Chapter no 4

The Sun and the Star

Nico slammed hard into a stone column. Then he tumbled to the ground, breathless, and grasped for his blade. But it wasn’t there.‌

He groaned, and the sound reverberated in a long, haunting echo. His skin felt sticky and damp. Was that sweat? Blood? He decided he didn’t want to know.

As his eyes adjusted to the low light, he saw a smoke-stained ceiling overhead, barrel arches stretching between rows of limestone columns.

He rolled to his side. Bright bands of sunlight filtered through a row of high-set barred windows, making stripes of shadow across the floor. It was that image that triggered Nico’s memory and revealed where he was.

Nico had never dreamed about this before. In fact, he’d done everything in his power to avoid thinking about that day ever again.

He slowly pushed himself to his feet. ‘Brain, if you’re doing this, this is the worst mental vacation of all time,’ he said bitterly.


‘If this is a god or a demigod or something else,’ Nico added, ‘you’re really starting to annoy me.’

Still no response.

So here he was, back in the basement of that cathedral whose name he did not remember, looking for …

Right. The sceptre of Diocletian.

Except … someone else had been here with him. Oh.

Jason Grace.

A new pit opened in Nico’s stomach. Most of the time, emptiness was his best friend, but there was a vacancy in his heart that had never been filled

since Jason … Ever since he …

Nico gulped. Even in this ridiculous dream, Jason was gone.

Nico wiped a tear from his cheek. ‘Okay, this has to stop,’ he said. ‘Please. Just let me wake up.’

‘You still think this is a dream?’

Nico spun towards the voice. ‘Who’s there?’

‘Come now, Nico di Angelo. Don’t you remember?’

He inched forward until the voice’s source came into view.

A marble bust of Diocletian, sitting atop its pedestal, staring right at Nico.

The emperor’s head was still on his shoulders, no signs of it ever having been broken. Which made sense in the weird logic of this dream. Without

Jason here to smash it, the bust would still be in one piece. Nico’s memories of this day poured over him, a waterfall of images and sensations that he had kept locked deep in his mind.

One of them rose to the surface.

Jason, grabbing Nico and lifting him in the air while they chased down Favonius, the strange winged man who had been buying an ice-cream cone in Dalmatia. Things had seemed so much simpler then. When you saw a

wind god buying ice cream, you chased him. When anyone tried to touch you, you lashed out. Nico had always hated being touched. As soon as

Jason set him down that day, Nico had barked, Don’t ever grab me again.

Now, staring at that unnerving bust of Diocletian, Nico wished for nothing more than to feel Jason Grace’s protective arms around him.

But Jason wasn’t here.

Behind Nico, a different voice said, ‘Are you ready?’

Nico spun once more, and there, leaning against one of the columns,

stood Favonius, the Roman god of the West Wind. He was dressed exactly as he had been that day: a red tank top over an aggravatingly bright set of Bermuda shorts and huarache sandals.

‘You,’ Nico snarled. ‘Get out of my dreams.’

‘Oh, Nico,’ said Favonius, shaking his head. ‘If only it were that easy.’ ‘Nothing is easy for me,’ Nico said. ‘I’ve come to expect that.’

‘Then you know I have to take you to see someone.’

There was no joy in the god’s face, none of the excitement or eagerness that Nico had seen last summer.

Favonius looked scared. ‘Please, no,’ Nico began. ‘You have to fix it, Nico.’

Nico’s heart hammered even harder against his ribs. What came next in the real world had been … well, truly one of the worst things Nico had ever been through, which was saying a lot for him. He’d had to endure Cupid,

who was no adorable little winged cherub. The intense, intimidating god of desire had forced Nico to confess his crush on Percy Jackson in front of

Jason, all so they could acquire the sceptre.

The ordeal had proved vital to winning the war against Gaia. It had also torn a wound in Nico that still hadn’t healed.

‘Whatever this is,’ said Nico, ‘I get the message. I need to listen. I am

listening. So I don’t need to go through this again.’

‘You have to talk to him,’ said Favonius. ‘But not for the reason you think.’

Nico tried to steady his breathing. He forced himself to ask, ‘Will Jason be there?’

He wasn’t sure which answer would be more painful: yes or no.

The god’s expression darkened. ‘No, Nico. He’s gone.’ Then he added softly, almost to himself, ‘They’ll all be gone eventually.’

Without another word, Favonius dissolved into a swirl of dust and

sunlight. The wind wrapped around Nico and lifted him off the floor. Even in a dream, Nico hated this sensation, like his entire body was being torn to atoms. They zipped through the smallest cracks in the church windows, then raced across the Croatian countryside without regard for gravity or mass or his stomach. All Nico’s thoughts and feelings collided with one

another, vying to exist simultaneously in his mind. He had literally fallen apart into a mess of emotions.

At least I am #OnBrand in my dreams, he thought. Then: Will would

hate that joke.

The wind deposited him on a hill overlooking the ruins of Salona. Put back together again, Nico’s thin body trembled with nausea. He felt like he had Sisyphus in his throat, eternally pushing his stone up the steep incline. ‘Ugh,’ he coughed. ‘That feeling is just as bad in a dream.’

Favonius’s disembodied laughter floated around him. ‘Look at you, still thinking this is a dream. You are so cute when you’re delusional, Nico di Angelo!’

Nico really, really hated being called cute. He had no time for retorts, though. The wind faded, and Favonius was gone.

Nico scanned the ruins. They looked exactly as they had before:

crumbling, decaying shells of buildings, moss-covered lines of stone – a once-great Roman city reduced to a field of rocks. Nico still wasn’t impressed. He’d seen too many ruins just like these over the years, reminders of how quickly mortal creation could turn to rubble.

He raised his hands. ‘Let’s get on with it, then! Cupid, I’m here!’

Nico waited. But there was nothing. No booming, rushing voice taunting him, coercing him to reveal his most painful secret.

Then, suddenly, Cupid’s voice was everywhere: You know what you need to do.

The words whizzed past Nico’s ear.

Nico tried to act unfazed. It was just a dream. About a god who had left Nico wounded, shattered and exposed … but still a dream. This time, he would not be Cupid’s chew toy.

He crossed his arms. ‘I get it,’ he said. ‘I don’t need convincing any more! I’ll go to Tartarus!’

That’s not enough, Nico di Angelo. Look upon me.

‘Look upon you? But I thought no one could see you in your true form!’

Unseen, Cupid slammed into him, hurling Nico backwards into a broken column.

Look upon me!

Cupid was now so close that Nico could feel his breath on his face. ‘I can’t see you!’ Nico screamed. ‘Stop with these games!’


The voice came from behind him now, and all the hair stood up on Nico’s arms. It was an instantaneous reaction – a fear so primal that without even thinking it, without issuing the command, Nico called forth skeletons. They rose from the earth beneath his feet, moss and dirt and decay hanging from their bones. They ringed Nico, their sticklike arms in defensive postures, ready to fight for him.

Turn around, Nico. Look upon me.

The voice had shifted direction again. Nico did not want to look. He had no rational reason to believe this, but he was convinced that if he actually did see Cupid, he would die.

‘Please, Nico. Look at me.’

The voice had changed. It was warm, like honey, like a late-summer sunset, like the first rush of heat from a campfire.

It was Cupid.


It was love.

Nico turned slowly, and there stood Will Solace, his golden hair lit oh-so-perfectly in the dreamlike daylight of Salona. He wore the red smiling-sun T-shirt that Nico had bought him as a joke, and that pair of camouflage

shorts with the frayed hems. He strode barefoot over to Nico.

Deep inside, Nico suspected that this was still Cupid, playing games with him, but his anger softened anyway.

‘Will,’ said Nico. ‘I don’t understand. What is this?’ ‘Listen,’ said Will, stepping closer.

‘I’ve been listening! Why won’t anyone tell me what I’m listening for?’ Will reached out and Nico did, too, but just before Will’s hand touched

Nico’s, he pulled back.

‘You have to do something, Nico,’ said Will, his eyes soft and sad. ‘I know.’

Will shook his head. ‘It’s more than you think. When the time comes, tell me the truth.’

Nico laughed. There was an edge of hysteria to his voice, but laughter was the only reaction that made sense at this point. ‘Sure, Will. Cupid.

Cwill? Wupid? What do I call you?’

Will’s face elongated like putty, his mouth opening wide, wider, so that Nico could see sharp, needlelike teeth lining his gums. Nico tried to back up, but the thing, whatever it was, leaped forward and screamed one last command:







He opened his eyes with a jolt but couldn’t make out the figure looming over him. Nico kicked out with his right leg, unfortunately landing a foot square in his boyfriend’s stomach.

Will howled and tumbled off the edge of the bed, then curled up on the floor of Hades’s cabin. ‘Nico, I swear,’ he groaned. ‘How do you pack all that energy into your body?’

‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry!’ said Nico. ‘You scared me!’

Will winced as he sat upright. ‘I think you have that backwards. I could hear you screaming bloody murder from my cabin!’

Nico put his head in his hands. ‘I – I had a bad dream. Bad dreams, plural. Really bad dreams.’

Nico felt a weight settle on the bed next to him, and he looked up to see Will there. ‘I’m really sorry about the kick in the gut.’

Will smiled, and warmth washed over Nico. ‘Can I hold you? Would that be okay with you?’

Shame burned Nico’s cheeks. He didn’t like Will seeing him so vulnerable, but he nodded because what he needed overrode his pride. Will pulled him close, and Nico quietly cried into his boyfriend’s chest.

‘It’s all right.’ Will ran his hand up and down Nico’s back. ‘They were just dreams.’

But were they? Nico thought. Before he could tell Will any of the details, the door to the cabin burst open. Chiron stood there, his eyes wide. ‘Oh –oh, no, have I interrupted something?’

Nico pulled away from Will and wiped his face with the back of his hand. ‘No, no, it’s okay,’ he said. ‘We were just talking.’

‘Well … uh, that’s fine,’ said Chiron awkwardly. ‘I’m sorry to barge in so late at night, but we have an emergency.’

Nico grimaced. ‘Was it my screaming? Did I accidentally summon a battalion of skeletons while I was sleeping?’

‘What? No!’ Chiron hesitated. ‘At least, I hope not. Let’s revisit that in a bit. First, we have a visitor who urgently needs to speak to you.’

Chiron stepped aside, and Nico’s heart twisted with dread as Rachel Elizabeth Dare, the current Oracle of Delphi, entered the cabin.

She pulled back the hood of her sweatshirt, and her long, gorgeous red hair spilled out. She looked flushed and exhausted, as if she’d run here all the way from Brooklyn.

‘Nico,’ she said. ‘Thank the gods. You have to listen.’

Before he could protest that he’d already received that particular message loud and clear, like, a MILLION times already tonight, dark green smoke began to pour out of Rachel’s mouth.

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