Nico materialised, choking. Light headed, his legs gave way as he collapsed forwards onto a metal box. His soul began to fade, as though someone was grasping into his heart and pulling out the few things he loved in life.
Then it occurred to him: hadn't he got over this problem a few days ago? He forced his gaze to focus onto the box. Frightened and excited at the same time, his hands ran along the golden engravings etched on the casket's walls. Before him was Kronos' Sarcophagus. Gaia sure was a caring mother.
He scrambled back as an aura of energy struck the ground.
"What a momma's boy" he joked to himself. Just as quickly, he became scared at his ruthlessness. Had any of his friends been here to witness this, they would surely have been horrified at how cold blooded he was with regards to the Titan Lord. Nico himself had never had the chance to appreciate his family, let alone his mother. When confronted with other people's problems, he sensed a void. He could never relate with them. For a brief moment his thoughts drifted, trying to track down the void within him. Nothing was found.
His chest was set alight with volatile flames as he discovered the platonic love Jason had for Thalia; the love Percy had for Sally Jackson. He wasn't alone any more. His friends were with him.
Jason he thought. His mind was bombarded by fragmented accounts of a battle that was going on.
Hey bro, we're kind of busy right now Percy's thoughts came through. Nico's mind went blank. So much for not being alone.
The casket rumbled with anger. What was inside of it? Percy had destroyed Kronos. Hang on a minute, Luke had destroyed Kronos. So if Kronos wasn't in there then who was?
Scramble, this is the end of the world. No time for plans. Jason's voice projected itself loud and clear. With pure instinct, Nico's hands headed towards the seal of the casket. He casually opened it only to be greeted by the grim reaper's weapon of choice: Kronos' good old scythe.
What Percy seemed confused I thought that was destroyed when --
Times change Nico cut him off.
He pondered for a second. Gaia had created this weapon. Ouranos, Kronos, Luke. The death toll was endless. But Nico could still sense the blade lusting for more blood to be drawn. The blade was seeking godly blood. Ancient blood. Primordial blood. The desire to draw such blood obsessed his feeble mind. As his vision blurred, his nose began to flare. Some part of him knew he shouldn't... He snapped out of the trance. Despite being the son of Hades, he still could not imagine himself carrying a weapon with so much power to the slaughter field. No, he would only transport it to his friends. They'd figure out how to kill Gaia with her own weapon. Before he could come up with a plan he instinctively grasped the scythe just as it was about to sink into the ground. The cave trembled. He melted into the shadows.
Nico had never settled on the conditions of Shadow travel. For a split second, his surroundings were skeletal and absent any life. He panicked. How could he be sure that he wouldn't be trapped there for ever. What if Gaia had succeeded in reclaiming her earth. Before he considered it further, a brown plant smacked against his face.
He panted. The earth's surface felt moist and warm, but brownish plants dotted the landscape. The bright blue sky shook. Was that a sky-quake? Then it hit him.
"Hi Percy's friend!" a clumsy yet friendly voice roared.
"Uhm... wait. Tyson, right? Why are you carrying me?!" He began to realise that he wasn't surrounded by plants. Those were the hairs on his head. Hopefully Cyclops showered more than just the usual once in a year dip. Judging from his sticky hair, Nico wasn't too encouraged to ask.
"Yay! Percy knew you'd be here!" He titled his head to look up, forcing Nico to hold on to the Cyclops' hairs and avoid plummeting 30 feet to his death. The ground beneath them gave way and the Cyclops fell with Nico barely managing to cling on. Tyson's large arms swung to either side of him as he interlocked his fingers with the cliff edge. A thought crept up Nico's back. An idea. This was new.
"Tyson! Can you hear me?"
"Yes silly, you're in my ear"
"Oh yeah" he continued "Tyson, I need you to listen to me. I want you let go. Trust me on this one."
"What? No! Your daddy likes death. Mine likes water!"
"Tyson, you..." Nico wanted to assure him that they weren't going to die. To be honest, he didn't believe in their chances either. With the fates gone, their futures were being forged by their own hands as they spoke. He wanted to tell Tyson do it for Percy but to exploit his friend like that didn't seem right. No time for plans Jason had told him... Nico fumbled to his left from where he pulled out the scythe. It was covered in ear wax. Yuck!
"Tyson, Catch!" he threw the scythe into the air. Spinning, it dramatically increased in size. Instinctively, Tyson let go of the cliff with his right hand to grab the weapon. Not having expected it to grow so large he steadied his grip with his left hand. Nico had outsmarted a Cyclops. They fell into oblivion.
A shower of waste engulfed them. The ground was slowly closing in on them. At this rate, they'd be crushed in another five minutes.
Free-falling, Nico felt like an elastic string stretched to its limit. Tyson shouting "Heeeeeelp!" didn't help much with the exhilarating fear that he had to face. Please work he thought to himself. His thoughts were torn apart and spat upon by the violent winds as they circled around the two, cutting at their skin and shaking them from side to side. Wait. Were those winds?
"Heya buddy" Percy chuckled.
An intense vortex of fluid sprayed a draught of air upwards as it wheezed, rapidly releasing tension from the ground. The updraft dragged Nico and Tyson along with it. Tyson's lungs sounded like acres of pressure piling up for one large Fireworks show. And how the whirlpools of air around him combusted! His synapses failed him. Compared to this explosion of emotions as the high pitched shrill thundered right past Nico, Pan's scream of Panic sounded like a toddler whining.
"Gaia incoming!" Jason screamed at the top of his voice, yelling his throat raw
"Two seconds late!" Nico replied over the chaotic noise.
As they rose, Gaia's form kept breaking and reappearing like a glued together work of porcelain. Pathetic. You heroes cannot defeat me she taunted. It is not your destiny
"Wrong!" Nico roared. Somehow, despite the nonsense noise surrounding him, his voice worked perfectly "You scared the fates off, remember?" Electric sparks filled the air as Gaia absorbed his words. An unsettling nervousness stuttered its way into Nico's head. He continued "We're heroes" he caught his breath "We decide our own future, shape our own path". Silence. No response from Gaia.
Sleep! Her order was strangely suggestive. Nico could sense both Percy and Jason struggling to keep their snowspout from flowing. He sensed the ice frost on top of his nose and his hairs slowly turning white. He was about to drowse off. The ice devil collapsed. Gaia's form came clashing downwards on them, but Tyson kept her at bay by pointing the scythe in her direction.
You! What are you? Gaia taunted. A Cyclops. And not a very good one at that. Her ageless voice sounded raspy, as though she'd eaten a bag of shattered glass. What can you do? I am Gaia, eternal mother of the earth, slayer of Ouranos, mother of Kronos, shaker of the earth her form changed. For a brief moment, Tyson's eyes flickered in recognition. He raised his eyebrow.
"Wrong!" he shouted "Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!" Nico wanted him to shut up. What was the fuss about? He just wanted to sleep. Tyson's pinky smacked his skull and suddenly Nico was on full alert. "Daddy is shaker of the earth! Not you..." he paused for a while before muttering those fateful words. "You're wrong... Mother!" The ozone layers immediately staggered to unseen heights as the mist thickened to blur Nico's vision. In the background, he heard a supersonic scream that echoed across the sky, causing the snow devil to shatter apart and send them flying. He knew what had happened. Tyson had done it. He'd killed Gaia with the very same weapon she had forged for her son to kill her own husband. And now another of her sons had defeated her.
As one family feud ended, another had begun. The gods were angry.