Chapter no 27

The Sun and the Star

The woman was unlike any nymph Nico had ever seen. Her soft, round face, wispy hair and coy smile reminded Nico of Juniper, the dryad at Camp Half-Blood. Her gown was made of the same sort of‌

billowing gossamer fabric. But, unlike the nature spirits in the world above, this woman’s eyes and skin were tinged blue instead of green. Her plump lips were the darkest indigo. Her grey dress seemed to whisper with plaintive voices, similar to the damned souls woven into his father’s robes.

As Nico approached, she barely glanced up from her cooking fire. ‘You seem intrigued,’ she said, as if they were resuming an old

conversation. ‘Or confused.’ ‘Both,’ said Nico.

‘You and your friend look exhausted. Please, rest by my fire.’

Nico turned to see Will stumbling down the decline. He felt a stab of guilt. He shouldn’t have walked away from Will like that, no matter how angry he’d felt.

Nico stretched out his arm as Will got closer. He mouthed an apology. Will nodded and took his hand. But his eyes said We’ll talk more later.

As they settled in by the fire, the woman poked the embers with a branch of ebony.

‘You two have had a long journey,’ she said. ‘I do not get very many visitors out this way.’

‘Can I ask your name?’ Nico said.

‘Of course.’ Her smile was warm, but with an edge of loneliness. ‘I am Gorgyra.’

The name rang no bells for Nico. He glanced at Will, but his boyfriend shook his head.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Nico. ‘We don’t know who you are.’

‘I did not expect you to.’ The whispers in her gown grew in intensity until Nico could almost make out what they were saying. ‘I imagine there are no stories told of me in the upper world, since very few have ever made it here.’

‘And where is here?’ Nico asked.

‘At the edge.’ She cast her gaze downstream, where the River Acheron vanished over the precipice. ‘Like most things, the Underworld has an end. You have reached it.’

Will coughed. ‘And … if we needed to go beyond the edge?’ She jerked her gaze towards him. ‘Why would you seek that?’

‘We’re heading to Tartarus,’ Will said, and Nico couldn’t help admiring the determination in his voice. ‘Our guides said the river … They said you could provide a shortcut.’

She studied him carefully, the whites of her eyes etched with veins of

sapphire. ‘Your guides were correct. You could gain access to Tartarus by following the Acheron over the brink and plunging into the darkness. But why would you ever do that of your own volition?’

Nico looked at Will. Without speaking, they had a whole conversation comprised of raised eyebrows, frowns and shrugs. Each knew what the other was thinking: Can we trust this person?

Nico decided to get more information. ‘Is the drop survivable? Like … in your boat, for instance?’

The corner of Gorgyra’s mouth twitched. ‘Survival is such a relative term here in the Underworld. My husband and I have survived. But is that the

same as living?’

‘Your husband?’ Will asked.

‘Acheron.’ Gorgyra gestured towards the rushing water. ‘Go say hello.’ Nico’s mouth felt dry. ‘He is the river? Or the god of the river?’

The sadness in Gorgyra’s expression was almost unbearable. ‘I’m not sure there is a difference any more. Over the centuries, he has lost his

physical form and his sense of self. One can only absorb so much pain from others. The souls who are consigned to his waters … Their sins and

wrongdoings are so overwhelming they forget all that was ever good in their lives. And so has Acheron.’

Nico watched the current flow. He wondered how much pain Will, as a healer, had absorbed from others over the years. How much had Nico himself asked him to carry?

Suddenly Nico didn’t want to bring his boyfriend any closer to that riverbank. He wanted to run back to the sunlight of the upper world.

‘We have to try.’ Will’s tone didn’t waver. His eyes were locked on the white boat. ‘Gorgyra, is there any way we can borrow that?’

She made a sound somewhere between a grunt and a laugh. ‘You are brave to ask … or foolhardy. The difference is subtle, as is the difference between life and survival. But you are jumping ahead of me, young demigod.’

She stood, and the whispers of her gown rose to a crescendo. Nico was used to deceased souls begging him to listen, but these had a particularly strong pitch of desperation. As the grey fabric swished and shifted, Nico knew his suspicions were correct: each thread was a soul. Each thread had once been a person, and each thread was still self-aware.

‘You can hear them, can’t you?’ Gorgyra rested her fingertips gently on Nico’s shoulder.

‘Yes.’ Just admitting it brought a wave of sadness crashing over Nico.

How could Gorgyra stand those voices? Why would she choose to wrap herself in their desperation? But at the same time … wrapping oneself in desperation wasn’t new to Nico. He’d been doing it his whole life. A part of him welcomed the rush of sadness. At least it was familiar, and the familiar was not frightening.

‘Nico?’ Will clenched his hand around his sun globe, as if ready to throw it at their hostess. ‘What is she talking about? Who is them?’

‘You have nothing to fear.’ Gorgyra smiled her sad, caring smile. ‘I am not here to trap you. I am not going to hurt you. Like so many others, you have found me because you need me.’

She ran her hands over the gown, and the whispers finally became clear in Nico’s mind:

I’ll never find anyone who loves me. Why don’t I get a family?

What’s wrong with me?

Why couldn’t she just feel the same about me? What did I do wrong?

Do I not deserve to be loved?

Nico wept.

He wasn’t sure how much time passed before Will removed the sling and wrapped his arms around him. ‘Gorgyra, what are you doing?’ Will’s voice was full of fear and confusion. ‘Stop it!’

‘It’s not her,’ Nico sniffled. ‘She told the truth. She’s not hurting me.’ Nico reached out and stroked the smooth fabric of the nymph’s gown.

The voices seemed to embrace him, recognizing one of their own. ‘Lonely souls,’ said Nico. ‘That’s what your dress is made of, isn’t it?’ Gorgyra nodded. ‘I began to weave this gown long, long ago, when

Acheron left for the last time. Deep down, I knew he would never return. So I began plucking souls from his waters. It wasn’t long before they began to seek me out, yearning to find … well, to find the others.’

Will shivered. ‘I thought the souls in the Acheron were guilty of terrible crimes. Why would you want them near you?’

Gorgyra smoothed her skirts. ‘Not all the souls are so terrible. Those I collect are the lost, the remorseful, the ones whose greatest crimes were against themselves.’

‘I – I don’t understand.’

Gorgyra arched her dark brows. ‘Do you not, Will Solace? Self-doubt.

Despair. Fear. Guilt. Shame. So many ways we do harm to ourselves … and convince ourselves we do not deserve a place in the fabric of the world. I try to show these lonely souls that even here, at the edge of eternal darkness, there is a chance for hope. Is that not what has brought you and

Nico here as well?’

Nico and Will exchanged another look. ‘How do you know our names?’ Nico asked.

‘Oh, names are the least of it,’ Gorgyra said. ‘When you spend every day listening to souls, you learn that they have a great deal to say. Even those of the living … like so.’

She raised her hands, and then she tugged.

Nico gasped. Something shifted deep within his chest, as if she had reached into him, roped his heart and pulled it. A faintly glowing thread

curled through the air between him and Gorgyra, who had the opposite end laced between her fingers.

Questions vibrated along the thread, echoing in Nico’s mind:

Does he love me?

Will I ever find my place at Camp Half-Blood?

Who could ever find me lovable?

Next to him, Will gasped. Nico turned to see another thread snaking towards Gorgyra, this one anchored to Will’s chest. His eyes were red and watery.

‘Stop it,’ Nico croaked. ‘Stop!’

‘As you wish.’ Gorgyra lowered her hands. As quickly as it started, the sensation ended. The thread went slack, then wound itself back into Nico’s chest. Will collapsed, panting.

‘I will not take threads without consent,’ said the nymph. ‘I only wished to demonstrate that I can hear you. I want to hear you. There is a yearning in both of you, and it begs to be heard.’

Will shuddered. ‘The darkness …’

Nico wasn’t sure why Will had said that, but, as he stared at his boyfriend, he recognized the expression on Will’s face: loneliness. Had anything been more of a constant in his life?

Nico scowled at Gorgyra. He didn’t appreciate their souls being yanked around like marionettes. He wondered if they should just fight this woman and take her boat … if they even had the strength to beat her.

Gorgyra’s pained smile told him she could read his feelings, and she

would find such an attempt both sad and predictable … two things Nico did not want to be.

‘What do you want from us?’ Nico asked. ‘We need your boat. Do we have to complete some kind of quest to get it?’

‘Not in the way you think,’ she said softly, and sat down again by the fire. ‘The boat will help you survive the plunge, yes. It will not completely shield you from the effects of Acheron, but it will make the voyage … possible.’

Will pulled himself upright. He leaned against Nico’s shoulder for strength. ‘And what do you want in exchange?’

Gorgyra gazed into the flames. ‘There is only one currency among the lonely … to help us feel part of the texture of the world again. And you need to share it as much as I need to receive it.’

Nico growled. ‘Enough with the riddles –’

‘We’ll do it,’ Will said. He faced Nico. ‘We can’t turn back now.’

Nico made a mental note not to let Will do the negotiating if they ever bought a first car together. But he also knew that Will was right.

‘Fine,’ he said. ‘If it will help us get to Tartarus, we’ll do it. What do you want, Gorgyra?’

Nico did not like the way the nymph smiled.

You'll Also Like