten your seat belt,” Percy yelled to me.

“Are you crazy?” I asked.

“Unless you want to get smashed to death.” Percy strapped Ares’s shield to his arm. “We’re going to have to jump for it.”

“He’s right, Annabeth,” Jasmine said, which looked a little weird since she was still a Pikachu.

But I understood. I held Jasmine against my chest and gripped Percy’s hand as the gates got closer.

“On my mark,” he said.

“No!” I said. “On my mark!”

“What?”

“Simple physics!” I yelled. “Force times the trajectory angle—”

“Oh my God!” Jasmine complained. “Let’s just go!”

“Fine!” Percy shouted. “On your mark!”

I hesitated, trying to time this right . . . hesitated . . . then yelled, “Now!”

Crack!

I got us maximum lift.

Unfortunately, that was a little more than we needed.

Our boat smashed into the pileup and we were thrown into the air, straight over the gates, over the pool, and down toward solid asphalt.

Then I heard a sound from behind me, something familiar, and a moment later, Percy and I landed on something scaly in midair.

“Good boy,” Jasmine said.

Toothless gave a smile back to her and Grover flew next to us in his flying sneakers.

We landed on the ground.

Jasmine turned herself back to normal and gave Toothless a hug and a big fish for catching us. Percy and I thanked him too.

I looked back at the Thrill Ride of Love. The water was subsiding. Our boat had been smashed to pieces against the gates.

A hundred yards away, at the entrance pool, the Cupids were still filming. The statues had swiveled so that their cameras were trained straight on us, the spotlights in our faces.

“Show’s over!” Percy yelled. “Thank you! Good night!”

The Cupids turned back to their original positions. The lights shut off. The park went quiet and dark again, except for the gentle trickle of water into the Thrill Ride of Love’s exit pool.

Jasmine laughed. “That was cool, Percy.”

I had to agree. But he didn’t look happy.

Percy hefted the shield on his arm and turned to us. “We need to have a little talk with Ares.”


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Character Appearances

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