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The Homeless Demigod Club

Chapter Text

It isn’t every day that you end up sitting in a slowly flooding drainage system with nothing but the clothes on your back. More like, every other day. The day when it’s raining and you’ve run away from your foster family again because if they went on about how much better their real son was one more time-

Leo sighed and slumped down even lower. His life just kept going down the drain, didn’t it? Literally in some senses of the world. He had thought that for once, maybe this family would be the one that he stayed with.

They seemed nice enough. His ‘new mum’ was an excellent chef. His ‘new dad’ was busy at work a lot but seemed to want to spend ‘quality time’ with Leo, watching sports and everything. His ‘new brother’ would laugh at his half-hearted jokes.

It just couldn’t last, though. New Mum complained that his room was always a mess and her real son’s room was never messy. New Dad would sigh in agitation whenever Leo declined watching soccer with him, muttering that his real son loved soccer and would never miss a game. Said real son started to tease him whenever his friends came over. The son’s friends, not Leo’s. Leo didn’t have friends, just to be clear.

Leo sighed again, crossing his arms in annoyance. He could have lived with it if it weren’t for the accidents. He supposed he was lucky that a gas leak hadn’t caused the house to explode while he was home alone this time. Yeah, that had been a fun experience. Outside, lightning flashed across the sky, followed by a sharp clap of thunder. The rain went from a slight downpour the buckets of cold, wet raindrops falling from the sky.

Knowing his luck, the drain would be full of water and Leo would be soaking wet, despite his futile efforts to find shelter. He may as well try and escape to find somewhere dry while he could. Maybe there would be a homeless shelter. Not that Leo really looked homeless. Just a scrawny, scruffy kid who’d run away from his forth foster family.

Leo stood up and stretched as best he could. He couldn’t even straighten his back, but take what you can get, at least he was still dry-

A pair of legs swung through the drain’s opening, and a person slid into the drain, landing with a splash in the stream of rainwater and sending it spraying all over Leo. Shocked, Leo stumbled backwards, falling and landing where he had been sitting seconds before, except now he was wetter and sore from hitting the concrete.

Well shoot.

The person crouched down and shuffled backwards away from the drain. They were wearing a dark green shirt and beige cargo pants that had been torn and burnt badly, black converse and socks that were no doubt soaked from the rain. Their blonde hair hung matted around their shoulders, at least Leo thought their hair was blonde – it was hard to tell in the darkness and with their hair soaked in water. The person was pale and even scrawnier than Leo, and from the back with that shoulder length hair, Leo couldn’t even tell their gender.

Leo pushed a wave of his own now-soaked hair off his forehead and cleared his throat. The person started and literally jumped, banging their head on the curved roof of the drainage system. They spun around, revealing a boy about Leo’s age, maybe a bit younger, but taller and skinnier.

“What are you doing in here?” He demanded, as if Leo had splashed him.

“Oh, you know, enjoying the sights and scenery of Boston. Not being homeless.” Leo shrugged. “And hoping that random people don’t jump into my drain and soak me while I’m trying to shelter from the rain.”

Your drain?” The other demanded. “This is my drain. I’ve been hiding out here for the past three weeks.”

“Yeah, it’s a shame that I’m so scrawny there isn’t any room for other people to possibly be in the same drain as me, let alone skinny kids like you.” Leo spat, although not really intending to offend the blonde kid.

The other boy plopped down next to Leo. “Magnus Chase. Me. I mean, I'm Magnus. Magnus Chase.”

“Yeah, I got that." Leo chuckled. "I'm Leo. Leo Valdez. So, three weeks, huh?”

“More or less.” Magnus nodded. “You?”

“This time only two days.” Leo said.

“This time?”

“I have a bit of a habit of running away from my foster homes.” Leo said non-commitantly.

“Sucks.” Magnus agreed.

“You’re telling me.” Leo said. “So why aren’t you . . . somewhere else? Surely social services-”

“No. As far as I know, they think I’m dead.” Magnus shivered slightly, as if remembering something unpleasant. Leo tucked his legs closer to his body. “Oh. Wish that could happen for me.”

“You wish they thought you were dead?” Magus gave Leo a strange look.

“Yeah.” Leo expanded. “Social workers will be after me before long and I’ll be shipped off to some other part of the country.”

“How many foster homes have you-”

“Too many.” Leo said shortly, listing all four places in his head. “Enough to know that it isn’t my idea of fun.”

Magnus opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it again. Leo heard thunder crackle overhead, then Magnus pulled something out of his pocket. A granola bar. “It’s my last one, but we can share if you want.”

“Oh.” Leo hesitated. In all the times he’s been on the streets, no one has ever offered to share something as important as food. He weighed the options. On one hand, Magnus had only been homeless for a grand total of three weeks. He didn’t know what it was like to be really starving. Leo should let him have the bar to himself. But on the other hand . . . Leo was hungry. The Latino’s stomach rumbled in agreement and Leo made up his mind. “Okay. Thanks.”

Magnus peeled the bar and snapped it in half, pocketing the wrapper as if it were precious and handing one half of the bar to Leo. Leo took it gratefully and nibbled on it. He hadn’t thought to take anything when he left, which he had been sorely regretting.

Another burst of thunder crackled overhead. Leo searched for something else to say, such as ‘what great weather we’re having’ or ‘how’s your day been’. For some reason, neither of those struck him as particularly appropriate things to say.

“It’s pretty cold in the rain, isn’t it?” Magnus said, swallowing the last of his granola bar.

“Huh?” Leo asked, surprised. Despite the rain and his thin clothing – he was only wearing a white button-down shirt and overalls – he didn’t feel cold. In fact, his clothes had dried already.

But when he glanced at Magnus he could see the boy’s lips were turning blue and Goosebumps were raising the hair on his arms.

“Oh, uh, yeah.” Leo felt an absurd urge to hug the other boy. Magnus looked really cold, huddled in on himself. With his pale blonde hair and pale skin he looked like he was turning into an icicle. But hugging someone he just met would be weird, so Leo stayed where he was.

Once again, they sat in silence, only interrupted by the crackle of thunder and the quiet chatter of Magnus’ teeth.

“So.” Leo said. “Since this is ‘your drain’, can I ask you, as king of the sewerage, for permission to sleep here?”

“Hey!” Magnus protested through chattering teeth. “I’m n-n-not king of the s-sewerage.”

“But I thought this was your drain.” Leo teased. “Either way, do you mind me staying the night or . . .”

“S-sure. Stay as l-l-long as you w-want.” Magnus said, then as an afterthought added, “Just don't d-disobey your king o-or you’ll be cast into the d-dungeons.”

“Do I even want to know?” Leo asked, thinking of what else could be found in less pleasant drainage, before they both laughed. Maybe it was the cold, or the hunger or just how much both their situations sucked, Leo reasoned. Because it really wasn’t that funny.

But before either could get in another word, heavy footsteps, like someone jumping, sounded right outside their drain and a moment later, as if in slow motion, a body fell, landing with a thud outside the drain, head colliding with the pavement with a horrible cracking noise.

The body lay still, Leo couldn't even tell if they were alive or not.

Chapter Text

Magnus gasped, standing as best he could and looking out at the person who’d just fallen down. “He isn’t getting up.”

He could feel Leo’s body beside him as the Latino stood, he surprisingly warm and dry. Part of Magnus wanted to hug the smaller boy, to steal his warmth away, but this was more important. And anyway, that would be weird.

“Do you think he hit his head?” Leo asked, sticking his head up to peer out next to Magnus.

How weird this must look to an outsider, Magnus thought, two kids peering out of a drain in the middle of a thunderstorm, staring at a third, unconscious boy.

“We should help.” Magnus said.

“Us?” Leo asked. “What can we do? We’re two homeless fourteen year olds. Well, I’m fourteen, you look like you’re-”

“Also fourteen.” Magnus supplied.

“Yes.” Leo nodded. “That is what I was going to say. Absolutely.”

“Shut up.” Magnus ordered. “Help me pull him in here.”

“What? Into the drain like we’re hiding a body?” Leo asked.

“Unless you have a clean and hygienic hospital ward.” Magnus snapped.

Together they grabbed hold of the boy who was lying unconscious in the rain, turned him so his feet were facing the drain and dragged him inside. Magnus lunged forwards to support the boy’s weight as he came crashing to the ground. Magnus knew he wasn’t particularly strong – understatement of the year – but this boy has to be extremely underweight because it was like holding a feather.

Magnus lay him down beside the stream of water and inspected the boy. His skin was a sickly pale grey. His black hair was longer than Magnus’, it mattered and dirty and clung to the boy’s head, fringe covering his face all the way down to his nose. His chest was rising and falling rapidly. The boy was wearing a thick but worn aviator jacket, black jeans and black converse. A silver skull ring was on his right hand. A chain served as a belt and from it hung-

“Leo.” Magnus said, worried.

“Hey, looks like we found someone paler than you and scrawnier than me.” Leo said, inspecting the boy’s hands, which were twitching nervously in his sleep.

“Leo.”

“Yeah?”

“Tell me this kid doesn’t have a sword hanging from his belt.” Magnus requested, eyes never leaving the jagged black sword that smoked at the boy’s side.

“This kid doesn’t have a swor- holy cra-a-a-abapples.” Leo was also staring at the sword. “This kid does have a sword.”

“How? Why? Where?” Magnus wondered aloud. “Is it real? He doesn’t look more than eleven.”

Leo shrugged. “We can ask him when he wakes up. He’s still unconscious. What should we do?”

“I don’t know.” Magnus fretted. “Um . . . do you have anything on you?”

“The clothes on my back?” Leo offered. “Somehow I think it would be more useful if they stayed on. Unless you-”

He stopped as Magnus shot him a glare. “Okay, okay, not the right time for that, I get it.”

Magnus bit his lip. “Roll him onto his side. My m- someone said it’s the safest position to put someone uncurious because if he starts to choke and he’s lying on his back or front he could choke and die.”

“Okay. On three.” Leo agreed. “One. Two. Three.”

Really, they didn’t need to count. Magnus could have rolled the kid over by himself. The boy took a shuddering breath and one hand reached towards the hilt of his sword, but he stayed unconscious. Magnus shifted the boy’s head so his mouth was facing down, the chin tilted away from the boy’s body, remembering what his mother had taught him.

“Okay, we should . . . take his jacket off.” Magnus said. “That way if he needs CPR or something we can give it more easily.”

“You know CPR?” Leo asked.

“Sort of.” Magnus said. “Why?”

“Wow, you are desperate.” Leo joked. “If you’re willing to-”

“You’re not taking this seriously.” Magnus accused. “This boy could die.”

“I don’t think we should take off his jacket and let him freeze is all.” Leo raised his hands in defence.

“You’re right.” Magnus sighed, realising he was panicking, not thinking things through in his rush to help. He didn't think the kid was going to need CPR any time in the foreseeable future. “I guess we should keep him warm and dry.”

Leo nodded and the two sat down next to the unconscious boy beside them.

“But the next person who intrudes is not coming in here.” Leo warned. “Three soaking wet homeless kids is enough for any drain.”

“We don’t know he’s homeless.” Magnus said, but thinking that Leo was probably right if the appearance of the boy was anything to go by.

Beside Magnus, Leo was tapping a rhythm on his knee. Magnus tried to distract himself, but he couldn’t help it, his eyes kept drifting back to the boy lying unconscious at his feet. Without meaning to, and without really being aware of it, Magnus pushed a strand of hair out of the boy’s face. When the kid didn’t react, Magnus pushed the rest of the hair out of the boy’s face. Despite being wet and dirty, the kid’s hair was soft. It looked like the boy’s main concern wasn’t his hair though, as it was filthy and it seemed clear by the uneven length that the kid hacked at it himself with some kind of blade.

Without any warning, Leo heaved a huge sigh and leant back against the wall of the drain, startling Magnus.

“Leo?” Magnus asked softly.

“Mm fine.” Leo mumbled. “Just tired.”

“Okay.” Magnus nodded. “You can get some sleep. I’ll wake you if this boy wakes up. Or if someone comes. Or if something happens. Or- well, I’ll wake you.”

“Thanks Magnus.” Leo said. “You’re pretty weird for a homeless kid. You’re . . . really nice.”

And before Magnus could even try and think of a response, Leo had curled sideways and closed his eyes. He looked cold and small in just his thin shirt and overalls and Magnus reached out to see if Leo really was cold, but Leo’s entire body seemed to be radiating a gentle warmth, like a wood fire in winter.

An idea struck Magnus, and the blonde reached over to cautiously drag the unconscious boy closer to Leo. Leo opened one eye in a sleepy puzzled question.

“You’re warm. This kid is cold.” Magnus offered.

Leo huffed and rolled his eyes, but shuffled a little closer to the kid - and also therefor closer to Magnus - before closing his eyes again.

Chapter Text

When Nico woke up, his head was pounding and his mouth was dry and had a bitter taste. He wasn’t sure how far he had shadow-travelled, but it was surely a long way from Los Angeles. There was something warm pressing against his back, trying to pull Nico back into the realm of unconsciousness. Nico tried to clear his mind from the sleepy, confused feeling.

Suddenly, he forced his eyes open, a thought jolting his brain into full awareness. He had fallen unconscious right after shadow travel! He had no clue where he was or how much danger he was in! He could literally be one second away from death! He pushed himself away from the warm thing behind him and rolled face first into a stream of icy cold water. Spluttering, he pushed himself up, but before he could even stand, his head banged into hard concrete.

There was a small chuckle. “You okay?”

One hand on the hilt of his sword, Nico glanced around. On either side of him, a long, low, round passage crept endlessly on into darkness. And opposite him were two people, a pale boy with long blonde hair who was sitting against the rounded wall, watching him, and a sleeping Latino in suspenders.

Nico concentrated, ignoring his headache, instead focusing on his demigod senses, trying to find the blonde's and the Latino's life forces. These weren’t normal mortals. They were magic. In his confusion, the thoughts whirled together. Magic, tunnels, endless . . . Nico felt his breathing quicken.

No. No. He thought he had destroyed this place when Daedalus died. How could he be back here?

“Hey, calm down, we aren’t gonna hurt you.” Blonde said. “Breathe, breathe, okay? Deep breaths.”

“What do you want from me?” Nico demanded, grip tightening on his sword’s hilt. Neither of the boys opposite him appeared to be armed, but that meant nothing in the demigod world. They could be monsters, or they could have been working for Kronos, or they could be monsters that had been working for Kronos.

“Um? To make sure you don’t die.” The blonde suggested nervously. “You fell outside the drain unconscious late last night and we could have saved your life."

“I’ve been unconscious for a day? Di immortals.” Nico cursed.

“Hey, could you maybe take your hand away from that sword.” The blonde asked carefully.

“So you can disarm me? No way.” Nico snapped. “I’m not an idiot.”

“We don’t want to hurt you! If we did, we could have done it while you were asleep.” The blonde pointed out.

Nico hesitated. That was true. He slowly moved his hand away from his sword hilt, palms towards the roof. They couldn’t be monsters, then. But still demigods working for Kronos. That was an unfortunate possibility. “Where am I?”

“In a drain?” The blonde offered.

“No, where am I- agh, what is this place- I mean-” Nico struggled to find a way to word his question that wouldn’t result in a dumb answer.

“You’re in Boston.” The blonde said, looking doubtful. “Did you hit your head when you fell?”

“No.” Nico snapped, frustrated that the blonde wasn’t taking this seriously. “Okay, here’s the deal, you be honest with me and I won’t cut off your head.”

The blonde kid paled. “Okay, wow, no need for drastic measures.”

“Who are you?” Nico asked.

“Magnus.” The blonde kid said. “And this is Leo. And you are . . .?”

“Alright, Magnus.” Nico said, scowling. “I’m giving you one more chance, where is this and what do you want from me?”

“This is Boston!” Magnus said, raising his hands, palms facing Nico. “All we wanted to do was save your life and not get decapitated for it.”

“Swear on the River Styx that is all you intended to do.” Nico insisted.

“I swear on the River Styx that’s all I intended to do?” Magnus repeated.

Nico felt his shoulders slump. “Okay.”

“So am I still getting decapitated?” Magnus asked.

“No.” Nico said. Then under his breath added, “Not yet, anyway.”

“Why isn’t he getting decapitated?” The Latino, Leo, yawned and blinked, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. He caught sight of Nico and flinched. “You’re awake.”

“Do you want me to get decapitated?” Magnus asked.

“Let me think . . .” Leo said, tapping his chin.

“Okay. Whatever.” Nico interrupted, not amused. “I have to ask a bit of a weird question.”

“You mean weirder than everything you’ve already said?” Magnus asked doubtfully.

“Who are you parents?” In sync, both of them winced. Nico sighed. Touchy subject. “I’m sorry, but this is very important. Do you know who you’re parents are?”

“I never knew my dad.” Leo said hesitantly, not meeting anyone’s eyes.

“M-me neither.” Magnus muttered. “I, uh, swear on the River Styx?”

“Don’t say that!” Nico tried to keep from yelling. Were these two asking for death? But if they didn’t know how serious an oath on the River Styx was, then they couldn’t know they were magic in any way. “Okay. Forget the parents question.”

Nico figured that they were both unclaimed demigods. After all, both missing one parent, who they never knew, and they were magical. Yeah, that was the only option. Ha, what luck, three demigods stuck in the sewerage of Boston. This was practically asking for a monster attack.

“What’s his name?” Leo asked Magnus.

“No idea.” Magnus shrugged. “He never told me.”

“I’m right here.” Nico said. “You can talk to me you know.”

“What’s your name?” Leo asked.

“Nico.” Nico said shortly. He turned to look out of the drain, and maybe leave, when a thought struck him. He couldn’t leave these two unclaimed demigods alone here. They would be found and killed for sure! He had to get them to Camp. But that meant shadow-travel.

“Okay, this has been, um, great.” Nico started. “But I have a favour to ask. We have to go. Now.”

“Hey!” Magnus said. “You’re probably still hurt from collapsing. We can’t go anywhere! And we’ve only just met you.”

Nico shook his head. “We need to get to Long Island.”

“How? Walk?” Leo asked sceptically.

Nico didn’t grace them with an answer. Instead, he turned and pulled himself out of the drain, hearing Magnus and Leo shuffling about behind him. He glanced back to see them about to pull themselves out after him, then stood to come face to face with no less than four grim-looking police officers.

Chapter Text

Leo heard Nico’s sharp intake of breath and saw the boy’s hand move to his sword a second before he saw the four police officers surrounding him. A sudden thought struck Leo. They didn’t know this kid. Nico mightn’t even be his real name. For all they – meaning Leo and Magnus – knew, Nico had broken the law and was a criminal. The kid had a sword, for crying out loud!

“Shh.” Leo hissed, sticking out his arm to stop Magnus from exiting the drain.

“What?” Magnus whispered.

“Wait.” Leo hissed in return. The two peered out cautiously.

“Nico di Angelo.” One of the police officers said, voice nothing more than a deep rumble. It was almost animalistic. The police officers were all at least six feet tall, with bulging muscles covered in tattoos. Their blue uniforms were faded and needed washing almost as badly as Leo’s own clothes. “We have found you at last.”

“Magnus, Leo. Don’t look.” Nico’s voice was so cold that it made Leo shiver.

“Huh?” Magnus asked.

Don’t look. Get back.” Nico said. “Stay in there until I tell you, but be ready to run if these ‘police officers’ come after y-”

One of the officers let out a monstrous roar and leap towards Nico. Magnus stumbled back, one hand grabbing onto Leo. Both of them toppled back into the drain and scrambled to the other side of the drain. Leo caught a glimpse of Nico with his sword drawn, swinging at a police officer before he remembered Nico’s warning and closed his eyes.

The words had sounded so dangerous, so powerful, that Leo didn’t dare disobey him, no matter how skinny and unintimidating he looked. Leo closed his eyes tight as he heard a huge thump, like a body landing heavily on the ground. A second later there was a hiss, then a sound like the ground cracking and an unearthly clattering, like bones being rattled.

More fighting, sounds like bones being rattled and shaken about then finally silence. A second later they heard a sound as if Nico was clicking, muttering under his breath in another language. Leo tried to think of what the kid could be doing. How would that help him win a fight?

Wait? There had been a fight? Between whom? And why was Nico involved?

Nico’s voice said. “Are you safe?”

Leo opened his eyes. Nico was kneeling next to the drain, peering down at them. The pale sunlight was behind him, illuminating his dark frame against the small gap of light. Leo nodded. Then he became aware that Magnus was pressed against him, hugging his side, and he blushed, pushing the blonde away.

“Y-yeah.” Leo’s breath caught in his throat.

“What was that all about?” Magnus asked, also scooting a little away from Leo.

"What was what all about?" Leo asked quietly, but it seemed that neither Magnus nor Nico heard him.

“Uh . . . it turns out Canadians can hold grudges?” Nico offered. Canadians? Had Nico been to Canada? And what on earth had he done to get into a fight? Leo leaned to the side to peer past Nico, but the other boy shifted, maybe by accident, to block Leo’s view. Despite that, Leo thought he caught a glimpse of dust and bones lying on the street.

“Canadians, eh?” He forced himself to joke. “What do they have to hold grudges a-boot? Did you steal a moose or something?”

Nico frowned, looking confused, but shrugged and slipped back down into the drain. “Nothing important. Are there any other exits to this drain?”

“Ask King Sewerage.” Leo said.

“Hey!” Magnus punched Leo’s shoulder lightly. “There should be one at the other end of the street. Why?”

“Lead us there, through the drain. We'll exit there.” Nico said.

“What happened with the police?” Magnus asked.

“What police?” Nico said vaguely, glancing behind him.

“What police?” Leo echoed. Nico said that he had fought with Canadians, not police. Wait, why did Nico get into a fight?

“The Canadian police that hold grudges.” Magnus said.

“Hurry up and show us the other way out.” Nico demanded, swinging his legs down and sliding into the drain.

“Alright-o then.” Magnus said, turning and peering to his left. “Should be this way.”

Leo followed behind Magnus and Nico bought up the rear.

“I love enclosed spaces.” He heard Nico mutter sarcastically.

Chapter Text

Magnus was relieved when the light at the other end of the tunnel grew bright again. The three of them had been walking in near complete darkness for the last probably-only-seconds-really, and Magnus did not like it. Aside from the obvious awfulness of walking through a damp drain pipe nearly bent over double, there was the feeling of being so hopelessly lost. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. The darkness stretched out in every direction, and something could loom out of the darkness and grab you at any second, drag you away and it felt like the darkness would smother your screams and you’d be lost forever.

So seeing the light being a relief again was an understatement.

Magnus glanced nervously back at Nico. “See, exit. Can we, um, go out?”

“I’ll go first.” Nico said, pushing past Leo and Magnus and heaving himself out of the drain again. There was a pause as Nico inspected their surroundings, then said, “Come on up.”

“After you?” Magnus offered Leo. Leo grinned and false curtsied on his way past, then pulled himself out of the drain. Magnus was about to pull himself up after Leo, when Leo pushed his hand into Magnus’ face.

“Excuse me?” Magnus asked, not thinking about how Leo’s hand practically radiated warmth.

“I’m giving you a hand up, duh. It’s called common courtesy.” Leo said as explanation.

“Oh. Thanks.” Magnus said, gratefully taking Leo’s hand. It was warm, like holding a flickering candle in Magnus’ hands. It reminded Magnus of campfires when he had been camping with his mother, of ‘smores and the smell of smoke. Part of his mind wondered if Leo smelt like smoke.

Okay that’s enough wondering, he decided a moment later. Once he was outside the drain, Leo dropped Magnus’ hand quickly.

Magnus shot the Latino a glance. In the dimness of the drain, he hadn’t been able to see Leo well. The kid had just looked scrawny and hungry. In the sunlight, Magnus could see lean muscle beneath Leo’s skin. The Latino’s hair was thick and curly and resembled little flickers of candlelight with the sun reflecting off it that way and again, for the second time that minute, Magnus wondered if it smelt like smoke.

He really had to stop wondering such distracting things.

Leo’s eyes were a warm brown and his skin was smooth and clear. He was shorter than Magnus had thought, too. Not as short as Nico, who was clearly younger and stood below Magnus’ shoulder level, but Magnus was a good half a head taller than Leo. Leo was staring at Nico with a puzzled expression and Nico was glaring suspiciously at someone across the street from them.

Magnus followed Nico’s gaze and saw someone dressed like they were in a black and white film, wearing a black leather jacket and black motorcycle pants. To top it off, he was pale with hair so blonde it was almost white. The only bit of colour he had was a ridiculously long red and white scarf, like a candy cane, wrapped around his neck.

“Who’s that?” Magnus asked.

“Not anyone I know.” Nico said. A moment later, the person turned and walked away. Nico hummed thoughtfully. “Thought you might know him, since he was staring at you. He looked shifty. I’d avoid him if I were you.”

“So what now?” Leo asked.

“Now we go to Long Island.” Nico said.

“No. You still need help!” Magnus said. “After being unconscious and a brawl with police-”

“Canadians.” Leo interjected. "Wait, fight?"

“-or Canadians or whatever you want to call them!” Magnus said.

Nico was staring at Magnus with a look of suspicion and confusion. He mumbled under his breath, "Why isn't it working?"

Magnus shook his head. “Whatever! You can’t just ‘go to Long Island’! Not to mention – completely different state? We’re staying right here.”

“We are?” Leo asked.

Magnus couldn't help it, his expression fell. He should have known. Leo would probably want to go somewhere, maybe a homeless shelter, and get something to eat. Magnus was honestly more than a little hungry himself.

“I mean. You don’t have to.” Magnus muttered. “I can’t expect you to stay, since we’ve only known each other a day, but-”

“We are!” Leo announced. “Staying here, I mean.”

Magnus sighed in relief. He had really not wanted to be with Nico alone. The younger boy was grumpy, sullen and unpleasant. He much preferred Leo’s good-natured jokes and easy going attitude. And warmth. And kindness. And that warm fuzzy feel Magnus got around Leo. And to find out if his hair smelled like smoke. Okay, time to stop, Magnus chided himself.

But he would have stayed with Nico. Any friend, even one that Magnus had only known for a night, was someone Magnus wanted to be loyal to. Although Nico didn’t exactly count as a friend. It was more than Magnus felt somehow responsible for the smaller boy. In the few hours that Magnus had known Nico, he had already fallen unconscious and gotten into some sort of police-involved brawl.

Nico was scowling, clearly displeased. He opened his mouth, hesitated, then sighed. “Don’t freak out.”

“Um, why? Because people usually say that before revealing something that totally should freak everyone out.” Leo asked. “Are you going to confess to something weird like eating people?”

That clearly did nothing to improve Nico’s mood, and only made him scowl more. But instead of answering, the smaller boy just reached over and took Leo’s and Magnus’ hands in his. Magnus flinched. In contrast to Leo’s warm hands, Nico’s hands were deathly cold.

“Wow, this is forwards. I never knew I was so popular.” Leo joked. Magnus blushed and nudged Leo with his shoulder.

Somehow Nico managed to scowl even more. “Long Island, here we come.”

“Um, what?” Magnus was quite sure that Long Island was quite a ways away from Boston and that standing in the street and holding hands was not getting them any closer. He glanced at Leo, who was wearing a similar expression of confusion. Magnus opened his mouth to express his confusion, but before he could get a word in, he felt Nico tug on his arm.

Magnus stumbled forwards, but Nico had only taken one step back, into the shadow cast by a building beside them. Then Magnus felt the tugging feeling again and he fell face first towards the pavement. He closed his eyes, bracing himself to hit it, but it never happened. He just kept falling. Beside him Leo was screaming.

Magnus opened his eyes, but aside from Leo, who was screaming in fear, and Nico who looked like he was in deep pain, he couldn’t see anything but darkness. Magnus felt fear and confusion fill him. Suddenly he felt warmth and saw light and a second later all three of them rammed head-first into a tree and tumbled backwards town a hill. Magnus lay panting in long grass that pricked at his back, feeling Leo pressed against his side. Nico was draped over their stomachs, body heaving.

“It failed. Why did it fail?” Was all the boy said, before going limp.

Chapter Text

Nico felt his mind slip away from his body, his eyes closed and his mind went dark. There was nothing he could do to stop the onslaught of dreams he knew would were coming. He could only cross his fingers and hope that it would stop soon.

It started like always, he was standing on a plain of dead grass, much like those of Asphodel, but devoid of the spirits that inhabited the Underworld. The sky above was dark, the greying grass spread out in all directions. And directly in front of Nico were two people.

He knew who they were. Well, who they were disgusting, twisted copies of.

One was taller, with sea-tossed black hair and ocean green eyes that gleamed in the darkness. His glowing sword was in his hands, illuminating an ugly sneer on his face. The second stood with her arms crossed over her silver parker. Her long hair was done in a braid that hung over one shoulder, framing her olive skin, brown eyes and freckled nose. They were both glaring at him with matching expressions of hatred and distrust.

Nico knew who they were meant to be, but he refused to label them as such. The real life counterparts would never, surely they would never, look at him with such pure hatred. Surely not even Nico deserved that.

"Your fault."  The girl hissed. "It's your fault I died."

Nico was unable to move, unable to cover his ears or turn away from the spiteful words.

"You should have saved me, Nico."

"Don't you care about your own sister?"  The boy chipped in.

"You aren't my sister." Nico hissed.

"Oh, but I am, Nico."  The lookalike of Bianca insisted.

"Pathetic."  The boy scoffed. "You kill everything you touch. Why do you even wonder why they kicked you out of camp?"

"They didn't." Nico insisted, but he couldn't force his voice to be any louder. "They didn't. It was my choice to leave."

"Maybe the one good choice you've ever made."  Not-Bianca said.

The one that looked like Percy chuckled.

"Stop." Nico hissed. "Stop."

"This won't ever stop Nico."  Not-Bianca said. "You know why? Because deep down you know it's all your fault. You'll keep reminding yourself of that till you die."

"NO! ENOUGH!" Nico finally forced himself to move, wrapping his arms around his head and doubling over, blocking out the words as they pressed into his ears, become screams, becoming inhumane screeching, then finally became static.

He straightened up again, expecting the dream to end, now that he'd 'beaten' it. That was how the 'game' his own mind played with him worked.

But instead of fading to white, everything remained static, black and white waved blurring his vision. Then it faded to black.

Nico blinked and rubbed his eyes and when he opened them again it wasn't black anymore. It wasn't the Asphodel-like field that usually plagued his sleep. In fact, it looked like a public bathroom. He glanced over his shoulder to find open, empty stalls, divided by speckled, off-white walls. The greying tile floor gleamed yellow in the flickering lights. To Nico's left was a door with a barred door gaping open, a broken chain hanging over one of the bars. Outside the door was a park bathed in moonlight. It was clear that this bathroom had been broken into. There was the sound of taps squeaking and water running, high pitched and irritating in Nico's ears.

Nico turned around in a slow circle again, then came to a stop as he saw two people leaning over a sink. Nico could have sworn they weren't there before. Had they teleported in? Or perhaps they had been using Mist to disguise themselves.

Nico recognised one of them as the guy who looked as though he were in a black and white film. Next to him, so close that they were almost touching, was another man, this one with a weathered expression on what Nico could see of his face, as well as a crooked nose, dark skin that shone in the bathroom's lights and wiry black hair imbedded with leaves and sticks. And jeez, Nico had thought that he had no respect for his hair. The man was wearing a long trench coat that covered his other clothing.

They were both leaning over a sink, staring at it like it was the most fascinating thing in the world. As Nico watched, black-and-white-film guy reached forwards and twisted off the taps.

Without a word, the guy with the trench coat bent over and unzipped a bowling bag at his feet that Nico hadn't previously noticed. He reached in and pulled something out. It looked like he was holding hair, Nico frowned, then a moment later brought his hand to his mouth to stop himself from screaming.

Trench-Coat was holding the most hideous, ugly decapitated head. It was shrivelled and wrinkled with tufts of rust-coloured hair, sunken eyes that were thankfully closed and a bearded jaw jutting out like a bulldog's, displaying crooked yellow teeth. And despite it clearly being a decapitated head, Nico couldn't sense any death from it. In fact, it emitted a glow almost akin to that of the gods. But somehow obviously different.

Nico was right to think that Film-Guy wasn't mortal. And now Nico knew he had a friend. Trench-Coat carefully lowered the decapitated head into the sink. Water spilled over the sides and, despite his misgivings, Nico crept closer to watch over the two men's shoulders. And as Nico watched, the head inflated, wrinkles softening, skin turning from grey to pink.

Both the men gave short bows from the waste as the head began spewing water from his mouth and nose. His eyes opened and turned from a cloudy white, eerily similar to May Castellan's, to blue. The sense of godly power increased, but it was different, more rugged and not as ancient as the Greek gods Nico was familiar with.

"Where are w-" The head was cut off, coughing and spluttering, than continued, "Where are we? Is this a- a public bathroom?"

Film-Guy waved his hands and, after a moment, Nico realised it was sign language.

"You know what? Never mind, never mind." The head rolled his blue eyes. "Did you find the boy?"

"Well yes." Trench-Coat said. "And no."

"What?" The head demanded.

"Hearth saw him, Capo." Trench-Coat said, gesturing towards Film-Guy, whose name, Nico deduced, must be Hearth. "But he was with two other kids. Not normal, those kids, either."

"Yet not like the boy." The head, Capo Nico supposed, said.

They had to be talking about when Hearth had seen Nico, Leo and Magnus earlier today. These three were deeply imbedded in the demigod world and they were searching for either Nico, Leo or Magnus. One of them in particular. But which one? Nico's mind immediately jumped to himself.

He was the only one who knew about the 'magic' of being a demigod. He was the son of Hades, one of the Big Three. It would always be him that was being hunted down to be killed or something equally as fun.

But then Nico remembered how Hearth had stared at Magnus. And how Magnus was strangely resistant to the Mist. Was it Magnus they were looking for?

As Nico stared at the head, something deep in his memory itched. He recognised this, from somewhere. There was something - a god, a giant, a monster, someone from mythology - that had been just a head. Nico remembered it from Mythomagic, he knew he did. But he couldn't figure it out. Nico could swear it wasn't from Greek mythology.

"What do you mean? Are they already einherjar?" Trench-Coat asked Capo. Hearth signed something, expression contemplative.

Nico thought he recognised the language that foreign word was in. He could swear it's meaning was on the tip of his tongue. But which expansion pack had he recognised it from?

The head shook slightly, water bubbling out of his eyes like tears. "No. Exactly what they are isn't clear."

"Are they . . ." Trench-Coat trailed off with a sharp breath. ". . . Of course."

Nico leaned further forwards, wanting to know exactly what the three were talking about. Suddenly the head burst into wild cackling, water streaming out of its mouth, nose, eyes, even its ears. Nico recoiled in disgust as a choking sound came from its mouth. Then he realised it was laughter.

"Oh, he's a sly one! I already liked you - good customer, over five decades! And now here you are!" Capo crowed, staring directly at Nico. "But I'm afraid, little demigod, that it is not yet time for all your questions to be answered."

Trench-Coat and Hearth turned, but evidently saw nothing, only furthering Nico's suspicions that this head was on god-level when it came to power. Nico stumbled backwards, willing himself out of the dream. Finally, everything turned to white.

Chapter Text

"I- um- okay, what- I mean, well-" Leo gave up trying to find a way to voice his shock. He couldn't even think of a way to laugh at the entire situation beyond the type of incredulous laughter that bubbles up inside of you when something so mind-blowing that it makes you feel lucky to even be alive happens type of laughter.

"Nico?" Magnus' voice cracked with surprise. The kid was lying across their legs, unconscious. And Leo was pressed against Magnus' side. He didn't know why, but he left a blush spreading across his cheeks  and he looked the other way to avoid Magnus seeing.

"And great, he's unconscious again." Magnus mumbled.

"That's what you're worried about?" Leo asked, shaking his head. "Not the fact that we were in Boston. And now we're . . . not. How on earth did that happen?"

Magnus hummed in agreed confusion and sat up. Leo followed suit and looked around. They were laying on a hill covered in long, green grass. It would have made for a soft landing, but tree roots poked out of the soil, seemingly coming from a giant pine tree on the top of the hill. Down at the bottom of the hill was a road, but it was deserted of all cars. There wasn't even a gas station in sight. Unlike Boston, it wasn't raining, or even overcast. The sky was clear, save for the occasional fluffy cloud.

Nico was laying across their legs, definitely unconscious. His face was twisted into a frown but he was completely still.

"Okay, let's roll him off our legs." Magnus decided. "Three, two, one."

The two rolled Nico over until he lay on the ground. The boy twitched, but didn't seem to be about to wake up. Leo put a hand on Magnus' arm to get his attention. "So, um. A few questions. How? And, uh, how?"

Magnus gave a shaky laugh. "I have no clue."

"You don't have any food, do you?" Leo asked, gritting his teeth.

"I have a bottle of water." Magnus offered, shrugging off his backpack.

"It won't last." Leo sighed.

"I'm going to have a look around. There has to be something edible around here." Magnus said.

"Do you have any training in bush survival? Or are you and Nico secretly trying to kill me?"

"Actually, my m- I went camping all the time as a kid." Magnus glanced around quickly. "So, yeah, I think I can tell poisonous from not-poisonous."

"That's really cool." Leo grinned. He glanced at Magnus, who smiled back. Leo realised that his hand was still on Magnus' arm and he quickly pulled away.

"Right, I'll, yeah, I'll go." Magnus cleared his throat, then stood up and dusted off his pants. He wandered up the hill, towards the giant pine tree. Leo watched him go. Magnus looked happier somehow, now that he was out of the city. His blonde hair shone in the sunlight, he stood taller, straighter. Leo smiled to himself.

Magnus glanced back and Leo felt his cheeks heat up. Had Magnus felt Leo's eyes on him? But Magnus just continued to walk up the hill. Leo glanced back down at Nico, who was still fast asleep. His hand was twitching towards his sword again, and he was mumbling something that sounded like 'stop' under his breath.

Cautious not to touch the blade of the black sword, Leo pulled it out from its hilt and put it out of reach of Nico. He didn't want the boy rolling over and hurting himself on the sword. Magnus wouldn't want that either, Leo supposed. Leo leaned back, supporting his body with his forearms and gazing down the hill, across the road and at the rolling countryside beyond.

Despite having no clue where he was or what was going on, Leo found that he didn't mind too much. With the warm sun, the fresh air and the lack of a sewerage tunnel, Leo felt like he'd been transported into some kind of fantasy world of endless greenery and countryside and monsters and castles. And he thought that, as long as Magnus was along for the ride too, he didn't mind too much.

Chapter Text

Magnus made his way up to the giant pine tree on the hilltop, staring up between the tall branches. It stretched up towards the sky, branches grasping at rays of sunlight. Magnus closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. The air smelt of pine, fresh air and something slightly sweeter that Magnus couldn't identify.

He opened his eyes again, glancing back at Leo quickly. The Latino was picking at the grass, although his eyes were gazing off over the deserted road and rolling fields beyond. Beside him, Nico lay curled on the ground, a small patch of darkness amongst the yellows and greens of the countryside.

Magnus realised that he felt lighter, happier, than he had in days. He turned back to the tree, gazing beyond it. The hill sloped down into a large meadow. Magnus could see the ocean beyond the grass, soft waves crashing against pale sand. A stretch of forest meandered into the distance to the right of the meadow.

Magnus blinked, and the air seemed to shimmer. He rubbed his eyes and when his hands dropped from his face he gasped, stumbling backwards. Where there had been nothing but grass before, there were now buildings. A large, baby blue farm house was nestled against fields of berries. There was a volleyball court and a cluster of small, cabin-like buildings.

He could see the far-off shapes of people everywhere. There were dozens of people strolling through the fields of berries and the soft sounds of music met Magnus' ears. Watching them, pacing around the edge of the field, was a man on a white horse. At least, it had to be a man on a horse, because there was no way that the man was the horse.

Magnus rubbed his eyes again. Above him in the pine tree, a bird made a high pitched whistling sound. Magnus glanced up, peering through the branches and catching sight of brown and white feathers. Dark eyes peered down at him and Magnus realised it was a bald eagle.

A smile broke out across his face. He glanced down at the farm again, but it wasn't there. There was nothing except for the grass meadow and the forest to the right. He frowned, taking a step forwards.

The eagle made a sound that was almost . . . strict and Magnus found himself unable to take another step forwards. Against his will, he found himself turning and walking back down the hill. He was about halfway back to Leo and Nico when he found himself able to control his body again.

He turned and peered back up at the top of the hill. The eagle had taken flight and was soaring in a circle above him, still watching strictly. Magnus rolled his eyes, stuck his tongue out at the bird and marched back to Leo.

"Hey Maggie." Leo greeted, turning and waving, smile dazzlingly bright in the sunlight.

"Don't call me that." Magnus protested, flopping down beside Leo.

"I made a flower crown." Leo said, undeterred. "For you."

Magnus felt his cheeks heat up as Leo reached over and placed a ring of flowers on his head.

"I, um, because, y'know, you're like the sewerage king." Leo said quickly, looking away.

Magnus laughed breathlessly. "Thanks."

"No problem."

The two were quiet for what felt like an eternity to Magnus.

"Did you find anything?" Leo asked finally, voice breaking uncomfortably over the words.

"Yeah." Magnus said, suddenly reminded of the disappearing farm. "I went up to the pine tree and I saw this berry farm on the other side. But I blinked and when I looked back it was gone."

"Are you sure Nico's the one who hit his head?" Leo asked, nudging Magnus.

"Ouch." Magnus huffed. "It's forbidden to treat your king in such a manner."

Leo laughed, head tilted back and eyes squinted shut. The sound was warm, like firelight and Magnus wondered if Leo smelt like smoke and would it be weird if he asked Leo that? Probably. But with everything that had happened was it still so weird? Yes. Definitely.

Leo would look at him like he was a looser and then he'd regret ever meeting Magnus and then that would be extremely awkward seeing as they were stuck in the middle of nowhere together.

"You okay, man?" Leo asked.

Magnus realised that he'd been staring at Leo and quickly turned to look at the road. "Yep. Just fine. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with a really cute stranger. But fine."

Wait. Did he say that out loud? Oh no, oh no, oh no.

Magnus looked back at Leo, but Leo was staring at his feet, one hand tapping an anxious beat against his thigh.

"Um, I didn't mean that." Magnus said quickly. "Ack, I mean, not that you aren't, um, good looking, but-"

"I get it." Leo said. Then turned and gave a smile that looked a little forced. "We can't all be as dashingly handsome as you, that would just be unfair."

"Yeah, exactl- wait what?" Magnus asked.

Leo laughed nervously. "Um, plan B, pretend this didn't happen?"

"Sounds good." Magnus said.

The two of them turned away from each other, staring determinedly out at the road.

"But, like, if you weren't so scrawny, then you wouldn't look half bad." Leo said. "Um, no homo, though."

Without looking at Leo, Magnus said. "No homo."

Magnus didn't know exactly who that lie was fooling.

Chapter Text

“NICO!”

Nico sat up so fast he head-butted Magnus. Hard. Magnus reeled back, running a hand through his blonde hair, careful not to disturb a flower crown that was, for some stupid reason, sitting lopsidedly on his head. Head pounding, Nico scrambled to his feet and reached for his sword, only to find it wasn’t there.

“Where’s the danger?” He asked, looking around wildly.

He couldn’t see properly, the sunlight was too bright, his eyes hurt. His head hurt. His mouth was dry and bitter tasting. The image from his dream, of the two men and the head in a public bathroom, was still swimming through his head.

“Nico-”

“Where’s the monster? Are you hurt?” Nico repeated, urgently.

“There’s no m-”

“WHERE IS IT?” Nico yelled. “WHAT TRIED TO HURT YOU?”

“Nico!” Leo yelled. “There isn’t a monster!”

“Then why did you wake me up?” Nico yelled back, not wanting to admit how relieved he was.

“You were having a nightmare.” Magnus said. “You looked like you were in a lot of pain.”

“I wasn’t having a nightmare.” Nico lied.

“You were yelling and crying.” Magnus said, looking upset. “You kept yelling out the same names. Percy and Bianca. Then you went all still and rigid.”

Oh. That dream. That had happened too, hadn't it? Nico was not talking about that though. Not with Leo or Magnus. Not with anyone ever. “I was not having a nightmare. Where’s my sword?”

Leo pointed to the grass a few metres away from where the three boys sat. “We thought you’d hurt yourself with it so we took it off you.”

Magnus side-stepped to stand between Nico and his sword.

“You idiot!” Nico yelled again, still not exactly calm. “If you had been in actual danger, we would have needed that! And you could hurt yourself! That thing kills mortals if they touch its blade!”

“You . . . have killed with that sword.” Magnus said slowly.

Well what did he think Nico had a sword for? Cutting bread? But Nico couldn’t exactly tell Magnus that.

“Ye-no-I- it’s complicated.” Nico snapped. His head was hurting more than ever. The weird dream was circling his head like vultures over a dying animal, swooping in to attack him whenever he looked at the other demigods. Which one of them were the two homeless guys and the talking head looking for? “Just give it to me!”

“Are you going to hurt anyone with it?” Magnus asked.

Nico was apparently quiet for too long, because Magnus made no movement.

“Look, Magnus, there are things you just don’t understand right now. I’ll explain soon, I promise. But for now you need to give me the sword.” Nico crossed his fingers behind his back. “I swear I won’t hurt anyone with it.”

Magnus nodded slowly and Nico pushed past him and picked up his sword. He sheathed it in his belt and then said, “How long was I out for?”

“The better part of an afternoon and all of last night.” Leo said. "You missed a totally awesome sunset dude."

“And you didn’t get any help?” Nico demanded.

“We’re in the middle of nowhere.” Leo said. “Where are we meant to get help?”

“Camp is just up-” Nico glanced up at Thalia’s tree, cutting himself off. Did he really want to stumble into Camp with two homeless, unclaimed demigods, both of whom looked to be more than thirteen? Not really. After all, what would people say? What would people think? And there must have been a reason that they weren’t let in in the first place. “Never mind. There’s a gas station down the road a few hundred metres.”

Leo and Magnus looked doubtful. Magnus glanced up at the tree as well, expression drawn. He opened his mouth to say something, but before he could, Leo saved the day by asking, “How do you know that?”

“What other choice do we have?” Nico demanded.

Neither answered, although Magnus still looked uncertain, so Nico turned on his heel, marched to the side of the road and started off down the side of it. He heard Leo and Magnus’ footsteps and knew the two unclaimed demigods were following him.

Why hadn’t the magic boundary let them in? He was sure Leo and Magnus were demigods. Or were they? Leo certainly was, he was unnaturally warm, and he was ADHD, Nico had noticed, always tapping on things and fiddling and so forth. He was probably a child of Hermes, Nico figured.

But Magnus? He radiated magic, but an odd, soft sort of magic. Was it possible that Magnus was something other than a demigod? Perhaps a nature spirit of some kind, or even a minor god in disguise. But that wouldn’t explain why they couldn’t get into Camp’s boundaries.

And what about the weird men from his dream? Where did they fit in to all of this?

Well if this was some kind of test the gods were putting him through, he was definitely failing. He wouldn’t be surprised if he was turned to a spot of grease on the road as he walked for being so disrespectful. Combined with Nico’s headaches and nightmare, figuring out parts of Leo and Magnus that the two most likely didn’t know about themselves made Nico’s head feel like it was splitting in two.

All this meant that Nico was stuck with Leo and Magnus for the next little while, and that didn’t improve Nico’s mood either. And it also meant that one of them would probably die at the hands of a guy in a trench coat, someone who looked like they belonged in a black and white film and a talking head. Wait, decapitated talking heads didn't have hands. No matter, they would probably still all die. Which sucked.

Nico didn’t know how much more death he could handle.

Nico squared his shoulders and walked faster. The sooner they got to the service station, the sooner he could get something to stop this headache. And maybe some cheap coffee to make him feel like he wasn’t going to fall asleep standing up.

Chapter Text

Leo’s stomach rumbled again. He hadn’t eaten anything except a granola bar in the last three days. Magnus had a bottle full of water that the two had emptied pretty quickly. Now? Leo’s stomach was like a black hole wanting to suck in everything it could.

How was Nico walking so fast? Sure the kid had slept for nearly a day, but he hadn’t eaten for at least two. Yet Nico was powering ahead, forcing Leo and Magnus to constantly pick up their pace to stay with him.

“So . . .” Leo panted. “You’re weird.”

“Me?” Magnus asked. Leo shook his head and pointed at Nico’s back.

“I know.” Nico said grouchily.

“Wanna tell us why?” Leo asked.

“Shut up.” Nico said.

“Who’s Bianca and Percy?” Magnus asked quietly.

“No one.” Nico snapped. Leo felt unfamiliarly cold at Nico’s tone. Clearly that was a very touchy subject.

“Sorry. I understand if you don’t want to talk about it.” Magnus said. “I just thought-”

“Well, you thought wrong.” Nico snapped, slowing down a little. Leo sighed with relief, he and Magnus slowed down too.

“Question.” Leo said.

“Yeah?” Magnus asked.

“So, um, I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but I haven’t come up with any answers.” Leo said.

“Yeah?”

“IS NO ONE ELSE CONCERNED WE WERE IN BOSTON AND NOW WE’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE?” Leo yelled. He and Magnus hadn't really discussed it, it was too weird, too . . . unbelievable. It wasn't like Leo thought that, if they ignored it, everything would go back to normal, but . . . he sort of did.

“We’ll get back to Boston soon.” Nico said. “Once I get my energy back. Then I promise you won’t even remember meeting me.”

“You’re leaving?” Magnus asked, seeming surprisingly upset. “Why?”

“I never wanted to be with you two in the first place. I was planning on leaving you at Camp and letting Annabeth or someone show you around, but that backfired.” Nico said, running off on a tangent. Beside Leo, Magnus stiffened, but if Nico realised he didn’t seem to care. “For some reason, you can’t get into Camp and so now I have to-”

“Did you just say . . . Annabeth?” Magnus said.

Nico stopped and spun around. Leo nearly bumped into him, slamming his heels into the ground to stop himself from crashing into the smaller boy.

Magnus looked uncomfortable. “Um, yes?”

“What in Hades?” Nico murmured. “What’s your last name?”

“Chase?” Magnus said, but it was more like a question.

“Of course.” Nico slapped his forehead. “Oh this is great!”

“What’s wrong?” Magnus asked.

“Nothing!” Nico said quickly. “Let’s keep going.”

Magnus and Leo exchanged a glance, but there was nothing they could do, so they trekked after Nico.

“So, what a coincidence we both don’t know our fathers, right, Magnus?” Leo asked, fishing for a conversation starter, then instantly regretting saying it.

“Yeah.” Magnus was quiet. He rung his hands repetitively.

“Did something bad happen with your parents?” Leo asked quietly. He mock-casually brushed his hand past Magnus’. Almost instinctively, it seemed to Leo, Magnus grabbed Leo’s hand for support.

Magnus took a deep breath. “I- I lost my home because my mother . . . there was a fire and . . .”

And suddenly, Leo was tumbling back through his own memories. The workshop, the lady, his anger. His hands catching on fire and the fire spreading and spreading and burning and burning and burning everything.

“Leo?” Magnus asked, squeezing his hand. “Is everything okay?”

“Y-yeah.” Leo tried to smile, but he was sure it looked weak and false. “Everything’s great.”

“Do you need to talk?” Magnus asked. Leo realised he was still holding Magnus’ hand, and dropped it quickly, not meeting Magnus’ eyes. Magnus would think he was weird for holding his hand. Leo hoped that Magnus hadn’t noticed.

“No.” Leo shook his head. “What’s your favourite animal?”

It was a sad excuse for a change of topic. A bad distraction. But Leo couldn’t face talking about that right now.

“Huh?” Magnus asked, clearly thrown off by Leo’s sudden change of topic.

“Personally, I’ve always like dragons.” Leo said.

“Dragons aren’t even real!” Magnus protested.

“Of course they are.” Leo said, grinning. “What else are you going to fight to defend your sewerage kingdom from?”

“Shut up.” Magnus grumbled, punching Leo’s shoulder lightly.

“So what’s your favourite animal?” Leo asked.

“Hmm . . .” Magnus hesitated. “I like horses.”

In front of them, Nico’s shoulders sagged. Magnus glanced at Leo, then asked, “What about you, Nico? What’s your favourite animal?”

“I don’t have one.” Nico said solemnly.

“Come on, there has to be some animal you like!” Leo said. “Cats? Birds? . . . Elephants? Oh, I know! Pangolins!”

"What?" Magnus asked.

"What about aye-ayes?" Leo continued. "Or . . . or axolotls?"

"Okay, I actually recognise that one." Magnus said.

"Tufted deer!" Leo snapped his fingers. "They're like normal deers, but with, like, fangs."

"That's pretty cool." Magnus said.

"So?" Leo asked the back of Nico's head.  "Did I guess correctly?"

"Ten bucks he didn't." Magnus added.

“Animals don’t really like me.” Nico said. “I think they can smell the- uh . . . um, but there’s a hel- dog. A dog. That a . . . friend of mine owns. She’s, um, pretty neat I guess.”

“You sure about that?” Leo asked, because Nico really didn’t seem to be confident in what he was saying.

“Yes. Please stop asking.” Nico said.

“What’s the dog’s name?” Magnus asked.

“Mrs O’Leary.” Nico said, not turning around.

What?” Leo couldn’t help it. He burst out laughing. He was expecting something like ‘Spot’ or ‘Rover’. Or maybe, since this was a friend of Nico’s, something like ‘Doom’ or ‘Fang’. Not Mrs O’Leary. That was just ridiculous.

Nico shot a glare over his shoulder. “Do you have a problem with that?”

“It’s just an odd name, calm down dude!” Leo said.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t name her.” Nico said.

“Your friend must be terrible at naming things.” Leo said.

“He inherited her of an old man who died.” Nico said. “My friend didn’t name her.”

“That’s sweet of your friend.” Magnus said. “He must really care about Mrs O’Leary.”

“Yeah.” Nico said bitterly. “He does.”

The three fell into an awkward silence again. Nico started walking faster, and Magnus and Leo lagged behind.

Leo stared at the back of Nico’s head, wondering who the boy was. Was he the reason such weird things had been happening? The ordeal with the Canadian police – Magnus had retold Leo the story because he couldn’t remember it for some reason, had Nico been the only one to hit his head? – and Nico’s fight with them, then Nico making the three of them disappear out of the middle of Boston. And how Nico had a sword. And how Nico went on about weird things like a Camp of some kind. But Leo couldn’t imagine Nico going to a summer camp.

There were so many weird puzzle pieces that just didn’t fit together, no matter how Leo tried to figure it out.

“Did you ever have any pets?” Magnus asked.

“Huh?” It was Leo’s turn to be so lost in thought he’d forgotten what they were talking about.

“Did you ever have any pets?” Magnus repeated. “I just figured, since you were talking about animals before, maybe you’d had a pet?”

“Um, yeah. But no.” Leo said. “I’ve never had my own pet. There was a foster family I stayed with who had a couple of dogs. And one who had a pet snake. But I’ve never had my own pet.”

“Me neither.” Magnus said. “I always wanted a horse, but my mum and I lived in an apartment. And we didn’t have enough money to buy one anyway.”

Leo couldn’t say he’d ever wanted a pet. Other living things were always a little hard to understand. Especially humans. Take Nico for example. Although Leo thought there was a high chance he wasn’t a human. Maybe an alien, with all the weird stuff that had been happening. He imagined Nico’s grumpy face with green skin and antennae and Leo couldn’t help but burst out laughing.

Magnus stopped and stared at him strangely. Nico had stopped as well, and was looking at him in confusion. That just made Leo laugh harder as he pictured Nico in a spacesuit as well. Maybe it was the lack of food and water, and how weird the entire situation was, but Magnus started laughing too, although he had no reason to.

Nico just kept staring at them like they were the aliens. Finally, they calmed down. Leo was doubled over, supporting himself on his knees, and Magnus was holding Leo’s arm to steady himself.

Nico gave Leo a strange look and said, “Okay. I’m not even going to ask about whatever you two are laughing over. But hurry up, the gas station is right up there.”

Leo looked up and saw Nico was right. Only thirty or so metres away was said gas station, devoid of any cars, plastic gleaming in the bright sunlight.

“But we don’t have any money.” Leo realised.

“Leave it to me.” Nico said, smiling a devious smile that Leo had seen on himself many times. Leo wondered what the boy was planning.

Chapter Text

Magnus stared in silent confusion at Nico, who tossed Magnus his backpack back. It clanked heavily, and Magnus gasped and dropped it as the sudden, unexpected weight hit him in the chest. He knelt and opened it, finding it quite literally full of coins.

“What- how?” Magnus stuttered. Nico had taken his backpack and walked a little ways off the side of the road, instructing Leo and Magnus not to follow him. Leo had wanted to, but Magnus had made him stay put. A few minutes later Nico had returned with Magnus’ backpack full of currency and zero explanations.

“Don’t question a free gift.” Nico said. “Anyway, now we can go and buy some food, right?”

Magnus nodded, a little apprehensively, closing his backpack and slinging it over his shoulder. He wasn’t used to being so hungry all the time. He’d only been 'homeless' for three weeks, and while he had always been skinny, he had also always had three meals a day.

But now any food, even the junk sold at gas stations, sounded good to him at that moment.

The three boys trekked the remaining distance in silence. The automatic door opened with a soft buzz and a rush of cool, clean air swept over Magnus. He rushed inside, closely followed by Leo and Nico. Leo went straight for the candy isle, but Magnus first inspected the packs of crackers and sugary cereals. Nico was reading the label of a drink that looked both highly caffeinated and highly disgusting.

Magnus finally settled on a couple of packs of nut bars and a bag of chips and walked back to Nico’s side. Nico had returned the drink to the shelf and was now examining a bottle of water, clearly in deep thought.

“Uh, Nico?” Magnus tapped the younger boy’s shoulder. Nico literally jumped, staring around wildly.

“Oh, uh. Magnus.” Nico muttered. “Sorry, I was distracted.”

“With what?” Magnus asked.

“Nothing important.” Nico said. “What do you want?”

“Are you ready to pay?” Magnus asked.

“Uh, yeah. Sure.” Nico nodded. He tossed the bottle of water to Magnus and grabbed two more.

“Leo?” Magnus called.

“Wait!” Leo said. “You guys pay, I just need to. . .”

Leo didn’t finish, trailing off as he got distracted by something. Magnus and Nico walked to the counter, dumping their items on the counter, or Magnus did. Nico hadn’t taken anything but the bottles of water, a packet of painkiller and a flashlight. Magnus turned his attention to the register. The boy behind the counter was tall and thin, with pale skin, curly brown hair and freckles. He looked to be about 17, Magnus thought. His name tag read ‘TRAVIS STOLL’.

“Hey, Nico.” Travis Stoll greeted, with what Magnus thought was a hint of surprise in his voice. “What are you doing here with two mortals?”

Nico glared at him and Travis shut his mouth.

Magnus wanted to ask what Travis meant, but Magnus definitely did not like the way Nico was glaring at Travis, so instead he started counting out the right amount of coins to pay for his chips and crackers.

Nico grabbed a handful of coins and added them to Magnus' pile, leaning in to whisper to Travis. “Keep as much change as you want, just don’t tell Camp – no Chiron, no Percy, no Annabeth, no one. Or I swear on the River Styx I will make sure your afterlife is incredibly painful.”

“My lips are sealed.” Travis mimed locking his lips and throwing away the key.

“Good.” Nico snapped, grabbing his water and painkiller. “I’m waiting outside.”

Magnus pushed the rest of the food into his backpack as Nico stormed off. “So . . . you know Nico?”

Travis nodded. “Yeah.”

“He’s taking us back to Boston.” Magnus prompted.

“Oh, man, he really messed up, didn’t he?” Travis shook his head. “Good luck, buddy.”

Magnus zipped his bag closed and slung it over his shoulder. “Well . . . bye.”

He turned and found Leo behind him, arms full of various packets of lollies. Magnus snorted and shrugged off his backpack, fished out the packet of chips and then handed it to Leo. “There’s more coins in there. I’m going to go talk to Nico.”

Outside, Nico awas sitting in the shade of the cover of gas station, sipping from his bottle of water. Magnus walked over and plopped down next to him, opening a packet of chips. He wanted nothing more than to eat them himself, bag and all, but surely Nico hadn’t eaten in even longer. Magnus held out the bag, but Nico waved him off.

“Aren’t you hungry?” Magnus asked.

“I’ve had worse.” Nico said. “You eat it. I don’t want to waste your food.”

“Dude, you were the one who’s paying for this. If anything, I owe you.” Magnus said.

“Yeah, well.” Nico shrugged.

“So . . . you have a friend?” Magnus asked, recalling Nico talking about Mrs O’Leary, his friend’s dog.

“And you don’t?” Nico shot back.

“No. Not really.” Magnus shrugged. “They think I’m dead now I guess.”

Nico nodded solemnly, as if that made perfect sense.

“Anyway, how did we get here?” Magnus asked, trying to sound casual. He had tried to avoid thinking about it because, naturally, it made his head hurt and he felt sick just thinking about how he’d travelled so far in such a short amount of time.

“The less you know, the better. Trust me on that.” Nico said shortly.

They were silent for a few moments. Magnus fished around for something else to say. Something safe and normal.

“So . . . you asked about my family. If I tell you, it’s only fair you tell me in return.” Magnus finally said. Nico paled a bit, but Magnus ignored it. He had to admit, he was curious. Nico had thrown his life into chaos the moment he dropped unconscious in front of the sewer Magnus and Leo had been sheltered in.

“I never met my dad. My mum and I . . . never really talked about it much. It was just normal like that.” Magnus listed. “We went hiking and backpacking a lot. We didn’t see much of our family because mum and her brothers didn’t get along well. A few weeks back . . .”

Nico was looking at Magnus with an odd mix of pity and confusion. The pale boy tilted his head and said, “I’m sorry for your loss. I know how it feels to- to lose a loved one.”

“So what about your family?” Magnus forced his thoughts away from his mother.

“I was born in Venice, Italy.” Nico said eventually. “When I was . . . younger, we moved to America to . . . to get a better life. We stayed in a hotel for a while. Eventually a lawyer took us out and we went to a boarding school. Then . . . that’s when it gets really complicated.”

“Who’s ‘we’?” Magnus asked.

“Me and my sister.” Nico said.

“You’re close?” Magnus guessed.

“We were.” Nico nodded. “She’s dead.”

“I’m sorry.” Magnus said.

“It wasn’t anyone’s fault.” Nico said, looking away. “How did you and Leo meet?”

“It was seconds before we met you.” Magnus said. “He was in that drain and I was returning from looking for something to eat when it started raining. We made some small talk then you fell down.”

“Really?” Nico sounded surprised. “You two seem . . . close.”

“Oh. Um . . .” Magnus felt his cheeks heat up, though he knew that was ridiculous. He hardly even knew Leo at all.

Magnus knew that Leo had run away from a foster home, and that he was funny and his hands were warm and he made killer flower chains. And that his hair smelled like smoke - probably. Wow, Magnus needed to stop thinking about that.

“Hey guys!”

Magnus felt relief course through him at the sound of Leo’s voice. Talking to Nico was interesting, but it was also intense and scary in a strange way that Magnus hadn’t really realised until Leo had appeared. Talking to Leo was much easier and much more pleasant.

Leo crossed the empty car park and plopped down next to Magnus, dumping the backpack between the two and pulling out a bar of chocolate. Magnus noticed Nico watching him and Leo carefully.

“Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat?” Magnus asked again.

“I’m sure.” Nico nodded. “We should find somewhere to spend the night.”

“Is there anywhere to go?” Leo asked. “In the middle of nowhere?”

“We could try hitchhiking.” Magnus suggested.

“I’ve always wanted to try hitchhiking!” Leo exclaimed. “Or just driving. Just you and your car and the wide open road. No worries whatsoever.”

“Nope. Too risky.” Nico said. “Knowing my luck we’ll probably be murdered.”

Leo laughed, but Nico didn't look like he'd been joking.

“We could try camping.” Magnus suggested.

“Camping?” Nico asked.

“You know, with a tent.” Magnus said. “I used to go camping all the time with my- . . . with my mum.”

“We don’t have one.” Leo pointed out. “A tent, I mean. Not a mom. Although we don’t have any of those either. With us. Or . . . at all . . . okay. I regret opening my mouth. Sorry.”

“Yeah.” Magnus couldn’t help it, the word came out bitter.

“Travis probably can get us a tent.” Nico muttered to his feet.

Magnus perked up. “He can? How?”

“I’ll talk to him.” Nico pushed himself to his feet and walked off muttering, “I never should have ended up in Boston, shouldn’t have gone there in the first place . . .”

Personally, Magnus agreed. No one should ever have gone to Boston. Everything bad that had ever happened to him had happened to him in Boston. Well, since he’d rarely ever been out of Massachusetts, there wasn’t much of a chance for anything bad to happen anywhere else.

But that was beside the point.

“Sorry, about the comment before.” Leo said quietly, leaning back. He wasn’t meeting Magnus’ eyes when the blonde glanced over, instead he was staring into the trees on the other side of the highway.

“It’s fine.” Magnus said. “You didn’t think, those things happen.”

“So we’re cool?” Leo asked, turning to smile hopefully at Magnus.

“We’re cool.” Magnus agreed, although with Leo looking at him like that, head tilted so his curly hair that probably smelled like smoke bounced slightly, brown eyes wide like a lovesick puppy’s and just the hint of a hopeful, Magnus felt very uncomfortably warm.

Chapter Text

“Alright, di Angelo, what are you doing with two mortals outside of Camp?” Travis asked, leaning forwards as if to avoid being overheard, although there was no one else in the deserted gas station.

“First of all, they’re demigods. I think.” Nico stuck his hands in the pockets of his aviator jacket, leaning back so there was still a comfortable distance between him and Travis Stoll. “Second, they would be in Camp if the barrier would let them in.”

“What?”

“I tried to take them both directly to Camp.” Nico said defensively. “But the boarder wouldn’t let us in. No clue why, but to Hades if I’m arguing with the gods themselves.”

Travis raised his eyebrows but simply shrugged.

“So what are you doing here?” Nico asked, taking in Travis’ hideous work uniform.

“It’s easier to steal- I mean, get free stuff if I work here.” Travis said, gesturing to said clothes. “So I have a job.”

“No, really? I thought you were volunteering.” Nico rolled his eyes.

Travis laughed, actually laughed. Nico had expected him to get offended or simply stare at Nico for an uncomfortably long time. But this wasn’t any better. Nico shifted his weight from foot to foot, not really sure what to make of the situation. People didn’t laugh when he was around. Even Magnus and Leo barely smiled when talking to him.

“That wasn’t so bad, di Angelo.” Travis said finally. “Jokes – I didn’t know you had them in you.”

Nico was unable to find a reply, so he simply stared at Travis until the son of Hermes said, “So what are you doing next?”

“Well, we can’t go to Camp Half-Blood, clearly. So I’ll return them to Boston, erase their minds and pretend like none of this ever happened.” Nico said.

“You’re what?” Travis slammed the heels of his palms into the counter in shock.

“Returning them to-”

“I heard what you said,” Travis interrupted. “But dude, you can’t just leave two unclaimed demigods alone in the streets! They’ll be killed.”

“They’ve made it this far and by the looks of it they’re both at least thirteen.” Nico mumbled, sort of realising that maybe Travis had a point and it was a stupid idea to leave them both to fend for themselves.

“Well, whatever you say man, you’re the one with power over death.” Travis shrugged.

Nico scowled. “That’s not exactly how it works.”

“Look, I’m not one to mess with Hades.” Travis held up his hands defensively. “So I’m going to trust you on that.”

Nico looked at Travis critically, but before he could ask anything else, there was the rumble of a car and the two demigods peered out the window.

The first thing he saw was Leo and Magnus, sitting much closer together than when Nico had been with them. Leo was leaning back on his hands, laughing, while Magnus was staring at him with a small smile on his face. Nico scowled, stomach twisting. Magnus couldn’t have been telling the truth when he said that he and Leo had only known each other for a few minutes before Nico dropped into their lives. The way Magnus was looking at Leo, well, it reminded Nico uncomfortably of how he himself looked at Percy Jackson. No one looked at someone they barely knew the way Magnus was looking at Leo.

And pulling up beside one of the gas pumps was a car so covered in rust and mud that Nico couldn't tell its original colouring. Nico wasn't an expert on cars, but he knew that it was an expensive model. Which was odd. Nico had usually found that people with expensive cars usually tended to care for their care like it was a child.

Not these people apparently. Then one of the doors opened and a man wearing a trench coat stepped out, lifted a black-gloved hand to tug at the broad brim of his hat. Nico couldn't see any of his face, but he didn't need to. He recognised the man. It was the same guy who had had a conversation with a decapitated head in a public bathroom at midnight.

But how? How was he here now? How had he known where they were so fast, and how had he gotten there?

“You okay there?” Travis’ voice snapped Nico out of his thoughts.

“Just great.” Nico muttered.

"Monster?" Travis pointed a thumb at the guy in a trench coat, with the causality of someone who had fought hoards of monsters in the process of stopping the end of the world.

"Afraid so." Nico agreed, hand itching on the hilt of his sword.

The guy, monster, in the trench coat, looked about through dark sunglasses, then started walking straight towards Leo and Magnus, who had by now noticed the new arrival, and were glancing worriedly towards the gas station.

Travis sighed, then grinned. "Let's go kick some monster butt."

Chapter Text

"Yep." Leo muttered. "He's definitely walking towards us."

"So, um, what do we do?" Magnus hissed back.

Leo considered the options, still watching the guy in the trench coat from the corner of his eyes. He'd been cornered by people like this before, bigger and stronger than him, menacing, with knives or guns or even just fists. Leo hoped this man didn't have a knife or gun.

Options, options, what were their options? They could run, definitely outrun this guy, wearing dark clothing in the midday heat. But he did have a car. Leo doubted they could take this guy, he was a lot bigger than them. And what on earth was taking Nico so long? Couldn't he see that there was a creepy guy?

"Leo." Magnus glanced about worriedly.

"Don't let him see you're nervous." Leo stuffed his half-eaten bag of chips into his backpack and stood up, brushing off his ratty jeans. Magnus stood up too, thankfully. Leo leaned in towards Magnus slightly, partly to offer support to him and partly to comfort himself. The guy in the trench coat stopped. Leo couldn't make out any of his details, he was covered head to toe, boots, gloves, a scarf around his lower face, sunglasses, a hat and that creepy trench coat.

"Hey." Leo's voice was not trembling. "Uh, the gas pump's back there. You missed it by a metre . . . or five . . ."

The guy in the trench coat glanced back towards his car. Leo glanced at it too, nice car, he couldn't tell what model because it was covered in dust, though. In the driver's seat, peering anxiously over the steering wheel, was a man who looked vaguely familiar. He had white hair, was wearing black leather and a red and white scarf, like a candy cane. Leo couldn't remember where he'd seen him from. The driver made a shooing motion and the guy in the trench coat turned back to Leo and Magnus.

Before anything else could happen, a voice echoed across the asphalt. A boy was standing half way between the car and the service station's building, wearing an obnoxious uniform. "Is that man bothering you two by any chance?"

"Uh . . ." Leo glanced at Magnus, who looked back blankly. "Yep. I think, yes."

"Hey there, pal." The boy in the uniform continued, now walking towards the guy in the trench coat, seemingly unafraid. "I'll give you one chance to leave. We don't want any trouble. If not . . . well, you won't like what happens, I can tell you that."

Where was Nico? Leo strained his neck and saw the kid standing in the shadow of the gas station, arms crossed, watching the scene unfold. The guy in the trench coat turned sharply on his heels to face the boy in the uniform.

"Trust me, we don't want no trouble either." His voice was deep and muffled from the scarf pulled over his mouth and nose. "This isn't what it looks like-"

"Is that so? Because to me it looks like a monster about to attack to innocent half-bloods." The guy in the uniform stuck out his chest.

"Monster?" Magnus asked softly. Leo shrugged, he'd thought he misheard. He must of. Right?

"Greeks." The guy in the trench coat hissed, then turned to the car. "Hearth, we gotta get out of here!"

"Hang on just one second." Nico was suddenly beside Travis, glaring at the car. "This is weird, even by my standards. One second you're about to kill those two, the next you're backing away, just because there's more of us. It's not like monsters to suddenly grow some brains. So what's going on here? Because you two sure as Hades don't have mortal lifespans."

"You're a son of-"

"Don't." Nico hissed, hand on the sword at his belt. Right. He had a sword. Leo kept forgetting about that.

Trench coat raised his gloved hands. "Listen, this is all a mistake-"

"Nico, get them to safety." The boy in the uniform pointed at Leo and Magnus. "I'll hold these two off."

"But-"

"Just do it."

"Camp-"

"Somewhere else, surely you have places when you're not around-"

"Alright, alright, fine!" Nico shot a glare at the boy beside him, then stepped back and disappeared.

"Wai-" The guy in the trench coat was cut off, or maybe Leo and Magnus were cut off, because at that second, Leo felt Nico's hand on his shoulder and he was pulled away into darkness.

Chapter Text

They were in a kind of back alley, Magnus guessed, or maybe a ghost town? It was hard to tell. After the darkness of . . . whatever Nico had just done, the sun was near blinding. But beyond the too-bright light, he could see crumbling cement walls on either side of him, pressing in too close to be a road. The walls were short. Too short to be the walls of an apartment block.

“Where are we?” Leo muttered, blinking as his eyes adjusted.

“Um. No idea. Nico?” Magnus asked.

Nico looked around slowly, then his eyes slid shut and he fell. Magnus leapt forwards and caught Nico before he hit the ground.

“He needs to stop doing that.” Magnus muttered.

“What just happened?” Leo asked. “Where are we? What is happening?”

Magnus lowered Nico to the ground then sat down beside the unconscious boy, shading his eyes with a hand as he looked around. They weren’t in any sort of alleyway, Magnus decided. They were on a cement path lined with small, mostly identical cement houses on either side. But they weren’t exactly houses. There were no doors, no windows, they were much too small and, despite their run-down nature, much too decorative to be houses. Maybe it was a ghost town of some sort?

Leo flopped down next to Magnus and began wringing his hands together. Leo was sitting a little closer than Magnus thought nesesrcary, their legs were almost touching, was that normal? Why was he thinking about that, there were much more important things to worry about right now.

“Look at that.” Leo said, pointing up the path to something that definitely wasn’t a house of any sort. It was fenced off by a short, iron railing. The building itself was round, white and had a statue of a woman holding a large cross on the top of it. Magnus looked around. There were no people in sight.

“I guess we should go have a closer look?” Magnus murmured.

“That’d be cool.” Leo hummed.

“What about Nico?” Magnus asked as an afterthought. The boy was sprawled across the path and, although there were no people as far as Magnus could hear or see, he didn’t want to take any chances. He mightn’t blink twice at the sight of a kid fast asleep at midday in the middle of whatever this place was, but other people probably would.

“What if we just, uh, push him back into the shadows so that no one steps on him?” Leo offered sheepishly.

“What? We can’t do that!”

“We can totally do that, no one would even see him.” Leo argued back.

“But-”

“He’s not going to wake up any time soon.” Leo said, running a hand through his hair and making it bounce like campfire flames and Magnus wondered again if he smelt like smoke?

“Alright.” Magnus said. Wait what were they talking about? Nico. Right. Duh.

“Okay, he’s pretty light, right? So we can probably roll him over easy-peasy.” Leo figured.

“Yeah.” Magnus agreed. After a few moments, he and Leo managed to shove Nico into the shadow of one of the cement house-things. Leo was right, Nico did practically blend in to the shadows. Magnus stood up and dusted his hands off. Leo was still crouched by Nico’s head, examining the cement building.

“This place is old.” Leo mumbled.

“Well, even I can tell that.” Magnus said.

Leo shrugged and climbed to his feet. The two of them turned back to the white building.

“Fancy tomb, huh?” Leo asked, staring up at the white building.

“Tomb?”

“Yeah.” Leo nodded. “The cross, the statue, the fact that this is a graveyard? I’m guessing that that’s a tomb.”

“This is a graveyard?” Magnus suddenly felt marginally less okay with leaving Nico unconscious in the shadow of a crumby old tomb.

“Duh?”

“Oh. I’ve, I’ve never seen a graveyard like this.” Magnus rubbed the back of his neck.

“Huh.” Leo ran a hand through his hair again. Had he been doing that more than normal? Or was Magnus just weirdly observant at the moment? And why did it make Leo look that much better? And what?

“Um. Well. Let’s go look at it.” Magnus said, really not wanting to continue that line of thought.

The two walked along the path, past the concrete tombs that, now Magnus looked closer, were obviously tombs. There were statues of crosses, rusting plaques full of names and messages carved into the stone.

“So, I know we’re in a graveyard.” Magnus said. “But do you know where this graveyard is?”

“Nope.” Leo said. “Well, other than somewhere in America probably, nope. It’d be a little creepy if I did.”

Magnus shrugged and hummed in agreement, looking up at the tomb ahead of them. A niche in the rounded wall of the tomb made room for the life-size statue of a lady in a crown and dress. Below the niche, the word ‘ITALIA’ was engraved in the stone. On either side of the statue, the rounded walls were decorated with what looked to be drawers, three high, with handles on them.

“What a weird tomb.” Leo said as they came to the fence separating them from the tomb. “Baroque style architecture, made of marble, obviously Italian.”

“How do you know that?” Magnus asked.

“It says Italia on it. Wild guess – that means Italy.” Leo grinned. “It doesn’t take a genius to work that out.”

Magnus snorted and rolled his eyes. “I meant, how did you know what style of architecture it was?”

Leo shrugged. “I dunno. It’s obvious, isn’t it?”

“No?”

Leo shrugged again. “Dunno if any of that has any significance, though.”

Magnus glanced back down the path to where Nico was unconscious and obscured by shadows. “The name ‘Nico’ is Italian, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Well, that tomb’s Italian. Nico might be Italian. Maybe there’s a connection?”

“Oh. Good point.” Leo said.

“Doesn’t take a genius to work it out.” Magnus smirked at Leo. The other boy tried and failed to look pissed off.

“So, Nico’s family is probably buried in this tomb or something, what now?” Leo asked and Magnus choked on the air.

“You can’t just say that!” He gasped, torn between laughing and remaining indignant.

“I can too, I just did.” Leo stuck his tongue out at Magnus.

“Yeah, but- disrespecting the dead! You can’t do that!” Magnus was definitely laughing now.

“I can disrespect them all I like. They’re dead, they can’t hear me.” Leo said, turning to the tomb. “Hey zombies, your taste in architecture sucks. You’re buried in a chest of drawers. You know what else belongs stuffed in the bottom of drawers behind your socks, that’s right-”

“Okay, okay, okay, enough.” Magnus managed around his laughter. He put a hand to Leo’s mouth in a mock-attempt to shut the other boy up. Leo dissolved into laughter as well, grabbing Magnus’ wrist and pulling it away from his mouth.

After a few long moments, Magnus took a deep breath and composed himself. “Alright. We’ve hidden Nico in a graveyard and pissed off all the vengeful ghosts in the area, what now?”

“Let’s check it out.” Leo said.

“What? The drawers? There could be dead bodies in there!”

“But isn’t that cool?”

“Dude, there’s a difference between telling them their architecture is dumb and disturbing their spirit.” Magnus said.

“I know. I wanted to check out the statue though.” Leo running a hand through his hair again and this time Magnus noticed that it wasn’t the hand that Leo’d used to pull Magnus’ hand away, because Leo’s hand was still on Magnus’ wrist and that was way too many times to think the word hand and should they hold hands or would that be weird?

“C’mon.” Leo tugged on Magnus’ wrist and began climbing over the fence without letting go. Magnus followed the smaller boy and they found themselves eye-level with the statue’s feet.

“I’m gonna climb it.” Leo decided.

“Leo! Don’t!” Magnus protested.

“I just want to look.” Leo protested. “I’m not going to damage it.”

Magnus made a noise that was part disapproving and part disappointed as Leo let go of his wrist and began to climb up the tomb.

“We could get in big trouble if anyone saw us.” Magnus said.

“There’s no one around.” Leo said.

“You don’t know that.”

“You can be my lookout.” Leo was standing in front of the statue now, examining it.

“Just so you know, if we’re spotted, I’m gonna run.”

“You’d leave me here?” Leo glanced back, pouting, but his wide brown eyes glittered with humour.

“I totally would.” Magnus smirked.

“So rude.” Leo started climbing again, scaling the statue and heaving himself onto the tomb’s roof and disappeared from Magnus’ line of sight.

“What are you looking for?” Magnus called up.

“I dunno.” Leo called back. “I just have a hunch that there’s something- huh, weird.”

“What is it?”

“Come here and have a look.”

“Seriously Leo?”

“Come on up and look.”

Magnus sighed, but began to scale the tomb. For someone who was both small and scrawny, Leo had made it look easier than it was, but Magnus finally managed to scrambled onto the tomb’s roof. He glanced up to where Leo was inspecting the statue of the woman with the cross. The cross was marginally taller than the woman. The woman herself was dressed in a long gown and a veil pushed back so her face was revealed. She held the cross steady with one hand.

“So what am I looking at?” Magnus asked.

“C’mere, look at this.” Leo was peering at the cross. “There’s a nine engraved on it. That’s weird, right?”

“Maybe it stands for something? Are there other numbers? It could be part of a date?” Magnus said, climbing right up next to Leo. There wasn’t much space on the little ledge they stood on and Magnus grabbed Leo’s hand for support.

Just for support.

Wow his hands were warm.

“Nope. Just a nine.” Leo said, staring intently at the statue. As if on an impulse, Leo reached out and touched the number. There was a sound like cracking stone and the statue began to move.

It – she? – she blinked, tilting her head to the side as she examined the two boys.

Magnus wasn’t sure who was more surprised, the statue or him and Leo.

“That statue is moving.” Leo gaped. “Tell me I’m not going crazy, that statue is moving!”

“You’re not going crazy. That statue is moving.” Magnus managed.

The statue – the moving statue – spoke. “Greetings, son of Hephaestus. How may I serve thee?”

Chapter Text

Nico managed to avoid falling into the fields of Asphodel, where the demons that took the forms of Percy and Bianca waited half-formed in his mind to torment him. No, this time he plunged straight through the burning heat and dried, brittle grass into frigid darkness. Shivers ran down his spine, like electricity dancing through his bones. There was a tugging on his clothes, like a tide. He blinked, trying to clear his vision and see beyond the overwhelming blackness.

There was something now, a barely distinguishable green-white glow, too blurry to be a clear shape, but definitely there nonetheless. Nico watched apprehensively as the shape grew larger, closer, clearer. It wasn’t just a light, it was something glowing. A paler sickly green light flickered from the shape, blinding Nico.

He squinted through his lashes, making out a rounded shape. It was a soft pinkish colour, with patches of rust-coloured . . . hair? And were those two brilliant blue eyes?

Yes. Yes they were. Because that was a decapitated head. The same head that seemingly belonged to those two monsters that kept showing up everywhere. The same head that was exuded godly power.

What had the two monsters called it? Capo?

The head came to a stop, uncomfortably close to Nico. Too close for his liking.

It opened its mouth, revealing its crooked yellow teeth, and laughed. “Ah, there you are. Hello little demigod. You just keep causing trouble, don’t you?”

Nico reached for his sword, only to find it wasn’t there. Stupid dream.

“What would you do if you had it? Decapitate me?” The head burst into laughter again. “You’re too late! The Vanir beat you to it, kiddo.”

“What do you want?” Nico was too busy being surprised and annoyed to register that he was talking underwater.

“What do I want? You were the one who summoned me here.” Capo answered, lovely and cryptic as things always were.

“I didn’t-”

“Clearly someone doesn’t know their own powers. Now what do you want?”

Nico scowled. “Nothing! I want you and your stupid monster sidekicks to leave me alone, but-”

“That’s rather rude, considering it’s our world you are sticking your little nose into.” The head cackled.

“What are you talking about?” Nico demanded.

“Ah, so you do want something.” The head figured.

“Well, I guess.” Nico muttered.

“Now, I wouldn’t do this for just anyone, especially not a Greek.” The head had a grotesque twitching motion, one eye scrunching shut in what Nico realised was supposed to be a wink. “But you’re a good customer. Eighty years is an admirable amount of time for anyone to spend in a casino. So I’ll give you some free advice, just this once.”

Nico frowned. Free lunches didn’t exist. Whatever knowledge this head had, Nico didn’t think he was just going to tell him. There would be a catch. Or, perhaps the head was lying.

“You don’t believe me. Fine, fine.” Capo said breezily. “I’ll tell you anyway and you can do what you will with the info. You wanna leave the blondie to Blitz and Hearth. They’ll look after him. Trust me, he has big things ahead of him, in his own world.”

“What world would that be?” Nico forced himself to ask.

“You’re a smart kid, figure it out.” The head said, then cleared its non-existent throat with a soundlike a car engine spluttering and dying. “Anyway, you wanna leave him to us. We’ll take good care of him. I’m not interested in letting him die – don’t end well for no one, believe me. He may be scrawny now, but-”

“And what if I don’t trust you?” Nico raised an eyebrow. This disembodied head was sounding less and less trustworthy with every word that fell from its wizened mouth. Maybe it brain had become waterlogged and-

“-he’ll grow up just fine.” Capo ploughed on as if Nico hadn’t interrupted. “Well, after he dies of course.”

“Excuse me? Do you want to protect him or kill him?” Nico wished his subconscious had thought to arm him because he could really do with a sword right about now.

The head squinted at him for a moment, then hacked out another laugh. “This isn’t your first time prying into forbidden information, is it? No, you have a nasty habit of testing gods who could very easily smite you.”

“My mother was different.” Nico snapped, face heating up. How did Capo know about that? “That was personal.”

“Sad, very sad, but very good for business.” Capo said. “I’m afraid that our time here is coming to an end. It’s in your best interests to wake up soon. Are you a fan of wolves?”

“Wolves?”

The head attempted to wink again. “Good luck. Next time don’t run away because, believe it or not, we ain’t gonna be the ones to kill the son of Frey.”

Then Capo disappeared, taking his pale green glow with him and leaving Nico submerged in darkness. Before he had any time to try and process what had just happened, a loud scream shocked him into consciousness.

Chapter Text

“Son of what now?” Leo asked, glancing at Magnus. The other boy looked just as confused as Leo felt. He hissed to Magnus, “Is it talking to me? It’s talking to me, right?”

Magnus nodded slowly, squeezing Leo’s hand comfortingly.

Leo looked back to the statue, which stared back with a stony expression. “How are you . . . alive?”

“I am not alive, sir, thou have wakened me.” The statue said. “How may I serve thee?”

“How did I, uh, awaken you?” Leo asked.

“The touch of a child of Hephaestus shall activate me.” The statue said. “How may I serve thee?”

“First of all, you can stop repeating yourself.” Leo said. “Secondly, a child of what now?”

“Child of Hephaestus.” The statue intoned.

“What – or who – is that?” Leo asked, looking over to Magnus, who looked just as lost as Leo felt.

“You know not of your own father?” The statue raised a sculpted eyebrow.

“Don’t you love it when people don’t answer your questions?” Leo said to Magnus.

Magnus laughed quietly. “How are you not freaking out right now?”

Leo shook his head. “Trust me, much weirder things have happened.”

“So, um, who is Hephaestus?” Magnus asked.

“My sculptor,” the statue said, “and thine father, son of Hephaestus.”

“Yeah, but who is he? And how do you know that? And okay, I’m starting to freak out a little.” Leo admitted. It was decidedly creepy, this statue. It was talking. And it knew him? Or . . . his father?

“The father of the forge, and of fire, Hephaestus.” The statue intoned.

“The way it says that makes this Hephaestus guy sound like a . . . god?” Magnus murmured.

The statue nodded solemnly.

Leo shook his head. “That- that can’t be right. I’m dreaming. I’m just dreaming. I’ve been dreaming ever since that storm in Boston. I went to sleep in the drain, caught pneumonia and now I’m having one long fever dream.”

This time, the statue shook its head.

Leo turned to Magnus and gave his best serious-face. “Magnus, the talking statue is telling me my father’s god.”

A god.” The statue said.

Magnus sniggered. “Does that make me best friends with Jesus? Can you do anything cool? Turn water into wine? Walk on water?”

“I can hardly even swim.” Leo mumbled.

“Really?”

“Well, growing up in Texas doesn’t do wonders for my swimming abilities. I can stay afloat, but not much else.” Leo said, not meeting Magnus’ eyes. Eager to change the subject, he turned back to the statue. “So do you have a name, or . . .?”

“I hath a name.” The statue smiled. “I am Charity.”

“So is my friend here some sort of anomaly or are we both hallucinating from starvation or something?” Magnus asked.

“He is a son of Hephaestus. The first one I hath spoken to in many years.” Charity said.

“How do you know he’s a son of Hephaestus?” Magnus asked.

“And wait, ‘a son of Hephaestus’? Does that mean there are more of them?” Leo demanded.

“I know he is a son of Hephaestus as he hath wakened me.” Charity said. “And, son of Hephaestus, surely thou do not think thou are the first?”

“Alright, let me get this straight.” Leo took a deep breath. “A talking statue is telling me my father is a god, who has also had other children.”

“Indeed. How may I serve thee?” The statue said.

“What do you mean by ‘serve thee’?”

“Surely I hath been awoken for a purpose, son of Hephaestus.” Charity said.

“Okay, you calling me son of Hephaestus is getting weird.” Leo decided. “I’m Leo. And that’s Magnus.”

“And we have a pal called Nico too, but he’s sleeping near a grave back that way.” Magnus pointed over his shoulder.

Leo sniggered. “Sleeping like the dead.”

He felt a sense of satisfaction as Magnus rolled his eyes and grinned in return. Then that satisfaction drained away, replaced by an uncomfortable, almost familiar feeling as the statue said, “Very well, Leo. Thou hast awoken me with a purpose, hath thou not?”

“Um, nope.” Leo shook his head. “I just sort of . . . did it by accident?”

“There is no purpose I must fulfil?” Charity asked.

“Well, you could tell us what is going on.” Leo suggested.

“How would thou expect me to know? I hath been asleep for decades before thou woke me.” Charity put the hand not supporting her giant cross on her hip.

“Getting sassed by a giant statue is not how I envisioned my afternoon going.” Magnus said.

Leo laughed. “You and me both.”

There was a moment of silence and, as if fate had been planning it, a wolf howl ripped through the air, tearing the strange solace of the graveyard to shreds. Leo felt Magnus’ hand clench his, uncomfortably hard. The blond had stiffened, glancing around with frightened eyes.

“Magnus?” Leo asked.

“The wolves- they- they-” Magnus looked up at Leo, then out towards the rest of the graveyard. His eyes widened and he screamed, loud and ear-splitting. Leo looked over to where Magnus was staring and saw a tear in the ground, between two tombs with wild looking wolves with glowing eyes were clawing their way up into the graveyard. Magnus turned back to Leo, looking paler than ever.

“Wolves.” He muttered, then promptly collapsed into Leo’s arms, eyes rolling back in his head.

“And now,” Leo muttered, “he’s fainted. Wonderful. Okay Charity, I think I hath something for you to do. Get rid of those wolves.”

Chapter Text

When Magnus came to, he was laying on the roof of the tomb, arm dangling off its edge. He blinked, disorientated. What was going on? Where was Leo? And that freaky talking statue? Had that been real? Then the shrieking howl of a wolf met his ears.

He felt his heart beating in his chest. Where was Leo? Was he okay?

Magnus sat up, looking about wildly. Leo was standing on the top of the tomb, one hand sheltering his eyes, staring out at something that Magnus couldn’t see because the domed roof of the tomb was in the way. Then there was a crash and the sound of a wolf yelping in pain, and Leo whooped, leaping up and punching the air.

“Leo?” Magnus asked, voice croaky.

“Maggie!” Leo turned. His eyes lit up and he scrambled down the roof to Magnus’ side.

“Don’t call me that,” Magnus mumbled.

“You’re alive!” Leo offered him a hand, pulling him to his feet. “Wait, wait, come look at what the statue can do!”

Leo dragged Magnus up the roof of the tomb again, so they both precariously stood on the top. Leo put a hand around his shoulders – just to support him, Magnus was sure, because his legs felt like jelly.

“Look!” Leo pointed.

The wolves were still there, and there were more than before. At least half a dozen of them, with glowing blue eyes, glittering silver fur and deadly sharp teeth. They were bigger than a normal wolf, at least as big as the tombs they prowled by. And there was Charity the statue, stabbing at one of them with her cross, which had a deadly sharp stone point on the bottom end. For something made entirely of stone, the statue was very nimble.

Magnus’ heart was pounding in his chest, there was a lump in his throat.

“You don’t like wolves, huh?” Leo asked softly.

“Mmm.” Magnus managed to agree.

“Oh, for Zeus’ sake!” The yell came from beneath them.

They looked down, Magnus was glad to have an excuse to stop staring at the wolves, and saw Nico, hands on his hips, glaring up at them.

“What are you doing up there?”

“Watching Charity fight the wolves!” Leo called back.

“WHAT?” Nico demanded.

“We found a talking statue and it’s fighting wolves.” Leo yelled back.

Another howl curled through the air. Magnus looked back at the wolves, petrified of what he might see. One of them had the end of Charity’s stone cross in its mouth and was tugging at it like it was a giant rubber bone.

“I leave you two alone for five minutes!” Nico cursed.

“It was a little longer than five minutes.” Leo commented.

“You two stay there, don’t move.”the Italian boy instructed.

“Not planning on it.” Magnus promised.

And then Nico was running straight towards the wolves, sword drawn.

“He has a death wish.” Magnus mumbled. “He actually has a death wish.”

“Magnus, um, not to make the worst out of a terrible situation, but remember that creep in a trench coat from earlier today?” Leo whispered.

“Yeah?” Magnus felt his stomach sinking.

“Well, uh, look over there.” Leo pointed out over the fence of the graveyard. A dust-covered car had pulled to a stop and two familiar-looking characters were staring into the graveyard. The guy with the wide brimmed hat and the trench coat and his friend who looked like he’d stepped out of a black and white film, save for the red-and-white striped scarf around his neck. Trench coat nudged his friend and pointed at them.

“Should we wave back?” Leo joked, but Magnus could tell he was only saying it to ease the tension.

“How did they get here? How do they know where we are?” He demanded. “This is really creepy.”

Another howl split the air and Magnus turned his attention back to the wolves, leaning into Leo for support. His hair did smell like smoke and why was that what came to Magnus’ mind right now?

Another howl and his attention was drawn back to the wolves. The one that had been playing tug-of-war with Charity the statue had stolen her giant cross and was chewing on it as if it were a dog toy. Nico was facing off against another wolf, clearly trying to stab it in the eye.

“Is there anything we can do?” Leo said.

“How about hide?” Magnus mumbled.

Leo laughed, but Magnus thought it sounded more than a little forced. He couldn’t blame him.

“But really,” he asked. “Can we?”

“I think we’re probably safer up here.” Leo said speculatively. “I don’t fancy our chances down there with them.”

“Fair enough.” Magnus ignored how his voice cracked as he stared at the wolves, trying not to think about the last time he’d seen wolves, their glowing eyes glaring through the flames, blood still dripping from their fangs.

He looked away and found himself staring at Trench Coat and Scarf,who were running right towards them. How the guy with the scarf could run without tripping on it – it was so long – was beyond him.

“So you know our little problem?” Magnus asked Leo.

“Yeah?”

“Well it’s about to get a whole lot bigger.”

Leo spun around to stare in the direction Magnus pointed. “Oh, sh-”

“Hey kids!” The guy in the trench coat yelled, coming to a stop at the base of the tomb. “You may wanna get down from there!”

“Uh, haha, maybe not!” Leo yelled back. “There’s some bad doggies over that way.”

The guy with the scarf tapped the other guy on the shoulder and began . . . signing? Yes, Magnus definitely recognised that as sign language, not that he knew what the signs meant.

“Listen, we don’t want to hurt you!” trench coat yelled up. “We can help you. Just come with us.”

“Yeah that sounds like a trustworthy thing to say.” Leo mumbled.

Another howl split the air and Magnus jumped, grabbing Leo’s hand to steady himself. A wolf had rounded the corner and was now standing, staring at the two guys below Leo and Magnus’ tomb.

“So, if the wolf eats them, that’s one less problem for us.” Leo said.

Magnus squeezed his hand. “Shut up dude, this isn’t funny.”

“Wolves can’t climb, right? We should be fine.” Leo paused, then said, “And if the wolves eat those two there’s less enemies for us to deal with.”

The wolf let out an excited yap - could wolves yap? Magnus didn’t know – and charged towards them. He peered back down to where the base of the tomb, but the two guys weren’t standing on the ground anymore. Nope, they had climbed over the low fence and were now scaling the tomb.

“Hate to break it to you Leo, but the two people who’ve started climbing our tomb aren’t wolves.”

Leo peered over the edge then mumbled something about statues and cursed under his breath.

“Okay, we didn’t plan for this.” Magnus told Leo. “What do we do?”

“Can we push him off?” Leo asked.

“That could break his neck!”

“So that’s a yes?”

“No!” He shoved Leo lightly.

Trench coat reached the roof first, heaving himself up onto the tomb and adjusting his hat to properly cover his face. He was panting from exhaustion, but still turned to help Scarf clamber onto the roof.

A moment later a thud as the wolf smashed against the tomb. Magnus thought he could feel the structure shuddering.

“Not the Italian Benevolent Tomb,” the guy in the trench coat panted, “the architecture-”

His friend shoved him, as if to tell him to shut up and sort out his priorities.

Leo glanced at him. “I mean, he has a point. Damaging this tomb would-”

“Shut up!” Magnus hissed. “We have more important things to deal with.”

Trench coat continued, “The stonework on the statue-”

“And the fact that it can apparently come to life!” Leo added.

“Yea- what?” Trench Coat demanded.

Leo pointed over his shoulder. Magnus glanced behind them. Charity the statue’s cross had been broken in two, while the statue herself was clubbing the wolf that had broken it over the head with one stone arm. Nico had been backed into a corner by two more wolves. Meanwhile, the wolf that had rammed itself headfirst into their tomb was now prowling around its base, snarling.

Great, Magnus thought, turning away. He would actually prefer facing the two creepy guys that kept showing up everywhere to those giant wolves with glowing blue eyes. Scarf was talking in sign language again, Magnus realised, and Trench Coat was nodding along seriously.

Trench Coat shook his head. “No. We’re sticking together-”

He fell silent as the one with the scarf continued. Magnus glanced at Leo, who was looked back at him and shrugged.

“I mean, they’re not that scary?” Leo offered.

“No! Hearth, that’s never going to work!” Trench Coat burst out.

The other one, Hearth, continued signing frantically.

“Yes, of course I trust you, but- I know it’s daytime, I can still- by Thor’s hammer, Hearth! Can you even hear yourself right now?”

Hearth gave the guy in the trench coat such a pointed look that Magnus couldn’t help but snicker.

“Okay, sorry.” Trench Coat sighed. “But seriously- HEARTHSTONE!”

Hearth had turned and jumped off the roof of tomb, right onto the back of the wolf that was prowling in circles around it.

“And he’s gone.” Trench Coat muttered. He turned back to Leo and Magnus.

Magnus squeezed Leo’s hand for support.

“Okay kids, is your creepy Greek friend anywhere about?” The guy in the trench coat asked, reaching up to pull the brim of his hand more firmly down to cover his face.

“Nico? I think he’s Italian actually.” Magnus said, avoiding actually answering the guy’s question in case Nico was all that was standing between them and a painful death.

“And he’s over there somewhere fighting wolves.” Leo added obliviously.

“But he’ll totally stab you if you touch us.” He said, stepping on Leo’s foot.

“Oh, yeah!” The Latino boy’s voice squeaked in pain, but fortunately he caught on. “He’ll kick your a-”

“Listen, I don’t want to hurt you. Neither does Hearth.” Trench Coat interrupted. “My name’s Blitz, and Magnus, we want to protect you.”

“And Leo. Protect you and Leo, right?” Leo added.

“Is this about the, uh . . . what the talking statue said?” Magnus asked carefully. “It said Leo was something, a son of . . . someone.”

“Festus? Or hepatitis?” Leo tried to guess.

“I have a feeling it’s not hepatitis.” Magnus mumbled to Leo.

“That would suck.” Leo agreed.

“Hephaestus. Another Greek.” Blitz muttered. “Why didn’t Cappo warn us- ugh, whatever. Sure, kid, we’ll protect you both. And your creepy friend too.”

“I’m . . . not Greek?” Leo said.

“Don’t question it.” Blitz said. “Let’s wait until after we’re somewhere safe, speaking of which- HEARTH WHAT THE HEL?”

Hearthstone was using his ridiculously long scarf to strangle the wolf he’d jumped onto.

“THAT WAS A GIFT HEARTH, YOU’RE GOING TO GET DOG FUR ALL OVER IT!” Blitz yelled.

“Okay, wow, priorities.” Magnus mumbled.

“STOP THAT RIGHT NOW! YOU COULD’VE JUST ASKED FOR A KNIFE! I GOT THAT WOOL FROM ASGARD HEARTH, YOU THINK THAT STUFF IS CHEAP?”

Hearth didn’t even seem to hear Blitz, which would’ve made sense, because Magnus was 90% sure Hearth was deaf. Either way, strangling the wolf seemed to be strangely affective because, as Magnus and Leo watched, the wolf crumpled to the ground, eyes rolling back in its head, and disintegrated into dust.

Hearth finally looked up at the tomb again and Blitz started signing furiously, stomping his feet as he did.

“FOR HADES’ SAKE!” Nico’s voice cried in frustration, right behind Leo and Magnus. “I leave you two alone for five minutes!”

They spun around to see Nico, his messy hair even messier, his face bright red and covered in dog saliva and one of his jacket sleeves ripped off, exposing a nasty gash on his arm.

Leo frowned. “Like I keep saying, little longer than five minutes-”

“I’ll take care of it.” Nico mumbled, although he sounded exhausted.

“Dude, I think they’re friends.” Magnus said. “And even if they’re not, they’re arguing about a scarf, so I don’t think they’re dangerous.”

“Trust me,” Nico muttered, “they’re monsters if I’ve ever seen ‘em.”

Nico shook his head like a dog, somehow making his hair even messier and also spraying flecks of dog slobber onto Magnus’ face. Then he took a deep breath and marched determinedly towards Blitz.

Blitz spun around right as Nico lunged forwards, sword raised, hands flying up to stop Nico from swinging his sword and they tumbled backwards off the side of the tomb. Magnus and Leo ran to the edge of the roof, expecting to see two dead bodies amid way too much black fabric, but instead they saw Hearthstone staring up at them with wide, almost frightened eyes.

Then there was no sign of Blitz or Nico anywhere.

And as if to make things that much worse, another wolf howl broke the silence.