Chapter no 19

The Sun and the Star

After Nico finished his story, there was a long silence in the trogs’ council chamber.‌

Will stared at some faraway place as he absorbed what he had just heard. The trog councillors frowned at one another, as if wondering who would be brave enough to speak first.

Nico felt exposed and vulnerable. He had never planned to share what had happened to him after getting dragged to Tartarus; it was simply easier to bury it deep within his mind. And, in fact, there were parts of it he had forgotten, just as Nyx had warned him might happen. Maybe his mind had done that to keep himself safe, but as he recounted the story, it all came back in terrifying detail.

Maybe that whole PTSD thing had a lot more merit than he’d previously accepted.

He reached in his pocket. His trembling fingers touched the coin from Will. Usually, this gave him a reprieve from his grief and pain, if only temporarily, but this time it wasn’t enough. When the tears spilled and his body shook, Nico turned to Will and cried into his shoulder.

Nico wasn’t sure how long they stayed like that. He imagined Will

would’ve held him for an eternity if that’s what he’d needed. But after his initial burst of sorrow, Nico began to feel self-conscious, aware of the trogs waiting around the table. He pulled away and wiped his face.

‘Okay, okay,’ he said. ‘No more feeling sad. It is what it is.’

‘You’re allowed to have feelings, Nico,’ said Will. He was doing that concern thing again, where he knitted his eyebrows together. ‘What you went through … That was a lot.’

‘I have to move past it if we’re going to reach Bob.’

Screech-Bling scratched at his powdered wig. ‘So it is Nyx we have sensed? She has begun to stir?’

‘But why now?’ Howl-Smith gave Nico a resentful glance. ‘We just moved in!’

Hiss-Majesty clicked reproachfully at Howl-Smith. ‘It is not the son of Hades’s fault. He has always helped us!’

‘Yes,’ agreed Shriek-Vibes. ‘And I’m sure he will help us now – with answers, will he not?’

The trogs all looked at Nico, their large amphibian eyes full of anxiety. Nico wanted to help, but he feared his suspicions weren’t going to make them feel any better.

‘You think it’s all connected,’ Will guessed. ‘Nyx starting to stir. Our quest to find Bob. Because that’s what all this is leading to, isn’t it? You think she’s imprisoned him somehow. My question is why?’

Nico studied the rough stone tabletop. ‘I’m not sure you’re going to like my answer.’

‘Please try,’ said Will.

Nico took a deep breath. ‘I think … Nyx’s whole purpose in life is to shape things into their purest possible form – personifications of a single negative emotion, or feeling, or state of being. Look at her children, for example: Keres, the god of violent death. Geras, the god of old age. Eris, the god of strife. Nemesis, god of retribution. Akhlys, god of misery.’

‘Sounds like a real party,’ Will grumbled.

‘And we met another one earlier – Epiales, god of nightmares.’

‘This isn’t very comforting,’ Will said. ‘Epiales said their mother had ten thousand kids?’

‘It is a lot,’ Nico said. ‘There’s actually a funny word for what they are.’ ‘I’m ready,’ said Will. ‘Give it to me.’


He shook his head. ‘Yeah, I wasn’t ready for that.’

‘Cacodemons aren’t all bad,’ Nico continued. ‘If we had time, I’d introduce you to Charon, who works for my father. Technically, all hellhounds are Nyx’s children, too, so that would make Mrs O’Leary one. And I met Akhlys in a dream once.’

‘Sweet Apollo! That had to be a terrible nightmare.’

Nico grimaced. ‘Actually, she said she couldn’t do anything to me because I was already so full of sorrow.’

Will frowned at that. ‘So … thousands and thousands of cacodemons. I barely beat back Epiales with all the power I had. And we’re not even in Tartarus yet! If we have to wade through armies of Nyx’s children …’

‘We may have to face some of them,’ Nico admitted. ‘Or maybe we’ll find some like Nemesis who want to help us.’

Will raised his eyebrows. ‘None of this explains why Nyx is so interested in Bob … or in luring you to Tartarus.’

‘Or threatening the troglodytes’ new neighbourhood!’ said Howl-Smith, eliciting a fresh round of screeches, clicks and growls from the other

council members.

Nico thought about that horrible garden of darkness in Tartarus … that mansion made from insects. The idea of Nyx interfering with the trogs’ newfound happiness broke his heart … and made him angry.

‘Nyx is … obsessive,’ he said. ‘I faced her only briefly, and she was downright offended by who I was.’

‘Right,’ said Will. ‘That whole bit about escaping who you are.’ ‘She’s a primordial goddess of night and darkness. There’s nothing she

despises more than someone who leaves their darkness behind. She doesn’t like beings who reject the form they were “destined” for.’

Will hit his forehead with his palm. ‘Oh, I get it now. Bob. Bob, who is a

former Titan.’

Nico nodded. ‘A former Titan whose memories were washed away in the Lethe and who now chooses to be someone different.’

‘So he’s basically like … evil catnip for Nyx.’

Nico wanted to laugh at that – technically, Will was spot on – but a terrible feeling came back to him. The third line of the prophecy ran through his mind: There leave something of equal value behind.

If Nyx despised all that was light …

‘Nico?’ Will put his hand on Nico’s shoulder.

Nico shook his head. ‘Sorry. It’s still a lot to think about.’

It was a small white lie, one amid a very real truth, but Nico couldn’t vocalize his worst fear. If he broke down in tears again, he was afraid he might never be able to put himself back together.

‘So you think Mr D was right?’ asked Will. ‘The dreams, Bob’s cries for help … it’s all a trap to lure you back to Tartarus?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Nico. ‘Though … if she wants me to reach Tartarus, why would she send Epiales to attack us?’

Will brooded, which couldn’t have been easy while wearing a foam cheese-wedge hat. ‘Some sort of test?’

Screech-Bling clicked at Will. ‘Explain, son of Apollo. Trogs do not like tests. Especially essay questions.’

The other council members hissed in agreement.

‘Well, think of it this way,’ Will said. ‘Nyx believes that everyone is destined to be one thing. Nico, like Bob, has defied that. Epiales was trying to prove that Nico couldn’t escape his nightmares …’ He turned to Nico. ‘That you couldn’t even make it to Tartarus before giving in to your darkness.’

‘And he was almost right,’ Nico said. ‘If you hadn’t been there …’

Will squeezed his hand. ‘I’ll always be here. But if the tests get harder the deeper we go … I hate that idea a lot.’

‘You must face her,’ said Howl-Smith.

In her fluffy parka, with a stack of beanies on her head like multicoloured pancakes, she didn’t look like your typical government official, but she sat forward, her hands laced, and fixed Nico with a stare of absolute authority. Suddenly Nico understood why she’d been made leader of the council.

‘If you do not,’ she continued, ‘Nyx will torment you and Bob the Titan

forever. And any who care about you.’

Nico understood her meaning. The trogs were his friends. By moving them into the Underworld to protect them, he’d unwittingly put them in the path of Hurricane Nyx.

Nico made a fist. ‘I just don’t understand why she cares so much about

me. I’m one demigod.’

Trogs don’t have eyebrows, but Howl-Smith arched the skin where her eyebrows would have been. ‘You are Nico di Angelo.’

The other trogs murmured and nodded.

‘You show new ways through the dark,’ Clack-Jones added. ‘You see the trogs,’ said Screech-Bling. ‘You see Bob the Titan.’

Will smiled and squeezed his hand. ‘Nyx hates what you represent –change.’

Howl-Smith nodded wisely. ‘Or at least the potential for it.’

Nico was uncomfortable with the way they were looking at him: with trust and pride, like he was someone who deserved a spotlight. Being a son

of Hades, he didn’t do spotlights.

‘I’ll fix this,’ he promised. ‘I’ll save Bob and convince Nyx to back off.’ ‘We will,’ corrected Will of the Magnificent Cheese Hat. ‘And hey, if

Nyx wants your darkness so bad, you can just leave some of it with her! That wouldn’t be so bad.’

Nico knew he was joking, but the comment didn’t sit well. ‘Ha-ha.

You’re hilarious.’

‘Then it is settled,’ said Howl-Smith. ‘We troglodytes will guide you past Erebos to the far side of the Underworld, where you may descend into

Tartarus. We will do our best to keep you hidden from Hades and Nyx. Does the council agree?’

All five troglodytes clicked in unison.

Howl-Smith beamed at Nico and Will. ‘Excellent! Now you should rest.

At mushroom-glow, Screech-Bling and Hiss-Majesty will escort you through the pathways.’

‘Mushroom-glow?’ Will asked.

‘It’s their dawn,’ Nico explained. ‘When the mushrooms start … glowing.’

‘And the pathways?’

‘We do not travel out in the open,’ said Shriek-Vibes. ‘For our own protection, we have found hidden trails.’

‘To avoid the attention of Hades’s minions,’ said Hiss-Majesty. ‘And the ghosts.’


‘This is the land of the dead, Will,’ said Nico. ‘Not all souls make it

across the River Styx or into my father’s kingdom. Some get lost, or turn aside for whatever reason … They wander around as ghosts.’

‘They are usually not dangerous,’ said Hiss-Majesty. ‘But they are often sad. It is hard to hear their wails. We want to help them, yet we cannot!’

Will turned to Nico. ‘This isn’t disturbing to you? All those lost souls?’ ‘Why would it be? It’s just part of how things are. The Underworld is my

second home, Will.’

Will shivered. ‘I could never live here.’

Nico bit back the urge to say No one’s asking you to. He took a deep breath and addressed Howl-Smith. ‘We are thankful for your help,’ he said, channelling his frustration with Will into gratitude towards the troglodytes. ‘I owe you many rare skinks for your troubles.’

That sent the council into a new frenzy of excitement until Howl-Smith was able to calm them down. ‘We help you because it is right, son of

Hades,’ she said. ‘Not because we expect tasty skinks.’

‘But we will not refuse tasty skinks!’ added Screech-Bling. He stood so quickly his tricorn almost fell off. ‘Now come! I will take you to our nap cove, where you may rest with our young ones.’

Will smiled weakly. ‘Nap time with baby troglodytes?’

Screech-Bling nodded. ‘They will cherish the opportunity to share blankies with heroes!’

The CEO led the way out of the council room, and Nico stayed in the rear, his thoughts simmering. He knew Will meant well; he’d never met

anyone as kind and understanding of the world around him. But, after less than a day in the Underworld, the place was already exposing a part of Will that felt different, more judgemental. Sure, Nico often struggled with how other people saw him, and he’d certainly had to correct Will’s perceptions before. But was it getting worse? Will didn’t seem very open to

appreciating either Nico’s second home or the troglodytes. On the other hand, nothing in Nico’s story about his time in Tartarus had made it sound good. Could he really blame Will for thinking everything in the Underworld was bad after hearing all that?

As they moved through the cavernous main area, it was Will’s joke about Nyx taking some of Nico’s darkness that bothered Nico the most. If only it were that easy. If only someone could just remove all the dark and scary

and sad parts of him. But at the same time … they made up who Nico was. He wouldn’t be Nico di Angelo without his past. But did it make him less appealing to Will?

Ugh, this was so confusing to think about. Nico wished he wasn’t so sad all the time, but he also didn’t like the idea of giving it up. What was

someone like him supposed to do?

He was surprised, then, as he and Will snuggled up on two bedrolls laid side by side in the trogs’ nap cove, that sleep came to him quickly.

Normally, when his mind was buzzing, he would be up for hours.

But not this time. He was too exhausted, and his body desperately needed the rest.




He dreamed he waded knee-deep in a sea of shadows. Shapes floated within the darkness, but … what were they? They were small, barely coming up to his shins, and they scattered every time Nico took a step. Out of curiosity, he bent down and tried to touch one.

A mouth lashed out, full of glowing, sharp teeth.

Nico yanked his hand back, and the scene before him changed. He found himself standing before a long pit dug into the earth. Some sort of horrible-smelling liquid gurgled at the bottom. Nico pinched his nose.

A blue shade began to form out of the noxious gases at the bottom of the pit. Nico knew what was happening, knew it was just a dream, but that didn’t alleviate his sense of dread.

The spirit took shape in front of him. Bianca wore her Hunter of Artemis outfit – a glistening silver parka, a bow strung across her shoulder – though she was still illuminated by a ghostly blue glow.

‘Hello, brother,’ she said.

‘You’re not my sister,’ he said bitterly. ‘Nyx, get out of my dreams.’ ‘You must choose, Nico.’ Her face was so lovely, so soft, so warm. Gods,

he missed her. ‘Can you tell Will the truth?’ she asked. ‘The truth of who you are?’

Nico refused to be a part of this. He turned and started walking away, but suddenly Bianca was once again in front of him.

‘I really hate dream logic!’ he screamed. ‘Choose,’ said Bianca.

‘Message received!’

Bianca pulled an arrow from her quiver. ‘Choose, Nico.’

‘Leave a message at the tone!’ he snarled. ‘BEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!’ She nocked the arrow and drew it back.

‘It’s a dream, Nyx,’ he said. ‘You can’t hurt me here.’

This time, the goddess’s bone-chilling voice came out of Bianca’s mouth: ‘You sure about that, son of Hades?’

Bianca’s arrow pierced Nico’s sternum, and pain exploded through him.

He couldn’t breathe as he pitched backwards. Then Bianca was standing over him, cackling as she fired another arrow point-blank, then another, each of them setting Nico’s body on fire.

‘I’ll be waiting for you,’ she cooed. Nico melted into darkness.



He awoke in a rush, his hand clutched to his chest. His face was damp with sweat. A phantom pain throbbed in his sternum, so sharp that it took a while for his breathing to return to normal. He forced himself to endure it all quietly, since he didn’t want to interrupt Will’s snoozing next to him.

The nap cove was completely empty – just piles of bedrolls and blankets where the young trogs had been sleeping before. As carefully as he could, Nico rose and moved to the entrance so he could feel the cool air that moved through the entire underground system. He took a deep breath, trying to steady his nerves.

He knew that demigod dreams were always worse in the Underworld, but Nyx had reached out from Tartarus and actually hurt him. Would her powers increase as they got closer?

He looked back at Will, still sleeping peacefully. At least, he hoped Will was free from nightmares.

Nico resolved right then not to share his newest dream with Will. His boyfriend was a natural caretaker – which was why he was such a great healer – but, in this case, what could Will do to help him? Maybe it was time for Nico to help Will for a change. So Nico stood by the entrance, bathed in the dim light from the torches outside, and watched Will sleep.

When he finally crawled back into his own bedroll, he remained wide awake.

He refused to let Nyx get to him that easily.

‘It was all ’cause of Leo, wasn’t it?’ Will said.

Nico’s mouth dropped open. ‘Wow, you knew?’

Will brought a small piece of ambrosia to his lips and chewed on it. Even that much effort seemed to pain him. ‘Not at the time,’ he said after

swallowing. ‘But I know it now.’

Nico turned to Gorgyra. ‘Leo is our friend, but there was a time when we all thought he’d died.’

‘But he had not?’ she asked, confused.

Nico shook his head. ‘We were so sure … We saw it happen. He literally exploded in midair.’

‘It’s complicated,’ said Will. ‘It involved a magical cure and an automaton dragon.’

Gorgyra smiled. ‘Such wonderful tales you both weave. Continue.’ ‘Well, Nico can sense when someone is dead,’ explained Will. ‘Child of Hades,’ Nico added.

‘Of course,’ said Gorgyra.

Will took a sip of nectar. ‘So, Nico had definitely felt Leo die –’ ‘But I also had this strange sense he wasn’t completely gone.’ Nico

frowned. ‘Then, a few days after Leo “died”, I got this magical scroll from him telling us he’d actually survived. He’d come up with this whole plan for cheating death, but he hadn’t shared it with any of us ahead of time,

which made me furious. I was so angry about him keeping me in the dark that I couldn’t think about anything else.’

Nico looked directly in Will’s blue eyes. ‘Until you, that is.’ ‘I remember,’ said Will.

‘One night after dinner,’ Nico continued, ‘Will took me into the forest outside camp. Just marched me out there with no explanation. I thought he

was angry with me. And an angry Will is a scary Will.’

Will laughed weakly. ‘It wasn’t anger. I was just determined.’ Gorgyra sat forward. ‘Determined to do what?’

Will’s eyes went glassy again. ‘Once we were in the middle of the forest, I told Nico to start screaming.’

‘Screaming?’ Gorgyra’s face twisted in confusion. ‘Whatever for?’

‘To let the anger out,’ said Nico. ‘I didn’t want to do it at first, not until he turned to the forest and screamed at a tree.’

‘It was a very big tree,’ said Will. ‘I was sure it could take it.’ ‘You scared that poor dryad half to death.’

‘I didn’t know she was there!’

‘I’ve never seen a dryad run so fast in my life.’

They both fell into giggles, and Nico was glad to see Will’s spirits rise, even temporarily.

‘So I screamed, too,’ Nico said. ‘It felt silly the first time, but then I was full-on yelling at the trees about how annoyed I was with Leo.’

‘Much later, when Leo returned and invited us to sock him, I think the punches he got from Nico were significantly less powerful than they could have been.’ Will smiled at his boyfriend. ‘All because you screamed at the trees.’

Nico laughed. ‘Well … it did made me feel better. And understood. No one had ever done something for me like that before. That’s when I started looking at you differently.’

Will stared into the fire. ‘For me it was that week in the infirmary.’ Nico nodded. ‘That’s how I knew your moment came first.’

‘I do not understand,’ said Gorgyra.

‘Right after Gaia’s defeat, there were a lot of injured demigods,’ said Will. ‘And one thing the Apollo cabin is responsible for is medical care and rehabilitation. We help other demigods recover, whether it’s from cuts and broken bones, or from injuries that have left them permanently disabled.’

‘Will told me that he wished I could help out in the infirmary, so I did,’ said Nico.

Will laughed, though it made him wince. ‘I remember turning around and seeing Nico asking Dakota where the antiseptic cleaner was. Dakota is –

was, I mean – a child of Bacchus from Camp Jupiter.’ Will smiled sadly. ‘He wasn’t all that knowledgeable about the infirmary, either, so I got to

witness both of them running around the room, desperate to find something neither one knew how to find.’

‘I tried,’ said Nico. ‘That week was painful. I constantly felt lost.’ ‘But you never gave up,’ said Will. ‘And I don’t know … Your

dedication just felt so beautiful to me. That’s all it took for me to see you differently.’

Nico blushed. ‘Wow, we are such softies.’

Will narrowed his eyes. ‘Wait, how did you know my moment came before yours?’

Nico gave Will a mischievous smile. ‘Because I caught you looking.’ ‘What?’ Will said. ‘No, that’s not possible.’

‘It was the last day you needed help in the infirmary,’ he said. ‘Before you sent me away. I was with Connor Stoll, and he nudged my shoulder and said you were staring at me. I thought I was gonna turn around and find you glaring at me angrily because I’d done something wrong.

‘But instead you were sitting next to Chiron, who was chatting your ear off, and you were looking at me with this whole puppy-dog-eyes thing going on.’

A slight redness rose in Will’s cheeks. ‘Oh, gods, I don’t even remember that.’

‘If you hadn’t looked at me that way … well, later on, I don’t think I

would have had the courage to come out to you and tell you I wanted to go on a date.’

Gorgyra clapped her hands together lightly. Nico noticed that her skin tone had changed from light blue to something closer to lavender. ‘Excuse me for my excitement,’ she said. ‘I am so used to hearing stories of isolation that I am overjoyed at hearing one of connection.’

Apparently, these stories weren’t just giving Will some fortitude, they were affecting Gorgyra, too.

‘Can I tell you another?’ Nico asked, surprising himself.

Gorgyra placed her hands over her chest. ‘Please! It may be a long time before I see anyone else.’

Will nodded in confirmation, and the son of Hades began again. ‘I want to tell you how I asked Will on a date.’

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