"What about Aphrodite's husband?"
"Well, you know," she said. "Hephaestus. The blacksmith. He was crippled when he was a baby, thrown off MountOlympus by Zeus. So he isn't exactly handsome. Clever with his hands, and all, but Aphrodite isn't into brains and talent, you know?"
"She likes bikers."
"Oh sure," Annabeth 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 ..."
She 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 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," I said. "So we just walk down there and get it?"
Annabeth ran her fingers along the base of the nearest Cupid statue.
"There's a Greek letter carved here," she said. "Eta. I wonder ..."
"Grover," I 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?"
Grover looked hurt. "I told you, that was underground."
"Okay, I'm sorry." I took 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," I 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?" She looked at me as if I'd just dropped from the moon. Her cheeks were bright red.
"What's the problem now?" I 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 my face was burning now, too. Leave it to a girl to make everything complicated. "Fine," I told her. "I'll do it myself." But when I started down the side of the pool, she followed me, muttering about how boys always messed things up.
We reached the boat. The shield was propped on one seat, and next to it was a lady's silk scarf. I tried to imagine Ares and Aphrodite here, a couple of gods meeting in a junked-out amusement-park ride. Why? Then I noticed something I hadn't seen from up top: mirrors all the way around the rim of the pool, facing this spot. We could see ourselves no matter which direction we looked. That must be it. While Ares and Aphrodite were smooching with each other they could look at their favorite people: themselves.
I picked up the scarf. It shimmered pink, and the perfume was indescribable—rose, or mountain laurel. Something good. I smiled, a little dreamy, and was about to rub the scarf against my cheek when Annabeth ripped it out of my hand and stuffed it in her pocket. "Oh, no you don't. Stay away from that love magic."
"Just get the shield, Seaweed Brain, and let's get out of here."
The moment I touched the shield, I knew we were in trouble. My hand broke through something that had been connecting it to the dashboard. A cobweb, I thought, but then I looked at a strand of it on my palm and saw it was some kind of metal filament, so fine it was almost invisible. A trip wire.
"Wait," Annabeth 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.
Grover yelled, "Guys!"
Up on the rim, the Cupid statues were drawing their bows into firing position. Before I could suggest taking cover, they shot, but not at us. They fired at each other, across the rim of the pool. Silky 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," I said.
"Duh!" Annabeth said.
I grabbed the shield and we ran, but going up the slope of the pool was not as easy as going down.
"Come on!" Grover shouted.
He was trying to hold open a section of the net for us, but wherever he touched it, the golden threads started to wrap around his hands.
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!" Annabeth 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.
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!" Annabeth said. "Sp—sp—aaaah!"
I'd never seen her like this before. She fell backward in terror and almost got overwhelmed by the spider robots before I pulled her up and dragged her back toward the boat.
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 told myself they probably weren't programmed to kill, just corral us and bite us and make us look stupid. Then again, this was a trap meant for gods. And we weren't gods.
Annabeth and I climbed into the boat. I started kicking away the spiders as they swarmed aboard. I yelled at Annabeth to help me, but she was too paralyzed to do much more than scream.
"Thirty, twenty-nine," called the loudspeaker.
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. I kicked one away from Annabeth's leg and its pincers took a chunk out of my new surf shoe.
Grover hovered above the pool in his flying sneakers, trying to pull the net loose, but it wouldn't budge.
Think, I told myself. Think.
The Tunnel of Love entrance was under the net. We could use it as an exit, except that it was blocked by a million robot spiders.
"Fifteen, fourteen," the loudspeaker called.
Water, I thought. Where does the ride's water come from?
Then I saw them: huge water pipes behind the mirrors, where the spiders had come from. And up above the net, next to one of the Cupids, a glass-windowed booth that must be the controller's station.
"Grover!" I yelled. "Get into that booth! Find the 'on' switch!"
"Do it!" It was a crazy hope, but it was our only chance. The spiders were all over the prow of the boat now. Annabeth was screaming her head off. I had to get us out of there.
Grover was in the controller's booth now, slamming away at the buttons.
Grover looked up at me hopelessly, raising his hands. He was letting me know that he'd pushed every button, but still nothing was happening.
I closed my eyes and thought about waves, rushing water, the Mississippi River. I felt a familiar tug in my gut. I tried to imagine that I was dragging the ocean all the way to Denver.
"Two, one, zero!"
Water exploded out of the pipes. It roared into the pool, sweeping away the spiders. I pulled Annabeth into the seat next to me and fastened her seat belt 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.
But I could only concentrate on controlling the boat. I willed it to ride the current, to keep away from the wall. Maybe it was my imagination, but the boat seemed to respond. 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.
Annabeth and I held tight, both of us screaming 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," I yelled to Annabeth.
"Are you crazy?"
"Unless you want to get smashed to death." I strapped Ares's shield to my arm. "We're going to have to jump for it." My idea was simple and insane. As the boat struck, we would use its force like a springboard to jump the gate. I'd heard of people surviving car crashes that way, getting thrown thirty or forty feet away from an accident. With luck, we would land in the pool.
Annabeth seemed to understand. She gripped my hand as the gates got closer.
"On my mark," I said.
"No! On my mark!"
"Simple physics!" she yelled. "Force times the trajectory angle—"
"Fine.'" I shouted. "On your mark!"
She hesitated ... hesitated ... then yelled, "Now!"
Annabeth was right. If we'd jumped when I thought we should've, we would've crashed into the gates. She 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.
Something grabbed me from behind.
Annabeth yelled, "Ouch!"
In midair, he had grabbed me by the shirt, and Annabeth by the arm, and was trying to pull us out of a crash landing, but Annabeth and I had all the momentum.