Chapter no 20

The Sun and the Star

Curled up in the trog’s nap cove, Will dreamed of Maron.‌

He was ten when the satyr had first appeared to him, and it was no different in his nightmare. Will held his mom’s hand as the two of them entered

Washington Square Park, passing under an enormous stone arch. There

were street performers and buskers everywhere. A group of college students danced near the fountain to music blaring from a set of speakers, while a

skateboarder did a kick-flip over four people lying on their backs on the tarmac path.

Will wasn’t sure what to look at. It seemed like this everywhere in New York, no matter how many times they’d been here before. And after nearly a week in Albany, Will welcomed the chaos of the city over the sleepy, overcast vibes upstate.

He knew how this dream would unfold: Will would point out to his mom how many pigeons there were crowded around the fountain. She’d say that no other US city had more of them than New York. Then one of the pigeons would land a little too close for Will’s comfort, and he would shy away from it, only for more of them to flutter over, until he and his mom were


Will had had variations of this dream before, but this … this felt too real, as if he were reliving the memory itself rather than seeing it through the magic of a dream. When the first pigeon pecked at his foot, its beak was

sharp. When his mom expressed concern that these pigeons were too aggressive, he could feel the fear in her voice.

And when the swarm hit, he couldn’t breathe.

It’s a dream, Will! he told himself. You’re a demigod. You have these all the time.

But he couldn’t control this one. His memory of the Stymphalian-bird

attack was dialled up to eleven – his mom’s screams all the more piercing, her hair unkempt and wild as she threw her arms around him, trying to protect him.

Maron arrived from out of nowhere, just as he had in real life, leaping in front of Naomi and Will Solace and opening an enormous black umbrella to repel the birds. He wore obnoxiously neon-green trousers with pink braces over a white T-shirt.

As the birds rained down on the umbrella, Will felt again the terror of being shrouded in darkness, his mother screaming, unsure whether they were going to survive.

In real life, they had escaped with Maron’s help to their East Village hotel, where the satyr had told Will the truth about his heritage. Maron was the one who had brought Will to Camp Half-Blood.

But that didn’t happen in the nightmare. Under the umbrella, what was once a heroic moment took a dark turn when Will looked up into Maron’s eyes and saw that they were blood-red.

‘He will leave you,’ Maron said, his voice deep and frightening. ‘When the time comes, he will choose to leave you behind.’

Maron laughed as the Stymphalian birds pelted the umbrella, pushing it closer to the ground. Will and his mom crouched down as she held Will tighter.

‘I love you,’ she said. ‘I love you, too, Mom.’

Then her face contorted. She sneered, her glowing red eyes boring into him. ‘He’s going to leave you behind, you fool.’





Will woke in a panic. When he saw Nico’s bedroll empty, he worried that he had been left behind, just like in his nightmare. But then he sat up and saw the silhouette of his boyfriend appear in the doorway.

Relief rushed through him. ‘Nico,’ he said. ‘Where’d you go?’

Nico walked over and handed him a strange bronze cup that was warm to the touch. ‘Drink up.’

Will balked. ‘This isn’t more of that shoelace soup, is it?’ Nico chuckled. ‘No, just broth.’

Will reluctantly brought it to his lips. He let a small bit of it touch his tongue, and a burst of savoury goodness filled his mouth. He finished it off in less than a minute while Nico watched, a look of satisfaction on his face.

‘Okay, that was good,’ Will admitted, wiping his mouth. ‘But please don’t tell me this is broth of troglodyte armpit. I feel like you’re going to.’

He meant it as a joke, but Nico looked irritated.

‘It’s not,’ said Nico. ‘Troglodytes do eat a lot of stuff that humans do.’

His tone sounded almost accusatory, as if Will should love stewed

shoelaces and armpit broth. Ever since they’d passed through the Door of Orpheus, Will had felt like he was walking on thin ice with Nico. Will

always seemed to be doing and saying the wrong thing, even if he was just trying to lighten the mood.

Even that term, lighten the mood, seemed like a biased statement here in the Underworld, but Will wasn’t sure what else to do, how to act.

He lay back down, images from the nightmare swirling in his head. He didn’t feel rested. Here it was always night, so his circadian rhythms were off. Then there was the warning from his dream: He’s going to leave you behind, you fool.

How much worse would all this get once they entered Tartarus? Nico sat next to him. ‘You’re worried.’

‘Bad dreams,’ Will muttered, which was a half-truth, at best. There was so much else that worried him.

‘Me too.’ Nico lay beside him, and Will was grateful for his boyfriend’s head on his shoulder. If only they could stay like this, and not think about what came next …

‘We should reach Tartarus today,’ Nico said, shattering that hope. ‘Screech-Bling was just telling me they found a shortcut.’

Will glanced over. ‘A shortcut?’

‘One that won’t require us to enter the way I did last time. Which I’m thankful for. I’d rather not fall in darkness for an indeterminate amount of time again.’

‘That’s good,’ said Will. ‘I’ll take anything to help us at this point.’

Nico shifted next to him. ‘Are you still sure you want to do this? We’re at a point where you could turn back.’

‘Absolutely not,’ said Will. At this point, it was more of a stubborn, involuntary reflex than a conscious thought.

Nico studied him. ‘I can’t tell how you’re really feeling. I know you want to help, but you’ve seemed a little … different since we got here.’

‘I’m scared,’ admitted Will. ‘I don’t know what’s coming, and …’ He faltered, remembering Maron’s nightmarish voice: He will leave you. ‘And I don’t like that I can no longer feel the sun. I’m cut off from it for the first time in my life.’

Nico reached over to Will’s knapsack. He pulled out the sun globe, flicked it on and tossed it over.

Will couldn’t help but smile. It was a cute gesture, and he always

considered it a little victory when Nico did something adorable. He was

also surprised at how quickly the globe worked. By the time they’d packed up to leave, Will’s spirits were definitely improved. The light wasn’t a

substitute for the sun, but he was glad he’d brought it with him.

He clicked it off and stowed it when Screech-Bling and Hiss-Majesty arrived.

‘Demigods!’ Screech-Bling said. ‘Shall we begin?’

Will glanced past the CEO and was surprised to see Hiss-Majesty

wearing a foam cheese hat identical to his own. A warm feeling spread through Will, almost as good as the sun globe.

‘You found a hat!’ he noted. ‘I like it.’

Hiss-Majesty was perhaps the most bashful troglodyte Will had ever seen. They blinked a few times, then ducked behind Screech-Bling.

‘It is a good hat,’ Hiss-Majesty mumbled. ‘A hero’s hat.’

Screech-Bling grinned. ‘You have made an impression, son of Apollo. And do not worry about Hiss-Majesty. They are brave when they need to be.’

‘Well, so am I,’ said Will. ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover.’ He caught Nico scowling at him.

What? he mouthed.

Nico merely shook his head.

Will sighed. Sometimes it was hard to tell what Nico was feeling, too.

Screech-Bling adjusted his hot-pink rucksack across his shoulder, which clashed magnificently with his George Washington outfit. ‘Today we

venture through the southern tunnels. We will bring you to the shortcut

swiftly, so you may rescue Bob the Titan from the clutches of Nyx, goddess of night!’

Will wasn’t sure his life could get any weirder, but then Screech-Bling paraded them through troglodyte headquarters, much to the delight of the shareholders. The appreciative onlookers clicked and clacked, which

sounded like applause if all the clapping hands were made of dominoes.

Like an Underworld-style graduation, many of the troglodytes tossed their hats into the air, then immediately started fighting over the ones they liked best. Even when the expedition had left HQ for the wider caverns of the Underworld, Will could still hear the joyful chaos of the crowd echoing behind them.

‘The troglodytes are special, aren’t they?’ he said to Nico.

He finally got a smile out of his boyfriend. ‘Very much so,’ Nico said.

As they followed the path along the roaring River Styx, with dark clouds hanging over the walls of Erebos in distance, Will kind of missed the






Screech-Bling led the way, and Hiss-Majesty brought up the rear. Not long after veering away from the Styx, the troglodyte CEO brought Will and

Nico to a sizable hole in the ground, partially covered with large rocks. He and Hiss-Majesty moved the rocks out of the way quickly, which was

another reminder for Will of how fast and strong the trogs were for their size.

‘We move deeper underground,’ Screech-Bling said. ‘Do you require a source of light?’

Nico looked to Will with an eyebrow raised. ‘Maybe,’ Will said. ‘How dark is it?’

‘There is no light below,’ said Screech-Bling.

Will tried to imagine what no light meant for a troglodyte, since pitch-black was their sunny afternoon.

‘Nothing to worry about.’ He swung his knapsack around and fished out the sun globe. When he switched it on, Hiss-Majesty gasped.

‘Does the child of Apollo carry the sun with him everywhere?’

Will laughed. ‘It’s artificial,’ he said, handing it to them. ‘Powered by batteries.’

‘I don’t know what batteries are,’ said Hiss-Majesty, holding the globe in their hands as if it would burn them at any second. ‘Surely this is some type of demigod magic, yes?’

‘Sure,’ said Will. ‘And now you may wield it!’

Hiss-Majesty looked like a kid in a candy store. ‘Allow me to lead the

way, Screech-Bling! I shall provide light for our companions like a child of Apollo!’

Screech-Bling nodded and let Hiss-Majesty go first. ‘Thank you,’ he said to Will. ‘It is important that Hiss-Majesty feels they can contribute in meaningful ways.’

‘Of course,’ said Will. He glanced over at Nico, who had a strange, wistful look on his face. ‘What?’

‘It’s just nice seeing you give that responsibility to Hiss-Majesty.’

Will shrugged. ‘They’re just trying to help,’ he said. ‘None of the troglodytes have to, so it’s the least I can do.’

Nico still had the same look on his face.

Will squinted at his boyfriend. ‘I don’t know what that expression means, so I’m just going to ignore it. Let’s get going.’

Will faced the tunnel entrance and took a deep breath, his nerves tingling.

Then he ducked down and crawled into the hole.

Despite the fact that Hiss-Majesty was just in front of him, the darkness and closeness of the tunnel made Will’s heart race. This reminded him too much of their descent from the Door of Orpheus, except here, the ground felt softer and warmer beneath his feet, which made him think about Nico’s story of the living landscape in Tartarus. The trogs had no trouble walking upright in the tunnel, but Nico and Will had to crouch and even crawl in

some places. It wasn’t long before Will wished that he was holding the sun-therapy globe. Hiss-Majesty kept getting further in front of the group, and Screech-Bling had to remind them multiple times that humans could not move as fast as troglodytes.

‘Yes, I will go slower,’ they said. ‘I am sorry, son of Apollo and son of Hades.’

‘It’s okay,’ said Will. ‘You’re just excited.’

So they pressed on. Nico had been silent since they’d entered the tunnel, and Will wondered if he was starting to freak out a little bit, too. Or did he

naturally adapt to places like this? Did he not feel like the earth was pressing down on top of him?

The tunnel twisted often, and Will couldn’t escape the sensation that they were crawling down the oesophagus of some massive creature. He was so disorientated. He wasn’t sure what direction they were even heading, aside from down. Always down.

He slowed, and Nico bumped into the back of him. ‘You okay?’ asked Nico.

Will bent over and put his hands on his knees, his breathing laboured. ‘I need a moment.’

Screech-Bling clicked his tongue a few times, and Hiss-Majesty came running back. ‘Yes?’

Nico held out his hand, and Hiss-Majesty reluctantly dropped the glowing orb into it.

Nico knelt in front of Will. ‘Take this for now,’ he said. ‘The trogs don’t actually need it to lead the way, and it’ll make you feel better.’

‘I just wish we didn’t have to be underground,’ Will said. ‘It’s so dark.’

He knew that sounded silly. Of course they were underground. This was the Underworld. Still, he felt like a little boy again, trembling under the protection of Maron’s umbrella.

‘We don’t have many options,’ Nico said. ‘It would be faster to go overground across Erebos, but … well, you know. My father.’

Will clutched the globe under his left arm while he used his right hand to rub his eyes. There was a slight pressure building behind them. His thoughts felt hazy.

‘What about your father?’

Screech-Bling and Nico traded a worried glance.

‘You remember,’ Nico said. ‘We don’t want my father to know we’re traipsing around down here, or that we’re heading to Tartarus.’

‘Right,’ Will said, wondering why the tunnel seemed to be swaying beneath him. ‘Because he’ll stop us.’

‘We do not cross Hades,’ said Screech-Bling. ‘We like our new home, and we would like to keep it. So we must take the hidden paths.’

‘Okay.’ Will stood with difficulty, his mind still foggy. ‘Then let’s keep going. But … you said this way is longer? I thought it was a shortcut.’

‘No,’ said Nico, a hint of impatience in his voice. ‘I said the troglodytes found a shortcut into Tartarus. We’re heading there now.’

An unfamiliar feeling was bubbling up inside Will. Why was Nico irritating him so much? He clutched the globe tighter.

‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I think I’m still tired, that’s all.’

‘It should not be much longer, Will Solace,’ said Screech-Bling. ‘I shall lead the way.’

He moved to the front with Hiss-Majesty. After Will took a few deep breaths, he followed the troglodytes.

‘Just let me know whenever you need a break,’ said Nico. ‘Don’t feel bad about it. I want to reach Tartarus with you, okay?’

‘Yeah …’ Will tried to un-tense the muscles in his shoulders. He had no reason to feel irritated; Nico was just trying to help. ‘Tartarus. Together.’

As they continued, Will’s mind drifted in the darkness. What would Tartarus be like? He had nothing to help him imagine it except for Nico’s descriptions from the day before.

The day before. Will wasn’t even sure if it was a new day.

Will tried to cope with that thought. Gods, he’d always relied on the rising sun to introduce him to a new day. But he wouldn’t have that down here. For all he knew, it had been one hour in the mortal world since they’d entered the Door of Orpheus. Or maybe a month had passed.

He missed … a lot of things. Not just the sun. He missed campfires, too –being under an open night sky, eating s’mores and singing with his friends

at Camp Half-Blood. Right then, a melody came to him, and he started humming. Low at first, and then he increased the volume until his voice

echoed through the tunnel. To his surprise, the tunnel actually seemed to get lighter … Or were his eyes just adjusting? He could see the tiny grooves in the rock where the trogs had used their hands, or some sort of digging tools, to excavate the passage. Will picked up his pace, a sudden burst of energy filling him.

‘What is that tune?’ Nico asked softly.

‘Something my mom wrote a long time ago,’ Will said. ‘I only realized recently that it was probably about my dad. The crowds would go

absolutely bonkers for that song. It was about love as a brightness of the spirit.’

He started the melody again, but Nico grabbed his arm. ‘Will,’ he said, ‘do you realize you’re shining?’

Will looked down at his own hands. Sure enough, his skin was illuminated, casting a warm glow.

‘Wow,’ he said. ‘That wasn’t on purpose.’

‘Should you maybe stop?’ asked Nico. ‘Is it draining you?’

At that, Will’s skin slowly dimmed until the only light came from the sun globe.

‘Probably a good idea,’ he agreed, though he wasn’t sure.

The music seemed to be helping him. Will wanted to hum the melody

again, but Nico was right – he had to conserve his energy, and if he glowed himself to death before they even reached Tartarus that would be bad. On the other hand, the darkness … gods, it felt like it was getting worse. And was the tunnel shrinking, too? Was it trying to close in on them?

Focus, Will, he told himself. Keep moving.

He was sweating profusely by the time he saw the end of the tunnel: a ragged circle of dull, reddish light maybe fifty metres ahead.

‘Screech-Bling, is that it?’ Will asked. ‘Are we close?’

‘We are,’ the trog said. ‘But once we emerge from the passage, there will be one more obstacle to deal with. Stay close, and you’d better turn off your magical orb, Will Solace.’

Will obeyed, then stowed the globe.

Nico kissed the back of his neck. ‘I’m proud of you,’ he whispered. ‘I know this is hard.’

A warmth spread across Will’s cheeks. He wasn’t sure he was doing a good job. He felt guilty for being irritated with Nico earlier, but Nico’s little gesture of affection made him want to try harder.

He clasped Nico’s hand in his, and the two of them headed into the reddish unknown.

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