The house of hades, p.52
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       The House of Hades, p.52

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
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Page 52

 

  The floor cracked between them. The crevice hissed. The air around Nico shimmered with spectral light.

  “Hiding?” Nico’s voice was deadly quiet.

  Jason’s fingers itched to draw his sword. He’d met plenty of scary demigods, but he was starting to realize that Nico di Angelo—as pale and gaunt as he looked—might be more than he could handle.

  Nevertheless, he held Nico’s gaze. “Yes, hiding. You’ve run away from both camps. You’re so afraid you’ll get rejected that you won’t even try. Maybe it’s time you come out of the shadows. ”

  Just when the tension became unbearable, Nico dropped his eyes. The fissure closed in the balcony floor. The ghostly light faded.

  “I’m going to honor my promise,” Nico said, not much louder than a whisper. “I’ll take you to Epirus. I’ll help you close the Doors of Death. Then that’s it. I’m leaving—forever. ”

  Behind them, the doors of the throne room blasted open with a gust of scorching air.

  A disembodied voice said: Lord Auster will see you now.

  As much as he dreaded this meeting, Jason felt relieved. At the moment, arguing with a crazy wind god seemed safer than befriending an angry son of Hades. He turned to tell Nico good-bye, but Nico had disappeared—melting back into the darkness.

  SO IT WAS A STORM DAY. Auster, the Roman version of the South Wind, was holding court.

  The two previous days, Jason had dealt with Notus. While the god’s Greek version was fiery and quick to anger, at least he was quick. Auster…well, not so much.

  White and red marble columns lined the throne room. The rough sandstone floor smoked under Jason’s shoes. Steam hung in the air, like the bathhouse back at Camp Jupiter, except bathhouses usually didn’t have thunderstorms crackling across the ceiling, lighting the room in disorienting flashes.

  Southern venti swirled through the hall in clouds of red dust and superheated air. Jason was careful to stay away from them. On his first day here, he’d accidentally brushed his hand through one. He’d gotten so many blisters, his fingers looked like tentacles.

  At the end of the room was the strangest throne Jason had ever seen—made of equal parts fire and water. The dais was a bonfire. Flames and smoke curled up to form a seat. The back of the chair was a churning storm cloud. The armrests sizzled where moisture met fire. It didn’t look very comfortable, but the god Auster lounged on it like he was ready for an easy afternoon of watching football.

  Standing up, he would have been about ten feet tall. A crown of steam wreathed his shaggy white hair. His beard was made of clouds, constantly popping with lightning and raining down on the god’s chest, soaking his sand-colored toga. Jason wondered if you could shave a thundercloud beard. He thought it might be annoying to rain on yourself all the time, but Auster didn’t seem to care. He reminded Jason of a soggy Santa Claus, but more lazy than jolly.

  “So…” The god’s voice rumbled like an oncoming front. “The son of Jupiter returns. ”

  Auster made it sound like Jason was late. Jason was tempted to remind the stupid wind god that he had spent hours outside every day waiting to be called, but he just bowed.

  “My lord,” he said. “Have you received any news of my friend?”

  “Friend?”

  “Leo Valdez. ” Jason tried to stay patient. “The one who was taken by the winds. ”

  “Oh…yes. Or rather, no. We have had no word. He was not taken by my winds. No doubt this was the work of Boreas or his spawn. ”

  “Uh, yes. We knew that. ”

  “That is the only reason I took you in, of course. ” Auster’s eyebrows rose into his wreath of steam. “Boreas must be opposed! The north winds must be driven back!”

  “Yes, my lord. But to oppose Boreas, we really need to get our ship out of the harbor. ”

  “Ship in the harbor!” The god leaned back and chuckled, rain pouring out of his beard. “You know the last time mortal ships came into my harbor? A king of Libya…Psyollos was his name. He blamed me for the scorching winds that burned his crops. Can you believe it?”

  Jason gritted his teeth. He’d learned that Auster couldn’t be rushed. In his rainy form, he was sluggish and warm and random.

  “And did you burn those crops, my lord?”

  “Of course!” Auster smiled good-naturedly. “But what did Psyollos expect, planting crops at the edge of the Sahara? The fool launched his entire fleet against me. He intended to destroy my stronghold so the south wind could never blow again. I destroyed his fleet, of course. ”

  “Of course. ”

  Auster narrowed his eyes. “You aren’t with Psyollos, are you?”

  “No, Lord Auster. I’m Jason Grace, son of—”

  “Jupiter! Yes, of course. I like sons of Jupiter. But why are you still in my harbor?”

  Jason suppressed a sigh. “We don’t have your permission to leave, my lord. Also, our ship is damaged. We need our mechanic, Leo Valdez, to repair the engine, unless you know of another way. ”

  “Hmm. ” Auster held up his fingers and let a dust devil swirl between them like a baton. “You know, people accuse me of being fickle. Some days I am the scorching wind, the destroyer of crops, the sirocco from Africa! Other days I am gentle, heralding the warm summer rains and cooling fogs of the southern Mediterranean. And in the off-season, I have a lovely place in Cancun! At any rate, in ancient times, mortals both feared me and loved me. For a god, unpredictability can be a strength. ”

  “Then you are truly strong,” Jason said.

  “Thank you! Yes! But the same is not true of demigods. ” Auster leaned forward, close enough so that Jason could smell rain-soaked fields and hot sandy beaches. “You remind me of my own children, Jason Grace. You have blown from place to place. You are undecided. You change day to day. If you could turn the wind sock, which way would it blow?”

  Sweat trickled between Jason’s shoulder blades. “Excuse me?”

  “You say you need a navigator. You need my permission. I say you need neither. It is time to choose a direction. A wind that blows aimlessly is of no use to anyone. ”

  “I don’t…I don’t understand. ”

  Even as he said it, he did understand. Nico had talked about not belonging anywhere. At least Nico was free of attachments. He could go wherever he chose.

  For months, Jason had been wrestling with the question of where he belonged. He’d always chafed against the traditions of Camp Jupiter, the power plays, the infighting. But Reyna was a good person. She needed his help. If he turned his back on her…someone like Octavian could take over and ruin everything Jason did love about New Rome. Could he be so selfish as to leave? The very idea crushed him with guilt.

  But in his heart, he wanted to be at Camp Half-Blood. The months he’d spent there with Piper and Leo had felt more satisfying, more right than all his years at Camp Jupiter. Besides, at Camp Half-Blood, there was at least a chance he might meet his father someday. The gods hardly ever stopped by Camp Jupiter to say hello.

  Jason took a shaky breath. “Yes. I know the direction I want to take. ”

  “Good! And?”

  “Uh, we still need a way to fix the ship. Is there—?”

  Auster raised an index finger. “Still expecting guidance from the wind lords? A son of Jupiter should know better. ”

  Jason hesitated. “We’re leaving, Lord Auster. Today. ”

  The wind god grinned and spread his hands. “At last, you announce your purpose! Then you have my permission to go, though you do not need it. And how will you sail without your engineer, without your engines fixed?”

  Jason felt the south winds zipping around him, whinnying in challenge like headstrong mustangs, testing his will.

  All week he had been waiting, hoping Auster would decide to help. For months he had worried about his obligations to Camp Jupiter, hoping his path would become clear. Now, he realized, he simply had to take what he wanted. He had to control the winds, not the
other way around.

  “You’re going to help us,” Jason said. “Your venti can take the form of horses. You’ll give us a team to pull the Argo II. They’ll lead us to wherever Leo is. ”

  “Wonderful!” Auster beamed, his beard flashing with electricity. “Now…can you make good on those bold words? Can you control what you ask for, or will you be torn apart?”

  The god clapped his hands. Winds swirled around his throne and took the form of horses. These weren’t dark and cold like Jason’s friend Tempest. The South Wind horses were made of fire, sand, and hot thunderstorm. Four of them raced past, their heat singeing the hair off Jason’s arms. They galloped around the marble columns, spitting flames, neighing with a sound like sandblasters. The more they ran, the wilder they became. They started to eye Jason.

  Auster stroked his rainy beard. “Do you know why the venti can appear as horses, my boy? Every so often, we wind gods travel the earth in equine form. On occasion, we’ve been known to sire the fastest of all horses. ”

  “Thanks,” Jason muttered, though his teeth were chattering with fear. “Too much information. ”

  One of the venti charged at Jason. He ducked aside, his clothes smoking from the close call.

  “Sometimes,” Auster continued cheerfully, “mortals recognize our divine blood. They will say, That horse runs like the wind. And for good reason. Like the fastest stallions, the venti are our children!”

  The wind horses began to circle Jason.

  “Like my friend Tempest,” he ventured.

  “Oh, well…” Auster scowled. “I fear that one is a child of Boreas. How you tamed him, I will never know. These are my own offspring, a fine team of southern winds. Control them, Jason Grace, and they will pull your ship from the harbor. ”

  Control them, Jason thought. Yeah, right.

  They ran back and forth, working up a frenzy. Like their master, the South Wind, they were conflicted—half hot, dry sirocco, half stormy thunderhead.

  I need speed, Jason thought. I need purpose.

  He envisioned Notus, the Greek version of the South Wind—blistering hot, but very fast.

  In that moment, he chose Greek. He threw in his lot with Camp Half-Blood—and the horses changed. The storm clouds inside burned away, leaving nothing but red dust and shimmering heat, like mirages on the Sahara.

  “Well done,” said the god.

  On the throne now sat Notus—a bronze-skinned old man in a fiery Greek chiton, his head crowned with a wreath of withered, smoking barley.

  “What are you waiting for?” the god prompted.

  Jason turned toward the fiery wind steeds. Suddenly he wasn’t afraid of them.

  He thrust out his hand. A swirl of dust shot toward the nearest horse. A lasso—a rope of wind, more tightly wound than any tornado—wrapped around the horse’s neck. The wind formed a halter and brought the beast to a stop.

  Jason summoned another wind rope. He lashed a second horse, binding it to his will. In less than a minute, he had tethered all four venti. He reined them in, still whinnying and bucking, but they couldn’t break Jason’s ropes. It felt like flying four kites in a strong wind—hard, yes, but not impossible.

 
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