Chapter no 45

The Sun and the Star

Nico didn’t know if it was going to work, but something Nyx had said triggered the idea.‌

Your own children prove it.

If Nyx could command the cacodemons she created … He had to try it, too.

Nico held up his free hand towards Will and the swarming cacodemons, then issued the command.


There was no hesitation. Immediately, every cacodemon froze. Then they turned back to face him.

Nyx roared. ‘No!’ she screamed. ‘Attack the demigod! Now!’ The cacodemons swivelled between Nyx and Nico.

Then they climbed off Will and scampered over to his boyfriend.

Will clutched his bleeding hand to his chest. ‘Nico,’ he said. ‘You’re … That’s … Oh, Apollo, I can’t believe this.’

The cacodemons stared at Nico, their glowing white eyes open wide, eager for his next command.

‘They obey you,’ Bob said in awe as he reached down and helped Will to his feet.

‘They do,’ said Nico, and he examined them. They all looked slightly different from one another. They were unique, even if they seemed to be made of the same swirling darkness as Nyx.

Unique and … his. He rose.

He faced Nyx.

The words came from his mouth, from memory.


‘Go forth and find the one who calls out your name; Who suffers and despairs for refusing to remain; There leave something of equal value behind,

Or your body and soul no one will ever find.’


‘I don’t care about your silly poetry, child!’ Nyx hissed. ‘Kneel before me and admit I am right. I will encase you in the same prison as Iapetus if I must!’

‘No, you won’t,’ said Nico. ‘This is a quest, and you didn’t account for me fulfilling it my way.’

‘A quest?’ The air temperature around Nyx dropped. ‘I do not assign

quests. This was a trap! One you walked directly into!’

‘Yes, and that was my choice,’ said Nico. ‘Bob is my friend, and I was

always going to try to save him!’

Will limped to Nico’s side, and Nico took his hand. ‘Will was always going to come with me.’

And then he looked up at Bob’s beautiful face and smiled. ‘And we would find the third person to be part of our quest.’ Small Bob meowed.

‘Okay, maybe four,’ said Nico.

‘Do ghost cats count towards quest numbers?’ Will asked.

‘I don’t know. I think Small Bob is the first cat to ever be part of one.’ ‘Stop your blathering!’ shrieked Nyx. ‘Children, attack them!’

The cacodemons remained still at Nico’s feet. And so did Nyx’s other children.

‘No,’ said Nemesis, and she buffed her nails on her motorcycle jacket. ‘I’d rather not,’ said Epiales, shaking their head.

Hypnos yawned. ‘I don’t really see the point.’

Nyx swung her whip around her, then cracked it at Nemesis. ‘You are the goddess of vengeance, child! Will you not fulfil my vengeance?’

Nemesis shrugged. ‘You forget that I am more than that, Mother.’ ‘No, you are not!’

Nemesis unzipped her red leather jacket and let it fall to the ground. As she did so, her eyes blazed, and then she changed. Seconds later, the

spitting image of Zeus towered over Nyx.

‘I am also the goddess of balance, Nyx!’ she cried, her eyes glowing brighter. ‘Vengeance is about balance. There is no retribution without it.’ She raised a hand and, out of the shadows, she pulled her own whip.

‘What balance is restored by imprisoning the Titan?’ She cracked the whip, and Nyx actually flinched.

‘What balance is preserved by forcing Nico to remain here? How is it fair for you to take his deepest, darkest fears and traumas and give them life?’

Nyx sputtered but was unable to speak.

Nemesis returned to her original form, then spat on the ground. ‘I am not one to be ordered around,’ she said. ‘I only help those who need me, and you definitely don’t.’

‘Hypnos!’ Nyx screamed. ‘Send them all into slumber! And you, Epiales, curse them with nightmares!’

The minor god and the demon traded a quick look.

‘Nah, I’m good,’ said Hypnos. ‘I don’t see how that would help.’

‘You dare defy me?’ She glared at Epiales. ‘And what do you have to say for yourself?’

‘At least the demigods appreciate my talents,’ they said, then turned their back on Nyx.

‘Aaarrrrggggh!’ screamed Nyx, wheeling around to face Nico again. ‘I don’t need them. I will make you choose on my own, Nico!’

‘No, you won’t, Mother.’

Nemesis lashed out with her whip, and it wrapped around Nyx’s waist.

As she cried out, Hypnos stepped forward.

‘You only use me as a weapon,’ he said. ‘A tool. You can’t see what else I’m capable of.’ He shook his head. ‘You won’t let me be anything else!

Which is why you didn’t notice when I set your mansion on fire.’

Hypnos raised his right hand in front of his mother’s face as she thrashed about, as she shrieked in rage, and then …

Nyx slowed.

Her eyes flicked open, closed, open again.

‘What are you doing to me?’ Nyx said. ‘I am the goddess of night! You cannot hold me down.’

Epiales drifted over to their mother, their appendages spreading out from their body.

‘We know we can’t,’ the demon said. ‘But we can at least buy the demigods and the Titan some time.’

‘No-o-o!’ Nyx screamed, but the word came out sluggishly, as if her mouth was full of tar.

Epiales looked to Nico. ‘Thank you for helping us realize the truth, too.’ ‘I will get you, Nico,’ slurred Nyx. ‘I will force you to choose.’

‘You misunderstood me, Nyx,’ said Nico, approaching her. ‘You keep saying I need to choose the darkness, but I already have. I’m not afraid of

my past any more. And you helped me realize that. I can’t ever escape from what’s happened to me. But I can learn to live with it.’

Will was so proud he felt like he might erupt like a solar flare.

Nico shook his head at the goddess. ‘You want me to be controlled by my darkness, just like you thought you could control my … my …’

He groaned. Yeah, this word was going to be a problem. ‘My … cacodemons.’

Will sighed as he stepped up beside Nico. ‘The term doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, does it?’

‘I think it’s cute,’ said Bob. ‘Like Small Bob.’ Who promptly meowed.

‘So this is how I fulfil the prophecy,’ Nico said to Nyx. ‘I’m tired of

constantly trying to fight my own demons. And now you’ve given me my answer.’

He turned around, and the pack of cacodemons scurried up to Nico, waiting for their next command.

‘First of all,’ he said, kneeling, ‘I can’t keep calling you cacodemons. It’s the worst. And I would also feel very weird naming you after whatever memory you remind me of.’

The cacodemon with the antlers cooed at Nico, then lowered its head to the ground.

‘So, a little bit of renaming …’ he continued. ‘What if I called you … my Cocoa Puffs?’

‘Cocoa Puffs?’ said Bob.

‘They’re quite delicious,’ said Will, and he put his hand on Nico’s shoulder. ‘And it’s the perfect name for them.’

Nico reached down to the antlered Cocoa Puff, who jerked away at first.

Finally, the demon stayed still and let Nico touch it.

It was … odd. A very odd sensation. Soft, but without any substance.

Like somehow Nico was petting smoke. And then images floated up in his conscious mind.

Jason Grace, dead. Leo, dead. Bianca, dead.

This one, the Cocoa Puff of grief, howled softly.

‘I have to leave something of equal value behind,’ said Nico. ‘And I think it’s time I left my demons behind. So, I’m not going to control you,

Cocoa Puffs. I am not going to order you around. Nyx granted you life, and I’m giving it back to you. You get to make your own choices now.’

The Cocoa Puffs squeaked and growled as they looked at one another. ‘I know that’s scary,’ Nico continued. ‘The scariest thing in the world is

that we have to make our own decisions. But you don’t deserve to live a life without that option, so … I’m setting you free.’

The Cocoa Puff with teeth and claws like needles approached next, and Nico scratched it behind the ears.

He stood across from Cupid, and his face burned with shame.

Nyx groaned loudly. ‘I’ll … I’ll get you, Nico di Angelo,’ she slurred. ‘Go,’ said Nemesis, pulling her whip tight. ‘It’s only a matter of time

before she breaks away from us.’

Nico nodded at all three of Nyx’s children, then stood. He looked to Will, whose eyes were red with tears, and Bob, who was sniffling.

‘Don’t be dramatic,’ said Nico, rolling his eyes. ‘Let’s go.’

The four of them moved towards the edge of the cliff, and dread hit Nico once again. They were still way too high up.

‘I literally forgot we had to jump into that,’ said Will. ‘At least the Acheron could heal us a bit, right?’

‘Not here,’ said Bob, shaking his head. ‘The Cocytus is too potent. It is a river of hopelessness.’

‘You might be healed,’ said Nico, ‘but you’d never move again. The despair would be too great.’

Nyx groaned again, and this time it was louder. Nico glanced back at her struggling form and saw that Hypnos and Epiales were doubled over.

‘Go!’ screamed Nemesis.

Nico gazed down at the rivers. ‘How exactly are we going to do this?’ ‘Like this,’ said Bob, and, before either of them could protest, he

snatched them all up and clutched them to his chest. A moment later, he

leaped off the edge, and Nico couldn’t help but scream as they fell down, down, down, and hit the combined waters of the Acheron and the Cocytus.

The currents rushed over him. Nico felt too many things at once: the frigid, icy water on his skin; the screams and lamentations of the dead, those who believed there was no point to existence any more; the hopelessness; the grief; the overbearing, all-encompassing sadness; the desperate desire to live; the fear that this was it, this was what would finally take him out.

Nico resurfaced and gasped for air, and soon he felt chilled through and through, like he’d become one giant ice cube. Bob moved Nico to one

shoulder, even though Nico barely fitted there. As his teeth chattered, Nico saw that Will was shivering on Bob’s left shoulder. Small Bob clung furiously to his Titan friend’s head.

‘Would l-l-love t-t-to never d-d-do that-t-t again!’ Will stuttered. ‘Hold on,’ said Bob, and a little sob broke out. ‘This is the hard part.’ He was standing upright in a rushing river, and then …

He started wading.

His steps splashed in the converging rivers, and he grunted every so often, as if the currents were trying to hold him back. Nico was in awe, for the water had to be tormenting Bob continuously, reminding him of all he’d done throughout his long, long life. But the Titan didn’t stop. He pressed on, leaning slightly forward to give himself momentum.

Bob strode towards the far bank, each step methodical and precise. He was deep in concentration, tears pouring down his face. Or was that sweat? Both, probably. So Nico leaned over and kissed Bob on the temple.

‘We love you, Bob,’ he said. ‘Whatever the river is telling you … fight it.’

Bob smiled. ‘Thank you, Nico,’ he said. ‘But I do not need your

assistance. I shall not be sacrificing myself today. I would very much like to leave Tartarus and never come back.’

With that, he let out a whoop of laughter, and he pushed forward, the currents racing perpendicular to the direction he walked. ‘I’m free!’ he screamed. ‘I’m free!’

Will was chuckling, too, and it was an infectious sound. Nico didn’t even realize until then how much he had missed the sound of his boyfriend laughing.

He had missed a lot of things.

Bob finally lifted his right foot out of the rivers and stepped onto the bank. He nearly fell over as he did, but he steadied himself at the last

second, then pulled his other leg from the water. The Titan cried out in joy and quickly set the demigods on the ground. But the success was short-lived.

Because an out-of-breath Nemesis was standing right in front of Nico.

He practically jumped out of his clothing. ‘Don’t do that!’ he said. ‘Like, give a warning or something!’

‘No time,’ she said, her chest rising and falling. ‘She’s free. You need to go now.’

Nemesis raised her hand towards upstream and squeezed her eyes shut tight. ‘I have the power of tychokinesis.’

‘Tyson chicken?’ said Will.

She glared at him. ‘The ability to shift someone’s luck.’

‘That makes more sense than frozen chicken,’ he said, grinning.

‘Well, you will all need it,’ she said. ‘Getting out of here … It won’t be pleasant. You’ll have to ride the Acheron until it circles back to the top of the Underworld.’

‘We know,’ said Nico. ‘But how?’

To Nico’s great surprise, a boat rounded the bend upstream. Gorgyra’s white canoe.

‘Promise me something,’ said Nemesis, sweat pouring down her face.

For a minor god, she looked awful, which made Nico remember that she

couldn’t spend much time in Tartarus. ‘Promise me you’ll never come back to this place.’

‘Oh, I’m ready to swear that on the Styx,’ said Will.

‘Don’t worry,’ said Nico. ‘Two trips to Tartarus is two trips too many.’

The corner of her mouth turned up. ‘It’s just that … well, luck won’t be on your side if there is a next time.’

And then, just like Nico did when he shadow-travelled, she folded herself into darkness.

Bob reached out and snagged the bow of Gorgyra’s boat. ‘Where did this come from?’

‘It’s a long story!’ said Nico. ‘But right now we just need to get in.’

Will climbed in first, and Bob and Small Bob hopped in next. The Titan shrank down as he did to fit inside the narrow canoe. Nico finally vaulted

over the gunwale. Bob used the handle of his broom to push them off the bank, and the boat began to drift quickly down the rivers.

‘Did we do it?’ said Will, collapsing against one of the wooden benches. ‘Did we really escape her?’

No sooner had he finished speaking than Nyx’s screech tore through Tartarus.

Nico spun around and looked up at the cliff’s edge above them. One smoky tendril snaked over the side. And another. Then the rest of Nyx

leaped into the air, plummeted and slammed down onto the riverbank across from them.

No! he thought.

Nyx spread her wings wide, and the void on her dress grew. The impenetrable darkness swelled and lashed out from her body, and Nico watched in horror as skeletal bushes and stones were sucked up into it.

She had become an enraged black hole, and she was heading right for them.

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