Disclaimer: All rights go to their respective owners. I own nothing.
No More Death lovers, my apologies. It wasn't going anywhere. It stagnated. I wrote myself into a corner and couldn't get out, even by rewriting two chapters. Currently, No More Death is up for adoption. If there is anyone willing to take it on, I would like a sample of a chapter that you are planning to write and a plot-line write out for where you're taking it. By giving you No More Death, I am also giving you Closing Death and Cheating Death, the sequels, if you want to do them. Please PM me for more details.
The House of Hades
Synopsis: The world now tinkers on the brink of Apocalypse. The chosen Seven demigods of the Great Prophecy have separated-the two most powerful of their number lost in the depths of Tartarus. And the only way for the remaining five demigods and their Hades-born guide to save them is to reach Epirus, Greece in five days. Because if they fail, the Doors of Death will never close and a dreaded World War will break out, tearing the mortal world to shreds. Not to mention, Percy and Annabeth would never see daylight again...
Nico couldn't help but feel bitter toward the gods.
First, they form a pact that leads to his mother's premature death and Bianca's and his stay in the Lotus Hotel and Casino, thereby missing seventy years of time while caught in the time-flux-physics-thing-that-Annabeth-could-probably-lecture-him-for-three-hours-on. Then they steal his sister away from him, give him a huge revelation about his godly parentage, and leave again. His father hated him, his step-mother turned him into potted plants every time she PMS'ed, and his big cousin probably secretly plotted his agonizing death for pretending not to know him.
But this was the final straw. They took away his family, and left him to suffer the trials of teenage life and Greek-hero-stuff alone.
He had mended things with Percy. Granted, his cryptic messages and avoidance of him while at Camp Jupiter probably tore things a little, but Nico knew their friendship was salvageable. Percy didn't hold grudges the same way Nico did. Family and friends came first for him, always.
It was his fatal flaw that did it, Nico realized. Percy's fatal flaw-loyalty-had paved a one-way road into the Greek Hell with no way out. He couldn't let Annabeth go, couldn't let her fall alone, so he went with her. Leaving Nico with one last message; "The other side, Nico...lead them...promise me..."
Nico wanted to scream in frustration. How could Percy make him promise something like that? He was thirteen, still three months away from fourteen. He couldn't lead these other half-bloods-people he didn't hardly know, people older, more experienced than him-to a place he had sworn never to go back to. But Percy was so desperate, so accepting of his fate as he clutched that steep cliff that Nico couldn't say no. It was his dying wish. It had to be fulfilled.
But despite the melancholy settling in his chest, Nico nurtured a dull hope that it wasn't over yet. Percy and Annabeth were the strongest demigods he had ever known, and even if Percy's stupidity got them into trouble, Annabeth would just concoct a fool-proof plan to get them back out. Broken ankle or no, she was still a daughter of Athena. No self-respecting monsters would ever challenge her to a battle of wits. Ever.
"Nico?" someone prompted from a ways off. "Nico, are you even listening to me? Nico!"
He started, nearly toppling over in his chair from alarm. Piper snapped her fingers in his face unnecessarily, probably just to tick him off, and looked a little too glib. The daughter of Aphrodite was dressed in her usual baggy clothes and pigtails combo, which on any other girl would have looked embarrassing and stupid. On Piper, however, it was just another one of her seemingly numerous attempts at unbeautifying herself. It never worked. Nico had seen several of her sisters, each one ranging on the attractiveness scale, but Piper blew them all away, whether she liked it or not. Her Cherokee skin-washed with a very light brown hue-was framed by dark brown locks that she occasionally tugged on when she got nervous. Her stained-glass eyes shown with equal parts ferocity and gentleness.
Right now, however, they were all fire. "I realize you're tired, but our friends just fell down a bottomless pit and we would like to get them back, thank you very much. Now would you please tell us about what they're up against?" Piper leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms.
Nico could feel twelve expectant eyes on him, silently pleading for an answer. He looked around the dinner table at his crewmates; Leo was fiddling with something under the table, Jason pushed his plate away with his forearm, Frank was holding Hazel's hand where he thought Nico couldn't see, and Hazel's face was twisted in concern. In the corner, pretending like he didn't care, was the goat chaperone referred to as Coach Hedge. The others seemed cautious around him, but at the same time, Nico could tell the general census was that he was a laughingstock.
Hedge was five foot even with an even hairier lower body than most satyrs. He was middle-aged with a football jersey on and the ironic clash of a baseball bat in hand, periodically hitting his palm in what was supposed to be threatening. He trotted along like he expected the entire ship to bow at his feet, but it was obvious he had no real control over anything. He was only onboard for the symbolism; Chiron was probably trying to deter the Seven from doing rash things or senseless, spur of the moment decisions under the threat of death.
Nico took a shaky breath and looked back to Piper, chewing his lower lip and trying to not let his fear seep through his carefully maintained expression. "Rough." he admitted. "It's not something either of them have ever experienced before, believe me. It's going to be a living hell for them and they might almost give up hope. Whatever comes at them, it's going to be ten times worse than what's up here. And..." He trailed off, already seeing the looks of abject horror on his crewmates faces. He didn't understand their problems for a good few minutes when it finally dawned on him that he had talked about Tartarus like he was narrating a play. Desensitized, indifferent, monotone.
And it nearly killed him.
He wanted to crawl into a hole and die. The ordeals he'd withstood in Tartarus could not be conveyed through words. It was more than terrifying. It was more than scarring. Dante's Inferno was a walk in the park compared to the Greek Hell. It was not anything meant to be survived. Getting out was not a miracle, it was a curse. It had been a week since his freedom and he was still tormented by the images of fire and ice and all the mediums in between. He knew that if Percy and Annabeth did escape, they would never be the same. It almost destroyed him to think of Percy Jackson without his endearing smirk or well-timed jokes. To think of Annabeth without that characteristic light in her eye whenever architecture was mentioned. To think of either of them without the other.
Chair legs squealed against the wooden floor. A second later, Nico felt a comforting hand rest on his shoulder and squeeze. "Please," Hazel said. "He just got out. Don't make him relive it."
"If we don't, we might never get Percy and Annabeth back." Jason countered, straightening in his seat and looking at Nico with pity. Nico almost punched him.
Hazel didn't leave Nico's side, nor did she let go of his shoulder when he tried to shake her off. "They'll be fine." she sounded like she was convincing herself. "I know Percy. And from what I've seen of Annabeth, there isn't hardly anything that can tear the two of them apart. But Nico needs to rest."
"No." Nico slowly pushed himself to his feet, bracing his hands against the armrests. His entire body shook from exertion, but he knew what he had to do. "I've rested enough. My cousin and his girlfriend are trapped in Tartarus and I don't intend to stand around waiting to recover while they battle monsters and worse. We're getting them out yesterday, and that is final." He was finally on his feet, much to the vocalized alarm of everyone at the table. "Percy told me to lead you to The Doors of Death, and that is exactly what I'm going to do." He turned to the son of Hephaestus open-mouthed across the table. "Leo, I want you to show me all the controls for this thing. How to watch out for enemies, how to pilot it, how to make hot chocolate if I have to. Everything." He nodded. Then Nico turned to Piper. "There has got to be a map on this thing somewhere. If there isn't, get one. I don't want to wind up lost when we don't even know how much time we have to do this." Piper hesitated for a moment, uncertain, but she nodded too. "Jason," Nico felt strange ordering the older, more experienced boy around, but the praetor didn't look objectionable. "Do you know how to Iris-Message?"
He blinked. "What?"
Nico sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "It's a communication technique for the gods that half-bloods can occasionally patch through using. What you do is..."
"I can show him." Hazel interrupted suddenly, surprising Nico.
"You? But you've only been around Greeks for a couple of days, and..."
"Percy, Frank, and I ran across Iris during our quest. She showed me how. Well, actually Fleecy showed me, but..."
Nico held up a hand and rubbed his temples. He did not feel like hearing about the eccentrics the Lady Iris was bound to have. "Whatever. Alright, Hazel, you help Jason Iris-Message Chiron. Tell him everything that's happened since the last time you talked to him. But, uh... If there's anyone else with him, don't say anything about Percy and Annabeth. And Jason, I also want you to let him know everything there is to know about Roman tactics. I'm not a big fan of the two camps fighting, but if we don't have a choice, I'd rather our side have an advantage."
Jason bristled, standing up. "What makes you think I'm not rooting for Reyna?"
Nico's eyes flashed and he summoned small animal skeletons around Jason's feet. "Because Camp Jupiter is initiating this war! And if you care one lick about either side, you'll realize that Chiron will be one heck of a lot more merciful to any captured soldiers than Octavian would be to us."
Jason swallowed nervously and shuffled off toward the upper decks with Hazel. Nico could have sworn he heard him mutter something like, "How old is your brother again?"
It took Nico a moment to calm down, but when he did, he turned to Frank. The burly son of Mars was already heading off toward Hazel and Jason. Nico cleared his throat. "Where do you think you're going?" Frank stopped and turned slowly. Nico almost laughed at how clumsy looked. Had there been a lamp next to him, he would have knocked it over.
"I was, uh, I was gonna help Hazel and Jason. 'Cuz I know how to Iris-Message too, you know?"
Nico smiled. "Hazel can do it perfectly fine by herself. And I want you to tell me about this stuff with you turning into birds and elephants and bears."
"And dragons." Leo volunteered, then fell silent when Nico turned a cold gaze to him.
Frank shifted his weight uneasily. "I... well, my ancestor was an Argonaut and..."
Nico rolled his eyes. "I meant is it true? I don't need your family tree, Zhang."
"Alright. Then I want you to turn into the fastest, stealthiest animal you can and fly overhead. If you see anything out of the ordinary, land and tell us."
Frank frowned. "But I thought we had sonar or something."
"We do." Leo interjected again. Nico commanded one of the earlier summoned mice to crawl up Leo's leg. He screamed, dropping his pile of wires and metal and swatting his leg frantically. "Really, man? Undead rodents? Is this what we've descended to?"
Nico ignored him. "I don't want to take the risk of something malfunctioning. Machines can always go wrong. A person's eyes almost never do."
And suddenly, Leo was up in his face. "Are you calling my ship faulty."
Nico narrowed his eyes. "No. I'm saying it could go wrong. It's a machine."
"People go wrong, too, you know. Machines are actually more trustworthy."
"I trust Frank enough to know he'll tell us if something goes wrong. And I trust a person more than I trust a hunk of metal. And I trust a hunk of metal more than I trust a know-it-all mechanic who doesn't any faith in people themselves."
Leo opened his mouth to argue, but Piper cut him off. "I'll go get that map!" And with that, she disappeared up the stairwell. A second later, Frank was gone too.
Nico and Leo were the only ones left belowdecks.
"Now then," Nico said with false cheeriness. "Why don't you go show me those controls? Hmm?"
Before, Nico hadn't really gotten the opportunity to take in The Argo II. Mostly, everything had been kind of rushed and hectic. Not to mention his weakened state. But now, trailing behind a babbling Leo, Nico appreciated the scenery.
There were numerous portholes belowdecks providing a beautiful view of the blue sky outside. Nico thanked the gods he wasn't afraid of heights, because that really would have spoiled the experience. The only mode of travel he had taken was overland or through the shadows. The freeing sensation of flying was not something he was accustomed to.
The halls were clearly Celestial bronze reinforced, because they glinted when the sunlight caught it like metal. The floor was lined with an orange and purple carpet, but somehow the color-combination was not revolted. Nico suspected Aphrodite involvement with the interior design. Annabeth never would have been able to pull off the coupling. On either side of him were the occasional doors which Leo explained led into the individual crew members cabins, each made with their comfort in mind.
"Of course, I wasn't expecting to have you onboard, so..." Leo looked at Nico nervously like he expected the son of Hades to get indignant over his lack of accommodations.
Nico just shrugged. "I don't care. I'll sleep on the deck."
Leo didn't seem to like that idea. "Uh, I don't think Hazel'll like that idea so much, man. She's kind of protective of you."
Nico scowled and crossed his arms, huffing angrily. "I'm the one who needs to worry about her, not the other way around. Gods, why can't she understand that I'm the older brother?" Tiny skeletons popped out of the ground and Leo screeched, scrambling back quickly.
"How can you do that? We're in the air." Leo squeaked fearfully, stomping at the tiny partly formed mouse and completely freaking out. Nico forced the dead back underground.
"I don't really know. Every time I get a strong emotion, the dead start showing up. Either that or shadows start condensing."
Leo gulped. "I'm not sure which is scarier."
"Most people say shadows," Nico maneuvered around Leo and started down the hall toward the last door, which he was told led above decks. Sure enough, a short, sturdy staircase appeared in front of him when he opened the door. He jogged up and opened the hatch, immediately bathed in blinding rays of morning. Nico winced, cursing at the burning in his eyes. Even after being free for several hours, the sunlight still hurt to look at. He had been trapped in a place even darker at times than the Underworld, and no sooner had he gotten out of there than he had been shoved in a bronze jar and suffocated.
He glanced down and saw Leo running after him, calling out. He looked back to the deck and saw Jason and Hazel at the railing, tossing a denarii into the mist hovering next to the ship. Loudly, Hazel called, "Fleecy, do me a solid. Show me Chiron the centaur at Camp Half-Blood."
Nico froze as the image of a typical Camp Half-Blood dinner rippled into view through the misty screen. Leo yelled at him to move, but Nico hushed him and listened in.
"Jason?" The old centaur looked flabbergasted and pleasantly surprised when he saw the son of Jupiter. His speckled beard had been recently trimmed, now closely cropped against his chin. His brown hair was also newly cut. Instead of his lower half being hidden in his classic wheelchair disguise, his lower white horse legs were displayed for the world to see. Behind him, several campers cried out in alarm.
Jason looked nervous. He wrung his hands anxiously just out of Chiron's view and didn't meet the apparition's eyes. Hazel was forced to step in instead, which she didn't look happy about. At Camp Jupiter, she'd been taught that centaurs were evil, drunken, and bloodthirsty. Talking to one, even one she knew she could trust like Chiron, must have scared her worse than her curse. "Mr. Chiron, sir," she began, stuttering uncertainly.
"Please, just call me Chiron, child. May I ask your name?" Chiron looked at her kindly, waiting for Hazel to recollect herself. That was the great thing about Chiron: there was no one else alive more patient and understanding.
Nico's sister forced herself to relax with a sigh. "I'm Hazel, sir...Chiron." Chiron smiled, and waited. "I'm from Camp Jupiter, but there's been a problem. There were these spirits, eidolons. They possessed Leo and..." Chiron's face darkened.
"Oh gods," he breathed. "Tell me everything."
And Hazel did. From when The Argo II landed in New Rome to Percy and Annabeth's fall into Tartarus. Beside him, Leo tensed when the eidolons attack was described in hesitant detail. Jason looked just as embarrassed. Even though he knew Leo was not himself when he fired on Rome, Nico felt the urge to wring his neck. Because of him, Nico's only home was going to be destroyed. When Hazel finished, Camp Half-Blood was silent. The ADHD of a hundred demigods was transfixed on her story, which, Nico had to admit, was pretty exciting. Finally, one of the girls from the Aphrodite cabin called out. "So Dumpster Queen is still alive, huh? Just as I thought; letting better people give up their lives for her. Classic Piper McLean."
Nico tensed. Suddenly, Leo surged up from beside him. "Shut up, Drew. Nobody wants to hear your shallow charmspeak. Face it; just because Aphrodite's your mom doesn't mean you're beautiful. It doesn't even mean you're pretty. And I'm going to let you in on a little secret. I fall in love with almost every girl I meet, except for Piper and a couple of others. But you? Never even crossed my mind."
The Iris Message zoomed in on Drew's bewildered face. Nico knew the pretty Asian girl only enough to know she was narcissistic and could convince people to do whatever she wanted them do just by talking to them. She almost made Nico kiss her one time, in public, just because he'd accidentally made her spill her makeup on the ground. She was the tyrant counselor of Cabin Ten, and everyone (except the guys) were too afraid of her to admit that they hated her guts. But now, Drew had been beaten at her own game. Tears welled in her eyes, mascara running down her cheeks. Everyone watched her, waiting for her reaction.
But then she stiffened and grinned. "Oh honey, you poor deluded thing. You don't know real beauty at all. I mean, just look at you. Always covered in oil, never wearing fashionable clothes. You're a complete disaster. A mess. And, oh, I forgot. A coward. Did you ever do anything on that quest of yours, Valdez? Or was it all spent with you 'helping' by making stupid, useless inventions that get you nowhere fast? You want someone to call ugly, Leo? Take a look in the mirror."
Leo stood there, dumbfounded. "I..." he trailed off. But then he furrowed his brow. "You should have gone to Tartarus instead, Drew. It would have been fitting. A demon going back to her hell." And with that, Leo stormed off toward the masthead and leaned over the railing, muttering to himself.
Great first day of commanding, Nico thought. You're doing a fantastic job.
The Iris Message returned to Chiron, but by then Nico had already returned below decks. He shut the hatch above him, feeling forlorn and guilty. He should have gone up to support his sister, but for some stupid reason, he had just stood there, watching. Why was he so afraid of facing Camp Half-Blood again? They couldn't hate him that much, could they?
But he knew they could. And they had every right to hate him, too. He'd lied to them, hidden Percy's whereabouts, hidden his knowledge of Camp Jupiter, and all but ran away when they got ready to sail. And then, right after Percy and the others risked life and limb to save him, he let Percy and Annabeth plummet into Tartarus. It wasn't fair, dammit. Nothing was fair in life, and Nico was sick and tired of being the runt.
Was he ever going to catch a break?
That's when he heard Frank's dying caw from above the ship.