Chapter no 42

The Sun and the Star

Nyx squeezed.‌

Darkness bloomed in Nico’s vision, but only for a moment.

There was a loud cry somewhere near him, and then he went tumbling through the air. He slammed into the ground and saw bright flashes, but he knew this might be his only chance to escape Nyx. He

scrabbled against the earth while gasping for breath, then went straight for Will, who now sat upright, rocking back and forth.

‘Will!’ he called out, and his boyfriend looked up at him. ‘I can hear it,’ Will said.

There was another crash, and Nico turned back to see an enraged Bob tackling Nyx.

A broom handle was sticking out of her torso.

She yanked it out and tossed Bob aside. ‘You think you can hurt me, you useless Titan?’

Bob smiled.

And Small Bob leaped from behind and began to claw Nyx’s head. The goddess shrieked as she tried to pull off the tiger, and her horses flipped out, bucking and jumping as they, too, screamed.

Nico reached Will and cupped his boyfriend’s face in his hands. ‘Are you okay?’

‘I can hear it,’ he said again, and tears poured down his cheeks as he pointed behind Nico.

Nico spun around, and he cursed himself. He had forgotten.

There, beyond the monsters, beyond Nyx, beyond Nemesis and Hypnos, was the house.

The Mansion of Night.

Even at this distance, Nico could still sense it. It was alive. It spoke to a part of his mind, deep and buried and afraid.

And unfortunately Will was transfixed by the ever-moving mansion. ‘It’s alive, isn’t it?’

Nico quickly clamped his hand over Will’s eyes. ‘Don’t look at it.’ But Will pushed him away. ‘It wants me.’

Nico removed his hand and stared deeply into Will’s eyes. ‘Don’t let this place get to you,’ he said. ‘That’s what Nyx wants. She wants me to give myself up, but I made you a promise, Will.’

‘I can’t,’ said Will, and his body went limp in Nico’s arms. ‘Tartarus has drained me, just like you said it would.’

‘Then we’ll get you out of here. We’ll feed you some ambrosia –’ ‘Only one piece left, remember? Save it for yourself,’ said Will weakly.

He coughed, clutching his chest. ‘I think this is how the prophecy is fulfilled.’

Nico tried to lift Will, but he was like an enormous rag doll. ‘No, this is how it has to happen,’ said Will.

‘It’s not! Neither one of us is staying here!’ Nico reached into his pocket and produced the coin. ‘This isn’t you speaking. It isn’t the Will Solace I know. You’re a child of Apollo! You would never give up this easily!’

Will tried to look past Nico to the horrible house that was calling to them both. But then he locked eyes with Nico and … he changed.

He slowly reached into the collar of his hoodie and pulled out his chain.

There, dangling on the end of it, was Nico’s skull ring.

‘We made a promise,’ said Will softly. ‘I … I remember.’ Nico nodded. ‘Both of us get out alive.’

‘Yes,’ he said, and then Will came back to him, light returning to his blue irises.

And then: panic.

‘Nico,’ said Will, paling. ‘Nico, we can’t die here. We just can’t.’

Nico had never been so happy in his whole life. ‘We won’t,’ he said. ‘But what about Bob?’

Nico glanced back to their friend, who was still trying to overpower Nyx.

Only this time, Hypnos was at her side, his hand raised, trying to will Bob

to sleep. It was clearly a lot harder than he’d anticipated, as his features were twisted in frustration.

And the other monsters …

They weren’t doing anything. They were scattered around Nyx’s garden, watching the fight unfold with interest but not moving. Not even Nemesis, who was leaning against a blackened tree, her arms crossed over her chest. She looked exhausted.

Why weren’t they attacking Nico and Will, who were easy pickings at this point?

The other shoe hadn’t dropped.

What was Nyx planning for them?

‘Will,’ Nico said, standing. ‘Will, we need to get out of here.’ He saw his sword lying on the ground and snatched it up.

There was a loud roar behind Nico. They were both shocked to see Bob running towards them.

‘We must go!’ said the Titan, and Small Bob in calico form bounded at his heels. ‘This distraction won’t last long!’

‘Distraction?’ said Nico. Then he smelled it.

Something was burning.

To Nico’s great horror, the Mansion of Night was now on fire.

Flames lapped at the eaves of the house, and a nightmarish screaming rose in Nico’s mind. It was high and piercing, and he knew it came from the burning insects that made up the foundation.

‘How did you do that?’ shouted Nico, finally yanking Will upright. ‘It wasn’t me,’ said Bob, panting. ‘Give me the son of Apollo!’

Nico handed Will to Bob, who easily hoisted him on his shoulder.

‘Go!’ the Titan screamed. ‘We must escape now, or we will never leave!’ ‘Say less!’ said Nico, and, with Small Bob still at his heels, he ran for the

stone gate. He glanced back to see Nyx wailing at the bonfire as some of her minions struggled to calm her down. Other monsters shrieked along

with her, and a pack of cynocephali clutched their dog ears with their hands. ‘I feel like I’m floating,’ Will said dreamily, pulling Nico’s attention back

to their escape.

Nico heard Nyx order her army to stop them, but this time he didn’t look over his shoulder. Moments later he passed through the dark entryway. The long path over the pit of Chaos seemed even narrower than before, but that

was probably because Nico was sprinting across it, desperate to reach the other side and get as far away from this place as possible.

Yet he slowed. Ahead of him, there was an eerie glow at the end of the path. Was something else on fire?

‘Go!’ Bob shouted from behind. ‘Do not stop, Nico!’ No, no, something was wrong.

Nico jogged to the end of the path and absolutely hated what he saw. The earlier inconsistency finally made sense. The first time he’d found

Nyx’s realm, he had stumbled upon it out of a dark and starless forest. The second time, he and Will had discovered it in the middle of a clearing.

And now Nico was standing at the edge of a cliff, looking down upon the convergence of two rivers. One was absolutely the Phlegethon, and it was the source of the unnerving glow. The other, he knew, was the Cocytus.

The River of Lamentation.

The two rivers flowed down towards the pit of Chaos, then smashed into one another about fifteen metres from where Nico stood. The sound was horrible: pain and punishment clashing, the heat of the Phlegethon meeting the frigid waters of the Cocytus and hissing. They slammed against the

cliffside, and as they did so Nico could hear the souls trapped in them. Crying out. Begging for respite. Beckoning to Nico to jump in.

‘It moves,’ Nico said softly, and he backed away from the cliff’s edge. Bob set Will down next to Nico, panting. ‘What … did … you … say?’ ‘It moves,’ he repeated. ‘Nyx’s realm. It’s never in the same spot in

Tartarus. That’s why it’s so hard to find!’

‘That’s convenient,’ groaned Will, whose skin was deathly pale. ‘Hopefully, we’ll never have to find it again.’

The four of them stared down at the converging rivers in a collective silence of dread.

‘We must go in,’ Bob said matter-of-factly. ‘In there?’ said Will. ‘Do we have to?’

‘I don’t know that we have any other choice,’ grumbled Nico. ‘It’ll be awful, but not impossible.’

‘This quest has involved a lot of falling,’ said Will. ‘I would like to be on solid ground for the rest of my life after this.’

Bob picked up Small Bob and rubbed his face against the cat’s head. ‘I missed you, my friend. Are you ready?’

Small Bob mewed, and for a moment warmth filled Nico’s heart. Here was Bob the Titan, alive and reunited with his friends.

They had done it.

And then Nico was immediately reminded that, no, they had not in fact completed the quest.

Nyx’s furious shriek split the air around them, and Tartarus cracked with thunder.

Fear tore through Nico’s body as he watched smoke pour out of the stone archway across the pit, and soon Nyx and her chariot materialized in the

endless darkness above the rivers. Her vampire horses pulled her forward, and once they made landfall on the cliffside, she seamlessly stepped from the dissolving chariot. Her starry whip cracked alongside her, and in her

eyes Nico saw …

Rage. The rage of dying stars, the rage of the darkest night, the rage of destruction.

‘How dare you!’ she screamed, and her voice shook the very belly of Tartarus. ‘You think you can hurt me?’

‘I don’t care what you think or what you do, Nyx,’ said Bob defiantly. ‘You will let me and the demigods leave without any more interference.’

‘After you set fire to my home?’ she yelled. With a flick of her wrist, her two vampire horses came forward. ‘Shade, Shadow, if any of them so much as twitch, devour them.’

‘Your quarrel is not with us,’ said Bob. Then he pointed behind her. ‘Why don’t you ask one of your children what really happened?’

Nico saw that Hypnos and Nemesis had also made the crossing, and they were joined by a third sibling.

The now-regenerated Epiales.

‘Don’t try to distract me,’ said Nyx. ‘You have nowhere to go. I will capture you again, and I will force all of you to choose!’

‘All this talk of choosing is so boring,’ said Nico, mustering all the

strength he had left to appear truly disinterested. ‘You did all this to force Bob to choose to be a Titan? Give it up, Nyx! You’re never going to


‘He can never stop being Iapetus!’ she screeched. ‘This new name, this new personality … it’s all a lie!’

‘She’s right, Nico,’ said Bob. ‘What???’ said Nico and Will in unison.

‘About the first part,’ he said. ‘I can never stop being a Titan. It is a piece of my past.’

Then Bob – with Small Bob growling at his side – stepped towards Nyx. ‘But what Nyx does not know is that it is possible to change,’ he said.

‘Because she never has. She has spent eternity as the Queen of Darkness, the protogenos of night.’ He turned to address her directly. ‘Has it never occurred to you to be anything different?’

‘Why would I be?’ Nyx snarled. ‘I am perfect as I am. The entirety of existence requires me. What would the world be without night?’

‘And so you trapped Bob?’ yelled Nico over the roar of the clashing rivers. The cliff’s edge was way too close for comfort. ‘Just because you don’t want to change doesn’t mean everyone else shouldn’t either! How does that make any sense?’

‘How does it make any sense that no matter what obstacle was thrown at you, you still came here to Tartarus, knowing this was a trap?’ countered


Nico’s stomach flopped like a fish on a hook. ‘What?’

‘You and your boyfriend have known throughout your entire journey that this was a trap,’ she said. ‘And yet you still came. You still fought my

children when they tried to stop you.’

‘Hey, you told me to do it!’ said Epiales, shuffling forward, their appendages pulled close to their body.

‘Be quiet, child!’ barked Nyx. Epiales shrank back.

‘You persisted, Nico,’ continued Nyx, ‘because it is in your nature. You are drawn to the darkness. You are drawn to others in pain. It is all you know.’

Nico swallowed his fear. ‘It’s not all I know,’ he said, but even he had to admit he didn’t sound too convincing.

Nyx lowered her wings and glided forward. Nico instinctively took a step back, then stopped. He looked over his shoulder.

The edge of the cliff was way too close.

‘As you cower before me,’ said Nyx, ‘you know I am right.’ ‘Remember what you told me,’ said Will, gripping Nico’s hand tightly.

‘Don’t listen to her or this place, Nico. We’ll find a way out.’

‘Even if you do, Nico di Angelo isn’t leaving,’ she said. ‘Isn’t that right, my child?’

‘I’m not your child.’ Nico seethed. ‘My mother is Maria di Angelo, and she loved me and my sister.’

‘And where are they now?’

It was like she had slapped him across the face.

Don’t give in to her, he thought, and he felt Will squeeze his hand again.

It’s what she wants.

Still, Nico couldn’t stop the tear that rolled down his cheek. ‘They’re dead,’ he said. ‘They have been for a while.’

‘And it burns you up inside, doesn’t it?’

She moved closer, and Bob took a step in front of Nico. ‘No more,’ he said, and he gritted his teeth. ‘No. More.’

But Nyx ignored him. ‘I reached out to you through your dreams,’ she

said, speaking directly to Nico. ‘Do you remember what I told you? What I asked of you?’

‘To listen,’ Nico said. ‘We figured that out long ago, Nyx. We know you were goading me down here.’

She shook her head. ‘That wasn’t all I said.’ Then she looked at Will.

He braced himself next to Nico. ‘What is she talking about?’

Nico had forgotten. He’d never told anyone about that part. It seemed like such an inconsequential detail.

He repeated the words from the dream he’d had the night before leaving on this quest, the same words that had come from the mouth of Cupid in the image of Will.

‘“When the time comes, tell me the truth.”’

‘Well, Nico?’ said Nyx, smiling. ‘When are you going to tell him the truth? When are you going to tell him that you doubt it all?’

Terror spiked Nico’s heart. ‘What?!’

‘Nico, what does she mean?’ asked Will in alarm. ‘I don’t know!’ he said.

‘Yes, you do,’ said Nyx, her voice slimy. ‘You know what you feel in your heart. You know you don’t belong in the world above. You never will.’

‘She is trying to confuse you as she tried with me,’ said Bob, still

standing his ground in front of Nico. ‘She tried to torture me into making another decision. But, Nico, she couldn’t break me. Do you know why?’

‘Why?’ said Nico, his pulse racing.

‘Because I called out to someone I knew would listen,’ he said, and he reached down to pet the top of Small Bob’s head. ‘I told Small Bob that one day a boy would come down here looking for me, and that he was to guide you to me. I knew you would hear me.’

Small Bob meowed, then leaped up and climbed the sleeve of Bob’s uniform to sit on his shoulder.

‘As long as I live,’ said Bob, ‘I will fight for you, Nico di Angelo. Nyx can never have you.’

Nyx yawned, then glanced back at her three children. ‘It’s so touching, isn’t it?’ she said. ‘They think they can change what I’ve set in motion.’

‘It seems futile,’ said Hypnos. ‘Shall I put them all to sleep?’

Nyx shook her head. ‘No. They need to be awake for the last piece.’ ‘I can give them a good nightmare,’ said Epiales.

Nyx groaned. ‘I said no, Epiales.’

The demon grimaced and slunk back again, this time hiding behind Nemesis.

Nico examined her face, but there was no expression on it. Nemesis had helped him before. Why wasn’t she doing anything now?

‘Just give up, Nyx,’ said Will. ‘You and your children will never be able to stop us!’

‘Maybe not,’ said the Queen of Darkness, and her gown swirled about her as she floated backwards. Her chariot returned, and two reins appeared and looped around the necks of Shade and Shadow. ‘But I think Nico’s


Nico’s world spun. ‘What did you just say?’

‘I am the mother,’ said Nyx. ‘Haven’t you heard? I can create demons of anything I want.’

He sensed them before he saw them. It was the same sensation he’d felt on the stairs past the Door of Orpheus. And on the plains overlooking Erebos. He recalled the passage through the stone cliffs as they passed down the Acheron, Will asleep at his feet, all those eyes observing him.

Now shadows moved out from behind Nyx’s chariot, and he saw them again.

Those eyes.

They glowed.

There were so many of them. Ten? Twenty? He wasn’t sure. At first, they looked like little blotches and smudges, like someone had taken a brush

with black paint and dabbed it against a canvas. But as they got closer, Nico saw arms. Legs. Spikes. Some had protuberances from their backs; another had tusks jutting from the sides of its mouth; yet another had something like antlers growing from its head, its body long and sleek like an otter.

They approached with jerky, unsure movements, hesitant to be near Nico, and he felt his knees go weak, his stomach pitch downward. He could hear Will next to him, asking him what was going on, but Nico couldn’t answer, couldn’t do anything but fall to his knees as the shadow creatures snapped

at one another, jostled and shoved and snarled, and Nyx seemed to tower over them all.

‘Nico,’ she said, ‘you should finally meet your children.’

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