Percy grabbed his boxers and flashed over to a room on the far side of the property which he had had the foresight of making sure was uninhabited for the next few days. After a quick shower Percy got dressed in clothes he flashed in and got from his room. He walked down to the dock and seated himself on the edge deciding to give Thalia some space. He had already decided what he was going to do. Ignore it for now and focus on the mission he had to get ahold of Nico and convince him to get him into his father's palace. Hades would be focused on the pit and the advances made by Percy's army, never expecting Percy to come from within. Then Percy could save Zoe finally. The guilt he felt when he thought of her in light of what he had just done was almost overwhelming but now he had the hope something else was influencing his actions. After he had Zoe back he would find out what the hell that was and deal with it. He heard the incredibly light footsteps of Thalia approaching behind him. He turned to face her and found her in her old hunter regalia. He gave her a look.
"I figured I should look the part for calling Nico. Let me know when your ready." Thalia explained. Percy mentally let out a big sigh of relief. Thalia had done exactly what he'd done taken what had happened and filed it under 'problem for later' which worked out perfect for Percy. He had a soul to reclaim.
Underworld, Hades' Palace
Nico paced his room as he had for the last hour trying to think of some way to help his father. Up on the wall was a map showing the area where the forces of Tartarus and Hades fought for control of the entrance to the pit. After the first initial push things had not moved at all almost for either side as the forces were to equal in sheer number and strength. Nico knew that his father was worried and Nico could understand why. For some reason neither of them could figure out it seemed Tartarus was holding back because although Hades could match every monster with at least one undead there was a distinct lack of heavy hitters, for example Draccane. Those things would have torn through scores of undead before being brought down yet none emerged from the pit. Hades and Persephone had not left the throne room turned war room. Nico hated being in there because of the soul trapped in the middle of the room. Every time he saw that fragment of Zoe he thought of Percy and every time he did that…well it just really sucked. Nico sighed as he stopped and looked at the map again. Percy also hadn't made an appearance since that day of the initial push. Nico had heard about Chiron's death through Annabeth and had honestly felt a lot more sad then he thought he would, It wasn't like Chiron had really been there for Nico or anything but he was a calm voice in the chaos and he didn't deserve such a pointless death. Despite it all Nico held out hope that Percy would come back from whatever the hell had been done to him. Nico had learned one thing over the years though and that was how to survive. As much he hoped Percy would come back Nico made plans for what happened if he didn't such as giving Jason Grace the same curse. He had a few other things but hoped it wouldn't come to that. The Prophecy though didn't exactly leave him feeling hopeful about his own chances. Ghost king's last stand is not a cheery thought but Nico wasn't going down without a fight. Suddenly an Iris message formed to his side. Nico's face seemed to perk up a bit, he knew there were a very select few who could Iris message him directly down here and sure enough a very familiar face appeared in the mist. Nico couldn't help the small smile as he saw who it was.
"Thalia, thank the gods! I was starting to get seriously worried. Is everything ok?" Nico asked hurriedly. He noticed Thalia looked different. she had always been good looking but now she down right beautiful and her eyes were way weird. Not to mention she looked scared as all hell.
"Nico you have to come to where I am. I've been doing some solo hunting so as not but the rest of the hunt in danger and I've been looking for Percy. Nico…I found him." Nico felt his blood run cold. Thalia actually managed to find Percy, who had evaded all of Olympus and then some for a while now. Nico kept a good poker face though as he let none of the suspicion he was feeling show.
"Di immortales how did you find him?!" He asked. Thalia shifted a bit uncomfortably.
"He kinda let me…Nico he's in a bad place right now. Whatever they did to him seems to have worn off a bit and well, to put it very mildly he is feeling guilty. He needs another friendly face, someone he trusts. Please Nico, for me and for Percy." Thalia begged and Nico could hear the sincerity in her voice. It tore at his heart for even considering not going but he had to. Nico had been on his guard ever since the prophecy was issued and as much as wanted to help both Percy and Thalia, it was just off to Nico. In the end though he couldn't abandon them if they needed his help. Nico sighed and looked at Thalia.
"Are you sure Thalia? He isn't just trying to trick you or anything?" Nico asked and Thalia shook her head.
"No Nico this feels to…Percy. Like the one we knew. Are you going to help me here or not?" Thalia asked with a bit of betrayal in her voice. Nico held up his hand in a placating gesture.
"Of course not, I'll be there in a minute or two. New security down here make it a bit more difficult to get in or out." Nico said and Thalia smiled brightly, she told him where they were and then severed the connection. Nico looked around his spartan room as he threw on his jacket and strapped his sword to his hip. He picked up something from his desk and muttered a few words before it disappeared in shadows. With one last look he felt his blood run cold again before he shook away his doubts and shadow traveled to the location in the keys.
Florida Keys, Motel
Nico appeared from the shadows and saw the sun setting in the distance. it highlighted the two figures on the dock. One seemed to notice him and patted the other gently on the back before getting up and walking to Nico. Thalia approached Nico with a small smile on her face. She hugged Nico and Nico hugged her back, but something felt off. The shadows were always drawn to him but he felt…another force, tugging them away. But as soon as he felt it the force was gone and Nico put it out of his mind as he let go of Thalia.
"How is he?" Nico asked as he looked at the figure on the dock. Thalia followed his gaze with sad eyes.
"How do you think? He's far from peachy and honestly I didn't know what to do." Thalia seemed to pause. Nico caught it and looked at her questioningly. Thalia sighed before she answered.
"I had a plan but I didn't want to ask it of you, I just want your help comforting him now." Thalia said. Nico gave her a look and she let out an exasperated noise.
"Look it was stupid and your going to tell me it was stupid and then we both agree it was just stupid, so what's the point?!" Thalia threw her hands up and when she saw Nico was still looking at her expectantly she just let her hands drop.
"I thought that maybe…if he could see Zoe, just something that he doesn't want to kill on sight, someone we know he would do anything for…you know maybe it would help?" Thalia said softly. As soon as Thalia had said Zoe alarm bells had darted going off in Nico's head, which he proceeded to quash as quickly as he could. This was Thalia, of all people he trusted her even more then he trusted Percy before the whole evil thing. Nico also noticed something. Percy's head had perked up at Zoe's name. Nico took a deep breath.
"What do you think Percy?" Nico said in a low voice. Thalia gave him a confused look until, Percy just appeared next to them causing her to yelp in surprise. Percy looked so, by the gods he just looked so broken. Nico's heart went out to him as looked at the person he loved. Of course it wasn't as strong as it used to be but it was still there, things like that tend to stay for while. He met Percy's eyes and was taken aback by the lack of sea-green but strangely enough the new dark color reflected the same person Nico had known for years. In those eyes he saw Percy Jackson as he knew him. Or at least he thought he did, Nico told himself as his rational side reasserted control. That lovestruck part of him would let him ignore what Percy had become but Nico as a whole couldn't let himself do that. Then Percy spoke.
"Nico, thank you for coming I…I know I don't deserve the gods all that I've done…I should just die now and spare the world any further suffering." Percy managed to say as his voice cracked. Nico's heart hurt but Percy went on before he could say anything.
"But before I let myself face justice if I could…If I could see her one last time. Nico I know I have no right to ask but I have to in hope that maybe you can let me see her. Just let me look upon the one thing that acted as my light in this whole time of darkness." Percy pleaded. Thalia looked at Percy with a bit of anger.
"We talked about this Percy, we aren't letting you die. We are you family and we will help you through this dammit!" Thalia yelled as she pulled Percy into a hug. Percy just accepted the hug returning tentatively but never breaking eye contact with Nico. Nico felt his mind whirling. If Percy was feeling even remotely himself, seeing Zoe might honestly help with that. When he was at his darkest, he still loved her. It pained Nico to admit that but he had also accepted that Percy would never be his, that being said he would still look out for Percy as best as he could. But seeing Zoe…that had definite risks, such as what if Percy suddenly went back to the dark persona he had just been not to long ago. Nico wanted to help Percy but he also wanted to do it safely.
"I want to let you see her Percy but honestly I don't know if I can risk that. I can't let you into my father's kingdom with all your power." Nico explained. Percy nodded and looked at Thalia expectantly. Thalia frowned and shook her head.
"I told you I trust you Percy, We are not using them." She said firmly and caught Nico's eye as he looked at her questioningly. Thalia sighed and pulled out a dark orange pair of handcuffs with runes etched in them.
"Made by Hephaestus long ago, got ahold of them in this crazy fight with some…never mind, the important thing about them is that they neutralize the godly powers of whoever is handcuffed. I brought them for Percy but I told him I won't use them on him to show I'm not afraid of him." Thalia explained. The shadows around them seemed to grow darker and Percy started to give off a blood red glow as his eyes seemed to be lit up with flames of the same color.
"You should be." Percy whispered "What I've done, there is no reason not put those on me. In fact they offer the perfect solution to our problem. I'll be powerless Nico, if I even look like a threat you can kill me easily!" Percy exclaimed. Nico shifted uncomfortably.
"I don't want to kill you Percy. But those would help but my mind at ease. Thalia are you sure they work?" Nico asked carefully. Thalia nodded confidently.
"We had to use them once or twice in the hunt. They will get the job done." Nico just looked at Percy for a few moments before he asked Thalia.
"Are you sure he is stable?" Nico's eyes never left Percy. He wanted to gauge how Percy would react and all he saw was hope. Hope that he might see Zoe again.
"I'm sure he is for now at least and if he isn't, well these handcuffs will stop him until he comes back to us." Thalia said. Nico closed his eyes and took a deep breath then let it out.
"Alright, Percy. I'll let you see her from a distance and in those handcuffs. Then afterwards I have a place in mind that will give you some time to recover safely." Nico said. Percy's face split into a genuine smile.
"Thank you Nico, I won't fail you old friend." Percy said with genuine happiness in his tone. Thalia looked at Nico.
"I'm coming too." She said more then asked. Nico smiled.
"Of course you are. No offense to Percy but I need someone I trust watching my back." Nico said and Thalia returned his smile. If Nico had looked just a bit harder he might have seen the sadness in her eyes, the fake look of her smile, but he did not. Instead he watched her put the handcuffs on Percy and then opened a shadow for them all to walk through.
Underworld, Hades' Palace
They all stepped out of a shadow and into Nico's room. Percy looked at him confused.
"We pop up anywhere else and Dad will know. Here I have some semblance of control over how much he knows about my traveling." Nico explained and Percy nodded. Nico didn't mention how also here the shadows had give Percy a once over for anything powerful that might help him break free or cause any damage. Nico was pleased that nothing was found. He didn't bother with Thalia as he trusted her and besides what reason did she have to own anything like that? So Nico opened his door and looked down the corridor. Seeing it clear he motioned them forward. They moved through the palace without running into any guards. Hades couldn't waste resources here when he needed them on the front lines and besides he figured as a god he could protect himself. So the three actually made it to the throne room itself without encountering a single guard. At the entrance Nico peeked in and saw his father standing over a display of the battle with his wife by his side. The situation looked unchanged to Nico. He looked at Thalia and Percy.
"We won't have long, you will only get to look for a few moments but it's the best I can do." Nico whispered. Percy nodded and mouthed "Thank you." Nico smiled and peeked through the door one last time. When he did though he felt a cold feeling enter his stomach he looked down and saw Anaklusmos protruding from his stomach. Nico fell to his knees as the blade withdrew. He saw Percy holding the weapon with a half sad smile on his face. Percy held out his hand, free from cuffs Nico saw, and Thalia placed a stone with bright runes etched into it that seemed to radiate malice. Nico met Thalia's eyes and let the betrayal in his own shine through. Thalia looked close to tears but Percy put a hand on her shoulder and she shook her head and nodded. Nico watched Percy stride into the throne room, hold the stone over his head and yell.
"Τάρταρα come forth!" As the stone exploded knocking the two gods in the room back and blinding Nico. When he could see again he saw what he knew could only be one being. Tartarus stood in full battle armor with a wicked looking sword in each hand and the god of the pit was laughing. Nico looked away as Tartarus advanced on his father and wife. He felt his life fading and knew what he had to do. He heard Percy walking over. Nico muttered a few quick words under his breath as heard Percy's pace quicken and then as he finished he felt the sword press into his throat. And then Nico Di Angelo felt nothing.
Percy looked down at Nico's corpse and played back the last few words Nico had muttered. Percy gave grudging a laugh.
"Gotta give you credit Nico, That was a clever move. It will be neat to see if that worked." Percy said and then turned back to claim the victory he so desperately craved.
Annabeth looked down at the skull ring she held in her hand again as she wondered once again what the hell it and the cryptic note with it meant. It had popped into her hand not to long ago along with a note, In Nico's handwriting. It had simply said to hold onto the ring no matter what and that he would be by to pick it up shortly. She had looked carefully at the ring but all she had seen was the same beat up ring Nico wore a lot of the time. She had decided to humor the son Hades but when he showed up to collect his ring she would make sure he knew she was not in the mood for games. As she sat there looking at the thing trying to figure it out it started to pulse with a deep purple light. Annabeth dropped the ring with a yelp and watched as mist began pouring out of the ring. In a few moments the mist took the shape of Nico Di Angelo. Annabeth glared at the son of Hades.
"Fuck Nico, are you trying to give me a heart attack!? This is one screwed up prank I'll have you know!" She yelled as Nico's eyes opened. He looked around a bit confused before a small grin broke out.
"Di immortales, I can't believe that worked…" Then his face changed to alarmed as he locked eyes with Annabeth.
"You have to tell them! Percy he took the underworld! He has Zoe back and Thalia…she works for him now…Oh gods this is all my fault." Nico sunk to his knees. Annabeth's face softened as she took in the news.
"By Olympus, Nico what happened? How did you make it out of there?" She asked. Nico just gave her a sad look as he motioned to himself.
"Annabeth…I didn't make it out."