The Blood of Olympus (The Heroes of Olympus 5) - Page 30

Reyna felt like she’d been punched between the eyes. ‘How could you know that?’

‘Phoebe is my best tracker,’ Thalia said. ‘And my best healer. And … well, she’s generally right about most things.’

‘Most things?’ Phoebe protested.

Thalia raised her hands in an I give up gesture. ‘As for why we intercepted you, I’ll let the Amazons explain. Phoebe, Celyn, Naomi – accompany Reyna inside. I have to see to our defences.’

‘You’re expecting a fight,’ Reyna noted. ‘But you said this place was secret and secure.’

Thalia sheathed her knife. ‘You don’t know Orion. I wish we had more time, Praetor. I’d like to hear about your camp and how you ended up there. You remind me so much of your sister, and yet –’

‘You know Hylla?’ Reyna asked. ‘Is she safe?’

Thalia tilted her head. ‘None of us are safe these days, Praetor, so I really must go. Good hunting!’

Thalia disappeared down the corridor.

The metal doors creaked open. The three Hunters led Reyna through.

After the claustrophobic tunnels, the size of the warehouse took Reyna’s breath away. An aerie of giant eagles could’ve done manoeuvres under the vast ceiling. Three-storey-tall rows of shelves stretched into the distance. Robotic forklifts zipped through the aisles retrieving boxes. Half a dozen young women in black trouser suits stood nearby, comparing notes on their tablet computers. In front of them were crates labelled: EXPLOSIVE ARROWS AND GREEK FIRE (16 OZ. EZ-OPEN PACK) and GRYPHON FILLETS (FREE-RANGE ORGANIC).

Directly in front of Reyna, behind a conference table piled high with reports and bladed weapons, sat a familiar figure.

‘Baby sister.’ Hylla rose. ‘Here we are, home again. Facing certain death again. We have to stop meeting like this.’

XXIII

Reyna

REYNA’S FEELINGS WEREN’T SO MUCH MIXED.

They were thrown into a blender with gravel and ice.

Every time she saw her sister, she didn’t know whether to hug her, cry or walk away. Of course she loved Hylla. Reyna would have been dead many times over if not for her sister.

But their past together was beyond complicated.

Hylla walked around the table. She looked good in her black leather trousers and black vest top. Around her waist glittered a cord of gold Labyrinthine links – the belt of the Amazon queen. She was twenty-two now, but she could’ve been mistaken for Reyna’s twin. They had the same long dark hair, the same brown eyes. They even wore the same silver ring with the torch-and-spear emblem of their mother, Bellona. The most obvious difference between them was the long white scar on Hylla’s forehead. It had faded over the last four years. Anyone who didn’t know better might’ve mistaken it for a worry line. But Reyna remembered the day Hylla got that scar in a duel on board the pirate ship.

‘Well?’ Hylla prompted. ‘No warm words for your sister?’

‘Thank you for having me abducted,’ Reyna said. ‘For shooting me with a tranquilizer dart, putting a bag over my head and tying me to a chair.’

Hylla rolled her eyes. ‘Rules are rules. As a praetor, you should understand that. This distribution centre is one of our most important bases. We have to control access. I can’t make exceptions, especially not for my family.’

‘I think you just enjoyed it.’

‘That, too.’

Reyna wondered if her sister was as cool and collected as she seemed. She found it amazing, and a little scary, how quickly Hylla had adapted to her new identity.

Six years ago, she’d been a scared big sister, doing her best to shield Reyna from their father’s rage. Her main skills had been running and finding them places to hide.

Then on Circe’s island Hylla had worked hard to be noticed. She wore flashy clothes and makeup. She smiled and laughed and always stayed perky, as if acting happy would make her happy. She’d become one of Circe’s favourite attendants.

After their island sanctuary burned, they were taken prisoner aboard the pirates’ ship. Again Hylla changed. She’d duelled for their freedom, out-pirated the pirates, gained the crew’s respect so well that Blackbeard finally put them ashore lest Hylla take over his ship.

Now she’d reinvented herself again as queen of the Amazons.

Of course, Reyna understood why her sister was such a chameleon. If she kept changing, she could never fossilize into the thing their father had become …

‘Those initials on the reservation sign at Barrachina,’ Reyna said. ‘HTK. Hylla Twice-Kill, your new nickname. A little joke?’

‘Just checking to see if you were paying attention.’

‘You knew we would land in that courtyard. How?’

Hylla shrugged. ‘Shadow-travel is magic. Several of my followers are daughters of Hecate. It was a simple enough matter for them to pull you off course, especially since you and I share a connection.’

Reyna tried to keep her anger in check. Hylla, of all people, should know how she would feel about being dragged back to Puerto Rico.

‘You went to a lot of trouble,’ Reyna noted. ‘The queen of the Amazons and the lieutenant of Artemis both rushing to Puerto Rico on a moment’s notice to intercept us – I’m guessing that’s not because you missed me.’

Phoebe the ginger-haired Hunter chuckled. ‘She’s smart.’

‘Of course,’ Hylla said. ‘I taught her everything she knows.’

Other Amazons started to gather around, probably sensing a potential fight. Amazons loved violent entertainment almost as much as pirates did.

‘Orion,’ Reyna guessed. ‘That’s what brought you here. His name got your attention.’

‘I couldn’t let him kill you,’ Hylla said.

‘It’s more than that.’

‘Your mission to escort the Athena Parthenos –’

‘– is important. But it’s more than that, too. This is personal for you. And for the Hunters. What’s your game?’

Hylla ran her thumbs along her golden belt. ‘Orion is a problem. Unlike the other giants, Orion has been walking the earth for centuries. He takes a special interest in killing Amazons, or Hunters, or any female who dares to be strong.’

‘Why would he want that?’

A ripple of dread seemed to pass through the girls around her.

Hylla looked at Phoebe. ‘Do you want to explain? You were there.’

The Hunter’s smile faded. ‘In the ancient times, Orion joined the Hunters. He was Lady Artemis’s best friend. He had no rivals at the bow – except for the goddess herself, and perhaps her brother, Apollo.’

Reyna shivered. Phoebe looked no older than fourteen. To think that she knew Orion three or four thousand years ago …

‘What went wrong?’ she asked.

Phoebe’s ears reddened. ‘Orion crossed the line. He fell in love with Artemis.’

Hylla sniffed. ‘Always happens with men. They promise friendship. They promise to treat you as an equal. In the end, all they want is to possess you.’

Phoebe picked at her thumbnail. Behind her, the other two Hunters, Naomi and Celyn, shifted uneasily.

‘Lady Artemis rebuffed him, of course,’ Phoebe said. ‘Orion became bitter. He started going on longer and longer trips by himself in the wilderness. Finally … I’m not sure what happened. One day Artemis came back to camp and told us Orion had been killed. She refused to speak of it.’

Hylla frowned, which accentuated the white scar across her brow. ‘Whatever the case, when Orion rose again from Tartarus, he was Artemis’s bitterest enemy. No one can hate you with more intensity than someone who used to love you.’

Reyna understood that. She thought back to a conversation she’d had with the goddess Aphrodite two years ago in Charleston …

‘If he’s such a problem,’ Reyna said, ‘why doesn’t Artemis simply slay him again?’

Phoebe grimaced. ‘Easier said than done. Orion is sneaky. Whenever Artemis is with us, he stays far away. Whenever we Hunters are

on our own, like we are now … he strikes without warning and disappears again. Our last lieutenant, Zoë Nightshade, spent centuries trying to track him down and kill him.’

‘The Amazons have also tried,’ Hylla said. ‘Orion doesn’t distinguish between us and the Hunters. I think we all remind him too much of Artemis. He sabotages our warehouses, disrupts our distribution centres, kills our warriors –’

‘In other words,’ Reyna said dryly, ‘he’s getting in the way of your plans for world domination.’

Hylla shrugged. ‘Exactly.’

‘That’s why you rushed here to intercept me,’ Reyna said. ‘You knew Orion would be right behind me. You’re setting up an ambush. I’m the bait.’

The other girls all found somewhere else to look besides Reyna’s face.

‘Oh, please,’ Reyna chided, ‘don’t develop a guilty conscience now. It’s a good plan. How do we proceed?’

Hylla gave her comrades a lopsided smile. ‘I told you my sister was tough. Phoebe, you want to explain the details?’

The Hunter shouldered her bow. ‘Like I said, I believe Orion is tracking you, not the Athena Parthenos. He seems especially good at sensing the presence of female demigods. I guess you’d say that we’re his natural prey.’

‘Charming,’ Reyna said. ‘So my friends, Nico and Gleeson Hedge – are they safe?’

‘I still don’t see why you travel with males,’ Phoebe grumbled, ‘but my guess is that they are safer without you around. I did my best to camouflage your statue. With luck, Orion will follow you here, straight into our line of defences.’

‘And then?’ Reyna asked.

Hylla gave her the sort of cold smile that used to make Blackbeard’s pirates nervous. ‘Thalia and most of her Hunters are scouting the perimeter of Viejo San Juan. As soon as Orion gets close, we’ll know. We’ve set traps at every approach. I have my best fighters on alert. We’ll snare the giant. Then, one way or another, we’ll send him back to Tartarus.’

Tags: Rick Riordan The Heroes of Olympus Fantasy
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