Chapter no 33

The Sun and the Star

When Nico woke from his nightmares, he was convinced he had fallen into another dream.‌

He didn’t know if Nyx was still trying to invade his

subconscious to … do whatever it was she was doing. That still confused Nico. Was she trying to draw him into a trap? If so, did she not realize she didn’t have to? Nico would have come for Bob regardless, so the whole thing was perplexing.

His nightmares were weirdly predictable. It was as if his brain were a

Magic 8 Ball and someone had shaken it, plucked whatever memory floated to the surface, and then twisted it, warping the past to fit the same dream narrative: Nico needed to listen. He needed to tell the truth. Blah, blah, blah. It was all very repetitive, and he much preferred his usual chaotic dreams over this.

So, when he opened his eyes and found himself in a dark space, he

wasn’t frightened or startled. It was merely the next chapter in his boring dream journey. Was he back in the jar? Who was going to open it this time?

More light came in, and Nico blinked as his eyes adjusted to the shadow above him. Well, partial shadow. There was still a red haze everywhere.

Wait. He was in Tartarus! And was that Will’s face? No, he thought he could make out horns …

Maybe this wasn’t a dream after all.

Nico rubbed at his cheeks and sat up, promptly smacking his head on something that fell away from him.

The horned figure grunted. ‘Why were you under a boat?’

‘What?’ said Nico. Just to his left was a lone Kit Kat bar. Where had that

come from?

And then he saw the white boat on the ground behind him.

The boat. For some reason, Nico had been sleeping underneath the canoe Gorgyra had lent them. Had they crashed? No, not that Nico remembered. He’d been with Will when –


Where was Will?

Nico felt panic rising in him as he quickly sprang upright, his sword in his hand. ‘Who are you?’

The creature stared at him in confusion. He looked like … like Grover.

So … a satyr? No, his horns were strangely shaped. They were much, much bigger than any Nico had ever seen, and they curled up on the sides of the

creature’s face, which was that of a pale human with boyish features. Below the neck, he quickly became …

Actually, Nico wasn’t sure. He was furry like satyrs usually were, and there were hooves at the end of his two legs. Was he part goat? Part sheep? Around his waist he wore only a long, tattered cloth held in place by a thick band of leather.

The satyr-ish being looked down at the boat, then back to Nico. ‘Have you seen the child?’

‘The what?’ Nico said.

‘The child. I’m looking for him. I’m supposed to protect him.’

Protect, not eat, thought Nico. Well, that was a point in his favour.

Nico scanned the grim landscape that extended in every direction. Was the creature talking about Will? Nico didn’t see his companion anywhere. Where had he gone?

The creature shook his head. ‘I keep losing him. One second, I think I have him, then – BOOM! – gone.’

‘Who are you?’ asked Nico.

‘I am Amphithemis,’ he said. ‘And you?’ He narrowed his eyes. ‘Are you

the child?’

‘No! I’m just … I’m Nico. Not a child.’ ‘Would you help me find the child?’

Nico’s nerves prickled along his skin. Something about this seemed very, very wrong.

‘Speaking of finding someone, have you seen my boyfriend?’ he asked. ‘Tall. Bushy blond hair. Looks like both a camp counsellor and a surfer.

Maybe we can help each other …’

Amphithemis shook his head. ‘I am not sure I know what a surfer is, but I have seen no one.’ He shuffled in place, scraping one of his hooves against the dirt. ‘I have not seen anyone else in a very long time.’

Nico thought of Gorgyra’s loneliness and a pang of sadness hit him.

Amphithemis was even deeper in the Underworld than she was! ‘No kidding,’ he said. ‘Gods, where is Will? He wouldn’t just wander off …’

‘Perhaps he, too, is looking for this child,’ said Amphithemis, his face lighting up.

‘No,’ said Nico sadly. He bent down and picked up the Kit Kat bar.

‘We’re looking for … someone else.’ He didn’t want to reveal too much to this stranger, especially when he knew so little about the creature. He took a step closer to Amphithemis and examined his face. ‘If you don’t mind me

asking,’ he said, ‘what kind of being are you? You remind me a little of a centaur I know, but you don’t walk on four legs. So, a satyr?’

‘I am actually both,’ he said. ‘A Lamian centaur in name, but more like a satyr in nature. In fact, that is how I found you. We satyrs have a knack for finding demigods.’

That was true. Grover had found a number of them over the years, and satyrs were known for bringing unclaimed demigods to camp.

‘Can you sense another demigod nearby?’ Nico asked excitedly. ‘He’s a son of Apollo.’

‘Apollo?’ Amphithemis sniffed the air. ‘Hmm. The scent is light. Perhaps too light. But, yes, there is another demigod in the vicinity.’

‘Excellent! Can you help me track him down? Then maybe both of us can help you find this child.’

But Amphithemis was still sniffing the air. Suddenly he lunged at Nico and began smelling his neck.

Nico jumped back. ‘What are you doing?’

‘I smell him on you,’ said Amphithemis. ‘And others. Other living things who are … lost. Children. I smell children!’ At that, he shook his head violently. ‘No, no, I must find the children, must find them!’

Nico kept backing away, his hands up. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I haven’t

seen or been around any children lately. I’m just looking for my boyfriend.’ Amphithemis glared at him. ‘Which god is your parent?’

‘Well, it’s –’

‘Answer me, boy!’ Amphithemis demanded, his eyes flashing red. ‘I refuse to help a son of Zeus or Hera!’

‘Then don’t worry! My father is Hades.’

‘Hades?’ At the mention of the god of the Underworld and the dead, Amphithemis visibly calmed, his shoulders drooping. ‘Oh. Well, that is fine.’

Nico finally stopped backing away from him. ‘Why not Zeus or Hera?’ ‘The child,’ Amphithemis muttered. ‘Zeus sent me after the child, and I

think I lost him. Can’t find him, can’t find him. Where is the child?’ Nico stepped closer. ‘And Hera?’

The Lamian centaur gave him a rage-filled look. ‘She interfered. She turned me into this.’ He gestured at his body. ‘I was once a river spirit. Incorporeal. And now … now I’m part human, part ox, and …’

Amphithemis was lost in thought again. He started circling Nico, mumbling to himself. How long has he been down here? Nico wondered. If Zeus had sent Amphithemis to guard a child, he’d clearly failed. But who did Zeus want to protect, and why were they down in Tartarus?

Nico hadn’t really interacted with Hera, but he knew enough to fear her temper. So that checked out. But there wasn’t enough time to put all the pieces together – Nico had to find Will.

‘What if we help each other?’ he suggested once more, to get

Amphithemis back on track. ‘I think that would be beneficial to both of us.’ ‘Yes, yes,’ said the centaur. ‘Yes, two are better than one, and two can

find the child.’

‘Well, it can be three if you help me find Will first.’

‘Three for the child,’ said Amphithemis, and he scratched at his chin. ‘Yes. Much better odds. Better odds of finding him.’

Without warning, the centaur sniffed near Nico’s neck again. It was definitely not Nico’s favourite thing, but he didn’t want to upset

Amphithemis, especially if the centaur could help track down Will. After a few seconds, Amphithemis turned his nose up into the air.

‘Oh, yes, I think he is close,’ he said. ‘Very.’

The centaur’s movements were jerky. He lurched to the side and ran to the bank of the Acheron. ‘I know, I know,’ he said to the water. ‘I have made many mistakes. But I think they shall be no more. I will succeed this time!’

He waved at Nico, beckoning him. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘We must cross the River of Pain to get to him.’

Nico hesitated. He didn’t think Will would have gone that way. How

could he have crossed without a boat? Then again … this was Tartarus. It was entirely possible that Will’s mental stamina was not what Nico’s was, and this place could have led him astray.

Nico had a horrible thought. Had Will been drawn into the water and …?

He shook his head violently. No, he would not think that way. The

centaur believed Will was on the other side, and it wasn’t like Nico had any other information.

He walked over to Amphithemis but stopped short of the edge of the bank. ‘So, how do we get across? Should we get the boat?’

The centaur looked at Nico as if he’d just spoken gibberish. ‘Um, we

walk across,’ he said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

And that is exactly what he did.

There was no reluctance. No uncertainty. Amphithemis waded through the rushing water – which came up to his thighs – and then stood on the other bank, staring at Nico. ‘Well?’ he said.

Nico’s mouth was still open. ‘I’m sorry, did you just casually walk through the Acheron?’

‘It’s fine,’ he said. ‘It only affects those who need to be punished. It means nothing to me.’

That made no sense. The River of Pain magnified a person’s mistakes and wrongdoings. Did Amphithemis mean to suggest he’d never made a single mistake in his entire life?

‘I’m waiting,’ said the centaur, tapping his hoof on the ground. ‘We must keep moving!’

Nico grimaced and tentatively approached the edge. ‘Well, here goes nothing.’

The river whispered to him, begging him to give himself over to it.

This is where you belong.

Nico unwrapped the Kit Kat he was holding and greedily gobbled it up, hoping it would give him some strength. Will had to have left it for Nico; that was exactly the sort of caring thing his boyfriend would do. Nico

clutched that thought tightly as he stared at the rushing waters.

He recalled the nightmare Epiales had given Will: Nico jumping into the Styx, leaving Will behind. The terrible irony was not lost on Nico. Had Will

left him behind?

There was no point hoping an answer would come, and Amphithemis was now stomping his hoof like he was keeping time in a demonic

Broadway musical.

So Nico held his breath and leaped.

Nico’s plan had been to quickly jump to the other bank, but once his legs were submerged in the Acheron, the current grasped him and sent intrusive thoughts into his mind.

Nico remembered every monster and demon he’d ever killed. He remembered the dead he had raised. He remembered all the people he’d been unable to save.

Jason. Bianca.

His mother.

‘Come on!’ yelled Amphithemis, his hand extended. ‘What’s taking you so long? I’m losing the scent!’

Nico trudged his way through the River of Pain, then reached for

Amphithemis’s hand. The centaur pulled it back at the last second, so Nico ended up pitching forward and flopping onto the opposite bank.

‘The child,’ Amphithemis said. ‘The child. Where is the child?’

‘We’ll find him,’ said Nico, gasping and rolling over onto his back. ‘Just let me catch my breath first.’

Amphithemis danced around him, hopping from one hoof to another. ‘Who are you? Do you know where the child is?’

Nico scowled at him. ‘I already told you my name.’

‘Where did you come from?’ The centaur dropped to all fours and

approached Nico, then sniffed his now-wet jeans. ‘You were in the river. River washed away the scent.’

Nico’s eyes widened. ‘What? No!’ He quickly removed his bomber and held it out to Amphithemis. ‘Smell this. Will’s scent is definitely still on it.’

‘Who is Will?’

Nico scoffed. ‘My boyfriend, remember?’

The centaur tentatively sniffed one of the sleeves. ‘Oh, yes. Yes, I smell them. Children. The children are near.’

And then he bolted away from Nico.

‘Hey, wait up!’ Nico called out, pushing himself up and slipping on his jacket. He was a little woozy at first, but he soon found his footing and

chased after Amphithemis.

The centaur was running wildly, his nose in the air, sniffing every which way. Why would Nico’s boyfriend have come this direction? Oh, Will, he thought. What ridiculous idea did you get in your head?

Then: What ridiculous idea did this place put in your head?

Amphithemis darted helter-skelter, sniffing every rock and bone they passed. He muttered to himself the whole time, and Nico couldn’t make out what he was saying. He seemed … determined. This mission Zeus had given him was clearly his sole purpose in life. It wasn’t like Zeus handed out assignments regularly, so it had to be important to find this child.

‘Here, here,’ said Amphithemis loudly, and he came to a grouping of

stones, each of them pitch-black like volcanic rock. ‘The child was here.’ Nico panted as he walked up to him. ‘Will was here?’

‘The children. The children were here.’

Nico wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for. Or at, for that matter. Where had these stones come from? Unlike where Nico had been when he’d woken up, there was nothing else here on this flat plain. Nico twisted around and peered back at the river. He could still see the boat on the other side, and off to his right was a set of hills.

He thought he saw movement there. Was he imagining it? Maybe Tartarus was playing tricks on his mind already.

He gazed back at the volcanic rocks, and this time, he was sure he saw something move.

And it looked like a mouth snapping shut.

Nico froze and focused on the spot. ‘Shhh,’ he said to Amphithemis. ‘I think something is here.’

There was a soft rustling sound, and out of the corner of his eye, he spied something dart past. Nico was only quick enough to catch a pack of

shadows moving together into the distance. ‘This isn’t Will,’ said Nico. ‘He’s not here!’

‘Who’s Will?’ said Amphithemis, scowling at Nico. ‘Who are you?’ ‘What?!’

Amphithemis took a tentative step forward. ‘I’m trying to find the child. I think I lost him. Do you know where he is?’

Nico squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them. ‘Am I dreaming? This is a dream, isn’t it?’

‘Do you have him?’ Amphithemis snarled. ‘You have him, don’t you?’ Nico began to back away. ‘I don’t know who you’re talking about!’

The centaur’s eyes widened. ‘I know! I know his name! Dionysus!’

The ground rumbled underneath Nico’s feet, but he remained frozen in place. ‘What did you say?’

‘Dionysus!’ Amphithemis’s tone was more certain. ‘Yes, yes, the baby Dionysus!’

No, no, no, thought Nico. This is a dream. This is Nyx! She’s trapped me in another nightmare!

Without a word, Nico turned and ran. He ignored Amphithemis’s

shouting and pumped his legs, his boots slapping the dirt. He tried to leap as far as he could from the bank of the Acheron, but both his feet slammed into the water. The voices cried out, first in shock, then in oozing relief, grateful that Nico had returned. They begged him to join the others, to

cleanse himself of all he’d done wrong, but he slogged through the current, stumbling and getting a mouthful of the river. He spat it out, but he could

still feel the poisonous thoughts slithering down his throat, begging him to stay.

You deserve this. You are a murderer. You belong here.

Nico climbed out of the other side of the Acheron, then crawled towards the boat. He was convinced that if he reached it and returned to where he’d woken up, he would somehow break the spell Nyx had cast over him.

He had to wake up.

But as he grabbed the gunwale of the boat and lifted his leg to climb in, he heard a splash behind him. He spun to see Amphithemis stomping his way.

‘Stop running!’ the Lamian centaur cried. ‘It’s useless!’ ‘You’re not real!’ said Nico. ‘This is all a dream!’

Amphithemis stopped short, his face aghast. ‘Excuse you, but I am very much real!’

‘No, you’re not.’ Nico scooted backwards until his legs hit the boat. ‘None of this is.’

‘Where is Dionysus? Where is he, boy?’

‘At camp!’ Nico screamed. ‘And he isn’t a baby!’

Amphithemis scrunched up his eyebrows. ‘That is impossible. Zeus ordered me to protect the child! It is my sacred duty!’

Nico was at a loss. ‘Amphithemis, he’s grown-up. He’s been grown-up for thousands of years! He’s the director of a camp for demigods.’

The centaur shook his head. ‘No. No, he isn’t.’

‘I don’t know what else to tell you. I literally just saw him a few days ago, and he’s very much not a child.’

‘I don’t understand,’ Amphithemis said, and he grabbed his own horns, then began to pull on them. ‘What you are saying makes no sense.’

‘I’m sorry,’ said Nico, full of pity for Amphithemis, who was on a fool’s errand and didn’t even know it. ‘What you’re saying makes no sense to me, either.’

Amphithemis looked like he was about to burst into tears. ‘But I … But Zeus said … and I –’ He fell to his knees in despair.

Nico rose. This was wrong. It felt so cruel. But he also didn’t understand it. Before, when Nyx and Epiales had crafted Nico’s nightmares, they’d used his existing memories. Yet all this was new. He had never met

Amphithemis before. So why send him these images? What was Nyx trying to do?

He approached the centaur. ‘Hey,’ Nico said, his hands open in front of him. ‘I’m sorry. I ran because I was scared. But I’m not scared of you. It’s just the situation that frightened me.’

‘Did I fail?’ Amphithemis sobbed. ‘Did I fail the child?’

‘No,’ said Nico. ‘You didn’t. Dionysus is healthy and happy now.’

Well, Nico wasn’t sure the god was all that happy as the camp director, but he didn’t think this was the right time to share that observation.

‘You promise?’

‘I do. He’s perfectly fine.’

Nico held out his hand to the centaur, who examined it for a moment. ‘Okay,’ he said, and he reached out so Nico could hoist him to his


And his hand went right through Nico’s.

It was a strange sensation, but unfortunately a familiar one, one he’d

experienced numerous times here in the Underworld and even a few times aboveground.

It was the feeling of a soul passing through a body.

Nico yelped and jerked his hand back, which only upset Amphithemis more. ‘You said you weren’t afraid of me!’ he bellowed. ‘That was clearly a lie!’

Many things dawned on Nico at once.

Amphithemis was dead. Completely and utterly dead, and yet he was the most mortal-looking soul Nico had ever seen.

Nico was not dreaming. This was real. Very real. And Amphithemis was …

No. Even thinking it seemed impossible. But then the centaur’s eyes flashed red once again, and a look of righteous anger passed over his face.

‘The child,’ said Amphithemis. ‘Where is he?’ Nico remained still. ‘He’s not here.’

The centaur tilted his head to the side. ‘Who are you? Do you know where the child is?’

It finally came together. Amphithemis was a soul obsessed with a task he could not complete, one he had died without fulfilling, and now he was repeating that obsession here in Tartarus in a never-ending cycle.

‘I need to find him,’ said Amphithemis, spinning in circles. He stilled, then focused his blood-red eyes on Nico. ‘You have him, don’t you? Give him back!’

The centaur screamed and leaped at Nico and, as the demigod dived out of the way, he knew the truth for certain.

Amphithemis was a mania.

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