A muffled voice said, ‘Take her.’
A cloth sack was wrestled over her head. Reyna wondered dimly if this was how she would die – without even a fight.
Then it didn’t matter. Several pairs of rough hands lifted her like an unwieldy piece of furniture and she drifted into unconsciousness.
THE ANSWER CAME TO HER before she was fully conscious.
The initials on the sign at Barrachina: HTK.
‘Not funny,’ Reyna muttered to herself. ‘Not remotely funny.’
Years ago, Lupa had taught her how to sleep lightly, wake up alert and be ready to attack. Now, as her senses returned, she took stock of her situation.
The cloth sack still covered her head, but it didn’t seem to be cinched around her neck. She was tied to a hard chair – wood, by the feel of it. Cords were tight against the ribs. Her hands were bound behind her, but her legs were free at the ankles.
Either her captors were sloppy, or they hadn’t expected her to wake up so quickly.
Reyna wriggled her fingers and toes. Whatever tranquilizer they’d used, the effects had worn off.
Somewhere in front of her, footsteps echoed down a corridor. The sound got closer. Reyna let her muscles go slack. She rested her chin against her chest.
A lock clicked. A door creaked open. Judging from the acoustics, Reyna was in a small room with brick or concrete walls: maybe a basement or a cell. One person entered the room.
Reyna calculated the distance. No more than five feet.
She surged upward, spinning so the chair legs smashed against her captor’s body. The force broke the chair. Her captor fell with a pained grunt.
Shouts from the corridor. More footsteps.
Reyna shook the cloth sack off her head. She dropped into a backward roll, pulling her bound hands under her legs so her arms were in front of her. Her captor – a teen girl in grey camouflage – lay dazed on the floor, a knife at her belt.
Reyna grabbed the knife and straddled her, pressing the blade against her captor’s throat.
Three more girls crowded the doorway. Two drew knives. The third nocked an arrow in her bow.
For a moment, everyone froze.
Her hostage’s carotid artery pulsed under the blade. Wisely, the girl made no attempt to move.
Reyna ran scenarios on how she could overcome the three in the doorway. All of them wore grey camouflage T-shirts, faded black jeans, black athletic shoes and utility belts as if they were going camping or hiking … or hunting.
‘You’re the Hunters of Artemis,’ Reyna realized.
‘Take it easy,’ said the girl with the bow. Her ginger hair was shaved on the sides, long on top. She had the build of a professional wrestler. ‘You’ve got the wrong impression.’
The girl on the floor exhaled, but Reyna knew that trick – trying to loosen an enemy’s hold. Reyna pressed the knife tighter against the girl’s throat.
‘You’ve got the wrong impression,’ Reyna said, ‘if you think you can attack me and take me captive. Where are my friends?’
‘Unharmed, right where you left them,’ the ginger girl promised. ‘Look, it’s three to one and your hands are tied.’
‘You’re right,’ Reyna growled. ‘Get another six of you in here and it might be a fair fight. I demand to see your lieutenant, Thalia Grace.’
The ginger girl blinked. Her comrades gripped their knives uneasily.
On the floor, Reyna’s hostage began to shake. Reyna thought she might be having a fit. Then she realized the girl was laughing.
‘Something funny?’ Reyna asked.
The girl’s voice was a gravelly whisper. ‘Jason told me you were good. He didn’t say how good.’
Reyna focused more carefully on her hostage. The girl looked about sixteen, with choppy black hair and startling blue eyes. Across her forehead glinted a circlet of silver.
‘And I’d be happy to explain,’ Thalia said, ‘if you’d kindly not cut my throat.’
The Hunters guided her through a maze of corridors. The walls were concrete blocks painted army green, devoid of windows. The only light came from dim fluorescents spaced every twenty feet. The passages twisted, turned and doubled back, but the ginger-haired Hunter, Phoebe, took the lead. She seemed to know where she was going.
Thalia Grace limped along, holding her ribs where Reyna had hit her with the chair. The Hunter must’ve been in pain, but her eyes sparkled with amusement.
‘Again, my apologies for abducting you.’ Thalia didn’t sound very sorry. ‘This lair is secret. The Amazons have certain protocols –’
‘The Amazons. You work for them?’
‘With them,’ Thalia corrected. ‘We have a mutual understanding. Sometimes the Amazons send recruits our way. Sometimes, if we come across girls who don’t wish to be maidens forever, we send them to the Amazons. The Amazons do not have such vows.’
One of the other Hunters snorted in disgust. ‘Keeping male slaves in collars and orange jumpsuits. I’d rather keep a pack of dogs any day.’
‘Their males aren’t slaves, Celyn,’ Thalia chided. ‘Merely subservient.’ She glanced at Reyna. ‘The Amazons and Hunters don’t see eye to eye on everything, but since Gaia began to stir we have been cooperating closely. With Camp
Jupiter and Camp Half-Blood at each other’s throats, well … someone has to deal with all the monsters. Our forces are spread across the entire continent.’
Reyna massaged the rope marks on her wrists. ‘I thought you told Jason you knew nothing of Camp Jupiter.’
‘That was true then. But those days are over, thanks to Hera’s scheming.’ Thalia’s expression turned serious. ‘How is my brother?’
‘When I left him in Epirus, he was fine.’ Reyna told her what she knew.
She found Thalia’s eyes distracting: electric blue, intense and alert, so much like Jason’s. Otherwise the siblings looked nothing alike. Thalia’s hair was choppy and dark. Her jeans were tattered, held together with safety pins. She wore metal chains around her neck and wrists, and her grey camo shirt sported a badge that read PUNK IS NOT DEAD. YOU ARE.
Reyna had always thought of Jason Grace as the all-American boy. Thalia looked more like the girl who robbed all-American boys at knifepoint in an alley.
‘I hope he’s still well,’ Thalia mused. ‘A few nights ago I dreamed about our mother. It … wasn’t pleasant. Then I got Nico’s message in my dreams – about Orion hunting you. That was even less pleasant.’
‘That’s why you’re here. You got Nico’s message.’
‘Well, we didn’t rush to Puerto Rico for a vacation. This is one of the Amazons’ most secure strongholds. We took a gamble that we’d be able to intercept you.’
‘Intercept us … how? And why?’
In front of them, Phoebe stopped. The corridor dead-ended at a set of metal doors. Phoebe tapped on them with the butt of her knife – a complicated series of knocks like Morse code.
Thalia rubbed her bruised ribs. ‘I’ll have to leave you here. The Hunters are patrolling the old city, keeping a lookout for Orion. I need to get back to the front lines.’ She held out her hand expectantly. ‘My knife, please?’
Reyna handed it back. ‘What about my own weapons?’
‘They’ll be returned when you leave. I know it seems silly – the kidnapping and blindfolding and whatnot – but the Amazons take their security seriously. Last month they had an incident at their main centre in Seattle. Maybe you heard about it. A girl named Hazel Levesque stole a horse.’
The Hunter Celyn grinned. ‘Naomi and I saw the security footage. Legendary.’
‘Epic,’ agreed the third Hunter.
‘At any rate,’ Thalia said, ‘we’re keeping an eye on Nico and the satyr. Unauthorized males aren’t allowed anywhere near this place, but we left them a note so they wouldn’t worry.’
From her belt, Thalia unfolded a piece of paper. She handed it to Reyna. It was a photocopy of a handwritten note:
IOU one Roman praetor.
She will be returned safely.
Otherwise you’ll be killed.
XOX, the Hunters of Artemis
Reyna handed back the letter. ‘Right. That won’t worry them at all.’
Phoebe grinned. ‘It’s cool. I covered your Athena Parthenos with this new camouflage netting I designed. It should keep monsters – even Orion – from finding it. Besides, if my guess is right, Orion isn’t tracking the statue as much as he’s tracking you.’