Chapter no 15

The Sun and the Star

Screech-Bling summoned one of the younger trogs, hissed and clicked some instructions to them and sent them off on an errand. Then he looked up at Nico.‌

‘Follow me,’ he said.

He led the way – very badly, Nico thought, since he didn’t seem to care if Nico and Will kept pace with him – back into the main cavern, then through a series of side tunnels. They passed a row of sleeping quarters where younger trogs were napping on beds of woven bioluminescent moss.

‘You know, before this trip,’ said Will, struggling to keep up, ‘I didn’t know if the troglodytes slept at all, since there’s no day or night underground.’

‘We all must eventually!’ Screech-Bling called out. ‘We are not so different from you, son of Apollo.’

Nico caught a glimpse of Will’s face as they scurried along, and he was sure it was a little redder.

Screech-Bling cut a sharp right into a small circular room dominated by a round conference table. Three other troglodytes were already there, milling about anxiously. As soon as Will and Nico passed through the entrance, a fourth trog – wearing a thick parka and at least three separate beanies

stacked atop one another – pushed a large boulder across the doorway with her shoulder, sealing them all in.

Will raised an eyebrow. ‘Screech-Bling, what is this?’

‘This is our council,’ said the female troglodyte. ‘And I am Howl-Smith, its leader.’ She bowed.

The others introduced themselves as well. There was Clack-Jones, who wore a Stetson on top of a baseball cap, then Shriek-Vibes, who

appropriately wore an orange bucket hat with a jack-o’-lantern on it. The fifth member of the council was a scrawny troglodyte named Hiss-Majesty.

Their name was absolutely the greatest Nico had ever heard, but he was surprised that they were not wearing a hat at all.

Nico pointed to the trog’s bare head. ‘Missing something?’

Hiss-Majesty turned away. ‘I am sensitive about it,’ they said. ‘I – I have not found the right hat for me.’

Screech-Bling patted them on the shoulder. ‘In time, Hiss-Majesty.’

Hiss-Majesty sniffled, then glanced at Nico. ‘Thank you for helping us find a new home.’

‘Indeed!’ said Howl-Smith loudly.

‘It is perfect for us,’ agreed Shriek-Vibes. ‘I am confused, though. Why have we called this council meeting?’

Screech-Bling raised his hands. ‘I called this meeting at the request of our demigod friend Nico di Angelo! He has important information to share. About the changey smell.’

The other council members muttered apprehensively, then took their places around the table. Nico and Will were seated to the left of Howl-Smith.

‘Speak, Nico di Angelo,’ Howl-Smith said. ‘Though our new headquarters is located where few could ever find us, we are still in the

Underworld, where many creatures, monsters and spirits could prey on us. We must always be vigilant! If you know the source of the change we have smelled, you must share!’

Nico swallowed his nerves. ‘It’s a theory,’ he said, ‘but I think I’m right.

I believe what you are sensing … who you are sensing, is Nyx.’

At the utterance of her name, the troglodytes let loose a frenzy of clicks and clacks, hisses and shrieks, snarls and pops.

‘Wait,’ Will murmured to him. ‘Are you talking about … the goddess of night? That Nyx?’

Before Nico could answer, Howl-Smith whistled for the group’s silence. ‘If true, this is most serious, Nico di Angelo.’ She glanced at Will. ‘As for your question, son of Apollo, Nyx is no mere god. She is a protogenos.’

Will looked nervous, like he’d been caught in a pop quiz. ‘Um, I feel like I should know that word, but remind me again?’

‘A protogenos,’ said Nico. ‘A primordial goddess, born before the Olympian gods or even the Titans.’

‘They are the constants of our existence,’ added Shriek-Vibes. ‘The fundamental powers of the cosmos!’ Hiss-Majesty said. ‘They are really awful!’ said Clack-Jones.

‘And we’ve actually already met one,’ Nico reminded Will. ‘Gaia.’ Will frowned. ‘Oh, great. So we’re dealing with Gaia two-point-oh?’ ‘Well, no …’ said Nico.

A spark of hope kindled in Will’s eyes, which was why Nico hated what he had to say next.

‘I think Nyx may be worse,’ he grumbled.

Will’s mouth dropped open. ‘Worse? How is that even possible?’ ‘She is the goddess of pure darkness,’ said Howl-Smith.

‘Mother of hellhounds,’ added Clack Jones. ‘And demons.’ ‘And … I’ve met her,’ said Nico.

‘When?’ Will asked sharply.

Nico watched him come to the realization that there were still things …

big things … that Nico had never shared, and dread filled his own heart. ‘I never told you,’ he admitted, his voice soft. ‘I never told anyone. Not

Chiron, not Mr D, not Percy or Annabeth, or …’ He couldn’t bring himself to add Jason’s name – not so close to the land of the dead.

He felt the gaze of the troglodytes as they watched him in anticipation.

But it was Will he focused on. Nico was used to people looking at him with a mixture of sadness, awe and maybe a touch of pity in their eyes.

How could he blame them? There was such a relentless darkness to Nico’s story. But Will didn’t look at him like that … He looked hurt, and that was worse.

‘I just couldn’t talk about it,’ Nico said. ‘I … tried to tell people the minimum about what happened to me in Tartarus. I only hinted at what actually happened down there, kind of hoping no one would ever ask me for more.’

And they hadn’t, Nico thought.

Even his closest friends had respected his silence … or maybe they were just too terrified of learning the details.

Will’s expression softened. He ran his fingers through Nico’s hair. ‘I get it. You don’t have to tell me. You’re the only one who can decide whether

talking about it will help. And if it won’t, I don’t want to re-traumatize you.’

Nico marvelled how Will could shift from being hurt to being a caregiver so quickly. He was like one of those dent-resistant cars that just popped back into their original shape no matter how bad the fender bender.

Nico wanted to believe that he could choose not to share. He wanted to disappear into Will’s light and warmth, to purge the memory that was

awakening in him.

But he shook his head. ‘No, Will, I think I need to tell you this.’

Nico wiped his face, annoyed that it was already wet with tears. He faced the trog council.

‘You all need to hear what really happened to me the last time I was in Tartarus.’

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