A story about a boy's journey to knowledge and self-discovery. The questions Riordan left about his little Nico di Angelo will perhaps be answered.
“Go Away!” He yelled. “I hate you! I wish you were dead!”
The ground didn’t swallow me up, but Nico ran down the steps, headed towards the woods. I tried to follow, but I slipped and fell to the icy steps. When I got up, I noticed what I slipped on.
I picked up the god statue Bianca had retrieved from the junkyard for Nico. The only statue he didn’t have, she’d said. A last gift from his sister.
I stared at it with dread, because I now understand why it looked so familiar. I’d seen it before.
It was a statue of Hades, Lord of the Dead.
-Rick Riordan “The Titan’s Curse.”
He ran as if he had death at his heels. His breath was released in tiny puffs of grey. The icy air pinched at his face. His body was chilled as if his bones had become icicles. His heartbeat was deafening and made his head feel heavy. All he could hear over the racing blood was the mixture of snow and dead leaves crunching under his numb feet. His vision was blurred with tears. He stumbled along the rigid forest floor, yet he pressed on.
What sort of child had to face this? He remembered nothing before the hotel he and Bianca had stayed in for a brief time in Las Vegas. The Lotus Hotel, he recalled its title. And yet he could not recall what exactly was inside. All he knew was that it was a place he and his sister enjoyed. It was the last time that they had such. When that lawyer took them from the hotel and shoved them into that hole of a boarding school, things only declined. His sister tried to avoid him for the first year, and if he got close, she could scream at him for no particular reason other than that she found him irritating. But he had no friends, only his one sister; his only family. He had attempted to make friends, but it always backfired. No one accepted him. He was outcaste with only one person to rely on.
When he had come to Camp Half-Blood, his heart was filled with a foreign feeling: joy. The place was right after his favourite Mythomagic game. He almost fainted from over-exposure to excitement. But as quick as the joy hit, it sank like the Titanic in fast-forward. He knew who Artemis was from his game, but he had never expected her to be so mean! She took away his sister with no regret whatsoever. When he heard that she was kidnapped, he was actually glad for it. She should die for breaking up the last family he had. Then that Percy Jackson stepped in… He promised to protect Bianca and keep her safe from danger. But naturally the stupid demigod only brought back a stupid statue and the worst of news. He did not want to face the truth. His sister could not be dead. She was all he had. If he was the son of some all-powerful god, then why would they allow this to happen? Why wouldn’t they try to protect their own children? What kind of sick parent just stood by and allowed their child to die an avoidable, pre-mature death? It was no parent he wanted.
He had no idea where he was going, but fear drove him forward through the thick of the forest. He hoped that no on pursued him. He heard no crunching footsteps behind his own. Hopefully Percy had fallen back and broken his neck. That would leave a satisfied feeling in the boy’s stomach, as morbid as it sounded. However, there was another threat. The skeletons that had attacked him and his ex-friend could still show up again. Though he had defended against them before, he was unsure he could do it again. All he knew was that his anger summoned a fissure that brought the dead back where they belonged.
Grover, the satyr whom he thought was trustworthy, had told him of monsters that infested these woods to challenge the campers. He hoped they slept through the night. But if what people said about monsters was true, most of them were awake when others were asleep. He was running unarmed through of forest of monsters with the threat of random skeletons attacking at any given time. He had no powers he knew of (other than maybe his fissure ability, but even so he was unsure of how to conjure it) and he did not pay serious attention to the few lessons that the camp briefly provided.
His lungs were beginning to hurt. His throat became tight and each breath he took burned. It felt as if he was choking himself. His throat swelled the point in that it almost closed. His lungs felt shrivelled to the point that they could barely accept oxygen. His head was becoming heavier. He stumbled more often across the snowy ground. His head was becoming his anchor that begged to greet the icy ground.
His legs screamed out in pain. They could take no more pressure. His vision warped further. The blurry visions began to swirl before blinking with black dots. His pace steadily slowed and blindly wandered. His knees finally buckled. He slumped on the ground. He wheezed for one last taste of air.
His head hit the dark, cold ground with a thud.
His ears perked at the sound of a large page turning. His heavy eyelids slowly lifted. His body was sunken in white snow that continued to keep his body frigid. He turned his head to get a look at where he was. He could still see trees and bushes, but also metal poles. He could hear the distant sound of cars zooming across the road and sirens wailing in the distance. Where he sat there was no light; artificial or otherwise.
He realized he was in one of the many New York parks. But how was that possible? How could he have run that fast from camp, and if it was the case, how could he not have seen the buildings earlier or heard the late traffic? It was impossible.
Slowly he pushed himself onto his knees. His mind instantly became dizzy, causing his head to fall again. He closed his eyes and took a brief moment to regain himself. He propped one knee up and used it to push the rest of himself to his feet. He brushed the snow off his pants and shirt with icy hands. His breath was still released in soft puffs of grey.
His ears perked at the sound of a page turning once more and a heavy breath. He turned his head to see a man sitting on a bench reading a newspaper. A good question was how the man could even see. Nico could barely see his own feet in the dark park. The only thing that stuck out about the man was the light paper in his hands.
“There you are, my boy.” The man spoke out in a deep, booming voice that was lightly lined with an English twang. “It is rude to keep people waiting.”
The man slowly folded his newspaper. He tucked it under his arm and slowly pushed up from the bench with a grunt. The man towered high. Nico had to crane his neck to get a look at what he figured was the man’s face. The man reached out to grab a stick that was topped with something oddly familiar. Due to its light colour, Nico recognized it as a small skull of some strange animal.
The man moved towards the boy with long strides. Nico took an instinctive step back as he approached. He could start to see the man more clearly. He was not as tall as Nico had believed earlier, but he was still staggering none the less. What had deceived him was a top hat with a red ribbon at its rim. He wore a fine black suit, dark as a starless night, with a red tie. With pinstripe pants and shoes that reminded Nico of tap shoes, the man was dressed like something from nineteenth century England. His skin was rich and dark. His face was clearly aged, wrinkled along the sides of his mouth, under his eyes, and likely on his forehead (it was an educated guess since Nico could barely see the man’s eyes, let alone what was above it)
He held a straight pipe between his lips. It puffed pure dark smoke that had no smell. However, it seemed to make the area darker.
“Who are you?” Nico demanded. “Did you bring me here?”
The man gave a casual shrug. “Perhaps.” He mused, sounding bored. “You should merely be thankful that I am even performing this errand.”
Nico narrowed his eyes at the man and took another step back. Who did this guy think he was? He spoke with arrogance that rang as clear as a bell. He seemed nonchalant, and yet held a deadly edge to himself.
“Why?” Nico demanded, trying to sound brave. “Are you here to kill me or something?”
The man chuckled, a deep, rolling sound, like thunder. The corner of his mouth turned up in what was possibly a smile, but Nico assumed was a smirk. This did not look like a man who smiled.
“Oh, no, my dear, foolish boy.” He replied smoothly. “I am here to do quite the opposite actually.”
Nico retreated back another step. Holding his ground may seem noble, but it was foolish. This odd man was something dangerous and not to be challenged. Should he offend the other to a point of violence… Well, he had a feeling the errand would quickly be failed.
The man removed the pipe from his mouth and twirled it slowly. His eyes shifted from the child to the object he held. He watched it with boredom.
“You seek answers.” He observed tonelessly. “I was sent here by who you wish to ask your questions to in order to guide you to him.”
Nico raised a brow. What was this man going on about? Could this possibly be about his parents? Which was a god and which was a mortal being whom he did not remember? His heart suddenly leapt with excitement. His eyes grew wide with wonder as he stared at the man.
“Who?” He questioned with the upmost curiosity.
The man was silent for a moment, his eyes slowly rolled to look at the boy again. The ghost of a smirk touched his lips.
“Your father.” He answered calmly.
Nico could hear his heartbeat again as it felt like the organ jumped into his throat. His father had sent someone for him…? Was this man like the lawyer who pulled him and his sister from that hotel? If he was, why was he not even questioning his sister’s absence? Perhaps it was for the best. Nico found that the mere thought of his deceased sister made his heart clench painfully.
The man cleared his throat and Nico’s head snapped up to look at him. Peering at him, the boy realized a terrible fact: this man’s eyes irises were completely black, making it seem like two black pearls were glaring at him from the shadows.
“Where am I supposed to go?” Nico mustered the courage to ask. It took all his strength not to cower from the harsh stare.
“Where did the east go when it found no hope where it was?” He mused aloud. He pointed his cane westward. “They went west.”
Nico frowned slightly at the thought. The west? How far west? A little west? West to the middle? Or completely west to the edge of America? What was even that far west anyway? Why would his father be there? There were too many questions.
The man gave an annoyed sigh. He lowered his cane and it touched the ground with a light tap.
”Travel to California, Los Angeles to be exact.” He further explained. “But, if you wish to travel without risk of being killed, heed this kindness.”
Nico was still confused. Kindness? The man said he was simply running an errand for his father. Quite reluctantly, he observed. Was this kindness from him or his father?
“Okay…?” Nico replied with a raised brow. He kept his guard up.
“Stay to the night and in the darkness.” He warned. “Should you stray from it, you are open to Zeus and Poseidon’s wrath.”
Nico was quiet. What was this man going on about? The way he spoke and dressed made certain that he was no average human. But his true purpose was a mystery, and the unknown was terrifying. If this man was a god, then whatever he was doing had a catch to it. That was a lesson everyone in camp spoke of. No god did anything for free. Sometimes they could be upfront, other times they had a hidden message. But the only way for a demigod to stay alive when meddling with them was to not trust them and stay aware.
But even if this man was mortal, Nico had no intentions of trusting him or anyone else. The way even the closest people betrayed him was breaking. He only had himself now and it was safest to keep it that way. This dark fellow was the definition of untrustworthy. The fact that he was in the middle of a dark park, dressed in an odd way and offering small children rides after excusing they were sent by their parent? Not today.
The man reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a small pocket watch made of, what Nico guessed to be, ebony or granite, and accented with an odd turquoise. He raised his head and looked right. The sound of a large vehicle screeching to a stop filled the hollow park.
“Not a train,” The man mused. “But it is right on time.” His eyes focused back on Nico. “Your ride west has arrived. Best not be tardy.”
Nico turned his head. The closest streetlamp buzzed and sputtered before dying out. A greyhound bus had rolled up to the curb. It wheezed and lowered slightly before the door opened. He could barely see the bus driver inside.
“Look here, boy.” The man called.
Nico turned his attention back to him. The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a small pouch that jingled. He tossed it to the bag to him. Nico stumbled to catch it. The leather pouch was burgundy and smooth to the touch. He slowly pulled it open and peered inside. There was a small roll of money and the rest was filled with odd gold coins.
“That should be enough to get you where you need to be.” The man announced. “So, hop to it.”
Nico opened his mouth to say something but it quickly closed. He slowly turned his body towards the bus, but kept strict eyes on the man. There was something about him that he wanted to know, but was afraid to find out. Slowly, he turned his head towards his target. The bus driver laid a hand quickly down on the horn. He jumped back slightly from the sudden, loud sound.
Before he stepped onto the heated bus, Nico looked back to wave the man goodbye. The man gave a smile and tipped his hat to him. When Nico blinked, he was gone. One by one the few lamps in the park flickered on, illuminating the place where the man first sat, but there was no trace of him.
Nico climbed onto the bus and did not dare look back. He knew the man would not be there. However, he was certain he would see him again.