Finally they wandered south of downtown, into a plaza surrounded by smaller glass and brick buildings. Hazel’s nerves started tingling. She looked around, sure she was being watched.
“There,” she said.
The office building on their left had a single word etched on the glass doors: AMAZON.
“Oh,” Frank said. “Uh, no, Hazel. That’s a modern thing. They’re a company, right? They sell stuff on the Internet. They’re not actually Amazons.”
“Unless…” Percy walked through the doors. Hazel had a bad feeling about this place, but she and Frank followed.
The lobby was like an empty fish tank—glass walls, a glossy black floor, a few token plants, and pretty much nothing else. Against the back wall, a black stone staircase led up and down. In the middle of the room stood a young woman in a black pantsuit, with long auburn hair and a security guard’s earpiece. Her name tag said kinzie. Her smile was friendly enough, but her eyes reminded Hazel of the policemen in New Orleans who used to patrol the French Quarter at night. They always seemed to look through you, as if they were thinking about who might attack them next.
Kinzie nodded at Hazel, ignoring the boys. “May I help you?”
“Um…I hope so,” Hazel said. “We’re looking for Amazons.”
Kinzie glanced at Hazel’s sword, then Frank’s spear, though neither should have been visible through the Mist.
“This is the main campus for Amazon,” she said cautiously. “Did you have an appointment with someone, or—”
“Hylla,” Percy interrupted. “We’re looking for a girl named—”
Kinzie moved so fast, Hazel’s eyes almost couldn’t follow. She kicked Frank in the chest and sent him flying backward across the lobby. She pulled a sword out of thin air, swept Percy off his feet with the flat of the blade, and pressed the point under his chin.
Too late, Hazel reached for her sword. A dozen more girls in black flooded up the staircase, swords in hand, and surrounded her.
Kinzie glared down at Percy. “First rule: Males don’t speak without permission. Second rule, trespassing on our territory is punishable by death. You’ll meet Queen Hylla, all right. She’ll be the one deciding your fate.”
The Amazons confiscated the trio’s weapons and marchedthem down so many flights of stairs, Hazel lost count.
Finally they emerged in a cavern so big it could have accommodated ten high schools, sports fields and all. Stark fluorescent lights glowed along the rock ceiling. Conveyor belts wound through the room like water slides, carrying boxes in every direction. Aisles of metal shelves stretched out forever, stacked high with crates of merchandise. Cranes hummed and robotic arms whirred, folding cardboard boxes, packing shipments, and taking things on and off the belts. Some of the shelves were so tall they were only accessible by ladders and catwalks, which ran across the ceiling like theaters scaffolding.
Hazel remembered newsreels she’d seen as a child. She’d always been impressed by the scenes of factories building planes and guns for the war effort—hundreds and hundreds of weapons coming off the line every day. But that was nothing compared to this, and almost all the work was being done by computers and robots. The only humans Hazel could see were some black-suited security women patrolling the catwalks, and some men in orange jumpsuits, like prison uniforms, driving forklifts through the aisles, delivering more pallets of boxes. The men wore iron collars around their necks.
“You keep slaves?” Hazel knew it might be dangerous to speak, but she was so outraged she couldn’t stop herself.
“The men?” Kinzie snorted. “They’re not slaves. They just know their place. Now, move.”
They walked so far, Hazel’s feet began to hurt. She thought they must surely be getting to the end of the warehouse when Kinzie opened a large set of double doors and led them into another cavern, just as big as the first.
“The Underworld isn’t this big,” Hazel complained, which probably wasn’t true, but it felt that way to her feet.
Kinzie smiled smugly. “You admire our base of operations?Yes, our distribution system is worldwide. It took many years and most of our fortune to build. Now, finally, we’re turning a profit. The mortals don’t realize they are funding the Amazon kingdom. Soon, we’ll be richer than any mortal nation. Then—when the weak mortals depend on us for everything—the revolution will begin!”
“What are you going to do?” Frank grumbled. “Cancel free shipping?”
A guard slammed the hilt of her sword into his gut. Percy tried to help him, but two more guards pushed him back at sword point.
“You’ll learn respect,” Kinzie said. “It’s males like you who have ruined the mortal world. The only harmonious society is one run by women. We are stronger, wiser—”
“More humble,” Percy said. The guards tried to hit him, but Percy ducked. “Stop it!” Hazel said. Surprisingly, the guards listened. “Hylla is going to judge us, right?” Hazel asked. “So take us to her. We’re wasting time.” Kinzie nodded. “Perhaps you’re right. We have more important problems. And time…time is definitely an issue.”“What do you mean?” Hazel asked. A guard grunted. “We could take them straight to Otrera.
Might win her favor that way.”“No!” Kinzie snarled. “I’d sooner wear an iron collar and drive a forklift. Hylla is queen.”“Until tonight,” another guard muttered. Kinzie gripped her sword. For a second Hazel thought the
Amazons might start fighting one another, but Kinzie seemed to get her anger under control. “Enough,” she said. “Let’s go.” They crossed a lane of forklift traffic, navigated a maze of conveyor belts, and ducked under a row of robotic arms that were packing up boxes.
Most of the merchandise looked pretty ordinary: books, electronics, baby diapers. But against one wall sat a war chariot with a big bar code on the side. Hanging from the yoke was a sign that read: ONLY ONE LEFT IN STOCK. ORDER SOON! (MORE ON THE WAY)
Finally they entered a smaller cavern that looked like a combination loading zone and throne room. The walls were lined with metal shelves six stories high, decorated with war banners, painted shields, and the stuffed heads of dragons, hydras, giant lions, and wild boars. Standing guard along either side were dozens of forklifts modified for war. An iron-collared male drove each machine, but an Amazon warrior stood on a platform in back, manning a giant mounted crossbow. The prongs of each forklift had been sharpened into oversized sword blades.
The shelves in this room were stacked with cages containing live animals. Hazel couldn’t believe what she was seeing—black mastiffs, giant eagles, a lion-eagle hybrid that must’ve been a gryphon, and a red ant the size of a compact car.
She watched in horror as a forklift zipped into the room, picked up a cage with a beautiful white pegasus, and sped away while the horse whinnied in protest.
“What are you doing to that poor animal?” Hazel demanded.
Kinzie frowned. “The pegasus? It’ll be fine. Someone must’ve ordered it. The shipping and handling charges are steep, but—”
“You can buy a pegasus online?” Percy asked.
Kinzie glared at him. “Obviously you can’t, male. But Amazons can. We have followers all over the world. They need supplies. This way.”
At the end of the warehouse was a dais constructed from pallets of books: stacks of vampire novels, walls of James Patterson thrillers, and a throne made from about a thousand copies of something called The Five Habits of Highly Aggressive Women.
At the base of the steps, several Amazons in camouflage were having a heated argument while a young woman—Queen Hylla, Hazel assumed—watched and listened from her throne.
Hylla was in her twenties, lithe and lean as a tiger. She wore a black leather jumpsuit and black boots. She had no crown, but around her waist was a strange belt made of interlocking gold links, like the pattern of a labyrinth. Hazel couldn’t believe how much she looked like Reyna—a little older, perhaps, but with the same long black hair, the same dark eyes, and the same hard expression, like she was trying to decide which of the Amazons before her most deserved death.
Kinzie took one look at the argument and grunted with distaste. “Otrera’s agents, spreading their lies.”
“What?” Frank asked.
Then Hazel stopped so abruptly, the guards behind her stumbled. A few feet from the queen’s throne, two Amazons guarded a cage. Inside was a beautiful horse—not the winged kind, but a majestic and powerful stallion with a honey-colored coat and a black mane. His fierce brown eyes regarded Hazel, and she could swear he looked impatient, as if thinking: About time you got here.
“It’s him,” Hazel murmured.
“Him, who?” Percy asked.
Kinzie scowled in annoyance, but when she saw where Hazel was looking, her expression softened. “Ah, yes. Beautiful, isn’t he?”
Hazel blinked to make sure she wasn’t hallucinating. It was the same horse she’d chased in Alaska. She was sure of it…but that was impossible. No horse could live that long.
“Is he…” Hazel could hardly control her voice. “Is he for sale?”
The guards all laughed.
“That’s Arion,” Kinzie said patiently, as if she understood Hazel’s fascination. “He’s a royal treasure of the Amazons—to be claimed only by our most courageous warrior, if you believe the prophecy.”
“Prophecy?” Hazel asked.
Kinzie’s expression became pained, almost embarrassed. “Never mind. But no, he’s not for sale.”
“Then why is he in a cage?”
Kinzie grimaced. “Because…he is difficult.”
Right on cue, the horse slammed his head against the cage door. The metal bars shuddered, and the guards retreated nervously.
Hazel wanted to free that horse. She wanted it more than anything she had ever wanted before. But Percy, Frank, and a dozen Amazon guards were staring at her, so she tried to mask her emotions. “Just asking,” she managed. “Let’s see the queen.”
The argument at the front of the room grew louder. Finally the queen noticed Hazel’s group approaching, and she snapped, “Enough!”
The arguing Amazons shut up immediately. The queen waved them aside and beckoned Kinzie forward.
Kinzie shoved Hazel and her friends toward the throne. “My queen, these demigods—”
The queen shot to her feet. “You!”
She glared at Percy Jackson with murderous rage.
Percy muttered something in Ancient Greek that Hazel was pretty sure the nuns at St. Agnes wouldn’t have liked.
“Clipboard,” he said. “Spa. Pirates.”
This made no sense to Hazel, but the queen nodded. She stepped down from her dais of best sellers and drew a dagger from her belt.
“You were incredibly foolish to come here,” she said. “You destroyed my home. You made my sister and me exiles and prisoners.”
“Percy,” Frank said uneasily. “What’s the scary woman with the dagger talking about?”
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