On the night after Kayla and Austin left, Nico stayed awake long
after Will had retired to Apollo’s cabin. His mind was still buzzing, and he was dreading sleep. Demigods always had vivid – and
occasionally prophetic – dreams, but when he slept, the voice became almost unbearable.
Help me, please! it called out. I need you, Nico di Angelo. I need you.
Well, so did every ghost who visited him. The dead just wanted to be heard, especially if they hadn’t been listened to during their time on earth. The Underworld was full of souls wandering the Fields of Asphodel, crying out for attention.
But this voice wasn’t dead. It felt further away than even Asphodel, and more tortured than any ghost’s. This voice was calling out from Tartarus, the darkest and deepest area of the Underworld. And nobody called out from Tartarus.
It had to be Bob the Titan.
Nico remembered their first meeting: Christmas Day nearly three years ago, when Nico, Percy Jackson and Thalia Grace were tasked by Persephone to retrieve Hades’s missing sword. To do so, they’d had to battle Iapetus, a Titan unleashed from the depths of Tartarus. The Titan might have killed all three of them, but, with the last of his strength, Percy had pulled Iapetus into the River Lethe, wiping him of all his memories.
Then Percy renamed him Bob and convinced the Titan they were good friends. Strangely, the new identity stuck.
Nico had visited Bob several times since then down in the Underworld.
The newly gentle Titan had taken a janitorial job in Hades’s palace and
seemed quite happy to spend his time sweeping up bones and dusting sarcophagi. He and Nico struck up a strange friendship. Both felt disconnected from their pasts, uncomfortable around others, and
melancholy about their mutual ‘friend’ Percy Jackson, who never seemed to remember they existed.
Then, a year and a half ago, Percy and Annabeth had fallen into Tartarus. Bob had sensed their peril and plunged into the abyss to help them. He had held off an army of monsters to give Percy and Annabeth a chance to return to the mortal world. No one was sure what happened to Bob after that –
whether he had died or somehow survived.
But almost every day for the last three years, Nico had thought about Bob. He felt guilty. They should have saved him. Someone should have rescued him from Tartarus. How could they have just left him there after
he’d saved Percy and Annabeth and … well, pretty much the entire world?
Maybe Will and Mr D were right. Maybe Bob’s voice was a false echo, a manifestation of Nico’s own PTSD.
But that didn’t explain the prophecy.
That’s what Nico was thinking about when sleep finally came for him.
Nico was in darkness. What else was new?
He’d had this dream so many times he thought he knew where it was leading.
Except … not this night.
In the void, Nico heard his name.
A different voice than before, but so familiar …
He stirred as shadows wrapped around him. No one ever called him Niccolo. No one except …
Niccolo, vita mia …
The shadows pressed tighter against his face. He couldn’t breathe. He hadn’t heard that voice in years. Decades.
I’m here! he tried to call out. Please, don’t go! Vita mia, she repeated. Devi ascoltarmi.
Nico struggled to understand what she was saying. He was Italian, yes.
This was his native language. But his mind moved sluggishly, as if the darkness had seeped into his skull.
Finally, the meaning came to him.
‘I am listening, Mamma!’ he answered.
He thrashed, trying to free himself from the thick cocoon of shadows.
ASCOLTA! the voice cried.
He plummeted into a soft, warm nest of blankets. Was he back in his bunk at camp? He sat up and –
Light. On a lacquered brown nightstand, an ugly steel desk lamp cast a yellow glow over an oddly familiar room. Thick blackout curtains. A flatscreen TV. Striped gold-and-cream wallpaper like gilded prison bars.
Wait. No. Was this –?
He grabbed a laminated card from the nightstand.
LOTUS HOTEL AND CASINO: IN-ROOM BREAKFAST OPTIONS
No. No, no, no!
He turned slowly in the gigantic king-size bed, remembering how the mattress made hollow, tinny creaks whenever he moved.
He sensed her before he saw her, asleep in the bed next to him.
His sister Bianca. She looked so peaceful there, her chest rising slowly with her breath, her dark hair fanned across her pillow. Nico tried to open his mouth, tried to call to her, but his voice didn’t work. There was
something poking out from the edge of the duvet at Bianca’s shoulder. Was that … her quiver? Nico ripped back the covers and saw that his sister was dressed as if ready for battle, complete with boots, jacket and arrows.
This was all wrong. Bianca hadn’t become a Hunter of Artemis until after their time in the Lotus Casino. Then she’d taken the pledge … and left Nico for the last time. If he could just warn her, keep her from making those choices –
Wake up! he tried to yell, but his lips wouldn’t open. His right hand flew up to his mouth. Fear curdled in his stomach.
He bolted out of bed, tripping as his legs tangled in the duvet, and then staggered into the harsh fluorescent light of the bathroom. He braced his hands on the make-up mirror. Once his eyes adjusted –
Nico wanted to scream, but he couldn’t. He literally had no mouth.
Beneath his nose, where his lips had been, was a pale line of scar tissue.
This is a dream, he told himself. A dream. Wake up, wake up, wake up!
His terrified, marred reflection continued to stare back at him. For the thousandth time, Nico wished he had inherited Hades’s dream magic. Then he could control what he saw. He would already be awake. He could tell Will or Mr D about his nightmares, downplay their importance and revert to being in denial about the voice from Tartarus. That would be so much
Instead, he stumbled back into the room. The bed was now empty.
Bianca? Where did you go?
But he couldn’t yell it. He couldn’t say anything.
Nico took another step towards the bed and plunged through the floor.
Again he fell.
This time when he landed, he smacked against something very solid. The air rushed out of his lungs, and he opened his eyes to find himself looking at –
Bright blue sky, framed by rows of steel suspension cables. What? he thought. Where am I?
His hands pushed against the surface beneath him. It was warm and
scratchy. Tarmac. A road. Then he saw the cars on either side of him. Nico scrambled to his feet in a panic, certain that he was about to be run over.
But the cars remained still.
He hesitantly approached one and was further confused to discover that the driver’s seat was empty. All the cars seemed deserted – two frozen lines of traffic, and in the distance the Manhattan skyline. The wind buffeted
Nico’s clothes. The tarmac swayed gently, while above him the grey-blue metal support cables thrummed like giant guitar strings. Pedestrian paths on either side of the road were blocked off with dull red barriers. But there
were no people anywhere. Far below, the East River rippled in the sunlight.
‘Okay, dream,’ he muttered to himself. ‘Why am I on a New York City bridge?’
As soon as he said it, Nico had two realizations.
First, he could talk again. His mouth was no longer fused shut. Second, this was the Williamsburg Bridge.
Oh, no, he thought. No, I won’t relive this day.
There was a roar behind Nico, and his blood ran cold. He turned and saw the impossible.
The figure was tall and golden – but not in an attractive way like Will, more in an unnatural, terrifying, I’m going to kill you sort of way. He stood three metres tall, with a cruel ageless face, molten-gold eyes, and shining
armour. In his hands gleamed an enormous scythe.
‘This doesn’t make sense.’ Nico edged back, his pulse racing as the Titan strode towards him, a horde of monsters and allied demigods at his back.
Dreams rarely made sense, but this one … Nico hadn’t even been on the Williamsburg Bridge during the Battle of Manhattan. He’d only heard how Percy had collapsed the centre of the bridge to keep Kronos’s invasion at bay.
Kronos locked his eyes on Nico. The Titan smiled hideously, as if he could read Nico’s thoughts. He raised his scythe.
‘No!’ Nico turned to run towards Manhattan, away from Kronos’s advancing army.
But they stood in his way. Percy.
Michael Yew. Annabeth.
Will … looking so much younger, and so terrified.
Nico froze, trapped between the lines of battle. The bridge swayed beneath him.
‘This isn’t real,’ Nico told himself. ‘I’m not here.’
‘Listen.’ Percy stepped forward, forcing Nico back in Kronos’s direction. ‘Percy, what is this?’ Nico held up his hands defensively. ‘What are you
‘You have to listen,’ said Michael Yew, his intense brown eyes brimming with tears. ‘If you don’t, you will share my fate.’
‘Ominous much?’ Nico snarled. He spun around, but Kronos was nearly on top of him, wielding the scythe like a guillotine blade.
‘Listen!’ commanded the Titan.
‘I am!’ Nico was furious. ‘Whoever is trying to reach me, just tell me what you want!’
Kronos’s scythe hurtled towards his face.
Nico was in darkness. Again.
By this point, he was just irritated. A person could only take so much terror and misery before it started to get really annoying. This weird dream-jumping through memories and events seemed so unnecessary.
I get the message! he thought. I will listen! Isn’t that good enough?
A light appeared, soft and purple. ‘What the –?’
Nico grabbed his Stygian iron sword and let its glow illuminate his
surroundings. He was wedged into an egg-shaped space barely large enough to hold him. The gleaming metallic walls were cool to the touch. In front of him, etched into the bronze, were three long hash marks.
‘No,’ he said aloud, and the sound of his own voice echoed back at him. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’
Nico’s dream had taken him back to the jar that the giants Ephialtes and Otis had stuffed him into so he could serve as bait for the seven demigods of the prophecy. It was, all things considered, not exactly Nico’s favourite memory.
‘Here?’ Nico called out. ‘Why are you making me relive this?’
He shut his eyes and smacked the side of his head. Wake up, Nico! Wake up!
He opened his eyes again. He was still in the jar, and there, at his feet, was one lone pomegranate seed. His stomach contracted. Panic swelled in
his throat. He remembered his endless hours in this jar, racked with hunger and thirst, wondering how long he could hold out before eating that pomegranate seed – his last bit of sustenance.
‘Hey, subconscious?’ said Nico. ‘If you’re trying to get me to realize something, this is a terrible way to go about it.’
He was met with silence.
Suddenly a terrible screeching sound filled the vessel as the lid was prised open. Harsh light spilled in. Nico winced and covered his eyes. This hadn’t happened in the real world. The jar hadn’t been opened until it tipped over, just before the fight with Ephialtes and Otis.
Nico tried to uncover his eyes, but the light above was still too bright.
Given the strange logic of this dream ride, he wouldn’t have been surprised if Cookie Monster appeared over the mouth of the jar, reached inside and gobbled up Nico like the chocolate-chip cookie he was.
Cookie Monster did not, in fact, show up. Percy Jackson did.
Nico gazed up into Percy’s face, which was framed by tousled black hair. His green eyes looked stormy, his mouth twisted down in concern.
There was a time when just the thought of Percy had made Nico feel an intense pit of desire in his gut. It was an unrequited desire, of course, because Percy was never going to have the same feelings for Nico. It had torn up Nico for a long, long time. After a while, though, he became used to the idea that he wanted things he couldn’t have: Percy, Bianca, his mother, stability … it was all the same. Getting over Percy was easier than Nico
expected. What was one straight boy when you spent your whole life longing for the impossible?
As bizarre as this dream was, the sight of Percy was comforting to Nico.
He missed his friend and was eager to get out of this stupid jar. He remembered how frail and sickly he’d been when Piper had rescued him in real life. This time felt just as difficult. He tried to untangle his stiff legs and stand so Percy could help pull him out.
The other demigods must have defeated Otis and Ephialtes already. Nico couldn’t hear anything outside the confines of his bronze prison.
Nico reached up to take Percy’s hand.
But Percy was now further away. Even standing with his arms outstretched, Nico couldn’t reach the mouth of the jar.
Nico looked down, and his heart leaped into his throat. Either that pomegranate seed had swollen to the size of an apple … or Nico was shrinking!
He cast another glance at Percy …
No, no! His friend was even further away! The mouth of the jar now
seemed like a skylight at the top of a cathedral’s dome, and Percy was the size of a Titan, peeking in to see what the little mortals were up to.
Percy reached in with his gigantic hand. Nico jumped high, desperate to grab hold of one of Percy’s fingers, but he just kept shrinking smaller and smaller, the walls of the jar looming around him.
‘Stop it!’ Nico cried out.
Percy pulled his hand out of the jar. His face disappeared for a few seconds. When it returned, his eyes were red and glassy.
He was crying.
‘Nico,’ he said. ‘Nico, listen!’
Nico wanted to scream. ‘I have literally been doing nothing else!’ His voice came out tinny and high-pitched, like he’d sucked down the helium from a million balloons. It only sounded worse as it echoed throughout the jar.
‘You have to go,’ Percy said.
Nico’s heart seemed to be shrinking at a slower rate than his ribcage. It pressed against his sternum, hammering with each beat.
‘Go where?’ he asked, though he dreaded the answer. ‘We made a mistake,’ said Percy. ‘You have to fix it.’ The jar shattered.
Again, Nico fell.