The son of neptune, p.42
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       The Son of Neptune, p.42

         Part #2 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 42

 

  “As the Fates decree,” Hylla said without enthusiasm.

  “You see, Hazel, Otrera has challenged me to a duel. Every Amazon has that right. Tonight at midnight, we’ll battle for the throne. ”

  “But…you’re good, right?” Hazel asked.

  Hylla managed a dry smile. “Good, yes, but Otrera is the founder of the Amazons. ”

  “She’s a lot older. Maybe she’s out of practice, having been dead for so long. ”

  “I hope you’re right, Hazel. You see, it’s a battle to the death. . . . ”

  She waited for that to sink in. Hazel remembered what Phineas had said in Portland—how he had had a shortcut back from death, thanks to Gaea. She remembered how the gorgons had tried to re-form in the Tiber.

  “Even if you kill her,” Hazel said, “she’ll just come back. As long as Thanatos is chained, she won’t stay dead. ”

  “Exactly,” Hylla said. “Otrera has already told us that she can’t die. So even if I manage to defeat her tonight, she’ll simply return and challenge me again tomorrow. There is no law against challenging the queen multiple times. She can insist on fighting me every night, until she finally wears me down. I can’t win. ”

  Hazel gazed at the throne. She imagined Otrera sitting there with her fine robes and her silver hair, ordering herwarriors to attack Rome. She imagined the voice of Gaeafilling this cavern.

  “There has to be a way,” she said. “Don’t Amazons have…special powers or something?”

  “No more than other demigods,” Hylla said. “We can die, just like any mortal. There is a group of archers who follow the goddess Artemis. They are often mistaken for Amazons, but the Hunters forsake the company of men in exchange for almost endless life. We Amazons—we would prefer to live life to the fullest. We love, we fight, we die. ”

  “I thought you hated men. ”

  Hylla and Kinzie both laughed.

  “Hate men?” said the queen. “No, no, we like men. We just like to show them who’s in charge. But that’s beside the point. If I could, I would rally our troops and ride to my sister’s aid. Unfortunately, my power is tenuous. When I am killed in combat—and it’s only a matter of time—Otrera will be queen. She will march to Camp Jupiter with our forces, but she will not go to help my sister. She’ll go to join the giant’s army. ”

  “We’ve got to stop her,” Hazel said. “My friends and I killed Phineas, one of Gaea’s other servants in Portland. Maybe we can help!”

  The queen shook her head. “You can’t interfere. As queen, I must fight my own battles. Besides, your friends are imprisoned. If I let them go, I’ll look weak. Either I execute you three as trespassers, or Otrera will do so when she becomes queen. ”

  Hazel’s heart sank. “So I guess we’re both dead. Me for the second time. ”

  In the corner cage, the stallion Arion whinnied angrily. He reared and slammed his hooves against the bars.

  “The horse seems to feel your despair,” the queen said. “Interesting. He’s immortal, you know—the son of Neptune and Ceres. ”

  Hazel blinked. “Two gods had a horse for a kid?”

  “Long story. ”

  “Oh. ” Hazel’s face felt hot with embarrassment.

  “He’s the fastest horse in the world,” Hylla said. “Pegasus is more famous, with his wings, but Arion runs like the wind over land and sea. No creature is faster. It took us years to capture him—one of our greatest prizes. But it did us no good. The horse will not allow anyone to ride him. I think he hates Amazons. And he is expensive to keep. He will eat anything, but he prefers gold. ”

  The back of Hazel’s neck tingled. “He eats gold?”

  She remembered the horse following her in Alaska so many years ago. She had thought he was eating nuggets of gold that appeared in her footsteps.

  She knelt and pressed her hand against the floor. Immediately, the stone cracked. A chunk of gold ore the size of a plum was pushed out of the earth. Hazel stood, examining her prize.

  Hylla and Kinzie stared at her.

  “How did you…?” The queen gasped. “Hazel, be careful!”

  Hazel approached the stallion’s cage. She put her hand between the bars, and Arion gingerly ate the chunk of gold from her palm.

  “Unbelievable,” Kinzie said. “The last girl who tried that—”

  “Now has a metal arm,” the queen finished. She studied Hazel with new interest, as if deciding whether or not to say more. “Hazel…we spent years hunting for this horse. It was foretold that the most courageous female warrior would someday master Arion and ride him to victory, ushering in a new era of prosperity for the Amazons. Yet no Amazon can touch him, much less control him. Even Otrera tried and failed. Two others died attempting to ride him. ”

  That probably should’ve worried Hazel, but she couldn’t imagine this beautiful horse hurting her. She put her hand through the bars again and stroked Arion’s nose. He nuzzled her arm, murmuring contentedly, as if asking, More gold? Yum.

  “I would feed you more, Arion. ” Hazel glanced pointedly at the queen. “But I think I’m scheduled for an execution. ”

  Queen Hylla looked from Hazel to the horse and back again. “Unbelievable. ”

  “The prophecy,” Kinzie said. “Is it possible…?”

  Hazel could almost see the gears turning inside the queen’s head, formulating a plan. “You have courage, Hazel Levesque. And it seems Arion has chosen you. Kinzie?”

  “Yes, my queen?”

  “You said Otrera’s followers are guarding the cells?”

  Kinzie nodded. “I should have foreseen that. I’m sorry—”

  “No, it’s fine. ” The queen’s eyes gleamed—the way Hannibal the elephant’s did whenever he was unleashed to destroy a fortress. “It would be embarrassing for Otrera if her followers failed in their duties—if, for instance, they were overcome by an outsider and a prison break occurred. ”

  Kinzie began to smile. “Yes, my queen. Most embarrassing. ”

  “Of course,” Hylla continued, “none of my guards would know a thing about this. Kinzie would not spread the word to allow an escape. ”

  “Certainly not,” Kinzie agreed.

  “And we couldn’t help you. ” The queen raised her eyebrows at Hazel. “But if you somehow overpowered the guards and freed your friends…if, for instance, you took one of the guards’ Amazon cards—”

  “With one-click purchasing enabled,” Kinzie said, “which will open the jail cells with one click. ”

  “If—gods forbid!—something like that were to happen,” the queen continued, “you would find your friends’ weapons and supplies in the guard station next to the cells. And who knows? If you made your way back to this throne room while I was off preparing for my duel…well, as I mentioned, Arionis a very fast horse. It would be a shame if he were stolen and used for an escape. ”

  Hazel felt like she’d been plugged into a wall socket. Electricity surged through her whole body. Arion…Arion could be hers. All she had to do was rescue her friends and fight her way through an entire nation of highly trained warriors. “Queen Hylla,” she said, “I—I’m not much of a fighter. ”

  “Oh, there are many kinds of fighting, Hazel. I have a feeling you’re quite resourceful. And if the prophecy is correct, you will help the Amazon nation achieve prosperity. If you succeed on your quest to free Thanatos, for instance—”

  “—then Otrera wouldn’t come back if she were killed,”

  Hazel said. “You’d only have to defeat her…um, every night until we succeed. ”

  The queen nodded grimly. “It seems we both have impossible tasks ahead of us. ”

  “But you’re trusting me,” said Hazel. “And I trust you. You will win, as many times as it takes. ”

  Hylla held out Percy’s necklace and poured it into Hazel’s hands.

  “I hope you’re right,” the queen said. “But the sooner you succeed the better, yes?”

  Hazel
slipped the necklace into her pocket. She shook the queen’s hand, wondering if it was possible to make a friend so fast—especially one who was about to send her to jail.

  “This conversation never happened,” Hylla told Kinzie. “Take our prisoner to the cells and hand her over to Otrera’s guards. And, Kinzie, be sure you leave before anything unfortunate happens. I don’t want my loyal followers held accountable for a prison break. ”

  The queen smiled mischievously, and for the first time, Hazel felt jealous of Reyna. She wished that she had a sister like this.

  “Good-bye, Hazel Levesque,” the queen said. “If we both die tonight…well, I’m glad I met you. ”

  XXXII Hazel

  THE AMAZON JAIL WAS AT THE TOP OF a storage aisle, sixty feet in the air.

  Kinzie led her up three different ladders to a metal catwalk, then tied Hazel’s hands loosely behind her back and pushed her along past crates of jewelry.

  A hundred feet ahead, under the harsh glow of fluorescent lights, a row of chain-link cages hung suspended from cables. Percy and Frank were in two of the cages, talking to each other in hushed tones. Next to them on the catwalk, three bored-looking Amazon guards leaned against their spears and gazed at little black tablets in their hands like they were reading.

  Hazel thought the tablets looked too thin for books. Then it occurred to her they might be some sort of tiny—what did modern people call them?—laptop computers. SecretAmazon technology, perhaps. Hazel found the idea almost as unsettling as the battle forklifts downstairs.

  “Get moving, girl,” Kinzie ordered, loud enough for the guards to hear. She prodded Hazel in the back with her sword.

  Hazel walked as slowly as she could, but her mind was racing. She needed to come up with a brilliant rescue plan. So far she had nothing. Kinzie had made sure she could break her bonds easily, but she’d still be empty-handed against three trained warriors, and she had to act before they put her in a cage.

  She passed a pallet of crates marked 24-CARAT BLUE TOPAZ RINGS, then another labeled SILVER FRIENDSHIP BRACELETS. An electronic display next to the friendship bracelets read:People who bought this item also bought GARDEN GNOMESOLAR PATIO LIGHT and FLAMING SPEAR OF DEATH. Buy all three and save 12%!

  Hazel froze. Gods of Olympus, she was stupid.

  Silver. Topaz. She sent out her senses, searching for precious metals, and her brain almost exploded from the feedback. She was standing next to a six-story-tall mountain of jewelry. But in front of her, from here to the guards, was nothing but prison cages.

  “What is it?” Kinzie hissed. “Keep moving! They’ll get suspicious. ”

  “Make them come here,” Hazel muttered over her shoulder.

  “Why—”

  “Please. ”

  The guards frowned in their direction.

  “What are you staring at?” Kinzie yelled at them. “Here’s the third prisoner. Come get her. ”

 

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