Chapter no 29

The Sun and the Star

Now they sat on the dock, their feet dangling above the Acheron’s current.‌

All their stories had been told, except for this one … and

whatever happened to them afterwards, assuming there was an afterwards once they dropped over that precipice.

Nico turned the coin in his fingers. ‘I always keep this with me,’ he said. ‘Same,’ said Will. ‘I mean your ring, that is.’

The dock boards creaked as Gorgyra came closer. ‘Tell me about them.’ Her tone reminded Nico of Mr D – and not in a bad way. When he helped

Nico unpack his nightmares, the wine god could be surprisingly gentle and patient. The memory made Nico ache for Camp Half-Blood.

‘We traded keepsakes,’ said Nico. ‘After Nero.’

Will and Nico did their best to relate the final battle with the resurrected Roman emperor. Given Gorgyra’s isolation, she’d only heard snippets of what had transpired aboveground, and what she did know came from souls she had collected.

The victims of the war.

This meant the two demigods had to back up a few times to explain things, especially once Will mentioned Apollo.

‘Your father was in the battle?’ she asked. ‘Why was he getting involved in mortal affairs?’

Then they had to explain the whole Zeus punished Apollo by sticking him into the body of a sixteen-year-old boy named Lester Papadopoulos thing, which Gorgyra found deeply, deeply amusing. ‘The gods can be quite funny when they want to be,’ she allowed.

Finally, Will got to the part of the story he wanted to tell. ‘After watching my father go off to fight Python, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to see him

again. There was something so final about his departure … It got me thinking about what was important to me.’

He leaned against Nico. ‘Then, once Nero and Python were destroyed, I asked Jake Mason to make me something special.’

Nico held up the coin for Gorgyra to see. It was a dull bronze colour, but the embossing was extraordinary. On one side, Jake had managed to perfectly replicate the stylized sun tattoo that Will had on his pectoral –

every beam, every angle, every detail. On the other side was the helm of Hades.

‘It is beautiful,’ she said. ‘What does it mean?’

‘Us,’ Will said. ‘Together. Two sides of one coin. I gave it to Nico so if we ever got separated he would know I was thinking of him, no matter

where he was.’

Nico smiled at the memory. ‘Will came to me just before dinner on the night we heard the prophecy about Bob. I could tell he had something important to say because he always gets all bashful beforehand.’

Will stuck out his tongue. ‘I’d never given anyone a gift so personal before.’

‘And you did great,’ Nico assured him. ‘It was so sweet. In exchange, I gave him my ring.’

Nico pointed to the silver skull ring that Will was running back and forth across its chain. ‘I’d had that ring for a long time, but it needed to be with Will. So he’d always know how I feel about him.’

Will tucked the ring back inside his shirt, then tapped where it lay against his chest. It was such a small gesture, but it felt enormous to Nico. After

everything they’d been through since they’d left Camp Half-Blood, it was a reminder that he was loved. Really loved. Sure, he and Will had things they needed to discuss. Sure, they often disagreed. But an invisible string

connected them nonetheless.

Nico gazed down the Acheron, to the point where it dropped out of sight.

He would have to steel himself against the coming onslaught – not just of the River of Pain but of Tartarus itself. He remembered the despair; he remembered the doubt. It would be magnified for Will, and he would need Nico to be there for him.

Nico curled his fingers around the coin. He dreaded the upcoming journey, but he also felt the residual warmth of the stories they had shared. They clung to him, wrapping around him like a protective layer.

From Gorgyra’s dress, the voices reached out to Nico one last time, but now he heard something besides devastation and fear …


You might just make it, one said.

You keep that one close. Someone like that is a rare find. You are not alone.

The whispers dissipated and returned to Gorgyra’s gown, turning the fabric a luminous pink, like imperial topaz.

‘Thank you, Gorgyra,’ Nico said quietly. ‘The stories were to give us strength for the journey, weren’t they?’

‘They were,’ she said, her voice raw with emotion. ‘But it is I who

should be thanking you. You came and visited an old nymph. You offered me kindness, and you showed me that love and companionship still exist in the mortal world.’ A sad smile grew on her lips. ‘It is easy to forget that

when you collect the souls of the lonely.’

Will reached over and squeezed Nico’s hand. The colour had returned to his face.

‘And the boat?’ Will asked their host. ‘What should we do with it when we reach Tartarus?’

‘If you are successful in your quest, the boat will return to me.’

Will peered downstream at the raging waterfall. ‘How? That looks like a pretty one-way trip.’

‘You misunderstand the nature of the Acheron. Its course is not one-directional. This is the River of Pain. Like life, it flows in a circle.’

Will scrunched up his face. ‘This sounds like a complicated geometry problem.’

‘Pain is a part of all lives, mortal and immortal,’ said the nymph. ‘It is inescapable. We all must navigate this river to get where we want to be.’ ‘Shouldn’t we aim to avoid pain?’ Will asked. ‘Or at least mitigate it?’

Nico shook his head. ‘You know it’s not that simple.’

‘Pain helps us learn,’ said Gorgyra. ‘It is unfortunate, but we rarely forget the lessons taught to us in moments of pain.’

‘Pain is inescapable …’ Will sounded like he was talking mostly to himself. ‘I guess that’s hard for me to wrap my mind around because I’m a healer. I’m always trying to reduce pain.’

His tone reminded Nico of their trip to Persephone’s garden … how dazed Will had acted when they emerged from the gates, as if he’d been

shaken to pieces, then put back together in a slightly different pattern. What had happened to him in there?

Nico didn’t ask. He quickly hopped into the boat, then supported Will as he shakily climbed aboard. As they sailed away from the dock, Gorgyra

watched in silence, her silhouette becoming smaller and fainter until it dissolved into the dark haze over the river, as if she had been reabsorbed into the community of lonely souls.

The current picked up speed. The white boat rocked back and forth under their legs. The roar of the waterfall got so loud it rattled Nico’s teeth.

‘I guess this is it,’ he said. ‘I guess so,’ said Will.

‘We have to go over that thing.’

‘We do.’ Will’s knuckles were white as he gripped the gunwales. ‘Like, is there a technique to riding a boat over a waterfall without dying? Do we just fall into Tartarus?’

Nico shrugged. ‘Where’s Lil Nas X when you need him?’ ‘Who?’

He glared at Will. ‘Really? You’ve never seen the video for “Montero”?

We’ll address that hole in your education later.’

Will laughed – maybe the only time anyone had ever laughed while

sailing the River of Pain. ‘It’s a date. I like the idea that we’ll have a chance to share more stories. I’ll hold on to that … in case things get worse.’

Nico swallowed his fear. As their boat edged ever closer to the abyss, he knew there was no ‘in case’. In Tartarus, things always got worse.

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