The house of hades, p.34
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       The House of Hades, p.34
 

         Part #4 of The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
Page 34

 

  “Favonius,” Jason realized. “God of the West Wind. ”

  Favonius smiled and bowed, obviously pleased to be recognized. “You can call me by my Roman name, certainly, or Zephyros, if you’re Greek. I’m not hung up about it. ”

  Nico looked pretty hung up about it. “Why aren’t your Greek and Roman sides in conflict, like the other gods?”

  “Oh, I have the occasional headache. ” Favonius shrugged. “Some mornings I’ll wake up in a Greek chiton when I’m sure I went to sleep in my SPQR pajamas. But mostly the war doesn’t bother me. I’m a minor god, you know—never really been much in the limelight. The to-and-fro battles among you demigods don’t affect me as greatly. ”

  “So…” Jason wasn’t quite sure whether to sheathe his sword. “What are you doing here?”

  “Several things!” Favonius said. “Hanging out with my basket of fruit. I always carry a basket of fruit. Would you like a pear?”

  “I’m good. Thanks. ”

  “Let’s see…earlier I was eating ice cream. Right now I’m tossing this quoit ring. ” Favonius spun the bronze hoop on his index finger.

  Jason had no idea what a quoit was, but he tried to stay focused. “I mean why did you appear to us? Why did you lead us to this cellar?”

  “Oh!” Favonius nodded. “The sarcophagus of Diocletian. Yes. This was its final resting place. The Christians moved it out of the mausoleum. Then some barbarians destroyed the coffin. I just wanted to show you”—he spread his hands sadly—“that what you’re looking for isn’t here. My master has taken it. ”

  “Your master?” Jason had a flashback to a floating palace above Pikes Peak in Colorado, where he’d visited (and barely survived) the studio of a crazy weatherman who claimed he was the god of all the winds. “Please tell me your master isn’t Aeolus. ”

  “That airhead?” Favonius snorted. “No, of course not. ”

  “He means Eros. ” Nico’s voice turned edgy. “Cupid, in Latin. ”

  Favonius smiled. “Very good, Nico di Angelo. I’m glad to see you again, by the way. It’s been a long time. ”

  Nico knit his eyebrows. “I’ve never met you. ”

  “You’ve never seen me,” the god corrected. “But I’ve been watching you. When you came here as a small boy, and several times since. I knew eventually you would return to look upon my master’s face. ”

  Nico turned even paler than usual. His eyes darted around the cavernous room as if he was starting to feel trapped.

  “Nico?” Jason said. “What’s he talking about?”

  “I don’t know. Nothing. ”

  “Nothing?” Favonius cried. “The one you care for most…plunged into Tartarus, and still you will not allow the truth?”

  Suddenly Jason felt like he was eavesdropping.

  The one you care for most.

  He remembered what Piper had told him about Nico’s crush on Annabeth. Apparently Nico’s feelings went way deeper than a simple crush.

  “We’ve only come for Diocletian’s scepter,” Nico said, clearly anxious to change the subject. “Where is it?”

  “Ah…” Favonius nodded sadly. “You thought it would be as easy as facing Diocletian’s ghost? I’m afraid not, Nico. Your trials will be much more difficult. You know, long before this was Diocletian’s Palace, it was the gateway to my master’s court. I’ve dwelt here for eons, bringing those who sought love into the presence of Cupid. ”

  Jason didn’t like the mention of difficult trials. He didn’t trust this weird god with the hoop and the wings and the basket of fruit. But an old story surfaced in his mind—something he’d heard at Camp Jupiter. “Like Psyche, Cupid’s wife. You carried her to his palace. ”

  Favonius’s eyes twinkled. “Very good, Jason Grace. From this exact spot, I carried Psyche on the winds and brought her to the chambers of my master. In fact, that is why Diocletian built his palace here. This place has always been graced by the gentle West Wind. ” He spread his arms. “It is a spot of tranquility and love in a turbulent world. When Diocletian’s Palace was ransacked—”

  “You took the scepter,” Jason guessed.

  “For safekeeping,” Favonius agreed. “It is one of Cupid’s many treasures, a reminder of better times. If you want it…” Favonius turned to Nico. “You must face the god of love. ”

  Nico stared at the sunlight coming through the windows, as if wishing he could escape through those narrow openings.

  Jason wasn’t sure what Favonius wanted, but if facing the god of love meant forcing Nico into some sort of confession about which girl he liked, that didn’t seem so bad.

  “Nico, you can do this,” Jason said. “It might be embarrassing, but it’s for the scepter. ”

  Nico didn’t look convinced. In fact he looked like he was going to be sick. But he squared his shoulders and nodded. “You’re right. I—I’m not afraid of a love god. ”

  Favonius beamed. “Excellent! Would you like a snack before you go?” He plucked a green apple from his basket and frowned at it. “Oh, bluster. I keep forgetting my symbol is a basket of unripe fruit. Why doesn’t the spring wind get more credit? Summer has all the fun. ”

  “That’s okay,” Nico said quickly. “Just take us to Cupid. ”

  Favonius spun the hoop on his finger, and Jason’s body dissolved into air.

  JASON HAD RIDDEN THE WIND MANY TIMES. Being the wind was not the same.

  He felt out of control, his thoughts scattered, no boundaries between his body and the rest of the world. He wondered if this was how monsters felt when they were defeated—bursting into dust, helpless and formless.

  Jason could sense Nico’s presence nearby. The West Wind carried them into the sky above Split. Together they raced over the hills, past Roman aqueducts, highways, and vineyards. As they approached the mountains, Jason saw the ruins of a Roman town spread out in a valley below—crumbling walls, square foundations, and cracked roads, all overgrown with grass—so it looked like a giant, mossy game board.

  Favonius set them down in the middle of the ruins, next to a broken column the size of a redwood.

  Jason’s body re-formed. For a moment it felt even worse than being the wind, like he’d suddenly been wrapped in a lead overcoat.

  “Yes, mortal bodies are terribly bulky,” Favonius said, as if reading his thoughts. The wind god settled on a nearby wall with his basket of fruit and spread his russet wings in the sun. “Honestly, I don’t know how you stand it, day in and day out. ”

  Jason scanned their surroundings. The town must have been huge once. He could make out the shells of temples and bathhouses, a half-buried amphitheater, and empty pedestals that must have once held statues. Rows of columns marched off to nowhere. The old city walls wove in and out of the hillside like stone thread through a green cloth.

  Some areas looked like they’d been excavated, but most of the city just seemed abandoned, as if it had been left to the elements for the last two thousand years.

  “Welcome to Salona,” Favonius said. “Capital of Dalmatia! Birthplace of Diocletian! But before that, long before that, it was the home of Cupid. ”

  The name echoed, as if voices were whispering it through the ruins.

  Something about this place seemed even creepier than the palace basement in Split. Jason had never thought much about Cupid. He’d certainly never thought of Cupid as scary. Even for Roman demigods, the name conjured up an image of a silly winged baby with a toy bow and arrow, flying around in his diapers on Valentine’s Day.

  “Oh, he’s not like that,” said Favonius.

  Jason flinched. “You can read my mind?”

  “I don’t need to. ” Favonius tossed his bronze hoop in the air. “Everyone has the wrong impression of Cupid…until they meet him. ”

  Nico braced himself against a column, his legs trembling visibly.

  “Hey, man…” Jason stepped toward him, but Nico waved him off.

  At Nico’s feet, the gra
ss turned brown and wilted. The dead patch spread outward, as if poison were seeping from the soles of his shoes.

  “Ah…” Favonius nodded sympathetically. “I don’t blame you for being nervous, Nico di Angelo. Do you know how I ended up serving Cupid?”

  “I don’t serve anyone,” Nico muttered. “Especially not Cupid. ”

  Favonius continued as if he hadn’t heard. “I fell in love with a mortal named Hyacinthus. He was quite extraordinary. ”

  “He…?” Jason’s brain was still fuzzy from his wind trip, so it took him a second to process that. “Oh…”

  “Yes, Jason Grace. ” Favonius arched an eyebrow. “I fell in love with a dude. Does that shock you?”

  Honestly, Jason wasn’t sure. He tried not to think about the details of godly love lives, no matter who they fell in love with. After all, his dad, Jupiter, wasn’t exactly a model of good behavior. Compared to some of the Olympian love scandals he’d heard about, the West Wind falling in love with a mortal guy didn’t seem very shocking. “I guess not. So…Cupid struck you with his arrow, and you fell in love. ”

  Favonius snorted. “You make it sound so simple. Alas, love is never simple. You see, the god Apollo also liked Hyacinthus. He claimed they were just friends. I don’t know. But one day I came across them together, playing a game of quoits—”

  There was that weird word again. “Quoits?”

  “A game with those hoops,” Nico explained, though his voice was brittle. “Like horseshoes. ”

  “Sort of,” Favonius said. “At any rate, I was jealous. Instead of confronting them and finding out the truth, I shifted the wind and sent a heavy metal ring right at Hyacinthus’s head and…well. ” The wind god sighed. “As Hyacinthus died, Apollo turned him into a flower, the hyacinth. I’m sure Apollo would’ve taken horrible vengeance on me, but Cupid offered me his protection. I’d done a terrible thing, but I’d been driven mad by love, so he spared me, on the condition that I work for him forever. ”

  CUPID.

  The name echoed through the ruins again.

  “That would be my cue. ” Favonius stood. “Think long and hard about how you proceed, Nico di Angelo. You cannot lie to Cupid. If you let your anger rule you…well, your fate will be even sadder than mine. ”

  Jason felt like his brain was turning back into wind. He didn’t understand what Favonius was talking about, or why Nico seemed so shaken, but he had no time to think about it. The wind god disappeared in a swirl of red and gold. The summer air suddenly felt oppressive. The ground shook, and Jason and Nico drew their swords.

  So.

  The voice rushed past Jason’s ear like a bullet. When he turned, no one was there.

  You come to claim the scepter.

  Nico stood at his back, and for once Jason was glad to have the guy’s company.

 
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