9-Nico and I take a Chariot to Damnation
“Welcome ladies,” cooed the tall woman, who sat in the throne next to Zeus’ empty one.
I felt Annabeth tense up from next to me.
“Hera,” she growled.
The woman smiled down at her, with an expression that clearly said, “You better not talk out of term again, young lady, or I’ll slap you with a yardstick.”
It reminded me of my fifth grade teacher.
So she scared me a lot.
Hera’s hair was braided on top of her head, she wore a long cream traditional Greek dress, with golden jewelry and a matching crown that resembled a flower.
“You father is not the only one whose symbol is the lotus,” she said looking down at me.
In her eyes I could see both admiration and hatred.
She had not chosen me as one of her heroes, and did not want me infringing on the perfect group of seven she had created.
“We finished your husband’s little quest,” I snarled.
“Good to see you’re sufficient at what you claim to do best,” she replied with equal bitterness.
I didn’t reply, I had nothing to say to her.
Annabeth quickly activated the pedestal, and I walked to the center of the room, placing the metal rod in a small hole, perfectly sized in the middle.
The small marble column sunk back into the floor, disappearing with the two pieces of the staff.
“Is there something you need us for?” I spat at Hera.
“Not really, Zeus only wished that I show you where to go next, unfortunately he is indisposed a the moment and cannot do it himself,” she said, curling her lip, at us, “But the other two must leave, this is only for the chosen one to see.”
Annabeth and Thalia obeyed, Thalia rolling her eyes as she turn and walked out of the Throne Room.
“Chosen one,” I mutter bitterly, “It’s not like I’m Harry Potter or anything.”
Hera ignored me.
She held her hand out flat, with her palm up.
Mist curled off her fingers forming into a Mirage Mirror.
The image was all too familiar, black palace with spires reaching up to the stalactites hanging from the cavern ceiling.
“Hades,” I groaned.
Hera glared at me with piercing eyes. They changed colors, fading from brown to gold, to green, then blue.
The image shifted, hordes of monsters lumbered towards the castle. They moved in slow motion as if they were wading through molasses.
Hera explained, “Many monsters, inspired by the recent acts of Styx, thought that perhaps they too could take the underworld for themselves. They have begun to march towards my brother’s castle. In defense, Hades has put a spell over his kingdom that slows down time for any who are in the underworld. Only one has been able to leave and escape the spell, your friend Nico Di Angelo. His father revealed to him the secret of being immune to the lag in time. Have Nico guide you through the underworld and collect the next piece of the staff. But, only do this once you have been signaled that it is safe. At the moment there is no way for you to pass through the underworld without disrupting the time spell.”
“What will the signal be?” I asked.
“You’ll know it when you see it,” said Hera, then with a swirl of golden light she disappeared.
“Thanks for being specific,” I yelled at the empty room and marched out, joining Annabeth and Thalia in the lobby.
The stared at me expectantly.
“Confidential,” I sneered, mocking Hera.
We all groaned dramatically and began the walk back to the elevator.
We hailed a taxi dropped Thalia off at Central Park, apparently some of the Hunters were meeting there, and she was going to go rejoin them.
Back at Camp Percy was waiting on top of Half Blood Hill pacing and looking worried.
Apparently Annabeth had texted him last night, telling him where we’d gone.
He looked so distressed walking back and forth on top of the hill, but when he saw us his face lit up.
It was cute how excited he was to see her, but it made me a bit sad. Neither of them could leave camp with out the other fearing for their friend’s life.
Sometimes I feel like if Percy was in the same position as me last year, with the choice of giving up his immortal lineage, he’d do it gladly and take the weight off his shoulders.
He hugged me warmly, and I buried my face in his shirt.
Hugging him was like coming home after a long vacation, the familiarity like a kind welcome.
Percy let go of me and went back to Annabeth wrapping his arm around her almost protectively.
Neither of them ever wanting to let go of each other for fear that one might not return.
I suddenly realized that I had someone like that too.
I just didn’t know where he was, and that began to worry me.
I hadn’t seen Nico in a while, he must have gone to Hades palace after we got back from Hawaii.
I started off down the hill, but stopped when I felt a familiar chill from behind me. I turned to see Nico standing on top of the hill, grinning lopsidedly at me.
“Miss me? He cooed.
“You wish,” I replied, but smiled in return.
Although there was something so obviously broken about him, I felt no need to fix it. I didn’t want to try erasing the bad parts of his past for fear it would erase all of it.
He sauntered down to me, his hands in his huge aviator jacket pockets.
We stood for a minute the light of the setting sun setting the rims of our figures alight.
“Glad to see your back,” he said.
“You to,” I replied.
“Lets talk,” he said, “Some where private.”
“Private? At Camp Half Blood? I’ll give you twenty bucks if you can give me a place where the Stolls won’t spy on us.”
“My cabin,” he replied blatantly.
The was a small silence for a second then I said, “My wallet’s in my bag.”
We walked in silence to the ring of Cabins, where his place loomed like a three dimensional shadow.
A few campers came up and greeting him and I, asking where we’d disappeared off to and such.
We tried to tell them as much as we could.
When we reached Nico’s cabin he held open the door for me like a gentleman, much to my nervous blushing.
I walked into the cold dark room and Nico followed me.
He snapped his fingers and the torches on the walls lit up with Greek fires. The room flickered in an eerie green glow.
“Sorry,” said Nico, “I know the décor isn’t really your style. Come to think of it, I’m not a fan of it myself anymore.”
“Perhaps I could help you redesign,” I offered, “How to you feel about pink walls?”
He laughed with me but only for a second. He eyes didn’t meet mine. He stared down at the might stand running his fingers over some small little plastic cards.
They looked like Pokemon cards, but instead of cute little furry creatures, there were hideous monsters and sneering gods.
Why anyone would want to keep that next to their pillow, I don’t know.
I noticed the shadows under his eyes were darker.
The last time I had seen him, they had almost faded completely, now he was worse that I had ever seen him.
He was taller than I remember, now about two inches above me. This only added to the effect of his skeletal skinniness. He took off his jacket hanging it up on one of the spikes jutting out of the wall.
He glanced at me, almost looking guilty, then sat down on his bed and sobbed.
For a minute I stood there awkwardly.
I didn’t know what to do, I never had any galfriends that I could console when they went through a bad breakup.
I had no idea how to stop people from crying.
I walked over to him, kneeling at his feet.
I grabbed his hands, curling his fingers into mine. They were so cold and lifeless, it scared me.
I pressed them up against the side of my face letting the warmth of my cheeks heat up his icy skin.
He didn’t look at me instead he glued his eyes to the floor, and let the sobs rack his body.
I brushed his hair out of his face, and said, “Stand up.”
He sniffled and obeyed.
The second he got to his feet, I wrapped my arms around him, pulling him close to me. I could feel his heart beat and his body shiver.
He buried his face in my neck, his tears trickled down my shoulder.
“Dude,” I muttered.
He chuckled at little, a sad desperate laugh.
I could feel him try to restrain himself, trying to stop the crying.
We stood in each others arms for a long while. Long enough for my legs to get sore. Which actually might not have been that long since I was really tired, but when your best friend is crying all over you, it feel like eons.
“I’m worthless,” he finally managed.
At that I nearly broke, I began to laugh, really hard.
Nico backed away looking like I had just stabbed his pet cat or something.
“Why are you laughing at me?” he cried, his face was so heartbroken it physically hurt me.
“Because that’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard. You are the most valuable person I know. To me at least,” I said.
Warmth came back to his face, but it was quickly washed away with doubt, “My father would disagree,” he massaged his hands, “He says you feel nothing for me in return. That I am doomed to unrequited love and that my only purpose is to burden people.”
“Yeah well, that coming from the same guy who kidnapped a girl and made it be winter for like three years straight, so I wouldn’t exactly trust his judgment.”
Nico’s face lit up, transforming from what looked like sick rabid mutt on the streets, to happy little puppy.
He giggled, his youth returning to him.
“Touché,” he said.
Then he stepped forward and hugged me, and now that I think about it, I think this must have been his first time doing the hugging, instead of being hugged.
I sighed and curled my fingers into the back of his shirt.
“I love you, Lea,” he said softly.
“I know bro, I love you too,” I sighed. The whole ‘bro’ thing probably ruining the moment but maybe that was better. I wasn’t ready for a full on confession of love.
He pulled away slightly, just so that he could look at me, whilst still keeping his hands on my ribs.
“No go wash up, or something,” I said, preventing the seemingly inevitable situation that came after this, “You look terrible.”
He grinned, and let go of me, walking into the small bathroom. I sat down on his bed, waiting.
Next to me there was small back satin curtain on the wall, assuming there was window behind it, I pulled back the fabric.
Pinned to the wall, obviously kept out of plain sight on purpose were a few pictures.
One a selfie of Leo, that only showed a fraction of Leo’s right eye, and behind him was the Seven and Nico standing on the Argo looking both happy and battered. Next to that was an old black and white photo of a family. It appeared to be very rich family, rich enough to wear fancy clothes and get a nice family photo taken. There was tall man with greasy black hair and a gaunt face, standing with his hand on a beautiful woman wearing pearls’ shoulder. She too had black hair and so did the two children in the photo. One was young girl with long silky black hair standing at her father’s feet. The other child which I instantly knew to be Nico, although he was barely recognizable, sat on his mother’s lap. He must have been barely two years old. That meant this photo had to be over eighty years old. I wondered how it could have survived through the years.
There were three more pictures, one of Hazel and Nico. Hazel smiled warmly with her arm around Nico and he looked wary and disapproving of the camera, which captured the image of his face.
The last two I recognized, one of them was of myself and Nico sitting at my kitchen table eating donuts. My mother must have discreetly took it on her cell phone two years ago, just before he and I had left to go fight Nyx.
Lastly there was a picture of Nico and I, my arm around him, my other hand making a peace symbol and me sticking my tongue out jokingly. He was looking at me with an expression that clearly said, “What an idiot.”
The picture was taken almost over a year ago, just after I made him get a haircut so that I could see his eyes (much to his disapproval and argument). It was about that time again. The only reason this photo existed is because the Aphrodite cabin was going through a hipster phase and was taking Polaroid pictures of all the campers.
I think this is the only time I’ll ever say this, but ‘Thank the gods for the Aphrodite cabin and their phases.”
I stared at all of the photos for a few more minutes, then recovered them with the curtain just as Nico stepped back out into the room, flicking sink water at me with his fingertips.
Then he sat down next to me, looking more like his normal self, bone-thin, tired looking, and weak, but that didn’t worry me so much anymore, he was stronger than he looked.
“Hera said you needed to talk to me,” I began.
His lips tightened at the mention of Hera, nobody liked her much, she was that one Aunt that you specifically didn’t invite to Thanksgiving Dinner, because you knew she’d end up making everyone fight with one another.
As I thought this I pictured an Olympian Thanksgiving, I shuddered, it wasn’t a pretty thought.
“Yes,” said Nico softly, “I have news from my father.”
“I heard about the time spell,” I told Nico, leaning back against the cool stone wall.
Nico concentrated, “My father said that the time spell would slow down the oncoming monsters for at least a week, at most a month. You and I can slip through unaffected using the powers that my father gave to me, but we have to wait for the right time.”
“Why?” I asked, “why not now?”
“I can create a small rift in the time spell, allowing you and I to pass through the underworld at our usual pace, but if we come within fifty feet of any monsters the rift will allow them regain normal speed and they will attack us.”
“So we need to wait until the monsters are all in a position where we can navigate through the underworld, but stay within of fifty foot range of all the monsters.”
“Yes,” Agreed Nico, “also, if we do come in contact with any monsters, the rift touching them will cause the spell to reverse. It’s not instantaneous, but if you break the spell over one creature the spell resets, like a ripple affect outward, getting faster as it goes.”
“So basically, we’ve got to get through the underworld, without coming near any monsters, that sounds easy enough,” I said.
I looked over at Nico awaiting the inevitable contradiction.
“The forces marching towards my father’s castle are so thick, that is unlikely that there will ever be an opening.”
“Of course,” I muttered, “How will we know if there is an opening?”
“My father said he’d send a signal, he never specified,” replied Nico, retied the laces of his combat boots.
I rolled my eyes, “Are the gods ever specific?”
“Nope,” chirped Nico quickly, then he stood up brushing off his jeans.
“What time is it?” I asked looking around the room for a clock.
“About five thirty,” replied Nico.
“Cool, Imma go get changed,” I said gesturing to my Seattle adapted clothing, and then sauntered out the door, calling as I left, “See you at dinner.”
“Okay cool,” he called after me, as I jogged through the grass over to my cabin.
On my way to back to my cabin I felt a draw to the forest, something pulling me in. Maybe I should go check on Leo, it had been a while since he and I talked.
I fell into temptation and jogged into the woods.
Just like always to doors to the bunker were open and I walked in without hesitation.
“Lea!” called down Leo from the catwalks above my head.
“Hey man!” I replied not directed anywhere in particular because I couldn’t see him.
“I’ve got something for you!” he exclaimed repelling down from my left.
“Really?” I asked trying to sound excited, instead of weirded-out, “More gifts?”
He blushed a little, then tripped over a wrench on the ground and blushed more.
“Yeah it’s really nothing,” he said, “I’ve been working on it for a while.”
He reached into his tool belt, rooting around as if to find it and then pulled out a small vial on a chain.
He placed the pinky finger sized vial in my palm. I nearly dropped it I was so surprised, the glass was freezing.
I looked at it, inside the glass vial there was a small jewel looking thing. There was bits of frost collected in the vial, obstructing my view.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Pure frost,” replied Leo.
“What do you mean?” I asked, trying to examine it closer.
“When Khione kidnapped me last year, she took me back to her palace, and when I dropped the chandelier of her this fragment of pure frost lodged itself into my tool belt. It’s so powerful, anything that it touches freezes over. Which sucked, cause I could pull anything out of my tool belt till I microwave it for like twelve hours,” explained Leo.
“What is it with villains always having giant precariously hung chandeliers, do they not realize it’s a safety hazard?” I said exasperated.
Leo laughed rapidly, his cheeks scrunched up, his eyes getting lost in the wrinkles of his smile.
I placed the chain around my neck with my other necklace, luckily this chain was longer so their wasn’t any weird layering problems.
In the distance I heard a familiar gong.
“Oh sweet, dinner,” I said hastily.
“Yeah,” he said, “Dinner. Righto.”
“See you later,” I said.
“Okay bye,” he replied quickly.
I left him standing there. I looked down at the vial around my neck.
Honestly, what’s up with guys and giving me jewelry?
I shrugged it off and I walked back to my cabin.