Chapter no 5

The Sun and the Star

The smoke had a bitter, sulphuric smell, and Nico, Will and Chiron all started coughing.‌

Rachel’s pupils dilated. Then her eyes turned completely black as the words slithered out of her mouth in the rasping voice of the Oracle:


‘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.’


Rachel’s knees buckled, and Will dashed forward to catch her before she hit the floor.

Chiron gripped the doorframe with one hand. His face looked as pale as the grey flecks in his beard.

‘After all these years,’ he said grimly, ‘I have never got used to hearing those. Nico, are you all right?’

Nico nodded, his heart thumping.

Chiron clopped into the cabin, lowering his head to fit. ‘I know these prophecies can be hard to understand when you first hear them,’ he said. ‘Take all the time you need. We don’t have to discuss and dissect it now.’

Nico caught the sharp, chastising look that Will cast his way. ‘Well, this is awkward,’ Nico muttered.

Chiron tilted his head. ‘Why? Do you know what this prophecy is about?’

Nico exhaled, trying to purge the last remnants of his dreams. He wondered if he could still be trapped in a nightmare.

‘Chiron, I wanted to tell you and Mr D at some point, but … well, I just never found the right time.’

‘It’s not a new prophecy,’ Will explained. ‘We’ve already heard it.’

Chiron glanced at Rachel, who was now breathing more steadily in Will’s arms.

‘I’m sorry,’ the centaur said. ‘Are you telling me that Miss Dare just rushed here in the middle of the night to give you a rerun prophecy?’

‘They’re telling the truth,’ said Rachel, sounding miserable. ‘This prophecy … it keeps coming back. Again and again.’

Nico’s heartbeat stumbled. ‘Keeps coming back … You mean this isn’t just the second time?’

Rachel winced, then started to cough.

Will helped her sit up. ‘I’ll get you some water.’

He dashed to the bathroom and came back a moment later with a cup that Nico really hoped was clean.

Rachel took it gratefully. ‘I guess someone really needs your attention, Nico.’ Her expression was strained but sympathetic. ‘The previous times, I thought maybe I was just caught in a feedback loop or something. Maybe a

glitch left over from Apollo’s fight with Python. I didn’t want to worry you. But this time … the urge overwhelmed me. I had to come find you.’

Will placed his hand on her shoulder. ‘How many times has the prophecy repeated?’

Rachel’s cheeks flushed. She took a sip of water. ‘Twelve.’ ‘Twelve times?’ said Nico. ‘Are you serious?’

Chiron scowled. ‘This is an alarming situation. In all my years, I’ve never heard of something like this.’

Rachel nodded and took another sip. ‘It’s like a constant reminder that the quest needs to be fulfilled – that it hasn’t been undertaken yet.’

Nico frowned. ‘So, you’ve basically become like one of those annoying notifications in a video game reminding me to complete a side mission.’

She glared at him.

Nico silently cursed himself. ‘That came out wrong. I’m sorry. You’re not annoying, Rachel. You know what I meant.’

Rachel mustered a weary smile. She nodded her thanks to Will as he helped her to her feet. ‘This prophecy is definitely annoying. Whatever you

need to do, Nico, it would be great if you could get started. Then maybe I can turn off my notifications.’

Nico glanced at Will. ‘It’s him. There’s no way it’s not.’ ‘Who are you talking about?’ said a new voice.

Mr D stood in the doorway. He had on a leopard-print tank top, bright yellow board shorts and pink flip-flops. Basically a typical outfit for the god of partying. In one arm, he was cradling a large metal mixing bowl.

Nico sniffed the air. ‘Is that popcorn?’

‘I figured there might be a show happening out here.’ Mr D tossed a kernel into his open mouth. ‘What’s a good show without popcorn?’

Nico bit back an angry comment. ‘A repeating prophecy isn’t exactly a


Mr D’s eyes widened. ‘Oh, there’s a repeating prophecy? Perfect!’ He walked over to Nico’s bed and plopped down at the foot. ‘And here I thought it was going to be a boring autumn at camp. I was even thinking about staging a cage match for the dryads.’

Chiron glared at the camp director. ‘We’ve talked about that, Mr D.’ ‘You can participate if you like, Chiron,’ the god said cheerfully. ‘I’d

love to see you go hoof-on-fist with a few feisty mulberry bushes.’ Chiron sighed. ‘Could we please focus on the problem at hand?’

‘Absolutely!’ Mr D shovelled popcorn into his mouth with glee. ‘Tell me about this repeating prophecy. Is it about me? Do I finally gain my freedom from this miserable camp and once more become the toast of the gods, preferably with a bottle of 1945 Château Mouton Rothschild?’

‘Dionysus, please,’ said Chiron. ‘I don’t think this is a joking matter.’ ‘I’m not sure about that,’ grumbled Nico, ‘given that Rachel has been

more or less forced to become a prophecy voicemail system.’ ‘Nico …’ said Will in a warning tone.

‘Well, he isn’t wrong,’ said Rachel. ‘It’s like all those annoying calls my dad gets about renewing his car warranties.’

‘Except … this is Bob,’ said Nico, finally saying his name out loud. ‘That’s who the prophecy is about.’

‘You mean the Titan Iapetus?’ asked Chiron. ‘I thought he was still in Tartarus.’

‘Tartarus, eh?’ Mr D grabbed another fistful of popcorn. ‘This is getting better by the second.’

Chiron ignored that. ‘Do you think Iapetus has become a threat again? A rogue Titan would certainly be cause for concern.’

‘Bob isn’t like that any more,’ said Nico. ‘He changed after his dip in the River Lethe. He’s nice now. Considerate. He wants to be helpful.’

The others regarded him in silence. The scent of their scepticism was almost as pungent as Mr D’s popcorn.

Nico wanted to believe what he was saying, but doubts gnawed at him.

What if Bob had died helping Percy and Annabeth? If he’d regenerated from the primordial landscape of Tartarus, the way monsters did, would he be Iapetus again?

The prophecy had called him the one who suffers and despairs for

refusing to remain. Could this be some sort of trick, luring Nico down to the worst place in the cosmos only to help a hostile Titan escape?

‘He’s my friend,’ he said, mostly to himself. ‘I’ve been hearing his voice for months, even before the prophecy. He needs my help.’

‘Or it could be a trap,’ suggested Mr D. ‘Which would be very exciting.

By which I mean it would be terrible, of course.’

Chiron frowned. ‘Must you be so negative, Dionysus?’

‘Must you ignore the obvious?’ the god shot back. ‘I’m not saying it’s the only explanation, but we have to consider the possibility.’ He turned a kernel of popcorn in his fingertips as if it might hold the answer. ‘Nico and I have been talking about some things he’s been experiencing: dreams,

waking visions, a voice calling out to him from Tartarus. Now I learn there is a repeating prophecy? I haven’t even heard it yet, and I’m already

sceptical. I don’t want to see him get hurt, Chiron.’

Nico felt an unexpected surge of gratitude. He’d never heard Mr D come so close to admitting that he cared about another person.

‘Does that mean I can share your popcorn?’ Nico ventured. ‘Absolutely not.’

‘Aren’t we ignoring the bigger issue?’ Will asked. ‘Because I feel like we’re ignoring it.’

‘You mean me going to Tartarus,’ said Nico. ‘You’ve already made your feelings about that clear many times.’

Will stared at the ceiling as if wondering why he had to be the voice of reason. ‘Whether or not it’s a trap,’ he said, ‘it’s still a trip to Tartarus. And I’m not a fan of those lines in the prophecy: There leave something of equal value behind / Or your body and soul no one will ever find.’

‘Bit of a forced rhyme structure there,’ Mr D noted between crunching. Chiron shot him a dirty look. ‘I’m not ignoring that part,’ he said to Will.

‘And I agree: without more information, we could never sanction such a dangerous quest.’

‘I don’t need a quest.’ Nico stood. Hearing Rachel’s prophecy again, hearing it discussed aloud, made him feel suddenly resolved. Or maybe he was just feeling contrary and cranky after enduring Nico’s Greatest

Nightmare Hits, vols. I and II. ‘I have to go.’

Chiron’s expression was heavy and sad. Perhaps he was remembering all the other heroes he had trained over the centuries, who had said I have to go and then never returned. ‘Nico, we are in a period of relative peace. In recent months, we have learned at great personal cost that prophecies can be manipulated or just plain malicious … No offence to Miss Dare.’

‘None taken,’ Rachel muttered. ‘I’m just happy to be spewing green gas again.’

‘It would be better for you to enjoy this time off,’ Chiron continued, ‘to heal instead of running after –’

‘You’re not the one being tormented in your dreams!’

Nico immediately wished he hadn’t blurted it out like that. If Bob really was in danger, doing whatever he could to reach out for help, then he was the one being tormented. No matter how painful Nico’s dreams were,

Tartarus was worse.

On the other hand, if something were tormenting an immortal Titan like Bob, a being older than the gods, what chance would Nico stand against

such a force?

‘Is that what you were dreaming about?’ Will’s voice stirred him from his thoughts. ‘Bob in Tartarus?’

‘Not exactly,’ said Nico. ‘At least … not directly.’

He decided to tell them everything. He started with the long summer of frequent flashbacks and nightmares. Clearly, Mr D wasn’t as interested in that part, since he’d heard all about it already. Instead of listening, he

continually tossed popcorn into the air and tried to catch it in his mouth. (He missed. A lot. Which Nico took as proof that he was not the god of hand-eye coordination.)

As soon as Nico got to last night’s greatest-hits parade of trauma, though, Mr D hung on every word.

‘Fascinating,’ Mr D said once Nico had finished. ‘I know that mortal dream worlds are confusing, elaborate and vivid, but that marathon sounds absolutely absurd.’

‘Thanks … I guess,’ said Nico. ‘Look, the point is that every memory, every thought and emotion in my head is screaming at me to listen. And

Bob is the one who’s calling out. It could be a trap, but I don’t think so. Bob is suffering down there. He needs my help. And Rachel’s prophecy getting

stuck on repeat … I think that means the situation is getting worse. Bob is running out of time. I have to try to help him.’

Dionysus picked a fleck of popcorn from his godly teeth. ‘I thought your father made it so no one alive could enter his realm any more,’ he said. ‘You know, after that whole Doors of Death business.’

‘That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go,’ said Nico. ‘There’s always a way into the Underworld, and my father doesn’t need to know. I have to try.’

Rachel shivered. ‘But leave something of equal value. That’s the part I can’t wrap my mind around. Equal to what? Bob’s life?’

Will’s blue eyes fastened onto Nico. He had that slightly worried, slightly exasperated expression he got when one of his patients didn’t follow doctor’s orders. ‘Nico, you can’t trade one life for another. Please tell me you’d never consider abandoning someone else in Tartarus to save Bob. Or even worse, sacrificing yourself.’

Nico tamped down a wave of irritation. Of course that thought had occurred to him, too. And his parade of nightmares, all featuring people he had lost, only heightened his fears. But he had to help Bob. He had delayed as long as he could.

‘You’re assuming this is a rescue mission,’ he said. ‘What if Bob needs my help with something but also wants to stay in Tartarus?’

Mr D cackled. ‘Who would want to stay in that realm of nightmares?’ ‘Or maybe the “equal value” thing isn’t a life for a life,’ Nico suggested

weakly. ‘Maybe Bob wants to bring something back with him … like his broom or something. And he needs … a broom … of equal value.’

Will gave Nico a look that said Come on. You don’t really believe that, do you?

‘And anyway,’ Nico forged ahead, ‘a mortal life wouldn’t be equal to the life of a Titan, would it?’

Mr D nodded thoughtfully, then glanced at Chiron. ‘The boy makes a good point. We immortals are clearly bigger-ticket items.’

Chiron frowned. ‘We know so little about all this, Nico. And Tartarus … Well, it’s not a place where any of us should venture, mortal or immortal.’

‘But I’ve been there,’ said Nico. ‘Did you all forget that I’m one of only three demigods who’s ever come back from that wretched place alive? And I survived there the longest. If anyone can help Bob, it’s me. I can do this on my own.’

Will marched over and grabbed Nico’s hand. ‘Yeah, that’s not happening.

If you go, I’m going with you.’

Nico actually laughed. ‘No, you’re not. That’s the one thing that makes me okay with this quest – that I am not putting you in danger.’

‘Excuse me, Noble McSacrifice,’ Will said. ‘We’re both perfectly capable of survival.’

Chiron’s hooves clopped nervously on the floorboards. ‘But a child of Apollo in Tartarus?’

Will’s face fell. ‘I can manage.’

Nico squeezed his hand. ‘Will, you’re a child of the sun. Where I’m going … There’s no sunlight down there. I know that seems obvious, but it’s a lot worse than what you’re probably picturing. The true nature of Tartarus … I never want you to have to experience that.’

‘So your clever plan,’ said Will, ‘is to sneak into the Underworld by yourself, hoping your father doesn’t notice, then slip down into Tartarus and

… what? Bring Bob back here?’

Nico shrugged. ‘I just want to give him a choice. He could go anywhere in the world. Or if Bob wants to stay at camp, why not? He could build his own cabin or –’

‘Oh, could he?’ Mr D interrupted. ‘You’re talking about releasing an allegedly reformed Titan into the world! And I am putting a great deal of emphasis on allegedly. You can’t just make a decision like that without

consulting the camp leadership, which would be … Oh, yes, me!’

‘For once,’ said Chiron, ‘I agree with Mr D. This is an extraordinarily dangerous idea.’

‘What options do I have at this point?’ Nico growled. ‘Wait until my nightmares get so bad my head explodes? Wait until Rachel is spewing that prophecy twenty-four hours a day?’

‘Would not be my first choice,’ Rachel admitted.

‘I must say, however,’ Mr D interjected, ‘this is better than any human film I’ve ever seen. The drama! The twists! I should have made a second

bowl of popcorn.’

Nico turned to face Chiron. ‘I can’t let this keep happening. Someone is

begging me for help, and I can’t just sit here and ignore it.’

The old centaur bowed his head, as if he were already contemplating the words he would have to write on Nico’s tombstone. ‘I can see that I won’t be able to dissuade you, no matter how foolish your plan. But even if I grant a formal quest, you’re forgetting a very important detail: to succeed, a quest needs three people. That is tradition. That is the sacred number.’

Nico shook his head. ‘I thought about that. Percy and Annabeth went through Tartarus, just the two of them.’ He glanced at Will. ‘If my stubborn boyfriend insists on going –’

‘I do.’

‘Then Will and I can do the same. We’re just as good a team. Besides, when we do find Bob, that’ll bring the number up to three.’

‘A fair point,’ Chiron conceded grudgingly. ‘But … if you do need to leave something behind? Or someone?’

It was second nature for Nico to assume the worst, but at the moment he wished that his brain was wired for a little more optimism. If saving Bob truly required Nico to leave something of equal value behind …

He looked at Will.

Nico’s mouth dried up instantly. No, that couldn’t be it. That would be so


But wasn’t that Nico’s whole history? Wouldn’t this just be the cherry on the ice-cream sundae of his life?

‘Hey.’ Will squeezed his hand. ‘This isn’t some hero play I’m trying to make. I promise you right here and right now, Nico, I’m not going to trade myself for Bob. And you’re not going to have to make that choice.’

Nico’s jaw dropped. ‘I – What?’

‘That’s what you’re worried about, isn’t it? You think the prophecy is suggesting that one of us will have to stay behind to save Bob, right?’

Nico’s mouth was still hanging open.

‘I do know you, Nico,’ said Will. ‘And I’m telling you: that’s not going to happen.’

‘Wow,’ Nico said. ‘I feel like I’m standing in front of all of you in my underwear.’

Nico scanned the faces of the others: Mr D, Rachel, Chiron. There were no more objections, no more debates about the ethics of rescuing Titans

from Tartarus or trading lives to fulfil prophecies. They seemed to have accepted Nico’s destiny, which scared Nico more than a little. This was really happening.

‘You know,’ Mr D said, breaking the silence, ‘I’ve changed my mind. You’ve earned my respect, Nico di Angelo.’ He handed over his nearly empty bowl of popcorn. ‘It’s not hot any more. But knock yourself out.’

Nico’s curiosity got the better of him. He scooped out a handful and gave it a try. To his surprise, even at room temperature, the buttery, herbed popcorn tasted like the ambrosia of the gods.

‘You made this?’ He tried not to sound too incredulous. ‘Like, magically?’

‘Oh, no magic,’ Mr D said. ‘I watched some videos on that YouTube thing. Some fellow named Alton Brown taught me the perfect recipe.’

Nico stared at him, but the god didn’t seem to be joking. ‘Look at you, learning new things.’

‘I may be older than this entire country, but I’ve still got a few tricks up my sleeves.’

‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear anything that had sleeves.’ Mr D winked. ‘Exactly.’

‘Anyway,’ Will broke in, ‘before I change my mind, are we good here?’ He turned to Chiron. ‘Is this quest official?’

The centaur took a deep breath. ‘Nico di Angelo.’ ‘That’s me,’ Nico said.

‘Do you accept this quest that’s been laid before you?’

Nico hesitated. So much for bravado. He wasn’t sure what it would be like to return to his father’s realm or to visit the terrifying, draining reality of Tartarus. Also, between the recurring prophecy, the relentless dreams and the voice of Bob crying out from Tartarus, it didn’t feel like he had much of a choice. This was all inevitable, wasn’t it?

On the other hand, he was sure he couldn’t leave Bob down there any longer. Bob deserved help after everything he’d done and everything he’d had to endure.

‘I accept,’ Nico said.

Mr D clapped. ‘Bravo! Nico, you have yourself a quest. More importantly, you’ve given me the most entertaining night I’ve had in Camp Half-Blood in months.’

Chiron looked much less excited. Will squeezed Nico’s hand, but Nico could feel the way his boyfriend’s fingers trembled.

Rachel hugged herself. ‘I hope this works. For your sake, of course. But also because I’m supposed to leave for Paris next week. I’d love to be able to make it there without prophecy smoke billowing out of me on the plane ride over.’

‘It’ll work,’ said Nico. ‘I know it will.’

But a small pit of dread settled at the bottom of Nico’s stomach. He hoped he hadn’t made the wrong decision.

‘The two of us?’ Nico turned to Will, who still wore a haunted look on his face. ‘What do you want to know about us?’

‘Anything,’ Gorgyra said. ‘Tell me a story in exchange for a boat. That is all I will ask of you.’

‘There are so many stories we could tell,’ said Nico. ‘How do I narrow it down to just one?’

The nymph smiled. ‘Would you tell me how you two first came into each other’s lives?’

‘And if we do that,’ said Will sluggishly, ‘you’ll help us?’ She nodded. ‘If it is satisfactory to me, yes.’

Nico gazed at Will and shrugged. Then he took a deep breath and began.

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