Chapter no 34

The Sun and the Star

As Will struggled against the birds’ sharp talons, trying to free himself, his mind went back to the hypothetical brochure.‌

See Tartarus from up high! Complimentary transportation via Stymphalian birds!

He tried to twist around to catch a glimpse of Gorgyra’s white canoe, desperate to know if Nico was okay, but the birds dipped and guided him further away. Below him, the landscape was covered in zits, craggy hills and shadows of creatures Will couldn’t identify.

‘Okay, this has been fun!’ he called out. ‘Love the view! You can let me down now!’

He swung an arm out and smacked one of the pigeons, which caused it to let go. The flock began to veer slightly to the right. Without any hesitation, he whacked another bird and, as he’d predicted, the flock moved even more sharply to the right.

He was steering them.

Will imagined himself as a captain of the sky as he hit pigeons off his right shoulder until he’d guided them back in the direction he’d come from. But more Stymphalian birds flew in, grabbing at his T-shirt, and he heard a tearing sound.

‘Oh, no,’ he said. ‘Please don’t –’

A few hundred metres short of his goal – he could see his backpack

sitting near a large rock – Will’s shirt ripped completely off. The birds flew away with its remains without missing a wingbeat.

Will plummeted, the ground rushing up to meet him. Love how much falling I’m doing on this quest! Will thought. Maybe I should teach a class

at Camp Half-Blood on how to fall.

Oh, how he missed Camp Half-Blood.

Thankfully, his fall was broken by a large monster zit. He bounced off it and hit another enormous pod like he was inside a pinball machine. Yet his relief over not plunging to his death was quickly negated by what tore itself out of the first pimple he’d crashed into.

Will saw a human hand claw through the membrane, followed by the snarling head of a dog.

A cynocephalus. Those terrible dog-headed men who’d allied with

Octavian and Nero. And now here was one with their eyes locked on Will, sharp fangs snapping. If he didn’t get out of here now, he was certain to become demigod coleslaw.

Yet, as he turned and scrambled away, he saw more zits burst. Saw more dog-headed monstrosities rip their way into Tartarus. Saw a cloud of Stymphalian birds heading his way.

He was but one demigod in a soup of monsters.

Will heard the cynocephali snarl, and he dived for a nearby boulder, flattening himself against the craggy ground. His heart beat so hard he was certain the monsters would be able to locate him from all the thumping.

He’d made a terrible mistake.

He never should have left Nico’s side. Never! How had he let this place get to him so quickly? He’d only been here a few minutes before it had put thoughts in his head, just like Percy, Annabeth and Nico had warned. And now he was in the midst of a disaster, something had found Nico, and Will couldn’t do anything about it because dog-headed monstrosities were regenerating all around him.

More of the pods popped.

More creatures slithered to the ground. More cynocephali growled close by.

Will crawled forward and peeked around the edge of the stone he was hiding behind.

A group of slimy, goo-covered cynocephali sniffed the ground about twenty or thirty metres away. One of them pawed at a regeneration bubble until it ripped open and another member of the pack was spat out.

They were growing in numbers. Will had no weapon and no hope.

He sat up and pressed his back against the stone, then covered his mouth with his hand to mask his breathing. With his other hand, he grabbed Nico’s

skull ring on its chain. He clutched it tightly.

I’m sorry, Nico, he thought. I’m sorry I let you down.

There was a bright flash overhead, followed by a vicious cry.

Will waited for the cynocephali to find him, desperately hoping he would think of a plan before then.





While dodging the spirit’s attack, Nico hit the ground hard, knocking the breath out of him, but he couldn’t stop moving. He rolled to his feet and unsheathed his Stygian iron sword, but how was it supposed to help? Only Imperial gold could destroy manias. And Amphithemis wasn’t even solid. In all his years, Nico had never heard of a mania in the form of a soul.

What was he supposed to do?

Amphithemis let loose a guttural growl. ‘Give me the child! You cannot keep him from me!’

He swiped at Nico, who ducked and brought his sword down on the centaur’s arm.

And unfortunately his weapon passed straight through the appendage, as expected.

Nico swore.

‘Stay still!’ Amphithemis ordered.

Nico decided to do just that. Why am I trying to fight him? he thought.

He can’t even touch me!

He lowered his sword until the tip of it touched the ground. ‘I don’t have the child,’ said Nico. ‘There isn’t one any more. Amphithemis, just think for a moment. You’re in Tartarus. Only one type of person ends up here.’

The centaur actually appeared to consider this for a few seconds before he shook his head angrily. ‘I won’t be fooled by your tricks, demigod,’ he spat. ‘If the dead are the only ones here, then why are you standing before me, using your magic so I cannot strike you?’

‘Damn,’ said Nico. ‘I hadn’t thought of that.’

Amphithemis raised his arm to bring it down on Nico’s head.

The demigod didn’t even wince. He knew what was going to happen –Amphithemis’s hand would pass through him, and they’d be back at square one.

So he didn’t brace himself before Amphithemis raked his nails over Nico’s face.

Nico cried out and stumbled back. His hand flew to his cheek, which was wet with blood.

Amphithemis looked just as shocked as Nico. But he soon closed his mouth and squinted at him. ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘Do you know where Dionysus is?’

Nico slowly stuck his hand in his jeans pocket, ran his bloody fingers over the coin’s embossing. I don’t know where you are, Will, he thought, but I’m going to find you.

Amphithemis hunched over and held up his hands in an offensive posture. ‘Don’t move,’ he said. ‘I don’t know who you are, but I know you have the child.’

The centaur launched himself towards Nico.

And Nico turned and started sprinting. He gripped the coin tightly as he headed for the ridge in the distance. Amphithemis screamed as he chased him, and Nico knew he wouldn’t be able to outrun a centaur. It was only a matter of time before he got caught.

He had no plan. He had a sword that was useless, Will was missing, and they weren’t any closer to finding Bob or Nyx.

On the ridge, there was a bright flash, and Nico saw numerous dark shapes converging on a single point.

‘Will,’ he breathed. It had to be him.

He only managed a few more steps before Amphithemis tackled him from behind.





Will heard a splatter from behind the rock.

He nearly jumped in fright. Next there was a sickening tearing sound, then a pained cry. Had the cynocephali found another victim first? Were they eating each other? He fleetingly wondered if this had bought him some time, and he suddenly knew he couldn’t just sit there and wait for them to

attack first.

He was a demigod! The son of Apollo! And his boyfriend needed him


There was another grouping of stones a few metres away, so Will pressed his hands and feet into the ground and sprang forward, racing to the rocks

and diving behind them. He was overjoyed to see his backpack sitting there, and he quickly pulled out his hoodie and put it on. Then he hoisted the pack onto his shoulders. Another bright flash illuminated his surroundings, so Will poked his head above the rock.

He could not believe what he saw.

An entire pack of cynocephali were fighting a large, translucent, glowing cat. The feline hissed and growled at one of the dog-headed monsters, then swiped an enormous paw at it, drawing blood. The big cat leaped onto the cynocephalus and tore at its neck, then jumped out of the way as another member of the pack tried to attack. The cynocephalus on the ground jerked around a bit, and then its body dissolved.

The cat turned in Will’s direction, and he was able to see its fierce front fangs, which hung down below its bottom jaw, red with the blood of

cynocephali. It had a spotted pattern over its coat, making it look a whole lot like a –


Like a sabre-toothed tiger.

‘Small Bob?’ Will said, rising.

The feline’s ears perked up, and then it bounded in his direction. For a moment Will believed he’d made yet another terrible mistake, but the cat

skidded to a stop in front of him and shrank. Seconds later, it was a … a cat. A regular house cat with an orange-and-brown calico coat, and it was purring, slipping in and out of Will’s legs.

‘You’re kidding me,’ muttered Will.

He wanted to kneel down and pet it – because it was evil not to pet a cat that was being so friendly – but he had a more immediate problem to deal with.

The other cynocephali were closing in.

The lead one lifted its top lip in a growl as it advanced. Will quickly

counted, and once he got to twelve he realized that maybe he had a better use for his time.

‘Small Bob,’ he said. ‘If you can understand me, I need you to do that sabre-toothed-tiger thing again.’

The cat purred and rubbed his head on Will’s leg. ‘Right now would be great!’

Small Bob meowed. ‘Any second now!’

The cynocephali circled Will, and the leader lowered its head, preparing to pounce.

‘Please don’t scratch me,’ said Will as he bent down and picked up Small Bob. He pressed the cat to his chest with his hand covering Small Bob’s other ear, and with his free hand he put his fingers to his lips.

The lead cynocephalus leaped at him.

And Will let loose an earsplitting whistle.

The cynocephalus dropped in mid-jump and cried out in pain while the flock of Stymphalian birds fell from the air. The rest of the dog-headed men tumbled all over themselves and one another, giving Will what he needed –a temporary advantage. He let go of Small Bob, who jumped out of Will’s

arms. Before the cat hit the ground, there was a flash, and Will could see the skeletal outline of Small Bob as he grew, his legs and paws and body

swelling and elongating until a full-fledged sabre-toothed tiger hit the packed earth.

Small Bob wasted no time. He decimated as many cynocephali as he could while they were incapacitated, and Will stood there in shock,

watching the spirit-like cat lay waste to nearly a full pack of dog-headed monsters. Blood spilled on the ground, and the dead cynocephali disappeared, sent back to regenerate here in Tartarus again. Small Bob had killed nearly all the creatures when a new sound rang out from down the hill.

A voice.

‘Get back here!’ it snarled.

And there, darting in between some intact regeneration pods, was Nico and his glowing purple sword.

‘Nico!’ Will called out, his heart leaping in both excitement and terror. He briefly glanced back to Small Bob, who was fighting three cynocephali at once.

‘You seem to be doing just fine here,’ Will told the cat. ‘I’m gonna go save my boyfriend!’

Small Bob roared. Will thought it sounded a lot like a roar of encouragement.

Will sprinted down the hill, nearly colliding with Nico moments later. To his dismay, Nico’s face was red, and there were three slash marks on his left

cheek. Will wanted to sweep his boyfriend up in his arms, shower him with kisses and hugs and healing, but there was no time for that. The creature he’d seen lifting Nico’s boat earlier was now at the bottom of the hill and rapidly approaching.

‘Where is the child?’ it demanded. ‘WHERE IS HE?’

Nico grasped Will’s hand the second he was within reach, but he didn’t stop moving. He yanked Will up the incline, practically pulling the son of Apollo’s arm out of its socket.

‘Ow!’ Will cried. ‘Nico, what’s going on? What child is he talking about?’

‘Not enough time!’ Nico screamed. ‘Go!’

Will followed Nico up the hill, where, unfortunately, they were met with another chaotic scene. Small Bob had indeed taken out two more

cynocephali, but now he was limping. His front left leg was injured. Even worse, though, was the revolting sound of more regeneration pods tearing open, their contents spilling out.

The demigods stumbled to a stop. ‘Will, what is happening?’ Nico asked, panting.

At the sound of Nico’s voice, Small Bob turned his head. Without any hesitation, he turned back into a calico cat and bounded over to Nico, limping the whole time. He leaped onto Nico’s leg and climbed it.

The cat settled on Nico’s shoulders. ‘I’m sorry, is this –?’ said Nico.

‘Nico, meet Small Bob,’ said Will. ‘Small Bob, you seem to already know who this is.’


Will turned to see an out-of-breath satyr trudging up to them. At least he thought it was a satyr. But why were its horns so big?

‘Don’t … move,’ panted the creature. ‘I need … to find … the child.’

Will looked from this newcomer to the one remaining cynocephalus, who examined them all and clearly realized that he was outnumbered. He slunk away to a freshly burst pod and lay down to wait for his packmates to revive.

‘I am so lost,’ said Will. ‘What child?’

‘Will, meet Amphithemis,’ said Nico. ‘He’s looking for Dionysus.’ ‘Yes!’ said Amphithemis, standing upright. ‘Yes, I’m looking for the

child. Have you seen him?’

‘Just for the record,’ said Will, ‘that didn’t help me understand this any better.’

Nico, now cradling Small Bob, leaned closer and whispered a single word in his ear. ‘Mania.’

Will’s eyes opened wide, and he cautiously watched Amphithemis pace back and forth.

‘Zeus will be so angry with me,’ the newcomer said. ‘So angry. I cannot disappoint him!’

‘Zeus?’ Will glanced at Nico. ‘I’m still confused.’

‘Not now,’ Nico said. ‘What are we supposed to do about them?’

Nico jerked his head to the right, and Will’s heart sank when he saw that five regenerated cynocephali had appeared. They would soon be ready to mount an attack, and Will still had no idea what to do about the odd stand-off they were in. Nico had a sword, at least, but Small Bob was licking his injured paw. Would the cat even be able to fight again? And where were all those awful pigeons?

Will looked back at the pacing satyr creature. And once the idea came to him, he just acted.

‘They have him,’ said Will, pointing to the cynocephali. ‘They took the child.’

Nico gripped Will’s hand. ‘What are you doing?’

Will ignored him. ‘Those dog-headed creatures,’ he insisted. ‘They stole Dionysus.’

Amphithemis seemed to raise himself higher. ‘The child …’ he said

softly, and then his face transformed into a portrait of fury. His eyes flashed red and he said, ‘They have the child, don’t they?’

Will nodded. ‘You have to save him!’ ‘Will, don’t –’ Nico began.

But the son of Apollo lunged at Amphithemis. ‘Go!’ he bellowed. ‘What are you waiting for?’

With a terrible shriek, the satyr creature launched himself at the waiting cynocephali, snarling and biting and slashing with his nails. Will watched

as Amphithemis chased the retreating monsters, a swarm of murder pigeons above his head, shouting about a child and Zeus. Soon, they were all just a distant echo.

Will slumped against Nico, resting his head on his boyfriend’s shoulder. ‘Nico, I’m sorry,’ he said, wasting no time in addressing his regret. ‘I

shouldn’t have left you.’

Nico pulled away. ‘Why did you do that?’

‘Leave you? Because you were sleeping, and I thought –’

‘No, I mean just now. Why did you send Amphithemis after them?’ He scratched Small Bob behind the ear. ‘It’s not his fault he’s the way he is.’

‘What are you talking about? I just saved us!’

‘But now he’s going to continue wandering Tartarus forever!’ said Nico. ‘His spirit has clearly been trapped down here for millennia.’

Will’s mouth dropped open. ‘What was I supposed to do? You told me he was a mania. I thought they were bad!’

Nico sighed. ‘I mean … sometimes, yeah. Like when Reyna’s father lost it, and she had to kill him. But it’s not like they can help it! I could have … I could have –’

‘You could have done what, Nico?’ said Will. ‘You don’t have any Imperial gold. What exactly were you planning on doing?’

‘I don’t know!’ said Nico. ‘I didn’t really get a chance to think about it, since you sent him off after a bunch of monsters.’

‘So why are you mad at me?’ ‘Who said I’m mad?’ Nico yelled.

‘Well, excuse me for trying to save our lives!’ snapped Will.

‘I’m sorry, weren’t you the one who abandoned me? Under a boat?’

The guilt smacked Will in the chest, and he tried to swallow it down deeper. ‘Look, I’m sorry,’ he said quickly. ‘I was trying to –’

‘And what exactly could you have done?’ Nico shot back. ‘You left me alone and defenceless!’

Nico’s eyes filled with tears, and Will’s stomach sank. ‘Nico, I’m sorry!’ he said again quickly. ‘I don’t know what came over me. I just … I just got this idea in my head. It came so easily, and it was like I couldn’t think of

anything else.’ Hot tears poured down his own face. ‘I thought if I found something that could bring us to Bob, you’d be proud of me. It was so

stupid, I know. I never should have left you, but I didn’t realize that this place had tricked me until I was surrounded and –’

Then he burst into sobs, fear burning through him. He had lost Nico, hadn’t he? He’d made a mistake so awful that Nico was going to leave him behind, abandon him in this terrible nightmare, and he deserved it, he’d

earned it, this was where he was supposed to be, and …

Nico put Small Bob on the ground and approached. He wrapped his arms around Will and held him while he wept into Nico’s shoulder. Will let it all out until he had basically soaked Nico’s bomber jacket with tears and snot.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Nico. ‘I shouldn’t have snapped at you. The truth is, I figured this place had got to you and you hadn’t actually abandoned me.’

Will pulled away, sniffled, then wiped his nose with the back of his hand. ‘I did leave you a Kit Kat bar.’

Nico barked a laugh. ‘You did,’ he said. ‘And it was delicious. Thank you.’

Nico helped him sit down next to one of the rocks he had hidden behind, and Small Bob came scampering over, leaping into Will’s lap. The cat immediately began purring so loud and hard that he kind of felt like a portable massage gun, which Will’s sore legs absolutely needed.

While Small Bob got settled, Will told Nico everything that had happened since they’d been separated, including his brief flight on Stymphalian Airlines. ‘I don’t know how you managed alone,’ he said after catching Nico up. ‘I was by myself for maybe twenty minutes, and I thought I was never going to survive this place.’

‘Well, we still have further to go,’ said Nico. ‘So don’t get too excited.’ ‘Does it feel weird? To be back here?’

Nico surveyed the lava plains in the distance. ‘A little,’ he said, his eyes aglow in the light of the burning magma. ‘But it’s also … I don’t know, familiar? I spent a lot of time here, so I’m not sure there’s much that can

surprise me any more.’ He chuckled. ‘Well, I guess I can’t say that. I’ve never seen a mania spirit before.’

‘I’m sorry I acted without thinking it all the way through,’ said Will. ‘You were right – Amphithemis doesn’t deserve a fate like that. His soul should be put to rest.’

‘Well, I don’t even know how I would do that,’ said Nico. ‘And at least

we’re safe … for the moment.’ He looked around suspiciously at the nearest regeneration pods.

Will sat forward and rummaged through his knapsack until he grabbed hold of his med kit. After pulling it out, he situated himself so that he was facing Nico’s left side, while Small Bob hopped into Nico’s lap.

‘Let me get those scratches on your cheek,’ Will said, opening some antiseptic pads to disinfect his hands. ‘How’d you get them?’

‘Ugh,’ Nico groaned. ‘Amphithemis.’

Will paused. ‘But I thought you said he was a spirit.’

‘He was. But he became solid when he was angry at me, hence these.’

Will frowned. The boundaries between life and death, solid and incorporeal, seemed so blurry here. Tartarus and the Underworld were not as black-and-white as he’d thought.

He told Nico to hold still, then delicately dabbed at the cuts on his face.

Nico jerked a bit at first but mostly cooperated while Will cleaned the gashes. Will gave Nico a sip of nectar, applied ointment to reduce scarring and held gauze against the area, humming while he did so. It was another melody his mother had composed long, long before Will had been born, but it was a comforting one. As he did so, Nico pressed his cheek into Will’s hand and closed his eyes.

They remained like that for a while, the only sounds Small Bob’s rhythmic purring and Will’s haunting healing melody. Will loved how at peace Nico looked, especially since it was so rare that he ever did. He was always scowling or fretting about something wrong in the world around him. But right here, right now, Nico was in the moment, and it gave Will a sense of accomplishment.

He also hoped Nico believed that Will would never actually abandon him.

Guilt still ate at Will, even as he removed the gauze pad and admired his work. The cuts had mostly healed, but Nico could end up with some light scarring on his cheek. Later he would ask Nico if he wanted them erased, but Will suspected Nico was going to be okay with them. They kind of

added a bit of mystique to his face. And it was a nice face, too. Nico’s eyes fluttered open, and Will gazed deep into them.

‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered.

Nico shook his head. ‘No, no, we’re not doing that again,’ he said. ‘I know you didn’t mean to leave. And I know you were still looking out for me, or else you wouldn’t have left that Kit Kat behind.’

Will leaned against the rock and wiped sweat from his face, a wave of exhaustion pouring over his body. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Would you mind if I rested for a moment? Just to recuperate a little before we go on?’

Nico nodded, then looped his arm around Will’s shoulder, pulling him in so that Will’s head came to rest on Nico’s sternum. Small Bob, still curled up in Nico’s lap, remained alert. This was hardly a safe place for them to

stop, Will knew, and they had to stay vigilant. But for now he let Nico and

Small Bob keep watch as Will drifted off to sleep to the calming rise and fall of Nico’s breathing.

You'll Also Like