Chapter no 11

The Sun and the Star

When he came to, Nico wondered if he’d passed out from exhaustion.‌

He was back at the bottom of the stone stairwell, his cheek pressed against the rough, rocky floor of the cavern. His body was sore all over, so he stayed still for a moment, trying to get his bearings. He’d fallen asleep, hadn’t he? The endless repetition of walking down the steps behind the Door of Orpheus must have drained him of his energy.

This was unlike him, though. Nico generally had trouble falling asleep, unless he had shadow-travelled a long distance. The memory of the gigantic Athena Parthenos statue flashed in his mind, and he shuddered. That

summer had involved a lot of sudden, long-lasting naps in order to manage transporting the Parthenos via shadow-travel halfway around the world.

But this was different. His mind was even more tired than his body, which didn’t make any sense. He couldn’t seem to string his thoughts

together. He had a vague feeling that something was wrong, but he couldn’t identify what or why. He blinked a couple of times, his eyes adjusting to the dim light of the Underworld, and that’s when he saw the shadow.

A dark mass flickered in the near distance, swaying back and forth.

Nico’s heart began to thump so loudly he worried that this thing would hear it.

Appendages of some sort swirled and twisted about its body. It moved unnaturally, quavering and jerky, and Nico remained as still as he could. Maybe it thought he was dead; he certainly wasn’t going to give it another idea. But where was …?

He shifted his head just a bit, his breath even and slow, and his gaze fell upon …


Nico’s pulse quickened. He would have recognized that bushy blond hair anywhere. Will was splayed on the ground about six metres away,

completely still aside from the gentle rise and fall of his back as he breathed.

And that shadowy thing was looming above him, its appendages – almost like tentacles – swaying over Will’s body as if casting some kind of spell. ‘Sleep, demigod,’ it said in a slimy, slippery voice.

Nico acted without thinking. He pushed himself up with one hand, and with the other he drew his sword.

‘Get away from him,’ said Nico.

His dark blade glowed fiercely as he held it towards the monster, pointing the tip towards … well, this creature only had the vaguest shape of a body,

so Nico just guessed where its head might be. For all Nico knew, he was targeting one of the being’s armpits.

Nico probably didn’t look all that threatening anyway.

The creature shifted towards him, pulling in all its appendages. As it did so, the darkness encasing it drifted away like birthday-candle smoke, leaving something behind. A vaguely humanoid shape with arms, legs, a

chest, a head (which was in the place Nico had guessed) and …

A face. Beneath a black spiked helmet of Stygian iron was a visage as

shiny and slick as tree sap. Other details fell into place: half a dozen milky-white eyes, a chiselled V-shaped jaw and a triangular bone-like protrusion that might have been a beak or a nose. Their emaciated body was wrapped in inky, form-fitting cloth, and their appendages folded elegantly behind them so it looked like they were wearing a cape.

Nico didn’t want to tell the creature that they were supercool, but … They were supercool.

‘Nico di Angelo,’ they said, and their words seemed to slither under his skin. ‘Finally, you might put up the kind of struggle I was expecting.’

‘I’ll do more than that.’ Nico jabbed his blade towards the creature, though it was hard to look intimidating when he was propped up on one arm and his legs felt like wet sandbags. ‘What have you done to Will?’

The creature smiled – at least Nico assumed that’s what the jagged line of pointy black teeth indicated. ‘I only pushed him towards what he wanted.

His mind did the rest.’

‘What he wanted?’ Nico’s stomach twisted. ‘If you hurt him, I swear … Who even are you?’

The creature’s smile shrivelled and died. ‘Who am I?’

‘Well … yeah. I don’t recognize you. Do you work for my father?’ ‘As if!’ the creature roared. ‘Ew, why would I ever do that?’

‘I don’t know. You’re down here, you aren’t in Tartarus, and I’ve never seen you or your kind before. You haven’t exactly given me a lot to go on.’

‘Honestly, I’m offended,’ they said. ‘I know who you are. Do you not do your own research into demons?’

‘I – What? Research?’

The demon dropped and sat cross-legged in front of Nico. ‘It’s ludicrous,’ they said. ‘Just ludicrous. Here we are, roaming the Underworld, sending our choicest monsters and spirits back to the upper world to give you demigods something to do, and you can’t even muster up the slightest bit of interest in who we are?’

Nico blinked. ‘I’m so lost,’ he said. ‘Should I recognize you?’

‘I would hope so!’ The demon threw their hands up in despair. ‘I visit you all the time.’

‘No, you don’t!’

‘I just did!’ they hissed.

Nico lowered his sword. Just visited him?

The answer came to him suddenly, and it was so obvious.

‘The time loop on the stairs,’ Nico said. ‘None of that happened. That was you.’

‘Well, duh,’ said the demon. ‘I mean, your brain and your body probably

thought it was real, but nope.’

Nico glanced at Will, still passed out cold. If his boyfriend was trapped in a dream, then … Not great, but at least fixable, if Nico could figure out how. Maybe Will would wake up on his own if Nico could just keep the demon’s attention away from him.

‘I’m impressed,’ Nico told them. ‘I’m usually really good at knowing when I’m in a dream.’

At this, the demon puffed up with pride. ‘Well, I do good work,’ they said. ‘But sometimes it would be nice to get a little acknowledgement.’

Nico had an idea. Slowly, he sheathed his sword and sat upright. This was the Underworld. He had more weapons at his command than just a

blade, if he could only gather enough strength …

‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘That’s on me. You did a wonderful job. You had me believing everything.’

To Nico’s great shock, the demon appeared to blush, the dark skin on their face turning red. They waved a tentacle dismissively. ‘Aw, thank you! You have no idea how much it means to hear that.’

‘So, could you tell me your name? Obviously, I need to correct this oversight in my research.’

The demon’s appendages fluttered behind them in what Nico could only interpret as a happy dance. ‘Well, my mother always wanted to go for the dramatic, so she decided on Epiales.’


The demon frowned. ‘No. Epiales.’

‘Ah. Sorry. It’s just … I once knew a giant by the name of Ephialtes.

Terrible guy. Your name is so similar.’

‘It’s hardly similar!’ said Epiales, back to being offended again. ‘There are two whole letters added to it!’

‘My bad! I promise to get it correct.’

Nico placed his right hand on the ground. He would need to be very delicate if he was going to pull this off without Epiales noticing. He dug his fingers into the dirt, carefully sending his consciousness downward … looking for bones.

‘So, earlier, you said we,’ Nico continued, trying to split his attention. ‘How many demons like you are there?’

Epiales crossed their arms over their chest. ‘Oh, let’s see … to count just my own siblings would take more appendages than I have, but demons, total?’

Nico leaned forward. ‘Yes?’

Epiales leaned forward, too. ‘If I had to hazard a guess, probably ten thousand.’

‘Ten thousand.’ ‘Indeed.’

‘And you’re all down here … What did you say? Roaming the Underworld?’

‘Not all of us,’ they said. ‘Every so often, a few of us get lucky and are sent topside to wreak havoc for a while … at least until one of you demigods sends us right back down. Then it’s back to centuries of

busywork, cataloguing monsters, filling out performance reviews, waiting for our next chance.’

‘Sounds exhausting,’ Nico said, leaning back. He dug his left hand into the dirt, his mind searching the ground for – There. A nice cluster of dormant skeletons, just waiting to be weaponized.

‘You have no idea,’ said Epiales. ‘You demigods are always so sneaky.’ ‘Not always.’ Nico pushed downward with his power, willing those

skeletons to rise …

… when two of Epiales’s appendages shot forward and wrapped around Nico’s wrists. They yanked him towards the demon, making him cry out in pain.

‘Yes, ALWAYS!’ the demon shrieked. ‘Did you believe you could fool me? You truly don’t know me, Nico di Angelo!’

More tentacles wrapped around Nico, holding him fast against the demon. Their breath smelled like dry rotted leather. Nico jerked back hard, but Epiales held him tight.

‘What do you want from me?’ Nico screamed.

‘I just want you to sleep,’ the demon said gently. ‘Don’t you want that, too?’

Suddenly Nico’s eyes felt heavy. ‘No!’ he said. ‘I don’t want to go to sleep.’


Both Nico and Epiales turned their heads.

Will was sitting upright, his eyes wide. ‘What’s going on? Who is this guy?’

‘Um, excuse me!’ said Epiales, their body pluming angry black smoke. ‘I am not a guy!’

Will gulped. ‘Oh, sorry.’

‘Like, do you think that demonkind, in all our glory, would stick to the completely archaic notion of there being only two genders?’

‘Not at all.’ Nico shot Will a look that hopefully said Stay calm, though it might actually have said Help! ‘I mean … how boring would that be?’

Epiales smiled. ‘You understand me, Nico! You might not know me, but you see me, don’t you?’

‘I promise it won’t happen again,’ said Will, nodding. ‘Just let my boyfriend go.’

‘Oh, he’s not going anywhere,’ said Epiales. ‘And neither are you, demigod!’

Will, still groggy from his slumber, was unable to dart out of the way before the demon’s shadowy appendages shot out and held him in place, too.

‘Will!’ Nico cried out. ‘Leave him alone, Epiales!’

‘You are both right where you are supposed to be!’ the demon said giddily. ‘Oh, Mother will be so proud! I am Epiales, the demon of nightmares, and you two will never wake up again!’

As more appendages wrapped around both boys, smoke billowed from the demon’s body, stinging Nico’s eyes and filling his lungs. Nico thrashed in the demon’s clutches, but it was no use. Epiales blasted him with their powers, and Nico gave in to the darkness.

You'll Also Like