If it was so scary and surreal, Nico might have laughed.
Here he was, fighting side by side with Percy Jackson - Percy Jackson - against ancient Greek monsters in the middle of Manhattan.
Normally, this would have made Nico ecstatic, but given the situation they were in, well, happy feelings were definitely not appropriate. Besides, it didn’t matter how good Nico could show Percy he could fight or how easily Nico commanded armies of dead soldiers. Percy didn’t care anymore.
Ever since Annabeth had died, all Percy did was fight and fight and fight some more. There was no shortage of monsters for him to fight.
Honestly, Nico had no idea how it even happened.
Something had happened on Olympus. After Kronos had thrown up the barrier, Percy along with Annabeth, Grover, and Thalia had followed the Titan lord to Mount Olympus. The only one to come down had been Percy. Annabeth, Grover, and Thalia were gone.
Percy had crawled out of the elevator with the aid of the few injured demigods and hunters that had been up on Olympus.
Will Solace, a son of Apollo, had been among the group as well as his sister Lydia. They did their best to patch Percy up, but it was a rough job and even with the massive amount of painkillers and ambrosia in his system, Percy looked worse for the wear.
Now, it was the few lone survivors that had been pushed back and down the streets of Manhattan for the past hour.
Phoebe, a hunter of Artemis who had stepped up to fill Thalia’s position as Lieutenant, was there along with three other hunters. Clarisse La Rue and Chris Rodriguez, while late to the fight, were still alive and fighting just as hard. There were a few other demigods, but honestly, Nico didn’t even know their names.
All around them, monsters circled and closed in. This would probably be the end for all of them.
The Titans had won the war. Typhon would be here any minute and the gods were already weak from fighting him.
Nico shouted defiantly as he called on hundreds of dead soldiers to fight for him.
A hyperborean giant turned it’s icy breath on them.
The IM shimmered in front of Nico. He didn’t get very good reception in the Underworld, but it was decent enough for him to hear Percy’s message, even if Percy’s image was a little fuzzy.
“Nico, we’re headed to Manhattan,” Percy said. “I… I know you said you don’t think you belong at Camp, but the Titans are going to attack Olympus and everyone at Camp is going to fight them. The gods are busy with Typhon, but, well, there’s about fifty or sixty of us demigods.”
“Of course I’ll be there,” Nico said, kind of insulted that Percy thought he might skip out on them. “I’ll meet you at the Empire State Building.”
Percy’s smile made his heart stop. “Great! Good. I’ll see you there, Nico.” He ended the call.
Maybe Nico agreed to help because it was Percy asking. No, that was probably the most likely reason.
Not like it mattered. Percy wouldn’t know anything even if the answer was staring him in the face. Nico had been on the Labyrinth quest last year. Percy had been totally oblivious to Annabeth and Rachel fighting for Percy’s attention.
Nico shook his head. He glanced at his bedroom door and wondered if he should tell Hades what was going on.
Nah, he decided. What would Hades care if Nico went out to risk his life? Bianca could have done it better anyway.
Nico’s eyes flew open. He coughed and sputtered.
“Nico, what happened?” Percy’s voice asked. “Can you talk?”
Nico nodded weakly. “Never tried to summon so many before. I—I’ll be fine.”
Someone poured nectar in his mouth and he swallowed it gratefully. He blinked as the people around him came into focus. Percy and Annabeth stared down at him worriedly.
“Am… am I dead?” he asked.
Annabeth gave a nervous laugh. “No. It was a little worrying for a few seconds, but you’re fine. Or, you will be fine once you have time to heal up.”
It didn’t make sense. Annabeth was dead. And… was he at Camp Half-Blood?
Nico didn’t say anything for a while. Then his eyes locked onto someone behind Percy and Annabeth.
“Daedalus,” he croaked.
“Yes, my boy,” Daedalus said. “I made a very bad mistake. I came to correct it.” He had a few scratches that were bleeding golden oil, but he looked fine other than that.
Still, this did little to ease Nico’s nerves. Daedalus, like Annabeth, had died.
“I found the Hundred-Handed One as I came through the maze,” Daedalus explained while Nico had his internal crisis. “It seems he had the same idea, to come help, but he was lost. And so we fell in together. We both came to make amends.”
“Yay!” Tyson jumped up and down. “Briares! I knew you would come!”
“I did not know,” the Hundred-Handed One said. “But you reminded me who I am, Cyclops. You are the hero.”
Tyson blushed, but Percy patted him on the back. “I knew that a long time ago,” Percy said. “But, Daedalus…the Titan army is still down there. Even without the string, they’ll be back. They’ll find a way sooner or later, with Kronos leading them.”
Daedalus sheathed his sword. “You are right. As long as the Labyrinth is here, your enemies can use it. Which is why the Labyrinth cannot continue.”
Annabeth stared at him. “But you said the Labyrinth is tied to your life force! As long as you’re alive—”
“Yes, my young architect,” Daedalus agreed. “When I die, the Labyrinth will die as well. And so I have a present for you.”
He slung a leather satchel off his back, unzipped it, and produced a sleek silver laptop computer—one of the ones in the workshop. On the lid was the blue symbol ∆.
“My work is here,” he said. “It’s all I managed to save from the fire. Notes on projects I never started. Some of my favorite designs. I couldn’t develop these over the last few millennia. I did not dare reveal my work to the mortal world. But perhaps you will find it interesting.”
He handed the computer to Annabeth, who stared at it like it was solid gold. “You’re giving me this? But this is priceless! This is worth…I don’t even know how much!”
“Small compensation for the way I have acted,” Daedalus said. “You were right, Annabeth, about children of Athena. We should be wise, and I was not. Someday you will be a greater architect than I ever was. Take my ideas and improve them. It is the least I can do before I pass on.”
“Whoa,” Percy said.
Nico agreed. They needed to slow down and give him time to process what had happened.
Maybe it had all been a dream? A very vivid dream caused by exhaustion fighting the Titan army in the Labyrinth.
Okay, not the likeliest possibility, but it was the only one Nico could think of.
“Pass on?” Percy continued. “But you can’t just kill yourself. That’s wrong.”
Daedalus shook his head. “Not as wrong as hiding from my crimes for two thousand years. Genius does not excuse evil, Percy. My time has come. I must face my punishment.”
“You won’t get a fair trial,” Annabeth said. “The spirit of Minos sits in judgment—”
“I will take what comes,” he said. “And trust in the justice of the Underworld, such as it is. That is all we can do, isn’t it?” He looked straight at Nico.
Nico’s face darkened. “Yes,” he said.
“Will you take my soul for ransom, then?” Daedalus asked. “You could use it to reclaim your sister.”
“No,” Nico said in a daze. “I will help you release your spirit. But Bianca has passed. She must stay where she is.”
Or should he? After all, this is what choice he had made in the dream, and look how well that life turned out.
Daedalus nodded. “Well done, son of Hades. You are becoming wise.” Then he turned toward Percy. “One last favor, Percy Jackson. I cannot leave Mrs. O’Leary alone. And she has no desire to return to the Underworld. Will you care for her?”
“Yeah. Of course I will.”
“Then I am ready to see my son…and Perdix,” Daedalus said. “I must tell them how sorry I am.”
Annabeth had tears in her eyes.
Daedalus turned toward Nico, who drew his sword after a moment of hesitation.
“Your time is long since come,” he said. “Be released and rest.”
A smile of relief spread across Daedalus’s face. He froze like a statue. His skin turned transparent, revealing the bronze gears and machinery whirring inside his body. Then the statue turned to gray ash and disintegrated.
Mrs. O’Leary howled. Percy patted her head, trying to comfort her as best he could. The earth rumbled—an earthquake that could probably be felt in every major city across the country—as the ancient Labyrinth collapsed. Somewhere the remains of the Titan’s strike force had been buried.
“Come on,” Percy said. “We have work to do.”
Nico followed the motions of the rest of the day as if in a trance. He went to the funerals for the fallen campers, and though he was tempted to volunteer himself to perform the funeral rites, the whole day had been one strange experience after another and he wasn’t even sure if the rites in the dream were the actual rites he would have to perform.
Speaking of funeral rites, there was something he had to do. At least check and make sure of it anyway. But that would have to wait until later.
The demigods of Camp Half-Blood spent the next day treating the wounded, which was almost everybody. The satyrs and dryads worked to repair the damage to the woods.
Nico almost stopped in the infirmary to see how Will and Lydia were doing. If they even existed that was.
The dream about this future Battle of Manhattan was so unimaginably vivid and real. It wasn’t like a normal demigod dream, that was for sure. When Will and Lydia had gone missing - what was it? Hours, maybe minutes after the Titans started pushing them back from Olympus - Nico had felt awful. Among those of them left, the two children of Apollo had been some of the youngest left. Will himself was Nico’s age. Lydia was younger.
Percy came by to drag him off to a head counselor meeting. Nico was met with confused looks and uncertain murmurs.
Chiron gave Nico a slight smile. “Welcome back, Mr. di Angelo.”
Nico didn’t say anything, but he offered a tight smile in response.
“Who?” Michael Yew snapped. His eyes were red, presumably from crying about his brother Lee’s death.
Percy looked upset. “This is Nico,” he said, gesturing to Nico. “Nico di Angelo? He was at Camp last winter.”
This was the same as the dream. Nico glanced down at his… dark clothing choice. Black, grey, skulls, death. Okay. Maybe he could see why no one remembered him. Not that he was complaining. He didn’t really want to be remembered as that naive excitable little boy from December.
Travis Stoll frowned. “Wait. That kid that went missing?”
He’d also rather not be known as ‘that kid that went missing’ either.
Chiron cleared his throat. “Perhaps introductions are in order.”
The head counselors went around saying their names. Of course, Nico already knew all of them. Katie Gardner from Demeter, Charles Beckendorf from Hephaestus, Silena Beauregard from Aphrodite, Percy, Annabeth, Pollux from Dionysus, Michael from Apollo, Clarisse, and Travis and Connor from Hermes.
“Sorry,” Katie said, looking sheepish. “Um, I don’t want to be rude, but… why is Nico here? I… I mean, I’m grateful for his help however he did that and all, but… he’s not a head counselor.” She frowned. “Who is his godly parent anyway? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“My father is Hades,” Nico said flatly.
Percy winced. “Yeah. So I brought him because like Katie said, he helped and you know, technically he would he head counselor if there was a Hades cabin. But also because he was with Annabeth and I when we…” he trailed off with a guilty look at Annabeth.
“What Percy’s trying to say is I saw Kronos come back,” Nico said, not really caring if Annabeth didn’t want to talk about this because of how much she liked Luke or whatever stupid reason she had for avoiding the subject. Just because she didn’t want to touch it, and Percy was willing to use a ten foot pole, didn’t mean Nico would reach out and grab it with his bare hands.
“Wait,” Michael interrupted. He gave Nico a look that Nico couldn’t really identify. “Your dad is Hades? Hades broke the oath too?” He snorted. “Of course he did. Well, this is just great.”
Nico wanted to say that his father hadn’t actually broken the oath, but he had a feeling that would only make things much, much worse.
“Look,” Nico said bluntly, “Kronos is back. He’s in Luke’s body. Percy turns sixteen next year. I don’t know how to defeat him, but I am going to help. So can we talk about the actual important issue instead of who my father is?”
After dinner, Nico wander off towards the woods. When he came to a stop, he squeezed his eyes shut and called, “Bianca?”
When he opened his eyes, Bianca’s ghost was shimmering in front of him.
“Nico?” Bianca asked worriedly. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I…” Nico took a breath. “I wanted to say goodbye and… and ask you about something.”
Bianca took on a curious look. “What about?”
“When you… when you died, did you have any strange deja vu moments?”
Bianca gave him a strange look. “No. Why? What’s this have to do with anything?”
Nico shook his head. “Nothing. I just… I don’t know. After I used my powers to summon an army of the dead, I guess I passed out and had this dream. But it doesn’t matter.” He looked into his sister’s eyes. “Goodbye, Bianca.”
Bianca offered Nico a warm smile. “Goodbye, Nico. Remember what I said about our fatal flaw. I… I love you.” She reached out to touch his face, but she was dissolving.
Nico turned to see Percy standing there. “What do you want?” he asked with a glare.
Percy held up his hands in defense. “Sorry. We missed you at dinner. You could’ve sat with me.”
“No,” Nico snapped.
“Nico, you can’t miss every meal. If you don’t want to stay with Hermes, maybe they can make an exception and put you in the Big House. They’ve got plenty of rooms.”
“I’m not staying, Percy.”
“But…you can’t just leave. It’s too dangerous out there for a lone halfblood. You need to train.”
“I train with the dead,” he said flatly. “This camp isn’t for me. There’s a reason they didn’t put a cabin to Hades here, Percy. He’s not welcome, any more than he is on Olympus. I don’t belong. I have to go.”
I have to get away from you , Nico said mentally.
Percy looked like he wanted to argue. Nico kind of wished he would.
“When will you go?” Percy asked.
“Now,” Nico said, kicking at the forest floor. “I have some things to take care of. But I meant what I said. I will help you guys fight Kronos.”
“Well, I hope we don’t have to be enemies.”
Nico lowered his gaze. “Sorry. I should’ve listened to you about Bianca.”
“By the way…” Percy fished something out of his pocket. “Tyson found this while we were cleaning the cabin. Thought you might want it.” He held out a lead figurine of Hades—the little Mythomagic statue Nico had abandoned when he fled camp. The only thing he had left in the world of Bianca.
Nico took it hesitantly. He slipped it into his pocket. “Thanks.”
Then he turned and set off into the woods. When he was far enough away from Percy, Nico stepped into the shadows and disappeared.