Nico didn't get scared much anymore.
After fighting six hydras, 20 hyperborean giants, and over 100 karpoi, he'd learned that he was a force to be reckoned with. If another war started up, no problem! He'd send them back where they came from with one swipe of his staff.
He didn't think that he could really be frightened, but he was in for a surprise.
He heard shouting from outside, and he thought he recognized the voices. It always sounded like...no, that was silly. Why would they be there?
But as he listened more, he became horribly sure of who it was. They couldn't see him here. He leaped off of his throne and ran out the back door of the throne room.
He ran for his palace, which was still under construction, but it was livable. Hephaestus worked fast. Over the past two days he had finished everything except the tenth floor observatory. Honestly, Nico didn't think his palace needed to be so extravagant, but when they approached him with the blueprints they were so enthusiastic he couldn't shoot them down. Seriously though, who needed seven lounges? And a rooftop pool? And a team of magical servant ghosts tending to their every need?
He ducked inside and ran up the spiral staircase in the foyer. Once he reached the second floor he bolted for his scrying room. In there, he could see anything in the world with the touch a button. Along the wall was a row of panels, each one engraved with a unique pattern, and an imprint of a hand. Nico's hand, to be specific. He found the panel engraved with storm clouds and lightning bolts. Underneath it, the word Ζεύς was inscribed, written in Ancient Greek. He fitted his hand into the panel and he felt a telepathic connection form with the thunder god.
"Zeus, I need you to do something for me," he said.
"Whatever you say, my king," he grumbled sarcastically. He, out of all the gods, was the most upset about Nico becoming king. That was no surprise, of course. Zeus had clearly loved being king, but he was forced to give it up by the other Olympians.
"There are some demigods approaching the throne room. They still think you're king. Go there and pretend that you are. Make sure they don't find out I'm a god."
"Alright," Zeus mumbled, and Nico pulled his hand away. He ran over to the scrying bowl. He pushed the button, and though about the throne. The water rippled and became a window into the throne room. Nico peered over and saw an empty room. Suddenly the doors burst open and a horde of angry demigods stormed in. Nico recognized all of them.
Will Solace led the charge, his normally calm face twisted in rage. Jason and Percy were right behind him, brandishing their swords. Piper and Annabeth each held their knives out, like they expected a fight. Hazel rode in on Arion, he curly cinnamon hair sticking out from under her helmet. Frank and Reyna brought up the rear, both wearing the purple robes that showed they were praetors.
"Where is he? Zeus!" Will cried. Through the bowl, his voice sounded strange, like he was speaking underwater.
Suddenly Zeus appeared in a flash of lightning. "What are you doing here! Out, out!"
"Don't play dumb," Percy growled. "We know you have Nico."
"I don't know what you're talking about. Jason-"
"Seriously, Dad. We know. Chiron told us," Jason said.
"He...what? That's impossible!" Zeus shouted.
"Not outright," Annabeth explained. "But after Hermes left he said that he couldn't tell us what he had learned, but we may as well give up the search."
"If you sent Hermes, then you know where Nico is. Where is he?" Reyna spat.
"Just go home! You won't find him here," Zeus said, taking a seat in his throne.
"But you know where he is," Piper said. "Tell us!"
"What happened to this room?" Annabeth asked.
"Annabeth, now's not the time for architecture talk," Percy said.
"No, his throne. It moved to the side. The throne in the middle is new," she explained. Nico suddenly realized his mistake. Of course they would wonder who the throne belonged to!
"Oh, that-" Zeus started to speak, but Hazel cut him off.
"It looks like something Nico would like. I mean, I helped him redecorate the Hades cabin. He wanted chairs just like that, but we couldn't find any."
"That throne doesn't belong to Nico!" Zeus jumped in.
"Of course not, that would be silly. Nico's not a god," Frank pointed out.
"No, he's not!" Zeus said. Nico wanted to slap him. Why wouldn't he stop talking? Despite all his power, he wasn't so good under pressure.
"Unless..." Annabeth muttered. Was she figuring it out? If they discovered him, it would only make things worse. Things would be so much easier if they just stayed in the dark. Forever. On the other hand, they deserved to know, after everything they’d done for him. Maybe he should just tell them...
“Get out, or I’ll have no choice but to fry you!” Zeus shouted.
“Tell us where he is or we’ll tear down this mountain!" Will shouted.
"I'd like to see you try, puny demigod," Zeus grumbled. Everyone looked like they were about to explode. Nico didn't think things could possibly get worse. Of course, he was wrong.
Michael Kahale took that exact moment to walk into the room. His godly transformation hadn’t been as extreme as Nico’s but it was still noticeable. He had grown a few inches, so he was now even more impossibly large. His skin seemed to glow faintly pink, even in the dark. Some changes couldn’t be seen just by looking at him, like how he could teleport at will and his charmspeak had become ridiculously powerful. He also wielded two wicked knives, each one shaped like the wing of a dove. A single cut with one of those things could make you fall in love or break your heart in an instant. “Hey, Nico-” he said, but then he noticed the group standing in the center of the room. “Uh...”
“Michael?!” Reyna shouted. “You - I can’t believe - how? Why? You vanish from camp for now reason, leaving us without a centurion, and I find you here? On Olympus, of all places?” She said all this while striding across the room to him. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Um...” he stuttered. Despite being a god, he looked terrified of Reyna.
“You said Nico. He’s here, isn’t he?” Piper asked. “Give him to us!”
“I didn’t mean to - well, I mean - I’m sorry, I have to go,” he said. He crossed his blades as he always did when he was about to teleport, but Reyna pulled out her sword and knocked away his knives.
“You’re not going anywhere, Kahale,” she grumbled.
“But I can’t bring Nico here! He does his own thing,” Michael said.
“What are you doing?” Nico screamed at the bowl, though of course Michael couldn’t hear him. Confirming Nico’s presence wasn’t helping at all. He would just talk to Michael telepathically like he had with Zeus, but Michael’s panel wasn’t complete yet.
“Then just tell us where he is,” Percy commanded.
“I won’t reveal him!” Michael shouted. “Now leave me be! You should know better than to mess with a god.”
“A god? You?” Will said, dumbstruck.
“Goodbye, demigods.” With that, Michael summoned his dagger to his hand and vanished.
The group shifted their focus to Zeus. “Michael's a god now?” Frank asked. “How did that happen?”
“Aphrodite, I believe. She needed a new Cupid,” Zeus explained.
“What happened to the old Cupid?” Piper asked.
“Ni - I mean, we don’t know. He just vanished,” Zeus said, trying to cover up what he’d almost said. But the demigods didn’t buy it.
“Nico did something to Cupid. And now he’s here on Olympus,” Annabeth said. “Just show us to him and we’ll leave you alone.” She pointed her dagger at Zeus’s face. “Or we could chat a little longer.”
“You think you can defeat me in battle?” Zeus laughed, and it boomed across Olympus. “I am a god!”
“We’ve defeated gods before!” Percy shouted, hefting his sword. Things were about to get ugly.
Nico had to do something; intervene somehow. Otherwise at least one of the demigods in that room was about to get fried. But how could he without revealing himself? He suddenly remembered a power of the gods. Many of them could change their appearance. Nico had never tried, but he did then. He immediately felt the effects taking hold. His skin lightened until it was super pale, dotted all over with freckles,many he watched as his muscles shrank. He could feel his face morph and shift. It didn't exactly hurt, but it felt very wrong. His dark, wavy hair changed color and became more curly, until he had a head of orange ringlets. He could feel he looked nothing like himself, and just in time. The teens charged at Zeus, brandishing their weapons, and Nico dove headfirst into the scrying bowl.
Hephaestus had told him that the scrying bowl had this power, but he hadn't tried it until now. It was like swimming through infinite layers of mud at the speed of light. He erupted into the throne room and landed in front of Zeus, using his wings to shield him.
"Get back!" he shouted. His voice was far more nasally than usual. He tried not to let the surprise show on his face.
"What the - who in Hades are you?" Will exclaimed, stumbling back.
"That's not important. Just know that Nico is beyond help. Even the gods cannot bring him back to you," he told them. It was almost impossible to say.
"But he's here! We know he's here! Why can't he at least come talk to us himself?" Jason asked. He sounded so heartbroken, something inside Nico snapped.
"I can't - I mean, he can't be allowed to see you."
"But I've been tracking him. He's maddening close," Hazel cried. "It almost feels like he's in this room."
"Well, you were tracking him by his sword, right? They might be keeping it in here," Frank said.
Tracking him by his sword. Nico started to sweat.He'd forgotten how Hazel had tracked his sword in Rome. Now here he was, wearing it, right in front of them. Maybe they wouldn't notice...
"He's wearing Nico's sword!" Piper shouted.
"He's not just wearing Nico's sword," Annabeth said. "Think about it. All of the clues: the new throne, Nico somewhere on Olympus, this weird god with Nico's sword." She crossed her arms. "And Nico's mannerisms."
"What are you saying?" Percy asked.
"Nico is a god. And he's standing right in front of us," Annabeth explained.
It was really hard to keep up an illusion when the people you were trying to fool didn't believe it. The disguise drifted off of him like mist, dissipating in the mountain air. Most of the demigods gasped at him, staring in disbelief and dismay.
"Get out," he barked at them. "You've seen me, now get out."
"Nico," Will whimpered.
"I can't go with you. I can't see you any more, at all. My place is here, as King of the Gods."
"King of the Gods?" Jason asked in wonderment.
"It's a long story. Ask Chiron back at Camp, he'll explain. Goodbye," he told them, turning away.
"We're not leaving," Reyna insisted. "We're here for you. Come back with us. You can still be one of us!"
"But I'm not one you!" Nico shouted at them. "I couldn't be more different!" He tried to bend their emotions to his will. Frank snapped first. Nico made him see that things could never work. Then Piper. Annabeth. Percy. Jason. Reyna. He pushed just a little harder and even Hazel gave in. He focused all his power on Will, but there was some kind of wall there. Nico couldn't break through. He tried to understand what it was; it felt like determination...and...longing? Why was Will feeling that? Eventually Nico broke into Will's thoughts. He switched around the way he felt, and the entire group look sad and resigned.
"Have fun at camp," Nico whispered to them, and with a wave of his hand, they vanished into the shadows.
Nico didn't know that gods could cry. But apparently they could. Funny, how he could control other people's emotions but not his own. He vanished to a place he hadn't visited in four years.
Westover Hall hadn't changed at all. In the summer it was beautiful, a dark castle surrounded by green fields and forests. He walked over to a familiar spot, the place where all of this madness had begun.
He sat on the cliff overlooking the ocean, his legs dangling over the edge. He wiped tears from his eyes and thought about what he'd just done. The only real friends he'd ever had and he'd used magic to make sure they'd never want to see him again. That was just his lot in life. To always be alone. For eternity.