Chapter no 18

The Sun and the Star

‘Excuse me!’ a voice called out. ‘Is there any way we could borrow that demigod?’‌

Nico forced himself not to pass out, even though he wanted to chase after unconsciousness. He tried to twist around to see who was

speaking, but he didn’t need to. Nyx promptly dropped him, and his back hit the ground, knocking the air clean out of him.

He turned his head to see two nearly identical giants – both four metres tall and with snakes where their feet should be, but otherwise much more like humans than he expected. They were dressed in identical tie-dyed overalls – who made overalls for giants?! – on top of white T-shirts. Both of them had their hair tied back in thick braids that glittered with coins, though the giant on the left had green hair and the one on the right had purple. Nico thought they looked like Tartarus versions of Pokémon trainers.

Nyx hissed. ‘Who do you think you are, barging in here? I am Nyx, the goddess of night!’

‘Oh, we know who you are,’ said the giant with purple hair. He pointed at his twin. ‘That’s Otis, and I’m the Big F.’

Otis made a face. ‘Dude, I don’t know about that stage name.’ ‘The Big F?’ said Hypnos. ‘What does the F stand for?’

The purple-haired giant put his hands on his hips and raised his chin proudly. ‘Ephialtes.’

Hypnos looked up at his mother, whose supernova eyes flickered as if she were short-circuiting.

‘Does it not make sense?’ said Ephialtes. ‘You know, because the way you say my name is –’

‘No, no, we understand,’ said Nyx.

‘Yeah,’ Hypnos said, ‘there’s certainly a logic to it, but …’ The giant looked down at Nico.

The demigod shrugged. ‘It could use some more thought.’

‘I told you to workshop it more,’ said Otis. ‘How are we supposed to get our big break if everyone thinks your name is ridiculous?’

‘Dude –’


‘Pardon me for interrupting this clown show,’ said Nyx, ‘but what are you two doing here?’

‘Right!’ said Ephialtes. ‘We’re here for the demigod.’

The air around Nyx turned several degrees colder. ‘Not now,’ she said. ‘He’s … occupied.’

‘Gaia wants him,’ said Otis.

Hypnos frowned at his mother, as if to say See, I told you she was trouble.

‘Gaia,’ Nyx repeated. ‘Yep,’ said Ephialtes.

‘For what possible reason?’

Ephialtes smiled from ear to ear. ‘Oh, we’re trying to trap the seven demigods from the prophecy.’

Nico pushed himself up on his elbows. ‘What?’

‘We’re gonna kidnap you and use you as bait,’ said Otis. ‘Then, when your friends come to rescue you, we’ll just wipe out everyone at once.’

‘It’s brilliant,’ said Ephialtes. ‘And it will definitely help us go viral!’

Nico looked at Nyx in panic. Then back at the giants. He thought about trying to make a break for it, but he was deep in Tartarus, surrounded by four immortals, with barely enough energy to stand. Maybe if he could goad them into fighting one another, he could sneak away …

‘I can see you plotting, Nico,’ said Nyx, her voice syrupy. ‘But there is no escape for you.’

‘I thought you resented Gaia.’ Nico turned to Hypnos. ‘You called her intolerable. Why do you take orders from her?’

Hypnos shook his head. ‘It’s pointless to try dividing us, demigod.’ ‘Does that mean we can have him now?’ asked Otis. ‘Gaia will reward

you for your cooperation, Nyx.’

Nyx didn’t frown, exactly, since she had no mouth, but Nico could sense displeasure in the darkening churn of her face. ‘I do not need rewards. And it is one thing for me to support my primordial sister’s awakening. It is

another thing for you to barge into my home and demand –’

Nico wasn’t going to wait around for the result of this negotiation. He

sprinted for the archway. Hypnos shouted. The giants cried out in alarm as Nico dived between Otis’s snake legs and came up running. He was almost to the exit when two new shapes closed ranks to block his path – horses

with bodies of pitch-black void just like Nyx, their disturbingly sharp silvery teeth gnashing at Nico. Giant vampire horses.

‘Nope!’ Nico cried, and veered into the woods.

The horses whinnied. The giants bellowed, ‘Get him!’ and ‘No, dude, you get him!’ but Nyx’s voice rose above the din.

‘Let him try,’ she said. ‘Go ahead, Nico di Angelo. Try your best to escape.’

Nico knew she was toying with him, but he didn’t have much of a choice.

He ran as fast as he could, following the perimeter of the garden. A dark wall hemmed it in – much too tall to climb, made of seething ash particles like the archway. Nico considered trying to shadow-travel through it, but even if he’d had the concentration and the energy, something told him

shadow-travel in Nyx’s sanctuary would be a very bad idea.

He kept running, his clothes snagging on briars and tree branches, until he stopped short, staring at a house that should not exist.

Nico had seen so many terrible things over the course of this journey through Tartarus, but this? This was what broke him.

The living house towered above him – its many gables and overlooks and bay windows shifting from one shape to another, each one like an eye, dilating, constricting, swivelling to focus on him. Nico could sense them inspecting him, peering deep into his soul. The black shutters snapped hungrily. The double doors yawned, inviting him in past bristling rows of black teeth.

He dropped to his knees. As the house shifted and shuddered, Nico realized what it was made of. Like the archway, like the garden wall, the house was constructed from black particles – but these particles weren’t dust or ash or stone as Nico had thought. Each and every speck was an insect. Billions of tiny wings, pincers, and stingers swarmed together,

somehow forming the shape of the mansion and not collapsing. Nico knew

deep in his heart that he should not be looking at this, that no one should be looking at this.

Suddenly he felt a cool hand under his chin. Nyx lifted Nico’s head and tenderly wiped the tears from his cheeks.

‘I told you there was no escape,’ she said gently, almost as if she pitied


‘What … What is this place?’ he asked. ‘The Mansion of Night. It is my home.’

Nico whimpered. ‘Why? Why design something so awful?’

‘You have seen nothing but the smallest part. You mortals have a phrase for that: the tip of the iceberg. It is the purest expression of who I am.’

He sobbed and shut his eyes, but he could still envision it in his mind. He imagined himself breaking down, crumbling into a billion swarming insects that would slowly be absorbed by that house.

‘Your filter has burned away,’ Nyx said softly. ‘Few demigods have ever entered Tartarus … Fewer still have seen my home. The Mist clings to you, trying to protect your sanity from the true appearance of things …’ She

caressed Nico’s face. ‘But now you can see it all, can’t you, child?’

‘Yes,’ he said, wishing it wasn’t true. Suddenly it didn’t seem like such a bad thing to be drawn into the black hole of Nyx’s gaze, to be crushed into nothingness by her gravitational pull. It might hurt less than seeing the

world like this: nothing but swarms of dark, ravenous bugs, pushed into whatever patterns pleased the goddess of night.

Nyx lowered herself until her head was level with Nico’s. ‘Good … I am going to give you over to the giants, because I believe in what Gaia is doing. But if there is any future in which you survive – in which you and your little demigod friends aren’t destroyed – then we will continue this

conversation, Nico di Angelo …’ She rose and spread her smoky wings to their full span. ‘I will make you choose your true nature. You won’t be able to escape it.’

Nico may have whimpered. He was too terrified to even be ashamed. Nyx turned to the giants. ‘Take him.’

Behind Otis and Ephialtes, the massive fanged stallions snorted and pawed the ground.

Nyx raised her hand. ‘Settle down, Shade, Shadow … There will be other flesh for you to devour.’

Hypnos took their reins and led them away, as Otis loomed over Nico. The giant’s huge hands wrapped around the demigod’s ribcage and lifted him from the ground, but Nico was too tired, too scared to resist.

‘Did you bring it?’ Otis asked his brother.

Ephialtes scoffed. ‘Of course I did. What kind of giant do you think I am?’

The Big F snapped his Big Fingers. An enormous bronze jar poofed into existence on the gravel path. As Ephialtes prised open the lid, Nico realized the jar was just the right size to fit … well, him.

‘Thanks for making this so easy, kid,’ Otis said, lifting him over the mouth of the jar. ‘I can’t promise this won’t hurt.’

‘Goodbye, Nico di Angelo,’ Nyx called. ‘You may not remember our meeting. Your tiny mind may crack under the strain of what you have seen. But if you somehow survive … it will be delicious to see what you become.’

Otis stuffed him inside the jar, and Nico’s hand closed around the pomegranate seeds that Nemesis had given him. Had she known this would happen?

Maybe she’d been part of the trap – the trap that would end them all.

The idea that his friends might try to rescue him brought him no comfort.

As Nico was sealed in the darkness of the bronze jar, only one thought persisted in his shattered mind:

I failed them all.

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