“NICO!” Zeus boomed.
Nico sat up, his back aching from sleeping on a bench once again.
Two weeks had passed on Mount Olympus, and things hadn't improved. He'd been sleeping in a shrine to Aphrodite, who had taken him on as her new Cupid, since Nico destroyed her old one.
She was still recovering from Cupid's attack on Camp Half-Blood. She would hand Nico a list every morning of the mortals he was supposed to make fall in love that day. It kept him pretty busy, flying all over the world to make people fall in love. It made him long for love himself, but the slim chances of that ever happening had flown out the window with his mortality.
Aphrodite typically called for him in the morning, so being summoned to the throne room wasn't unusual. But why was it Zeus and not Aphrodite who was calling for him today? He started walking up the stone path to the source of the yell.
He tried to keep the flying to a minimum. The wings were pretty handy, he supposed, but they felt so alien, so inhuman, that they seemed like a constant reminder of everything he couldn't do. Despite having more abilities than ever before, he felt ridiculously restrained.
"NICO, GET HERE THIS INSTANT!" Zeus shouted, and Nico could hear that he meant business. He flew forward at the speed of sound, maybe even faster, and was at the throne room in under a second. "Come forward," Zeus grumbled, clearly enraged.
Nico stepped forward cautiously. He noticed that all twelve Olympians were present, along with his father Hades. What was so important that they were all there together?
"Aphrodite, what are my duties for the day?" he asked, trying to sound calm.
"No more missions from me, Nico," Aphrodite told him. "It would be unbecoming."
"Unbecoming? Why?" he asked.
"We have come to an agreement," Poseidon told him. "My boy, do you know why Zeus was made king of the gods?"
"Well, you drew lots and he got the heavens, so he ruled. And he freed you guys from Kronos, so you hailed him as a hero." He glanced around. "Right?"
"Well, those were certainly parts of it," Poseidon said. "But in the end, he was named king because he was the most powerful among us."
"What does this have to do with anything?"
"You bent him to your will, Nico. You manipulated our most powerful god to do your bidding," Athena told him. "Logically-"
"You are the most powerful god," Zeus grumbled.
"I...what?" Nico couldn't believe what he was hearing. He couldn't be the most powerful god. He couldn't be a god at all - he was just a fourteen year old kid from Italy. And yet, here he was: in the throne room on Mount Olympus, being told he was more powerful than Zeus. "There must be some mistake."
"There's no mistake, Nico," Hades told him. All of the gods stood, and they bowed to him in unison, even Zeus, though he didn't look happy about it.
"My son...will you be our king?" Hades offered.
"Uh..." Nico stammered. From Aphrodite's messenger to king of the gods in a matter of seconds? No way.
"You would be stupid to refuse," Zeus growled. He got the feeling that if he didn't take the job, Zeus would think that Nico just thought the job wasn't an honor or important. And that was Zeus's job. He would fry Nico on the spot.
Besides, if Nico was going to be a god anyway, why not be the king?
"I accept," he said. "I'll do it."
Aphrodite clapped her hands vigorously, and Hades had never looked prouder. Nico started waking forward, but was interrupted by a horrible grinding sound. Zeus and Hera's thrones we shifting across the floor, Zeus's to the side for the men and Hera's to the side for the woman. Everyone else's thrones began moving too, adjusting to make room. As this happened, a new throne started growing from the ground where the royal throne used to sit. Black, twisted wood, just like the wood from his staff, was sprouting from the marble floor. It tangled itself into a shape resembling a throne. A massive throne, fit for a god. Silver light flashed across its surface, etching it with Ancient Greek style carvings.
Nico got closer, and the throne seemed to shrink to fit him. But...everything else in the room shrunk too. Was Nico growing? He realized he was now ten feet tall, about the same height as the other gods. The throne was now a perfect fit.
But Nico didn't want to sit just yet. He wanted to check out the carvings. He saw one on the arm of the chair depicting a demigod boy facing Akhlys. Another showed the same boy and a girl watching a second boy fight a manticore. A third was the boy laying in a...hospital bed? Another boy was in that one too, a boy that caught Nico's eye. It looked remarkably like Will Solace. Then he realized that the recurring boy was him. He was looking at scenes through his life, scenes that had shaped who he was.
Just another reminder that the gods were always watching. Creepy. Nico didn't want to be like that. On the other hand, he wanted to make sure his friends were okay down in camp...maybe they had their reasons for stalking demigods.
"Are you going to sit in it?" Hera asked politely. Nico took a deep breath. If he took the throne, it would be impossible to go back. But he lowered himself into the wooden seat regardless.
A shockwave seemed to go through the throne room, and Nico sensed it echoed through the rest of the world too.
"Well, that's done,” Hermes said, standing up. “I should go get the word out to everybody. All the minor gods, the really minor gods, and...well, the two camps should know too.” He started to fly away, but Nico called after him.
“Hermes, wait!” The messenger god turned around. “Please, don’t tell the camps. I mean, you can tell Chiron. But make him swear on the River Styx not to tell the campers,” he instructed. “Dionysus, that goes for you too,” he told the man he used to know as Mr. D.
“You got it, boss,” Hermes said before zooming off to Camp Half-Blood.
“From me too,” Dionysus said. “I swear on the River Styx not to tell any demigods about you until they find out some other way.”
“Good,” Nico said. He stared out at the other gods. They all looked like they expected him to be saying something. “Um, dismissed.”
That seemed to satisfy them. Most of them vanished, but Aphrodite stayed behind. “My king, I have a request.”
“Uh, sure. What’s up?” Nico asked.
“I need a new servant. Someone to make people fall in love,” she told Nico.
"Yeah, sure," he said, standing from his throne and spreading his wings. “I’ll go find a willing demigod."
"No, no, my king," Aphrodite chided him. "It is not the place of a king to go and-"
"No, I insist. I'm the one who took away your servant, I should be the one to get you a new one. Besides, I don't really have anything else to do. You just go relax. You still need to recover from Cupid anyway. Trust me, I'll be fine," he reassured her.
She seemed to be placated. She disappeared in a burst of rose petals, and Nico took to the skies. He zoomed down to earth, and started to head for Camp Half-Blood. Maybe he could recruit a child of Aphrodite, like Lacy or Mitchell. Or a sniper, a child of Apollo. He touched down behind Cabin One. He reached out with his senses, but he couldn't find Jason in the cabin. He must have been somehwere else in camp. Nico started to sneak around the back of the cabins when a conversation caught his ear.
"Jason!" It sounded like Will Solace. "Did Chiron tell you anything?" Nico crept closer and saw the two speaking in the center of the commons area. Will looked really tired, more so than Nico had ever seen him. He had dark circles under his eyes, and his hair was wild. Jason didn't look much better. He hadn't even styled his hair that morning, which was like a ritual to him, so he must have been really distressed.
"No," Jason said. "He wouldn't even talk to me until Hermes left. But I'm sure he'll talk to us then. Who knows? Maybe Hermes found him."
Him. Nico. They were looking for him.
"I think we should head out again. Today," Will said.
"We already have a bunch of people searching. Percy's searching the ocean, and asking the fish if they've seen Nico. Annabeth is checking with the mortal police, and Piper is trying to get the word out about him. Reyna, Hazel, and Frank are searching the ancient lands. Our job is stay here in case he comes back," Jason told him.
Will took in a couple shaky breaths. "I know...I just want him back," he whimpered. Jason hugged him, and with his super vision Nico could see they were both crying. He couldn't take it. He took off like a rocket, not caring about who saw him. He could hear Jason and Will shouting in alarm, but they were far behind him now. He couldn't go back to Camp Half-Blood; he wasn't ready. But he needed a demigod, so there was only one other place to go.
He soared off towards California, away to Camp Jupiter. He tried to think of someone that would be good in this job. Who would be unswervingly loyal to Aphrodite, and have enough determination to get the job done every day? If they already had a little love magic too, that would be a plus, but he hadn't met any children of Venus during his time at Camp Jupiter. Although, he had met one during the battle at Camp Half-Blood...
He dropped onto a building in the Forum, silent as an owl. No one eating food below him seemed to notice. He scanned the crowd, hoping he just might see the demigod he was searching for. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a tall, bulky demigod walking away towards the camp.
It wasn't necessarily him, but it was somewhere to start, at least. He shadow traveled over to the boy, appearing in front of him.
It was him. Michael Kahale. The enormous Hawaiian demigod jumped back and reached for his sword, but it wasn't there. No weapons inside the Pomerian line, after all.
Before he could shout for help, Nico flew at him, knocking him away into the trees. "Please be quiet. It's me, Nico," he said, holding his hand over Michael's mouth. He cautiously removed it and Michael didn't say anything. He got off of him and the stood up together.
"You didn't have wings last time I saw you. Or the staff. Or the strength. Aren't you missing or something? What happened to you?" he asked.
"Look, I don't really have time to talk. Are you interested in being a god?" he asked. Michael just stared at him. "It's a pretty good job, really. You'd be taking the place of Cupid, making mortals and demigods fall in love around the world. It's okay to refuse, but could you recommend anyone?"
"Um...what? Like, immortality and everything?"
"Yeah, that's part of the whole god thing. Are you in, or do I have to erase your memory?" Nico asked.
"Why are you the one offering? Did Zeus send you? Or my mom?" he asked.
"I'm a god, actually. King of the gods." He added the last part almost like an afterthought. He'd adjusted to being a god over the past few weeks, but king? The shock was still catching up to him. Michael couldn't have been more shocked if Nico had told him he was secretly a rabbit.
“You’re the - what? You-”
“I need an answer, Kahale. Are you in or out?” Nico asked.
“I - I’m in. Definitely. There’s not really anything for me here. I’m just another demigod. But up there, on Olympus...let’s go,” he said, his voice steely.
“Well, grab on then,” Nico told him. Michael didn’t really seem to know where to place his hands.
“My shoulders. Put your hands on my shoulders.” It was a little awkward, given that Nico was so much smaller than Michael, like they were about to do some bizarre dance.
Suddenly the bushes rustled near them. It was Leila, daughter of Ceres. Nico looked away; no one could see him here. “Michael?” she said, bewildered. “What are you-”
Nico couldn’t risk any more time there. He disappeared into the shadow of a tree, dragging Michael with him. He could hear Leila gasp in surprise, but the noises of Camp Jupiter were quickly muffled by the layers of shadow.
They reappeared on Mount Olympus, outside of Aphrodite’s palace. "Head inside. Tell your mom I said hi, and that she should make you a god. On my orders."
"Thanks again, Nico. See you soon," he said, marching up to the heavy stone doors, disappearing inside the entry hall.
Nico turned away. He wasn't quite sure what to do. What had Zeus done when he was king all day? Maybe he had all those affairs because he was really bored.
But Nico was determined to be better than Zeus, or any of the other gods. He would actually listen to people's prayers; try to make the world a better place.
He started walking off towards the throne room. He supposed that he would just be sleeping in his throne that night, but something strange caught his eye.
The mountain seemed to be growing, growing a little extension. Three gods stood at the base of the new growth, talking about something. Nico got closer and listened.
"...we need Hecate! Trust me, the kids these days are all about magic, not machines." It was a goddess, through Nico didn't know which one. She seemed to be speaking to the larger of the two men around her.
"Don't be ridiculous, Hestia! That magic goddess doesn't know a wrench from a hammer. She'd just build the palace out of her Mist. That's not sturdy at all!" So, Hestia was the girl. And one of the men looked very familiar, even from behind. Was that Hades? It certainly looked like it, and he was the one growing the rock. The one who had spoken, though, was still unknown to Nico, until he turned around. His face was uglier than any mortal Nico had ever seen, mangled and warty almost to the point of being something inhuman. That could only be one god.
"Hephaestus?" Nico called. "What's going on?"
The blacksmith god spotted him. "Ah, Nico! What do you think will be better for your palace? My designs or those of that flimsy little magic goddess?"
"Wait, my palace? You're building me a palace?"
"Of course! Where else are you supposed to live?"
"You don't have to do that. I'm more of a drifter. I don't need any-"
"Don't be ridiculous! A king needs his palace. Now, me or Hecate?"
"You, Hephaestus. And Hestia, you help him. Dad, keep doing what you're doing. When it comes to decorating the inside, come get me." He started to walk away, but he stopped himself. "Hey, do any of you know what I'm supposed to be doing?"
"Well, Zeus would sort of just sit there and throw lightning at mortals all day. So, you could do that," Hephaestus suggested.
"Thanks for the advice," Nico muttered, and he continued on his way.
Seriously though, what was he supposed to do? He definitely didn't just want to smite people like Zeus had. If anything, he wanted to help those people.
Then it came to him. He thought about all the times he had prayed to a god and gotten no response. He had wished the gods actually cared, paid attention, and actually helped when he needed it. Now he had the chance to make that a reality for the demigods down at the camps. He could listen to them and help them, truly be a god for the people. And when no one was praying for help, he could just take out monsters so they wouldn't have to deal with them.
He sprinted for the cliff at the edge of the throne room and made a wild leap off the side. Just before he was smashed flat on the city street, he opened his wings and soared skyward. He sniffed out a monster, and he sensed a pack of empousai nearby. He zoomed away towards them, feeling the adrenaline rush through him, along with a spark of hope deep in his gut.
If he had to live for an eternity, he was determined to make it worthwhile.