There are five rivers down in Hades, and Nico has been to all of them. Phlegethon licked flames towards his feet and Cocytus streamed dark and weeping as he walked its banks. Not even for him did Acheron stop its pained flow, and the cool waters of Lethe knew him first of all, kissed the memories away and left only loss like scar tissue over his mother’s smile.
Styx—Styx he prefers not think about, but knows anyway.
Dying is an art, like everything else, wrote a poet born perhaps months only after Nico, and though she died in the lost years he found her words in the new school, in Bianca’s hands, the book earmarked and worn and pages fluttering apart, the kind of little thing you don’t expect to find in a place that thinks battle axes make for cool wall decorations.
Now Bianca is dead, and Nico isn’t; dying is an art, and for all the blood in his veins and the two worlds sunk into his bones he is lord of the lands of Death, and what does that leave him?
Maria di Angelo could see with eyes unclouded and feared not even the gods; had practical hands, that brushed through his cheek cold and ghostly and kind. This is all he really knows of her now. He thinks once she lulled him to sleep with soft-spoken stories, but he isn’t sure. The waters washed her clean and the only story he really knows is his, built on nothing but small eons of mindless games and then a long, long fight. He knows Bianca had her smile. Bianca renounced a normal life—renounced him—entirely, gladly. Sometimes he will seek her out among the shades and do nothing but stand at her side, because this is how it started, because his earlier memories only have her, and she left, and died.
Down in the underworld it is not possible to be alone, not for any child of Hades. But to be spoken to, ah, this is different. There are voices but it’s like getting phonecalls from someone who get the number wrong, or who wants you to do something you can’t, or wants news you can’t give. Tell my mother. Have you seen my son. Who am I. Sometimes he misses the hotel, where at least people could touch you and play cards and teach you the rules. Sometimes he misses not remembering anything at all, or having to learn a whole new country, of knowing the weight of it. Sometimes he even misses school.
Nico, he misses a lot of things. He’s also good at pretending not to. In that, at least, he is his father's son.
By the black sands of Phlegethon and Cocytus and Acheron and Styx and Lethe (whose names he all learned by himself, once he knew, once he had to) he drew his sword and wrote his name entire on the ground, every letter carefully spelled out by the tip of his black sword and read over twice to be sure. Then he told the waters and all they held This is all you get, watched them wash it off and let the land learn him the way he’d learned it, little by little, relentlessly.
Dying is an art and Nico di Angeli is a half-blood boy, is Bianca di Angelo’s brother, is Maria di Angelo’s son; is alive; is the composer.