Nothing had gone wrong yet.
Sure, it had only been two hours, but Cupid hadn’t swooped in on his giant wings and shot any campers in the heart.
Maybe Cupid was doing something. After all, Nico still hadn’t fallen madly in love. But that could wait for a while. What mattered at the moment was sword-fighting lessons.
Nico had to admit that he loved being a camp counselor. The little kids looked at him like he was a god, and there was nothing more rewarding than seeing a new camper swing a sword correctly for the first time.
“Good form, Kelsey, but you need to go faster,” he instructed a little daughter of Athena. “James, you have the opposite problem. You’re plenty ferocious, but you’re not going to kill any monsters like that.” He ran over and guided the little boy’s arm. Of course, two seconds after Nico left him he went right back to wildly hacking at the air in front of him.
He was surveying all of his pupils attack their imaginary enemies when something in the sky caught his eye. A thin projectile arcing through the air over the arena. It went down somewhere in the central green. It almost seemed like an arrow, but that was ridiculous. Who would be using the campers as target practice?
Still, something about it seemed very off to Nico. He shook of the feeling and continued talking to the kids. “Bjorn, if you want to get a good hit in, you’ll have to-”
He stopped mid-sentence when he saw the source of the arrow. Just for a minute, the air shimmered above his head. It almost seemed to take the shape of a transparent man. A man with giant wings.
Just a trick of the light, probably. A vision conjured by Nico’s frazzled mind. But an arrow arced out from that exact spot and with incredible accuracy slipped through the open window of the Hecate cabin.
“Cupid!” he shouted at the invisible god.
“Nico?” Jenna asked, clearly confused.
“You guys are doing great, keep practicing. I’ll be right back,” he told them as he ran for the entrance. “And no stabbing each other!” He heard James grumbling as he took off for the Hecate cabin.
He knocked on the door and Wesley answered. “Hey Nico. Come on in,” he said, and Nico saw that there was only one other person in the cabin. Lou Ellen sat on her bed with a dreamy look on her face and a white arrow sticking out of her neck.
“Oh my gods!” Nico screamed. He ran over to her and pulled her to her feet. “Don’t worry, Lou Ellen, we’ll get you to a healer!”
“A...what? I’m fine!” she complained.
“There’s an arrow in your neck!” he shouted. She gasped and felt around her head, but her hand passed through the arrow like it didn’t exist.
“Oh, you scared me, Nico! Why would you say that?”
“Because...it’s right there...” he mumbled. Suddenly the arrow seemed to sink into her skin, though it didn’t poke through the front of her neck. It almost seemed to be dissolving into her. “Uh...never mind.” He left the cabin before anyone could ask questions.
As he started back for the arena he bumped into Percy. “Oh, thank the gods! Would you take over my class? I really have to go,” Nico pleaded.
“Whatever you need, dude,” he said, shining his brilliant smile. His sea green eyes danced with amusement. Nico tried not focus on his face.
“You’re a lifesaver. Thanks,” he said, charging off for his cabin. Finally he reached the menacing Cabin 13.
He and Annabeth had worked over the past few months to redesign the interior to suit Nico. He was the only one who ever used it, after all. He had replaced the garish underworld theme with some simple modern furniture. He gave himself a gorgeous and ridiculously plush king bed on one side of the room with an equally comfortable twin bed on the other side for when Hazel visited. He needed the rabbit’s foot from Cupid, and last night he had chucked it towards her side. Sure enough, he saw it peeking out from underneath her bed. He pulled it out and felt the presence of Cupid in his mind.
“What are you doing, shooting at campers?” he thought as angrily as he could.
“All just part of the plan, as you put it,” the rich voice of Cupid answered back.
“I’m not an idiot. You expect me to believe that you start firing on camp the day after we have an argument just because it’s in the plan?” Nico asked.
“Fine, you’ve got me. But I warned you. You spurned my offer, now you’ll pay the price.”
“How is this me paying the price? You’re messing with kids I have nothing to do with.”
“But you feel very guilty, don’t you? So it is a punishment to you. I don’t know why you’re upset, though. I’m making people fall in love. That’s a good thing. Trust me, the worst is yet to come. Lucky for you, my offer is not off the table. Say yes now, you get your dream boy, and I won’t meddle any more. Seems like a great deal to me.”
Nico had to admit it was tempting. Everything he wanted, and all he had to do was say yes. But he couldn’t work with such a vile god. “I’ll say it again: no. I will not serve you, and you will leave Camp Half-Blood alone. You understand?” He threw the rabbit foot down and the connection was broken.
Perhaps he was foolish and selfish. Sacrificing these people’s love lives so he wouldn’t have to be a servant of Cupid. But really, it wasn’t that bad. Cupid was only making people find love. What could be wrong about that?
He tried to shake off his unease and walked back outside. Nothing seemed out of place, everyone acting as they always did. Except for one thing.
Lou Ellen was sitting across the green on a bench next to a demigod boy. Nico couldn’t see their faces, but something felt strange here. This boy was definitely the one Cupid had paired Lou Ellen with, but Nico couldn’t tell who he was. He started creeping closer, trying to go unnoticed.
“We can’t do this,” Lou Ellen whispered.
“Why not? We want each other,” the boy replied. His voice sounded familiar, but Nico couldn’t quite place it. He got a few feet closer.
“What about Clarisse?” Lou Ellen said back. Nico froze.
“Chris?” he said, almost involuntarily.
The two demigods turned around to look at him. Sure enough, the mysterious boy was Chris Rodriguez, son of Hermes. His face was a picture of guilt. “Nico!” he shouted.
“How can you do this to Clarisse?” he said. “After everything she’s done for you! You know how much she loves you.” He turned to Lou Ellen. “And what are you doing, trying to break up a happy couple? Don’t you see this is wrong?”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t help it, Nico. I don’t know where these feelings came from, but Chris and I are meant to be,” Lou Ellen explained.
“But Chris, don’t you love Clarisse?” Nico asked him.
“I...well...” The son of Hermes looked very conflicted. Suddenly the transparent Cupid shaped being appeared again. He placed his hand on Chris’s back and drew out an arrow, putting it back into his quiver. He vanished without a trace. “No, I don’t. I just don’t think we have what we used to.”
“But...no! This isn’t what’s supposed to happen! Cupid’s just messing with you! And me!” Nico pleaded with them.
“Nico, this is really none of your business. Just leave us alone,” Lou Ellen complained, her soft features taking on a hard edge. She stood and began heading off for the Hecate cabin, pulling Chris behind her. He flashed Nico one last guilty look before the turned the corner and vanished from sight.
Nico couldn’t believe what he just saw. Cupid had just torn apart a happy couple just to get to Nico. It felt very, very wrong. And there was only one way to stop it.
But he refused to accept that he only had one choice. He would stop Cupid, and he would stay free. He just needed a little help. And if there was anyone who knew how to deal with love magic, it was one very powerful daughter of Aphrodite.
Piper McLean was his only chance. If she failed, Nico was doomed.