I love Reyna. I think she's a great character that's underappreciated in the series, which is why I started writing this story in the first place. It started out as a future chapter for my other story, A World of Oneshots, but after I hit 10,000 words, my friend, fabulouslaughter, convinced me that I should post it separately... :P And that's about all you need to know in advance, since I'm assuming you've read the summary... Oh, and just so you guys know, I have absolutely nothing against men. But Circe does, so there might be a couple anti-men scenes in here. That doesn't mean it reflects my personal opinion. :P
Reviews are appreciated! :)
Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot.
A sandy beach. I wake up, holding onto a hand that feels twice as large as mine. "Lala? Lala, where are we?" I couldn't pronounce her name properly until I was seven.
Hylla wakes up, groggy, sand sticking to her eyelashes. That is very clear - the sand on her eyelashes. It is the clearest thing about this memory.
As soon as she realizes what we are laying on, her tired eyes widen. "Reyna, how did this happen? We were going to bed... I was worrying about your first day of kindergarten next week, wondering if..." She looks at me then, and her mouth clamps shut. It isn't until years later that I realize what she had wondered - if the monsters would follow me to school the way they had followed her; if our foster parents would continue to tolerate us if a hellhound attacked us at home, breaking their front door and most of the living room furniture in the process. I don't yet know about the gods that rule all the parts of this world. I haven't met my first monster like Hylla has. I don't understand how hard she has worked to keep us safe. I am still naive, with the innocence that I will lose by the time a mortal would have reached fifth grade.
"Lala, did you bring us here?" I'm nearly pleading with her to answer with a yes, praying that this is some elaborate last-minute vacation. But the mystified look on Hylla's face convinces me otherwise. Perhaps I am not so naive after all.
A woman walks up to us then. She is dressed all in white - loose cotton pants, a necklace of pearls, and a flowing silken shirt - all of it flapping in the wind curling off the ocean. Her makeup is light, but perfect. I remember her eyelashes too - they are long and dark, even though her hair is blond, which I find strange at the time. I don't yet know what mascara is either - but that will change soon enough.
I don't notice all this immediately, however. I barely have time to register that there is a woman standing beside us with clothes that flutter like a flag before Hylla jumps to her feet, hiding me behind her. "What are you?" she asks, her voice quavering. That is another clear thing about this memory - she asks what the woman is, not who.
"My dear, I am like you," the woman answers. Not "I'm a person, what else would I be?" Not even "I am human". She just says that she is "like us". With one glance, this woman can tell what I do not understand, for now - Hylla and I are not human. At least not all the way.
"I don't believe you," Hylla says flatly. "This beach, this island... It's too nice to be reality. It's a trick. And you..." She hesitates and glances at me. Even now, in this strange place, she is tying to preserve my innocence. "You are not like us."
"Are you sure, Hylla?" My sister flinches as the woman says her name. "Yes, my dear, I know who you are. Didn't you pray for a place where you and your sister could be safe?" The woman spreads her arms out wide. "I swear on the River Styx that you two will be safe here." She looks peaceful with her white, billowing sleeves - carefree and content. I find myself hoping that Hylla can find some of that happiness here. She is always so worried at home.
Hylla looks shocked. "S... Safe?" she stutters. "You swear?"
"On the Styx, my dear, the most binding oath that one can make," the woman says, nodding. "But you will learn that soon enough."
Hylla stares at her bare feet, squishing sand between her toes. She squints out at the pristine blue water that seems to stretch all the way to the sky. She examines the palm trees that line the beach, as well as the white buildings that rise up behind them and seem to glitter in the sun. Finally she looks down at me. "What do you say, kiddo?" She asks softly. "Would you like to stay for a while?"
I nod eagerly, without pausing to think. There's a beach here, and palm trees! Why wouldn't I like to stay for a while?
Hylla laughs, a sparkle returning to her eyes that I haven't seen in a long time - not since my vague two-year-old memories of a man with dark hair and a wide grin, holding up my older sister and spinning her around as she giggles.
"Then it's settled, Reyna," she smiles. "Let's stay."
Reyna choked on the memory - or maybe she was coughing because of the nectar that the medic was trying to force into her. "Save it," she gasped out. "Others... Injured too..."
But the medic wouldn't take no for an answer. "They might be injured, but you've lost so much blood, your shirt turned black and hard with it. Bobby had to tear off your praetor's cloak and wrap it around you to try and staunch the flow. I don't care what excuse you give, Reyna. You need this most."
She didn't even know who this person was, which was strange. As praetor, she made it her business to know every member of the legion. Then she remembered. The Greeks were here too. They had needed every capable demigod to be on the battlefield of ancient Olympus if they wanted to defeat Gaea's armies. They were just lucky that Leo and Nico had worked together to design a hi-tech version of Nico's shadow-traveling, so that large numbers of campers could be brought to Greece in an instant.
Reyma couldn't seem to get the rest of the sentence out, but the medic seemed to understand. "I'm Will Solace," he said, giving her a reassuring smile. "Son of Apollo. Now save your breath. You have a lot of healing to do."
Reyna didn't bother arguing. It hurt too much. Instead, she closed her eyes and fell into another memory.
I'm nearly six now, although it's hard to keep track of the days when each one is as sunny and perfect as the one before. I rarely see Circe, the woman who runs the spa on the island. All I know about her is that she has long, dark hair - like Hylla's and mine, only hers has some gold threads braided in it that sparkle in the light - and unlike the rest of the attendants at the spa, who all wear white, Circe dresses completely in black. Hylla has talked to her a couple times, though, and she tells me that Circe is just as nice as she is beautiful. That only seems right to me, since the rest of the island is the same way.
One day, Hylla comes into our hotel room (which is what the nice spa assistants call it, even though it doesn't seem much like a hotel when we've lived here for three months), grinning. Hylla's grinning more and more these days. Each of her smiles is like a treasure to me, even more precious than Circe's necklace. "Guess what, Reyna?"
"What?" I ask, eyes shining. Whenever Hylla says that, it means she has a surprise. And all of Hylla's surprises are really, really awesome.
Hylla looks just as excited. "Circe told me today that she thinks it's about time that you learned to read."
"Yay!" That would be a good enough surprise for me - I'm the youngest at the spa by far, and not knowing how to read makes me feel just a little left out. But it's clear from Hylla's expression that she's not even done yet.
"Wait..." I say. "Who's going to teach me to read? Mallory? Anne? Penelope?" I don't suggest Hylla because I know she doesn't have time. As the newest attendant at the spa, she is apprenticing under Delilah, which keeps her super busy. Besides, she's only nine, and teachers are supposed to be grown-ups. But I don't mind. Mallory, Ann, and Penelope are all nice ladies who don't mind if I follow them around all day. I'd love it if any of them taught me how to read.
Hylla runs over and hugs me, laughing. "Oh, it's a thousand times better than that!" she says. "Circe's going to teach you!"
It's my second week of lessons with Circe. I can write the alphabet already (with backwards b's and d's, but I don't mind that at all), and I know the basic sounds of each letter. Now Circe is teaching me simple words. Every time I get one right, she claps and looks delighted. I try my hardest with each word, just because her happy smile is so pretty.
Circe holds up a picture of a gray animal with pointed ears and slitted green eyes. As I watch, the animal comes to life, licking her paw and purring. I see the word written under the animal and giggle. "It's a cat!" I tell her proudly. There's a beautiful cat just like this one that lives by the pool.
Circe puts the card aside and smiles. "Yes, dear, it is."
She picks up another. This animal is green and has webbed toes. When it speaks, it makes a croaking sound that I recognize instantly. My old home had a pond in the backyard, and every night the noises leaked through my window and lulled me to sleep. "That's a frog," I announce.
"You're so smart, Reyna!" Circe praises.
The third card has a white animal with black polka-dots and black floppy ears. I've seen him in an old Disney movie that I used to watch with Hylla and my foster parents. He woofs, and I laugh. "He's a dog!"
"Right! Good job."
The next card confuses me. It has a person wearing a suit. While I stare at it, he morphs into a primitive figure wearing leopard skin, wielding a large stick, and flaunting a thick, wild beard. I can see him scowling underneath all the facial hair. He looks terrifying. "It's... a... man?" I ask hesitantly.
"Yes, dear." Circe starts to put the card with the rest.
"But I thought we were doing animals!" I blurt out suddenly.
Circe shakes her head and smiles at me sadly. "I forget how young you are, Reyna. Men are animals. They are cruel, pigheaded, foolish creatures. Nothing good will come of your interacting with a man. Remember that. Men are only good for one thing."
I frown. "What's that?"
Circe's mouth curls up at the edges then, but it's a different smile from the others I've seen. This one is almost... scary. "I want to show you something, Reyna. Come with me."
She stands up and offers her hand to me. I grab it and follow her out of the sunny room, down a few bright corridors, and into another sunny room. But this one is a little different. At the end, I see a big cage full of small, fluffy animals.
"What are those?" I ask, my mouth hanging open.
Circe leads me over to them. "These are guinea pigs," she tells me. "They used to be men, but they were really mean men. I had to turn them into guinea pigs to keep the world safe from them."
My eyes widen. "They were mean?" Now they don't seem to do much more than root around the straw at the bottom of the pen. "What did they do?"
Circe hesitates. "That's a story for another time, dear." She doesn't mention the ravaging, the pillaging, the murders, or the countless other crimes that Blackbeard and the other pirates have committed. Even this sorceress understands the importance of childhood. I am too young to understand the full horrors of men, and so Circe spares me the gory details - at least for now.
"How about we go back to the reading lesson now, Reyna?"
"Okay!" And with that, Circe brings me back to the other sunny room, and we settle back into our routine.
As I enjoy the rest of Circe's flashcards and their pretty magic pictures, the guinea pigs quickly slip my mind. But I don't hesitate at the "man" card any longer.
After about an hour, Hylla knocks on the door - I can tell it's her because she always raps six times - and comes in. "Hello? Circe? I think it's time for Reyna to come eat lunch..." She looks at us, a happy smile playing at the edges of her mouth... But it quickly disappears as her eyes drop to the card with the angry man in leopard skin.
"Circe... What is that?"
Circe doesn't miss a beat. "Reyna needs to know the way men really are, Hylla, if she's going to be safe from them. Don't you agree?"
Hylla's shaking. I've never seen her so angry. "I can't believe you're teaching... I looked up to... Brainwashing..." She can't seem to get a full sentence out. Before Circe can interrupt, Hylla runs to me and pulls me to my feet. She grabs my hand and strides to the door, so fast I can barely keep up at a run.
"Lala, stop, you're hurting me..." I whine.
Hylla ignores me and turns to Circe. "Not all men are like that," she tells her, voice trembling. "Not my father. He was a good man. I won't stand to have Reyna remember him that way. I'm... I'm not sure if it's a good idea for her to keep taking lessons from you." With that, she stalks out of the room.
"Lala, what are you doing?" Hylla doesn't answer as we hurry down the hall. "Lala, you said that Circe was nice yourself! Why did you yell at her?"
She spins around and puts her hands on my shoulders, so that we're forced to look straight into each other's eyes. "Because Daddy was a nice man, Reyna. He always played with us and kept us fed and made sure we were warm at night and worked hard to make sure we were happy. Circe would have you forget that, but I won't. I... I can't." Her voice cracks. "Just... trust me, Reyna. I did the right thing."
I don't push my sister for more information. She looks too upset. "Okay, Lala. But... can we still get lunch?"
At that, Hylla laughs through her tears. "Of course, big girl." She turns her back to me and crouches down so that I can jump on her back. I thread my arms around her neck, grinning, the argument with Circe already a distant memory. I'm too young to worry for long.
"Let's go get lunch, kiddo." Hylla doesn't mention men again all day. But I notice that she seems worried all over again, and that makes me sad. I really thought she would be happy here...
The pain jerked Reyna awake. She cried out involuntarily. Immediately, someone came running to her side. Reyna couldn't help but be surprised to see her. Gwen was supposed to be retired from the legion...
"Everybody was called in," Gwen told her as an explanation. "So many of us are injured... Even we retired demigods came here to fill the ranks."
"I know it's dangerous to leave it unprotected," Gwen said, "but we don't have a choice. The real battle is here. We have to save the day here."
Reyna nodded in agreement, then winced as her head spun at the simple movement. "What... happened...?"
Gwen looked at her sympathetically. "You were fighting one of the giants, but a god didn't get there in time. You got its spear through your side, and a whack to the back of your head. We're just lucky Leo saw you go down from his ship. He fired all kinds of missiles at the giant, taking over until Vulcan - Hephaestus... Um, until his dad came and helped him defeat the giant. He protected you from the air and got Will Solace to come help you. If it weren't for him, you would be... well..."
Reyna laughed, a raw sound that made her throat ache. "I... owe my life... to a Greek...? To... two Greeks...? Who would have thought..."
Gwen smiled. "Times are changing, Reyna. Someone told me that this kind of cooperation between Greeks and Romans hasn't been seen since... well, ever."
"Who else?" Reyna asked suddenly.
Gwen looked at her, puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"Here..." she murmured. "Hunters...? Amazons...?"
Gwen understood immediately. "Hylla's here," she told her. "Her Amazons came to help just in time. But she's in the middle of the fray right now. If you want her..."
Reyna shook her head, ignoring the pain this time. "It's... fine..." she said. "Hylla's... where she needs to be... Just... she has to... safe..."
Gwen smiled. "Hylla's a fighter like you, Reyna. I can see the family resemblance, and it's more than just your appearances. She'll be fine."
"When you see her... Tell her... Sorry I was distant... so long..."
Gwen's eyes widened, and she gripped Reyna's hand. "Tell her yourself, Praetor. You are going to get better."
Reyna laughed, even weaker this time. "Doesn't... feel that way."
Gwen glared at her. "Just stop. Stop. Don't think that way. You're going to get better. You're going to be back on your feet and ordering Octavian to shut up in no time."
Reyna squeezed Gwen's hand back. "Thank you for that." Then her eyes drifted shut.
The next day, Hylla is called into Circe's office. I don't see her until dinnertime. When she comes back, she is... different. Her eyes seem harder. Whatever innocence she still had, it's gone now.
"Listen, Reyna," she says as she sits next to me. "What I said about Dad yesterday... It's still true. He was a good man. But I know now..." Her eyes close off. "Daddy was the exception to the rule, okay?" she told me. "We got lucky, having him, even..." She chokes on air. "Even if it was only for a little while. But most men are like the one Circe showed you. They seem nice at first, but they really aren't. The things Circe showed me... The things men do to us..." Hylla closes her eyes, looking upset.
"Don't cry, Lala!" I say, holding her hand. "Circe keeps us safe."
Hylla smiles and looks at me. "I'm not crying, kiddo," she says. "I know Circe keeps us safe. I'm just glad you won't have to face the things Circe showed me."
I'm close to eight years old now. Mascara is no longer a mystery to me. Neither are skin cleansers, foundation, hair products, nail polish, eyeshadow, eyeliner, and lipstick. I'm a true attendant now. I help the older attendants to give our (female) spa guests manicures, pedicures, facials, and makeovers. Without exception, they always ooh and aah at how cute I am.
I always giggle at their compliments. I'm still innocent - for now. And I still feel a tiny bit bad whenever I have to feed our male spa guests - the guinea pigs. After all, they're resigned to nasty pellets, while we eat gourmet meals. Aren't they humans like us, even if they've been transfigured into animals? Don't they deserve at least a decent salad?
I am nine, like Hylla was when Circe told her the truth about men.
She shows the same truth to me.
My innocence is gone.
But it's for the best. I now know that men cannot be trusted, and knowledge is power. Circe is only protecting me by giving me that knowledge.
That doesn't stop me from running into Hylla's arms that night. "Men... Boys... They all..." I sob into her shirt.
"I know, Reyna, I know," Hylla says softly, rocking me back and forth. "Don't worry. This island keeps us safe."
Eventually, I dry my tears and look at Hylla solemnly. "I will never trust a man," I tell her. "Not after what Circe showed me."
I only wish I had kept that promise.
I am ten-and-a-half. Circe tells me that I have the makings of a first-class spa attendant, and that soon I may even be able to give spa treatments on my own, without help.
I always glow at her praise, but I don't giggle now. After being shown a glimpse of the real world, I'm not a little kid anymore.
And I don't mind feeding the guinea pigs now either. I don't even feel a tiny bit bad that they used to be humans. After all, the things that Circe showed me last year have proved to me that those men in that cage - Blackbeard and his pirates - well, Circe was being generous by letting them stay alive as guinea pigs. I would have tortured them for days... and then killed them. Maybe that's just my mom's blood - Bellona, Roman goddess of war; Circe told me when I was eight - speaking up again.
Still, I think Blackbeard should be grateful for Circe's kindness. He could be facing much worse now. The way he tries to bite me when I feed him convinces me that he doesn't feel the same way, though. The piggish pirate isn't even vaguely happy with his living conditions.
People filed by her cot at all hours of the day and night, in between her battles and theirs. Sometimes she was conscious enough to talk to them, and sometimes she was too delirious to know that they were there. But Gwen always made sure to let her know that they had visited - that they had cared.
Bobby. Dakota. Frank. Hazel. Countless other legionnaires. Leo. Percy. Will Solace, many times. Leo again, making her laugh even though she felt like crying. Hazel again, cheering her up with a funny story about Frank as a weasel. Even Annabeth, promising her that things were going well, and the gods really were helping now. They really had a chance.
But the one boy who once would have been at her bedside day and night, keeping her spirits high and her happiness higher... He never showed. Reyna knew that he was busy fighting - everyone was busy fighting - but that was no excuse. Percy had come to see her, and he was the hardest worker out of all of them. He acted like he had to fight just as well as he had during the Battle for Manhattan - never mind the fact that he no longer bore the mark of Achilles. Forget that he was still half-exhausted from his time in Tartarus. He didn't care that he hadn't slept in two days. He fought with a strength and intensity that surpassed everyone else (or so the others told her, since he was far too modest to admit it himself). But even he had said hello on his only break - the break that had lasted less than an hour.
No, Jason Grace had no excuse. Other than that he was a coward.