Boreas considered this. Jason slipped his hand in his pocket and got ready to bring out the gold coin. If things went wrong, he’d have to move fast.
The movement caught Boreas’s eye. “What is that on your forearm, demigod?”
Jason hadn’t realized his coat sleeve had gotten pushed up, revealing the edge of his tattoo. Reluctantly, he showed Boreas his marks.
The god’s eyes widened. Khione actually hissed and stepped away.
Then Boreas did something unexpected. He laughed so loudly, an icicle cracked from the ceiling and crashed next to his throne. The god’s form began to flicker. His beard disappeared. He grew taller and thinner, and his clothes changed into a Roman toga, lined with purple. His head was crowned with a frosty laurel wreath, and a gladius—a Roman sword like Jason’s—hung at his side.
“Aquilon,” Jason said, though where he got the god’s Roman name from, he had no idea.
The god inclined his head. “You recognize me better in this form, yes? And yet you said you came from Camp Half-Blood?”
Jason shifted his feet. “Uh … yes, Your Majesty.”
“And Hera sent you there…” The winter god’s eyes were full of mirth. “I understand now. Oh, she plays a dangerous game. Bold, but dangerous! No wonder Olympus is closed. They must be trembling at the gamble she has taken.”
“Jason,” Piper said nervously, “why did Boreas change shape? The toga, the wreath. What’s going on?”
“It’s his Roman form,” Jason said. “But what’s going on—I don’t know.”
The god laughed. “No, I’m sure you don’t. This should be very interesting to watch.”
“Does that mean you’ll let us go?” Piper asked.
“My dear,” Boreas said, “there is no reason for me to kill you. If Hera’s plan fails, which I think it will, you will tear each other apart. Aeolus will never have to worry about demigods again.”
Jason felt as if Khione’s cold fingers were on his neck again, but it wasn’t her—it was just the feeling that Boreas was right. That sense of wrongness which had bothered Jason since he got to Camp Half-Blood, and Chiron’s comment about his arrival being disastrous—Boreas knew what they meant.
“I don’t suppose you could explain?” Jason asked.
“Oh, perish the thought! It is not for me to interfere in Hera’s plan. No wonder she took your memory.” Boreas chuckled, apparently still having a great time imagining demigods tearing each other apart. “You know, I have a reputation as a helpful wind god. Unlike my brethren, I’ve been known to fall in love with mortals. Why, my sons Zethes and Calais started as demigods—”
“Which explains why they are idiots,” Khione growled.
“Stop it!” Zethes snapped back. “Just because you were born a full goddess—”
“Both of you, freeze,” Boreas ordered. Apparently, that word carried a lot of weight in the household, because the two siblings went absolutely still. “Now, as I was saying, I have a good reputation, but it is rare that Boreas plays an important role in the affairs of gods. I sit here in my palace, at the edge of civilization, and so rarely have amusements. Why, even that fool Notus, the South Wind, gets spring break in Cancún. What do I get? A winter festival with naked Québécois rolling around in the snow!”
“I like the winter festival,” Zethes muttered.
“My point,” Boreas snapped, “is that I now have a chance to be the center. Oh, yes, I will let you go on this quest. You will find your storm spirits in the windy city, of course. Chicago—”
“Father!” Khione protested.
Boreas ignored his daughter. “If you can capture the winds, you may be able to gain safe entrance to the court of Aeolus. If by some miracle you succeed, be sure to tell him you captured the winds on my orders.”
“Okay, sure,” Jason said. “So Chicago is where we’ll find this lady who’s controlling the winds? She’s the one who’s trapped Hera?”
“Ah.” Boreas grinned. “Those are two different questions, son of Jupiter.”
Jupiter, Jason noticed. Before, he called me son of Zeus.
“The one who controls the winds,” Boreas continued, “yes, you will find her in Chicago. But she is only a servant—a servant who is very likely to destroy you. If you succeed against her and take the winds, then you may go to Aeolus. Only he has knowledge of all the winds on the earth. All secrets come to his fortress eventually. If anyone can tell you where Hera is imprisoned, it is Aeolus. As for who you will meet when you finally find Hera’s cage—truly, if I told you that, you would beg me to freeze you.”
“Father,” Khione protested, “you can’t simply let them—”
“I can do what I like,” he said, his voice hardening. “I am still master here, am I not?”
The way Boreas glared at his daughter, it was obvious they had some ongoing argument. Khione’s eyes flashed with anger, but she clenched her teeth. “As you wish, Father.”
“Now go, demigods,” Boreas said, “before I change my mind. Zethes, escort them out safely.”
They all bowed, and the god of the North Wind dissolved into mist.
Back in the entry hall, Cal and Leo were waiting for them. Leo looked cold but unharmed. He’d even gotten cleaned up, and his clothes looked newly washed, like he’d used the hotel’s valet service. Festus the dragon was back in normal form, snorting fire over his scales to keep himself defrosted.
As Khione led them down the stairs, Jason noticed that Leo’s eyes followed her. Leo started combing his hair back with his hands. Uh-oh, Jason thought. He made a mental note to warn Leo about the snow goddess later. She was not someone to get a crush on.
At the bottom step, Khione turned to Piper. “You have fooled my father, girl. But you have not fooled me. We are not done. And you, Jason Grace, I will see you as a statue in the throne room soon enough.”
“Boreas is right,” Jason said. “You’re a spoiled kid. See you around, ice princess.”
Khione’s eyes flared pure white. For once, she seemed at a loss for words. She stormed back up the stairs—literally. Halfway up, she turned into a blizzard and disappeared.
“Be careful,” Zethes warned. “She never forgets an insult.”
Cal grunted in agreement. “Bad sister.”
“She’s the goddess of snow,” Jason said. “What’s she going to do, throw snowballs at us?” But as he said it, Jason had a feeling Khione could do a whole lot worse.
Leo looked devastated. “What happened up there? You made her mad? Is she mad at me too? Guys, that was my prom date!”
“We’ll explain later,” Piper promised, but when she glanced at Jason, he realized she expected him to explain.
What had happened up there? Jason wasn’t sure. Boreas had turned into Aquilon, his Roman form, as if Jason’s presence caused him to go schizophrenic.
The idea that Jason had been sent to Camp Half-Blood seemed to amuse the god, but Boreas/Aquilon hadn’t let them go out of kindness. Cruel excitement had danced in his eyes, as if he’d just placed a bet on a dogfight.
You will tear each other apart, he’d said with delight. Aeolus will never have to worry about demigods again.
Jason looked away from Piper, trying not to show how unnerved he was. “Yeah,” he agreed, “we’ll explain later.”
“Be careful, pretty girl,” Zethes said. “The winds between here and Chicago are bad-tempered. Many other evil things are stirring. I am sorry you will not be staying. You would make a lovely ice statue, in which I could check my reflection.”
“Thanks,” Piper said. “But I’d sooner play hockey with Cal.”
“Hockey?” Cal’s eyes lit up.
“Joking,” Piper said. “And the storm winds aren’t our worst problem, are they?”
“Oh, no,” Zethes agreed. “Something else. Something worse.”
“Worse,” Cal echoed.
“Can you tell me?” Piper gave them a smile.
This time, the charm didn’t work. The purple-winged Boreads shook their heads in unison. The hangar doors opened onto a freezing starry night, and Festus the dragon stomped his feet, anxious to fly.
“Ask Aeolus what is worse,” Zethes said darkly. “He knows. Good luck.”
He almost sounded like he cared what happened to them, even though a few minutes ago he’d wanted to make Piper into an ice sculpture.
Cal patted Leo on the shoulder. “Don’t get destroyed,” he said, which was probably the longest sentence he’d ever attempted. “Next time—hockey. Pizza.”
“Come on, guys.” Jason stared out at the dark. He was anxious to get out of that cold penthouse, but he had a feeling it was the most hospitable place they’d see for a while. “Let’s go to Chicago and try not to get destroyed.”
PIPER DIDN’T RELAX UNTIL THE GLOW OF Quebec City faded behind them.
“You were amazing,” Jason told her.
The compliment should’ve made her day. But all she could think about was the trouble ahead. Evil things are stirring,Zethes had warned them. She knew that firsthand. The closer they got to the solstice, the less time Piper had to make her decision.
She told Jason in French: “If you knew the truth about me, you wouldn’t think I was so amazing.”
“What’d you say?” he asked.
“I said I only talked to Boreas. It wasn’t so amazing.”
She didn’t turn to look, but she imagined him smiling.
“Hey,” he said, “you saved me from joining Khione’s subzero hero collection. I owe you one.”
That was definitely the easy part, she thought. There was no way Piper would’ve let that ice witch keep Jason. What bothered Piper more was the way Boreas had changed form, and why he’d let them go. It had something to do with Jason’s past, those tattoos on his arm. Boreas assumed Jason was some sort of Roman, and Romans didn’t mix with Greeks. She kept waiting for Jason to offer an explanation, but he clearly didn’t want to talk about it.
Until now, Piper had been able to dismiss Jason’s feeling that he didn’t belong at Camp Half-Blood. Obviously he was a demigod. Of course he belonged. But now … what if he was something else? What if he really was an enemy? She couldn’t stand that idea any more than she could stand Khione.
Leo passed them some sandwiches from his pack. He’d been quiet ever since they’d told him what happened in the throne room. “I still can’t believe Khione,” he said. “She looked so nice.”
“Trust me, man,” Jason said. “Snow may be pretty, but up close it’s cold and nasty. We’ll find you a better prom date.”
Piper smiled, but Leo didn’t look pleased. He hadn’t said much about his time in the palace, or why the Boreads had singled him out for smelling like fire. Piper got the feeling he was hiding something. Whatever it was, his mood seemed to be affecting Festus, who grumbled and steamed as he tried to keep himself warm in the cold Canadian air. Happy the Dragon was not so happy.