Chapter no 39

The Sun and the Star

Nico woke to Small Bob licking his cheek.‌

He opened his eyes slowly, and the calico’s face loomed close to his.

‘Okay, okay,’ he said. ‘I’m up.’

He sat as Small Bob scampered away, bouncing over to the still-flickering fire. It didn’t seem to have gone down while Nico and Will slept, and yet there was a chill in the air. He glanced down at his boyfriend. Will was clearly in deep sleep – his mouth was open, and there was a small line of drool on the sheepskin. So Nico leaned over, kissed him on the forehead and decided to let him rest for a while longer.

He took a sheepskin with him and wrapped it around his shoulders. Even with his bomber jacket on under the sheepskin, it was still cold. Much

colder than it had been when he’d first entered Damasen’s hut. Even when he walked over to the fire and stood next to it, he could still see his breath.

It was probably going to get worse.

Nico heard a scuffling sound behind him, and he turned to see Will approaching.

‘Go back to sleep,’ Nico said.

‘I’m up,’ said Will. ‘Once I’m awake, it’s hard for me to fall back asleep.’

Nico held out his sheepskin, and Will huddled beneath it.

‘You think this cold is Nyx’s doing?’ Will asked, rubbing his hands together.

Nico nodded. ‘She must be close,’ he said. Then: ‘Which means Bob must be close.’

‘Should we just find her now? You know, get it over with?’ He raised an eyebrow. ‘Get it over with?’

Will yawned. ‘You know what I mean.’

In truth, he did. Nico knew that facing Nyx was going to be awful no matter what happened, so he, too, wanted to get it over with.


They both looked up to see the shadowed form of Small Bob in the doorway.

‘Well, clearly he thinks it’s time for us to go,’ said Nico, reaching for Will’s hand. He squeezed it once. ‘You ready, Will?’

Will squeezed back. ‘If I’m being honest …’ he said, then sighed. ‘No.

Not really. But I don’t have much of a choice at this point. We’re practically on Nyx’s doorstep, aren’t we?’

Terror fluttered in Nico’s heart. He could see himself back there again, beyond the walls of Nyx’s home, the Mansion of Night looming and seeing deep into his soul.

He was going to have to return there. He knew it.

‘Let’s just go,’ he said, dropping Will’s hand and turning from the fire to head towards Small Bob. Will went over to collect his knapsack.

The cat was cleaning himself at the entry to the hut. He looked up at Nico and mewled pitifully.

‘I know,’ said Nico. ‘I don’t want to do this, either.’ Small Bob rubbed his head against Nico’s boots.

Moments later, Will stood next to Nico, his hand outstretched. In it was a small airtight bag full of Golden Oreos, a granola bar and a banana.

‘What’s this?’ asked Nico.

Will rolled his eyes. ‘Nico, it’s food. We still have to eat down here.’ ‘You packed these ahead of time, didn’t you?’ Nico began to peel the

banana. ‘Seriously, what else do you have in your magic bag?’

Will didn’t laugh at that, though. ‘Not much, actually. I think the batteries I brought fell out somewhere, and there’s not much nectar or ambrosia left.’

Nico breathed in deep. ‘Well, we’re almost there. Just a little further to go, and then …’ He let the thought die, not wanting to speak any outcome aloud.

So he dropped the sheepskin from his shoulders and followed Small Bob as the cat bounded off into the swampy darkness.



For the first few hours (Were they hours? How much time had passed in the mortal world?), the demigods’ spirits weren’t as dire as Nico had expected.

Sleep seemed to have greatly helped Will, who was no longer limping along. The blisters had healed on both their faces and arms, and Nico’s mind felt clear for the first time in ages.

After they left the clearing around Damasen’s hut, Small Bob led them through a soggy woodland. The air was chilly here, too, and a light dew coated the green and brown grasses that grew in clumps like hair on a

giant’s head. Though Nico hadn’t travelled through a swamp the first time he was in Tartarus, he wondered if this was part of the same forest he’d been in before finding the Mansion of Night.

But he mostly felt disorientated. He had no idea which way they were heading, and he longed to be back in a world with the cardinal directions. Here? It was just down.

As they trudged over the uneven ground, Will hummed to himself. It was a lilting melody, and Nico got lost in its rising and falling.

‘Another song of your mom’s?’ Nico asked once Will stopped.

He nodded. ‘Yeah. This is gonna sound cheesy, but I think I remember Annabeth and Percy saying cheesy stuff helps.’

‘Lay it on me, Will. I’m your grilled cheese.’

He stepped over a thorny rock, then squinted at Nico. ‘I think your metaphor needs work,’ he said. ‘Anyway, it makes me feel like Mom’s here with me. Like, I know she’s not, but whenever things get scary and hard I hum her songs. And I know she’s somewhere, thinking of me.’

‘Good,’ said Nico. ‘Let’s have more of that.’ ‘Do you do anything similar?’

Nico hopped up on a fallen tree, then pulled Will over it. ‘No, not really,’ he said. ‘Father’s not the sentimental type.’

Will was silent for a moment. ‘I was asking more about your mom.’

The comment shocked Nico so much that he misstepped and his foot landed in a pool of freezing-cold muck. He shook off his boot.

‘Sorry,’ said Will softly. ‘I’m not trying to pry. I’m just curious, since you don’t, um, talk about her all that much.’

Nico felt a brief flash of irritation, but this time he pushed past it. Will wasn’t being obtuse or rude about Nico’s past – he genuinely seemed to

want to know more about him.

So Nico smiled at his boyfriend. ‘It’s okay,’ he said. ‘It’s just that … well, I didn’t get much time with her before Zeus killed her.’

‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought –’

Nico held out his arm and stopped Will. ‘But I do have memories of her.’

He told Will about his most recent dream, explaining that the memory at the heart of it made him feel loved. ‘I sometimes have to remind myself of that,’ he said. ‘That people did love me when I was younger.’

Will seemed to chew that over in his mind. ‘Because it’s harder for you to remember that when things get dark, right?’

He nodded. ‘Yeah, that’s more or less it.’

Small Bob meowed at them, as if he was saying, Stop being sappy and follow along!

So they continued, doing their best to avoid the sharp, angular stones in the forest, as well as the mysterious puddles of lightly glowing liquid. Will asked more questions. Did Nico’s dream bother him? Why did he think Nyx or Epiales changed it the way it did? Did he have other nice memories of his childhood?

‘Sure,’ said Nico. ‘Some are easier to recall than others. It’s hard, though, because sometimes I feel like all that was so long ago.’

‘Because of the Lotus Hotel?’

He shook his head. ‘I don’t think that’s it. When I started talking to Mr D about the whole PTSD thing in the summer, he told me it’s actually really

common for those of us who are dealing with it to feel as if our lives happened to someone else.’

‘To someone else?’

‘It’s a way for my mind to protect itself, basically. If it happened to

someone else, it’s not as painful to me. I don’t have to relive things like … well, you know.’

Will clutched Nico’s hand. ‘You don’t have to say it. Let’s just stick to positive memories while we’re here, okay?’

‘Deal,’ said Nico.

Hand in hand, Nico and Will walked through the forest, trading stories, reminding each other that there was a world above them where they had friends, where they were loved, where they had something to return to.

Nico was thankful for this because it allowed him a temporary distraction from a fact that was creeping into his awareness.

He was certain that something dark and shadowy was following them again.





The landscape changed. Over and over again.

The trees thinned, and a low, cool mist settled over a long plain of brown and sickly-green grass. It reminded Nico of staring at Long Island Sound: the water seemed to go on forever. Yet this plain was motionless, and it

slanted downward just enough that he felt like at any moment he might slip and then slide into the deepest part of Tartarus.

Nico pressed on through the grass, following Small Bob. His calves ached first. Then his head. He couldn’t even settle into a rhythm that

allowed him to mindlessly follow Small Bob. It was as if Tartarus wanted to make sure that any being who dared to traverse his body would be

exhausted with every step.

And for Will it was worse.

He lagged behind at times. His natural glow had been extinguished, and he was once again back to looking like he’d been dipped in wax. At one point, Nico ordered him to stop and eat some ambrosia.

That was when they discovered it was the last piece. ‘Save it,’ said Will. ‘In case something happens.’

Nico didn’t have the heart to tell Will that something was happening, right now.

They walked. The mist dissipated as if Tartarus himself had sighed and blown it away. They were in a clearing in a field, and bumps rose over

Nico’s flesh.

He knew this place.

Where had he seen it before?

Nico froze as they approached the centre of the clearing. The name came to him immediately.

‘Akhlys,’ he whispered. ‘Gesundheit,’ Will said drowsily.

‘No, it’s a name. Akhlys, the protogenos I saw a while ago,’ he said. ‘We’ve talked about her before, remember? She appeared to me in a dream


‘You mean like Nyx?’

‘Exactly like her. Nyx is her mother.’

Will groaned. ‘How many children does Nyx have?’

‘Quite a few,’ said Nico, trying not to lose patience with Will’s memory lapse. ‘But this one … she doesn’t seem to be here.’

‘Is that good?’

‘She’s the protogenos of misery and poison.’

‘Sounds like a yes,’ said Will. ‘Well, let’s not hang around and wait for her to show up.’

Nico looked behind them. He sensed it again – someone was watching them. Still, it was hard for him to locate a source. They were travelling over the body of a protogenos, so they were always being watched. What was this, then? Why couldn’t he escape it?

Small Bob led them out of the clearing, and the decaying field gave way to a large, dusty flatland. Will started coughing, and a few times, they had to stop while he spat up dirt. But they trudged along, and Nico’s whole body seemed to be throbbing in pain. Soon, he’d slowed down to Will’s pace, which made Small Bob impatient. He kept darting ahead, meowing, then rushing back to the two of them.

‘We’re trying!’ said Nico after the third time the calico cat yowled at his feet. ‘I can’t really see anything, so we have to move slowly.’

‘Are you arguing with a cat?’ joked Will. ‘Maybe,’ snapped Nico. ‘What’s it to you?’

‘Nico …’ Will said his name softly, a gentle admonishment. ‘Sorry. It’s getting to me. This place, I mean.’

‘I know,’ said Will. ‘It’s like … like Tartarus is reaching inside my brain.

I can feel something rooting around there, pulling my memories out.’ ‘We can’t have much further to go. We have to be close.’

‘Do you know that?’

Nico didn’t answer. Of course he didn’t know. But Menoetes had said that Bob was being held near Damasen’s hut.

Will stumbled, grabbing Nico’s arm to keep himself upright. Nico swayed for a few seconds, then used his free hand to wrench Will up.

‘How much further?’ Will asked.

‘Let me ask the cat,’ slurred Nico. ‘Hey, cat! Where is Bob? Are we there yet?’

Small Bob came bounding back out of the darkness, and he sat at Nico’s feet. His purring was so loud that Nico could feel it through the soles of his

boots. He looked up and saw … His stomach dropped.

Darkness. Darkness everywhere. The dusty plain dropped away in the distance, and it was as if reality blinked out of existence beyond it.

‘Nico,’ said Will. ‘What’s going on?’

‘We’re here,’ he said. ‘Er … at least I think we are.’

‘Where?’ Will spun and looked around him. ‘There’s nothing here.’ Nico pointed a shaking hand forward. ‘There.’

Will followed the gesture; then he gazed back at Nico. ‘I don’t get it.

What are you pointing at?’

And then, as if a terrible maw into eternal nothingness weren’t just a few metres away, Will started to walk forward.

‘Please don’t!’ Nico begged, and he lunged forward, grabbing Will’s arm and pulling him back. ‘You can’t!’

‘What are you doing?’ Will screamed, and he shook off Nico’s hand.

Nico grabbed him again, only to discover that something was revealing itself out of the darkness.

The dirt plain extended ahead in a narrow, sloping trail, and at the end of it was a doorway of black stone. On either side of the trail – nothing.

It was the same path he had travelled the last time he was here.

Except … this wasn’t the right place. Nico had come out of a thick, dark forest the time he’d found the path to Nyx’s home. What was this?

‘Will, can you see that?’ Nico asked. ‘Please tell me you can see it.’ ‘See what?’ said Will, his voice rising in alarm. ‘I just see … dirt. Some

grass. The same thing we’ve been seeing for hours!’

Small Bob darted forward, and Nico watched as the cat negotiated the narrow path easily, then stood next to the stone doorway at the end. He meowed like he was saying, Well, hurry up, bozos!

‘Will, I need you to trust me,’ Nico said. ‘The veil must still be over your eyes.’

‘The what?’ Then Will’s eyes widened. ‘Wait. You mentioned that before, didn’t you? That only you could see Tartarus for what it really was?’

‘Yes. Exactly. And now I can see the path to the doorway I found the last time I was here.’

‘But, Nico, I think that veil or Mist or whatever it is … It’s already burned away. I know what Tartarus is. I can see him now for who he is.’

Nico scratched at his head. ‘Then why can’t you see the path to Nyx’s palace?’

Will shrugged. ‘Maybe she doesn’t want me to see it.’

That filled Nico with a whole new dread. Had he got Nyx’s plan wrong?

What if Will had nothing to do with it?

‘I dislike every part of this,’ Nico groaned.

He heard Will sigh beside him. ‘We’re going to have to go down that path, aren’t we?’


‘A path I can’t see.’ ‘That’s the one.’

‘A path that I’m guessing crosses over a dark and evil pit.’ ‘You guessed right.’

Will took off his knapsack and handed it to Nico. ‘Well, if I fall off, I don’t want to take what few supplies we have with me.’

‘Will!’ said Nico, glaring. ‘Don’t say that!’

‘It’s also so I can hold on to the bag as I walk behind you, Nico.’ ‘Oh.’ He frowned. ‘Okay, that makes sense.’

‘I’m not that dramatic,’ Will said, then curled his lips in a smile. ‘That’s your job in this relationship.’

‘Oh, be quiet,’ said Nico, but he couldn’t help but grin. ‘Just hold on tight and stay directly behind me, okay?’

‘I can do that,’ said Will.

Nico sure hoped so. He gingerly approached the point where the dirt path extended out over the void. As he got close, Will gently tugged on the bag.

‘You okay, Will?’ he asked.

Will hesitated. ‘I can hear the pit. Speaking to me, that is.’ ‘Ignore it. Or at least try.’

‘It’s telling me to jump.’ ‘Well … don’t?’

Will actually laughed at that. ‘I have no plans to.’

The toe of Nico’s boot inched over the edge. For a moment, he wondered if the path was an illusion, if as soon as he took a step forward, he’d plummet into Chaos, dragging Will with him.


‘Just hold on,’ he said.

One foot in front of the other. That’s what he had to focus on. He shook off his nerves and began walking. Each step was intentional and careful,

and soon he was firmly above a void that did not end. Nico did his best to steady his shaky knees while crossing this perilous tightrope. He kept his

eyes locked on the doorway ahead – if he looked down, he’d probably lose it and pitch over the side from vertigo. He inched closer and closer, and

every so often Will pulled down on the bag to keep his own balance.

As they neared the doorway, Nico saw that it, too, was swirling with darkness. Pinpricks of starlight gleamed through the passage. Then the darkness spun away, and Nico spotted something new beyond it.

‘Nico,’ said Will. ‘Oh, gods, Nico.’ Will could see it, too.

Nico reached for the stone arch of the doorway only to shriek as it gave way and hundreds of black beetles crawled over his hand and up his arm.

Oh, gods, he’d forgotten what this place was made of! He jerked back hard, too hard, and the backpack crashed into Will. Nico moved with the speed of lightning, whipping around and snatching the front of Will’s hoodie as he

started to fall backwards.

The fabric stretched.

He heard the seams tearing.

‘Nico!’ Will cried out, and he grabbed Nico’s arms for support.

Nico yanked him up and caught him in an embrace, tears pouring down his face. He held Will tight there at the end of the path as the void begged Nico to let go, to give over the son of Apollo.

‘I got you,’ he breathed into Will’s ear. ‘I got you.’

After a moment, the two of them turned towards the doorway, and there was no hesitation any longer. They both ran through the arch, and there, on the other side of it, pulsing and shaking, was an enormous regeneration pod. Its fleshy membrane was practically clear, and inside, struggling within a yellowish goo, was Bob the Titan.

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