Thalia took charge of Maya, who was still screaming and flailing about in pain as her face continued to rot, but Thalia had absolutely no sympathy for the girl. Not after Maya had killed Karena and Martina. She snatched up the rope that Sadie offered her and used it to hogtie the little brat.
It was impossible not to pay attention to her injuries, even though Thalia's interest was more clinical than sympathetic. For a few moments she wondered if whatever Nico had done to Maya was actually going to kill the girl. It seemed like it would be an extremely painful death, having your body rot from the outside in. But then the spread of those plague-like sores seemed to slow and finally stop, leaving Maya with a grotesque looking skeletal hand, a splattering of plague-like sores over her arms and neck, and a horribly disfigured face. And maybe it was cruel of Thalia, but she was glad. Maya no longer looked like an innocent little girl anymore. She looked like the monster she was, so less people were likely to feel sympathy for her, or be inclined to show her leniency for her actions.
Finally able to tear her eyes away from Maya's plight, Thalia turned her attention to what the others were doing. Part of what she saw at least made her smile.
Sadie was trying to fend off her brother who was trying to fuss over the cuts on her arm. Piper had torn off the sleeves of her shirt to make bandages, but was standing back a few steps looking bewildered, like she wasn't quite sure what she should be doing, while Carter and Sadie argued it out over whether or not Sadie needed her arms bandaged.
Far less humorous was Nico, who had scooted as far away from everyone else as he could, and kept one hand clamped against his throat. He was still bleeding, Thalia saw. And then she realized with shock and alarm that it was his blood that had caused Maya's plague-reminiscent injuries and disfigurement. The floor was pitted with spots that looked like acid burns wherever his blood had fallen, and Nico's shirt showed signs of being eaten away as well.
Percy was holding Nico's jacket, which they'd probably gotten off of him to save it from the same fate that his shirt was meeting. He looked like he wanted to try to get closer to the younger boy, but Nico's glare seemed to be what was stopping him.
A moment later Annabeth stepped out of the bathroom with the Hermes Cabin's first aid kit.
"It's not as well stocked as it should be," Annabeth was saying. "I think Hermes' kids swiped all the pain killers, but there's some antiseptic and enough bandages."
"I don't need antiseptic," growled Nico.
"You were bitten and the human mouth has so much bacteria in it –"
"And my blood is pretty much acid. Trust me, I'll be fine. Just stay away from me until the bleeding stops."
"Is he okay?" Thalia asked Percy since she knew Nico wouldn't answer her straight.
"Probably," said Percy.
"His blood is what did that?" Thalia motioned toward Maya. "That can't be normal."
"He's the son of Hades."
"I've never heard of any Children of the Underworld having blood with properties like that," Annabeth pointed out.
"How much do you really know about Children of the Underworld at all?" demanded Nico. "As far as I know, there's not any kind of a handbook cataloguing all the different ways we fit the definition of freak."
Thalia sighed, and once again had the feeling that Nico was hiding something. And she really wanted to know what. But despite what she wanted, she had to acknowledge that there were more important things to worry about than that. "Are you okay, Nico?" she asked, speaking the question to him this time. "I know that something freaky is going on with you, and that something isn't right, but for now I'm prepared to drop that issue because it's not as important as your safety. So please, just tell me, are you really all right?"
Nico stared at Thalia with dark, solemn eyes. His gaze was so intent that it was almost like he was trying to look through her rather than at her. Then finally, he nodded. "I'm okay," he told her. "I really am."
"But everything's not okay," said Annabeth, her biting tone almost enough to make Thalia wince.
She expected Nico to shut down and close them off then, and go back to being sullen and withdrawn, but the younger boy surprised her.
"But it will be okay," he said with conviction. "I really believe that."
"Okay," Thalia said, deciding to leave it at that. She shot Annabeth a look, which Annabeth caught and nodded.
"But you'll let us know if you need help?" Annabeth couldn't seem to help but ask.
Nico blinked, and looked surprised. He glanced at Percy briefly, then at Carter and Sadie who were watching this exchange in silence. Then he looked back to Annabeth and Thalia and nodded. "I will."
"Then say it," pressed Annabeth.
"I just did!"
"In as many words."
Nico rolled his eyes, but obliged. "If I need help, I'll let you know. Both of you." He glanced at Thalia too. "I promise."
Thalia fished out several of her business cards. She handed one to Nico, then also gave one to Sadie and Piper. "If you need me, Nico, you can reach me at this number. And Piper, Sadie, if you two ever want to join the hunters, give me a call. We can always use girls like you."
"Thanks," Sadie said and tried to hand the card back, "but I'm sticking with my brother."
Thalia held up her hand motioning for Sadie to keep the card. "Then use it to call me if the two of you need help. Since you seem to be involved in whatever mess Nico's gotten himself into."
Sadie hesitated then nodded. Then she did some sort of sleight of hand trick and made the card disappear. Or maybe it wasn't slight of hand because Thalia thought she could feel some sort of power around Sadie as the card vanished, but had no idea what it was. "Thanks," said Sadie, a smile on her face. "Thanks a lot."
From there things took a turn for the tedious. Chiron had to be informed about what had happened. Testimonies had to be given and repeated. Sadie wasn't quite sure how the others worked it out so that she never had to tell the story of what happened to Chiron, but somehow they pulled it off. It probably helped that Nico and Piper were both able to provide an account of what had happened when Maya attacked Sadie, and that Percy has hustled Sadie off to get her arm treated before Sadie's turn could come. Naturally Carter went with Sadie, then Percy took them to the Hades cabin to hide out for the rest of the day.
Nico finally joined them just before dinner, as it started to get dark. He looked tired, Sadie noticed immediately, but not as bad as she'd seen him look in the past, like when he'd been kidnapped by Aziza. He was wearing his jacket again, and a new shirt since his blood had dissolved the one he'd been wearing earlier that day. There was a bandage taped to his neck that covered up the bite wound that Maya had given him, and since it hadn't been dissolved, Sadie guessed he must have stopped bleeding.
"Time to get out of here," Nico told Sadie and Carter.
"You're sure it's okay?" Carter asked.
Nico raised an eyebrow. "Would you want to stay even if it's not okay?"
"Alright, stupid question," Carter acknowledged. "Sorry. I'm just trying not to cause more trouble for you than we have to, since we've already caused quite a bit."
"No you haven't," said Nico. He sat down on his bed and rubbed both hands over his face. "That stupid psycho-kid was the one causing problems. You were just unlucky enough to get caught up in them."
"Why was she doing it?" asked Sadie. "Did she say?"
Nico shook his head. "But they did find out that the so-called school she was staying at before she got picked up was actually a mental institution, and that she was sent there in the first place for stabbing her mom, step-father, and half-sister. So she's certifiably crazy. We don't know if she was born that way, or if she turned out like that because her family was terrible to her and drove her to it. I know it shouldn't matter, considering that she killed two completely unrelated demigods for no real reason, but most people can't help but feel sorry for her."
"Do you?" Sadie asked.
Nico scowled. "No. She killed one of my friends. There's no excuse she can make for it that I'd forgive her for because Martina didn't deserve to die. Karena either."
"I'm sorry," Sadie told him.
Nico shook his head. "No. It's not your fault. Come on. Let's just get out of here." He stood up again, picked up a backpack that lay packed by the door, and walked back outside with Sadie and Carter following him.
The shadows seemed to thicken around all three of them as they walked through the falling darkness, into the woods that bordered the camp, and Sadie knew that Nico was using his powers to help conceal them. Thankfully, no one stopped them this time by pinning Nico to a tree with arrows, and no one's spirit was released causing Nico to turn around and go find their body this time. No one even seemed to be following them, so Sadie guessed that the Hunters had probably stopped their stake out on Nico's cabin.
It seemed like they walked for a very long time before Nico finally stopped and proclaimed that they had crossed the camp's borders.
"Where are we going?" Carter wanted to know.
"Home," Nico told them and held out his hands to them. Sadie took one, and Carter took the other, and they both held on tight. Then they were swallowed by shadows completely as Nico summoned his powers once again.
They landed on the balcony of their apartment, and Sadie and Carter were both ready to catch Nico when he stumbled. He had grown more accustomed to shadow traveling with other people, but always felt the effects of it the worst right after finishing a jump.
"It's alright for us to come back here?" asked Sadie as they helped Nico inside. "No one will come after us?"
"Not now that they caught Maya," said Nico. It was testament to how exhausted he was that he let them help him to a chair without raising a fuss.
"Where have you been?" Bast swept down upon Sadie and Carter, crushing them both in a hug. "I've been looking everywhere for you, you little heathens! Do you have any idea how worried I was?"
"Sorry Bast," coughed Sadie.
"Yeah. Sorry," echoed Carter.
"I thought you'd been captured or killed! I was staking out the First Nome, and retracing every street in Washington DC trying to find you! And where the heck did you pick up the dog? I thought we'd finally gotten rid of him!"
"I'm not a dog," growled Anubis, glaring at Bast through Nico's eyes. They could tell it was him speaking because his accent changed. "But it seems like I'm a better watchdog for them than you are, scaredy-cat."
"Watch it, mutt," hissed Bast.
"You watch it," Anubis returned.
"It's good to be home," Sadie said, stretching her arms above her head and walking further into the house, satisfied that everything was back to normal, now that Anubis and Bast were at each other's throats again. "Why don't we call out for pizza? Have you eaten yet, Bast?"
"I'm getting a shower," Carter told his sister, starting toward his room. "Do not let her talk you into ordering anything with anchovies on it."
"What's wrong with anchovies?" Bast wanted to know.
"You like them, that's what's wrong with them," grumbled Anubis, right before Nico seized control again. "If you want, Sadie, I could run out and grab us some hamburgers instead."
"Having hamburgers three times a day isn't good for you," Sadie told him.
"I haven't –"
"You have. I saw you, remember?"
Nico crossed his arms and pouted. "Like pizza's so much healthier."
"You're Italian. You're supposed to like pizza."
"Che palle, stop applying your stupid stereotypes to me!"
"Stop interrupting my fight with the dog, you little twit!"
"I'm not a dog, you mangy alley-cat! Why don't you go and –"
Sadie couldn't hear the rest of what Anubis said over her own laughter as she picked up the cordless phone and the stack of takeout menus that they kept by it, and walked into another room so that she wouldn't have to listen to them arguing while she called in their order. It really was good to be home.
Three demigods (or alleged demigods) disappearing from camp didn't draw as much notice as it once would have. Probably because they weren't at war anymore. And probably also because one of those three demigods was Nico who came and went as he pleased. And because Sadie and Carter had been new to begin with and sometimes new campers did choose to leave on their own. Percy was just glad that a big deal wasn't being made out of it.
But he was a little worried the next day, when it was obvious that Nico and the Kanes were really gone, Chiron called him over after breakfast for a word. And he could tell by Chiron's expression that whatever his teacher had to say was serious.
"Is something wrong, Chiron?" he asked.
"Perhaps you can tell me that," said Chiron. "I know that you are close to Nico. I had thought you were the only one who was, until seeing him interact with those two Egyptian magicians that Clarisse and Brendan accidentally brought back to camp."
"You knew they were Egyptians, then," said Chiron. "But your expression tells me you're not alarmed by this."
Percy nodded. He could tell Chiron part of the truth without revealing everything to him. "I knew they were Egyptian magicians. We'd met before they came to camp."
"I see," said Chiron.
"Did you know what they were all along?" Percy wanted to know.
"I didn't notice at first," confessed Chiron. "With so many new demigods arriving since the war ended, I stopped paying overdue attention to the ones who I thought would be fine without it. But I noticed yesterday morning, after Karena's body was discovered. It would have been remiss of me not to look into the identities of two new campers who'd helped discover two bodies in as many days."
"Why didn't you reveal what you knew?" asked Percy.
Chiron smiled. "Because even though the House of Life has never gotten along with demigods, I felt like perhaps these two magicians were an exception. Clarisse and Brendan told me in their report how Sadie and Carter came to their aid when they were extracting Piper, Leo, and Maya. And it was clear that they were friends to both Nico and you."
"They are good friends," Percy said. "But they're not part of the House of Life."
Percy shook his head. "They're fugitives from the House of Life who are trying to restore the old ways. Well, not completely restore them. And they're not interested in restoring old grudges with us or anything. But they are good friends to Nico. You remember when I had that dream about a month and a half ago, about Nico being in trouble?"
"Yes. I remember. I dismissed your worries." Chiron looked ashamed. "I see now that I was mistaken."
"Things worked out okay," Percy said quickly. "And Nico and I made some new friends. Sadie and Carter are good people. They watch out for Nico away from camp. That's why Nico got them out of here. He was worried what people would do to them if they found out what Sadie and Carter were."
"Probably a wise decision," said Chiron. "I'd like to think that our campers would be more open minded, but considering their treatment of him, I think that would be over-optimistic."
"Probably," agreed Percy.
"Well, that aside, I just wanted to make sure that everything was alright with Nico and those two," said Chiron. "And if you say all is well then I am satisfied."
"You don't have to worry about Nico when he's with those two," Percy assured his teacher. "You just have to worry about everyone else."
AN: Yes, there will be a sequel. (I thought I'd mention that first since that's the most asked question right now.) I actually want to write a lot more stories in this AU. The next fic won't be written until after Throne of Fire comes out and I've had a chance to read it, because I want to try to keep the continuity of these fics as close as I can to the real Kane Chronicles. I read the preview chapter that was posted online and I see now that there are some new characters, Jaz and Walt, and after I learn more about them I want to do a fic about when they meet Nico for the first time. I have some other ideas too, but I want to see what happens in Throne of Fire first.
Thank you everyone for reading, and also thank you to TheAwesomesaucenessOfDa who referenced my fics in her story 'Fact Meets Fantasy'. Kudos to The Praisinator who also figured out who the killer was, and everyone else who figured it out too.