ARCHIVE (Awakening – Chapter Four)

**All finished chapters will be updated on the Awakening page, in Writing Projects, if you want to read the full work to date**

Chapter Four

The feeling of sunshine on her face, warming her skin, was what pulled Kali back into consciousness. She was still groggy, but the sunlight wouldn’t let her roll back over. Blearily, she opened her eyes and froze when she saw who was in the room with her.

“Good morning, Kali.”

“Good morning.” She almost flinched at how rough her voice sounded in comparison to his. But, she thought, she shouldn’t expect any less from the God of Music. A long silence followed, and Kali wondered if her father was as unsure how to act as she was. She glanced down at her hands, clenched in her lap, and conjured a smile. “How can I help you?”

“I was hoping that we may have a chance to speak before you meet with the others.” He said, with a serene smile. “I am Apollo.” Kali bit her lip but didn’t respond, and Apollo watched her carefully before murmuring “I am your father.”

Kali averted her gaze from his expectant face and mumbled “I know who you are.” She didn’t know how she felt about any of this. Didn’t know how she was supposed to respond.

“That is a relief. I was uncertain how much your mother would tell you.”

“Hades didn’t tell you, then.” Kali muttered, with a bitter smile.

Apollo’s voice was confused and…suspicious? “Hades? You have met?”

“Ares attacked me. Hades intervened.” Kali made a valiant effort to look back at him, but his presence almost seared her vision. Nonchalantly, she stated, “When I asked, he told me how to get here.”

“It seems I owe him a larger favour than I had intended.” He sighed wearily. “No matter, you are safer now.”

A small laugh escaped her throat. “Am I?”

“Safer is not the same as safe.” He admitted carefully. After a long moment, he tilted his head and said “You are taking this surprisingly well.”

“I am very tired.” She corrected him. Kali knew that she wasn’t exactly handling anything yet; she was just storing it away to deal with later. Rubbing her brow, she groaned “Do you mind if we skip that conversation and get to what I’m meant to tell people? I mean, I’m not overly keen on getting torn apart because of my own ignorance.”

Apollo seemed surprised for a moment before his calm smile settled back on his face. “As long as they believe you are my daughter, which you are, there is nothing else to be done. It is not something that the gods look out for as only comes about so rarely.” A flicker of unease touched his features and Kali realised that he wasn’t very good at hiding his emotions. Something they had in common, apparently. She shook herself out of her thoughts to hear him warn “Avoid spending too much time near Poseidon; he is shrewd and most likely to recognise the sea in your blood. Otherwise, learn what you can.”

Absentmindedly, she nodded. “So…what now?”

“You have three hours to yourself. Now that you are awake, you will be called to meet with Zeus and he will expect you at sunrise.” He paused to let that sink in, silently noting the panic that flared in her eyes. “The largest building by the lake is known by the demigods as the mess hall. The meeting room is on the first floor. There are stairs on the outside of the building, around the edges. Do not be late.” He turned and began to walk to the door.

Kali panicked and called out “Wait! I…what am I supposed to call you?”

He paused mid-step but didn’t look back at her. His voice was quiet, unassuming, as he replied “If you feel comfortable, I’d be happy with father. But we can start with Apollo.”

More than anything, Kali wanted to run and hug him. She wanted everything to be the way it was supposed to be. She wanted to be able to forgive and forget, and move forward. But she couldn’t pretend that she was alright with anything that had happened. No matter his reasons, he had left her. Her mother had lied to her for her entire life. Everything she knew was an illusion. A lie. So, instead of doing what she knew he was hoping for, she mumbled “Thank you, Apollo.”

“I will see you later, Kali.” He hesitated for a heartbeat before glancing back and smiling down at her. “Well done for getting here in one piece.”

Kali sat staring at the door where he left for a long time once he had gone, taking the sun with him. Eventually, grumbling to herself, she rolled out of bed. Three hours until sunrise. But Apollo hadn’t told her that she had to stay there. Wherever there was. Looking around the room, she shuddered; it looked like a hospital room. The clinical smell lingered in the air, and the walls and floor were white.

She stumbled as she explored the room; her limbs were still heavy with sleep. Or maybe it was the shock of the last day. She didn’t know how long she had been asleep, but so much had happened in the twenty-four hours before she had collapsed. Her brain still needed time to catch up.

Kali just wanted a long bath and a warm bed. She couldn’t risk going back to sleep; Apollo’s warning not to be late was ringing in her ears. But maybe she could at least have a shower?

The thought of finally being clean gave her new strength, and Kali forgot her troubles for a while under the boiling water. She had never been one for long showers, but it felt like hours the she stood under the steam. Once she emerged, she felt refreshed and ready to face the day.

Someone had already taken her old clothes away, and changed the bed sheets, while she had been in the shower. The thought of a stranger in the adjacent room while she showered wasn’t exactly comforting. But she dressed quickly and assessed her injuries, finding with relief that she had none. Even her broken arm was completely healed. Either she had been asleep for a week, or someone had helped it along.

Wasting no time in getting the hell out of the hospital, Kali grabbed her bag and hightailed it to the door. There were signs to the exit and she had no trouble finding her way. But the corridors were silent and strangely empty. Even at the crack of dawn, there should be people there. Especially when someone had been around to change her bed.

Kali breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped out into the morning twilight. She desperately wanted to explore but she could smell the sunrise on the horizon. Instead, she started making her way towards the large domed building she could see, by the lake.

When she had arrived, she had been too exhausted for the shock to really register. Now, she looked around her in awe at the camp, which still seemed to be unfolding around her. The buildings were of odd design, new and old and ancient all at the same time. There were elements of every time period in each of the buildings and some of it worked well but some of it was just a mess. Thirteen monuments had been built in the clearing and Kali assumed that there was one for each of the Olympians.

Stares followed Kali as she made her way to the Mess Hall and she tried to pretend she couldn’t hear the demigods whispering about her as soon as she passed them. How had news travelled so fast? Surely, she should have just blended in with so many people her age around. There were some demigods fighting, practising, and some sitting on the grass relaxing or reading. But all of them stopped to watch her pass.

By the time Kali got to the Mess Hall and gone up the stairs that encircled the edge, she was feeling a little weak again. It was rather precarious without any sort of railing and Kali worried that she would fall. She couldn’t help but wonder how Chiron got up there.

All the information was overloading her brain. Things were just moving so quickly, and it was all rather straining mentally for her. Her brain seemed to be trying to shut down to block out all the new data it was receiving. While her mind was lagging behind, her heart was hammering in her ears. She felt detached, separated from herself, but just focused on breathing as she approached a large door. Her hand hovered over the polished oak for several moments before she finally managed to make herself knock.

The few seconds of silence that followed crashed over her. What if she was in the wrong place? What if she was too early? The sun had just crested over the edge of the camp but…

A deep voice she recognised called “Enter” and Kali released the breath she had been holding. She was sure that had been Chiron’s voice, and he had been nice when she had arrived. And yet the energy she could feel emanating from the room as she opened the door was daunting. To say the least.

Kali took a deep breath to steady herself as she stepped inside, and the door swung silently shut behind her. She had never been all that good at meeting new people, but she could normally hide her nerves rather effectively. Now, though, her heartbeat thundered in her ears and her breaths were short and shallow. Her legs shook slightly as she walked towards the chair that had been pulled out for her.

As she forced herself to look up from her hands, her eyes fell onto a large round table made of smooth stone. There were intricate carvings covering every surface. When her eyes fell on the image of a sword buried in a stone at the centre of the table, she remembered that Apollo had called this place ‘Camelot’. “The round table?”

“Indeed.” Chiron replied with a smile and Kali started; she hadn’t meant to speak but the words had slipped out. She tried for a strained smile and Chiron indicated to the seat she had stopped behind. As she sat, she snuck a look around the room and her eyes were drawn to a shadowy corner. Hades’ presence calmed her slightly, though something felt different about him this time.

The sound of a man clearing his throat grabbed her attention and her eyes snapped to the man sitting opposite her. He was on the other site of the massive table, but his presence loomed right over her. She didn’t know how she hadn’t noticed before. She suddenly felt claustrophobic, but she clenched her jaw against the fear boiling over inside her.

The man’s eyes were stormy in colouring and in the way the irises swirled. That was enough of a clue for Kali to know who he was. But he flaunted his power in a way that the other gods Kali had met did not. She could feel it just oozing out of him and he wore it like a cloak while other gods masked it to blend in more. Even across the large room, it smothered her.

But even with that, Kali did not think that he was any more powerful than Hades was. Still, if she was right then he was the King of the gods and she bowed her head to him and focused her attention on him as she thought she should. He looked almost confused but seemed to be amused by her and he stated, “You know who I am?”

“I believe so.” Kali replied, pleased when her voice did not wobble or crack in any way. She had half expected it to be no more than a croak from the way her throat was constricting but it sounded more or less normal. Zeus pinned her down with his gaze, like a bird of prey. “Describe your journey here.”

His tone made it clear that he didn’t want any embellishment, so Kali bit her lip and spoke frankly. “I entered the tunnels in the amphitheatre, and followed them here. I don’t know how long I was down there but after a little while, a demigod apprehended and attacked me. I managed to subdue her, eventually, but then what I would describe as a hellhound came at me.”

She faltered, and Zeus’ scowl deepened menacingly. Chiron, standing at Zeus’ side, prompted gently. “And then?”

“I…think I killed it.” She admitted, quietly.

Zeus scoffed and raised an eyebrow, incredulously. “You destroyed a hellhound? Using what?”

“A knife.” A knife that she was dearly missing. She didn’t feel safe in this room.

Zeus watched her silently for several minutes. Kali managed, to her surprise, to remain silent until he finally continued “A knife? And then?”

“I grabbed Tracy and dragged her to the exit. Didn’t even try to get her up the slope, though.” Guilt shifted in her stomach, and she glanced down at her clasped hands. “Is she OK?”

Zeus rose from his chair with a grimace and boomed “I’ve heard enough.” Kali shrank back slightly in her chair, startled by the sudden change, but Zeus didn’t bother to look at her. Instead, he turned to the gleaming centaur beside him and waved a hand. “Chiron, wrap this up.”

As Zeus swept out of the room, his feet didn’t seem to touch the ground and a perpetual breeze sent his cloak billowing behind him. Kali wondered if it was for effect, or if he just couldn’t fully control the blustering winds. As the door slammed, she glanced back to where she could feel Hades waiting.

“Tracy will live. The greatest injury was to her pride, I am certain.” Chiron continued the conversation as though nothing had happened. “Tell me, why would Ares send one of his children to apprehend you?”

Kali looked back down at the table and traced the celtic knotwork automatically. “I think it would be best to ask him; I would only be speculating.”

“Speculate away.”

Kali sighed, but she knew it wasn’t a request. “Tracy said that he wanted to see me before I got swept up in the system here…and he approached me before I left to come here.”

“Is that why you made the journey? To be closer to the God of War?”

Was he testing her? Kali grimaced and insisted “To be safer from his advances. And it wasn’t the only reason, but I won’t pretend that it wasn’t a factor.”

“Then why are you here? You must be able to fit in with life in the mortal world, or you would have found your way to Camelot much sooner. Why now?” Chiron’s voice was pleasant, but his icy eyes drilled into her.

Kali looked away again, a deep unease settling over her. Reluctantly, she murmured “I didn’t know.”

Suspicion and surprise coloured his features. “You were unaware of your heritage?”

“I found out the day before I left to come here. I thought my dad died when I was three. I don’t want to live a lie anymore. Nothing ever felt real in my old life. Now that I know why, I can’t just go back.” She could hear the plea in her voice; she was afraid that they were going to send her away. She didn’t belong here either.

For a moment, she felt the brush of cool fingers against the back of her neck. The contact steadied her, but she lowered her face to let her hair mask her blush. A soft voice murmured in her ear “I’ll see you soon, dove. Not long now.”

Kali felt Hades’ presence fade, and she snuck a glance at Chiron again. But she couldn’t figure out if he had even noticed the exchange. He had been watching her impassively for a little while, and he continued to mask his features as he asked, “Why do you think your father kept his distance?”

“I would like to believe it was to protect me.” She said, quietly. “From what I’ve heard…there aren’t many of his children around anymore. But, honestly, I doubt it is as simple as that.”

The only sound in the silence that followed was the light clopping of his hooves on the hard floor as he paced slowly around the room towards her. “How many crossroads did you pass on your way here?”

Kali blinked. “Um…metaphorically, or…?”

“In the tunnels. The maze?” Chiron prompted patiently.

Again, Kali was at a loss. “I didn’t see any crossroads. I just followed the tunnel here.”

Chiron made a thoughtful sound. “And did you encounter any traps?”

Kali just shook her head.

“You have no need to be nervous. Reaching us here, alone, is all that was required to secure your place.” He smiled down at her kindly and moved towards the door. “Come, let me show you where you will be staying. We can continue the discussion on our way there.”

Oh goody, Kali thought to herself, but she had the sense to remain silent. Instead she nodded and followed Chiron out of the room and back down the stairs. Even with how precarious and narrow they were, Chiron didn’t show even a hint of discomfort or difficulty. Kali did her best not to stare, but she guessed that he probably noticed by the amused smile that had settled over his features when he finally began to speak once more.

“We sent someone to investigate the tunnels. There was a pile of ash, and rather a lot of blood. More than just yours. And yet, Tracy had not a scratch on her. Can you explain?”

Kali stopped in her tracks for a moment and took a deep breath. “I stabbed her. We were fighting, and I panicked, and I made a poor choice.” Putting it like that didn’t seem sufficient. Looking down at her hands, she could swear that she still saw Tracy’s blood all over them. “As soon as what I had done sank in…I tried to stop the blood and, I don’t know how but, I healed the wound.”

“Has anything like that happened before?” Again, his voice was light and gave nothing away. He continued to walk, keeping a pleasant smile on his face. They could have been discussing the weather.

“Once.” Kali admitted, walking after him and trying to ignore the other demigods they were passing. Everyone was still openly staring at her. It was starting to make her feel like an exotic animal at the zoo. “I’m still trying to piece it together.”

“Very well.” The look he sent her way made her feel like he was sizing her up. Testing her. His voice was too measured, too even, when he asked, “And Ares is the only one to have approached you?”

She hesitated, not wanting to go into it, but he would find out eventually. If he didn’t know already. Lying would get her nowhere. Acknowledging it out loud was still uncomfortable, though. “Not exactly. Hermes has expressed an interest…I guess. He sent me flowers, and I met him on my way here. Before I reached the amphitheatre.”

“You are as evasive as your father…”

“I’m sorry. I’m not…I shouldn’t mislead you. I just…I’m still trying to process all of this and…” She paused, remembering what Hades had said about her father’s limitations. Without thinking, she sighed and continued “When you can’t really lie, you pick up habits to work around it.”

Chiron nodded and sighed wearily. “I understand. Trying to have a direct conversation with your father is like trying to hold an angry snake. He twists and turns until I am dizzy. But he has had thousands of years to practice. You have not. Is that clear?”

Chiron’s piercing eyes had her shifting uncomfortably, and she nodded. “Crystal, sir.” She tried for a smile and insisted “I’ll work on it.”

He just laughed “Why do I suspect you intend to work on your evasion, and not on being more forthcoming?”

“I can work on both.” Kali sent him a slightly mischievous grin, testing the waters, and was relieved when he chuckled again.

They had stopped in front of a normal looking apartment building, and Chiron held out a simple canvas bag to her. “Welcome to Camelot, Kali of Apollo.” She took the bag with a grin; there was a warmth spreading in her chest like a bubble. Chiron studied her for a long moment and said “Any of the apartments in this building are available for you, so choose whichever you like. A guide will be by in an hour to show you around. We will also need to carry out some physical assessments of your abilities.”

“What…day is it, sir?”

“Sunday. Your classes will begin bright and early tomorrow morning.” Another reassuring smile that she didn’t quite know what to make of. “Your schedule is in that bag, along with a few useful items. There is a small inventory, describing the items, so please familiarise yourself with them before your guide arrives.”

With a final nod, he handed her a small silver key and trotted away. Kali took a deep breath and weighed the key in her hands for a long moment. This was really happening. The key was small and simple, nothing special really. But it was. To Kali, it was the symbol of a place that was hers. A place she could belong.

She took her time opening the main door of the apartment and walked up the stairs to the top floor, which she had decided would be hers. It was bright in the building, with light pouring in from every side, and the walls were white with a gold border. Fitting for Apollo, Kali thought.

When Kali reached her door, she took a deep breath and used the key to unlock it. She entered with a small smile, but froze in the act of closing the door behind her when she felt someone else in the room. Mentally crossing her fingers, she murmured “Hades?”

“Lucky guess.” The reply came in Hades’ deep voice, soft as a caress.

Kali grinned and turned towards him, leaning back against the door. “I made it.”

A gentle chuckle answered her. “Not exactly in one piece. I figured you wouldn’t have any trouble with the maze, but I can’t say I expected a hellhound to attack you down there.” There was a slight pause before Hades quietly asked “How are you holding up?”

“I’m not in any pain.” She said, cryptically, casting her eyes down.

“Kali…” He stopped, and Kali felt arms close around her, drawing her into his chest. His voice was soft, and his lips brushed her hair as he murmured “I know it is difficult, but you did what you had to do to survive.”

Trembling, Kali struggled to keep herself together, but tears began streaking down her cheeks. “I know I need to move on, or get over it, or whatever…I just…”

Hades’ hand closed around the back of her neck and his fingers tangled gently in her hair. “There is nothing wrong with feeling the way you do about this. You shouldn’t have to be a cold-blooded killer. You did what you had to, but you can still empathise with a creature most see as a monster.” A thumb brushed a tear from her cheek. “That says a lot about you, you know.”

“You’re…different here.” It was true; even holding her, there was something…between them. She could feel him, but he wasn’t as solid as he’d been before. His scent was diminished somehow.

He didn’t sound surprised. If anything, his voice was teasing. “Am I?”

“I feel like you’re further away from me than before. The shadows are…deeper here.” Even so, she couldn’t help but sink into his embrace.

“You are very astute.” He whispered into her ear, and then went very still. “Give me a moment, dove.”

After a few seconds, his form solidified under her hands and she felt his grip tighten slightly around her. Breathless, she stammered “What…happened?”

His finger curled a strand of her hair absentmindedly, and he explained, “I did not wish to be seen observing earlier, so I masked my presence more thoroughly than usual.”

“But…” She hesitated for a heartbeat, confused. “I could still feel you.”

His chuckle rumbled against her chest and she blushed furiously at her own words. “Yes, you could.” He murmured silkily. “And I have to say, you were very sneaky in that meeting.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” She replied, unconvincingly. Despite her best intentions, a small grin crept onto her face and she quickly gave up when he laughed again.

“I assume that Chiron believes you cannot lie, like your father? That was a good idea.” Slowly, almost reluctantly, his arms lowered, and he took a small step backwards, away from her. “I shouldn’t stay…”

Kali’s heart plummeted. She was surprised by how bereft she felt as it crossed her mind that he didn’t have to look out for her there. After all, Apollo had only asked him to make sure she arrived safely. “Am I going to see you again?” She mumbled, casting her gaze down.

“Absolutely.” He replied certainly, with a gentle laugh. “I’m afraid to say that you’re stuck with me now, love. Though it would be best if you didn’t mention how…unaffected you are by me.”

“Unaffected?” She muttered, more to herself. That wasn’t a word she would use, but it was probably best not to correct him. She shouldn’t forget that he was a god.

“Poor choice of words?” He made a thoughtful sound in the back of his throat, and murmured “How do I affect you, I wonder?”

A thrill rushed across Kali’s skin despite herself, but she forced herself to shake her head and ignore her racing heart. “You’re a scoundrel.”

“Scoundrel? You wound me!” He exclaimed.

Kali rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t suppress the grin that was trying to creep onto her face. She dropped her face again, to hide her expression, and stated “Liar. You’re grinning like the bloody Cheshire cat right now.”

“Oh am I, indeed?” He tried to feign indignation but instead he laughed until his jaw ached.

“I can feel it.” Kali finally looked up and her answering smile was like the sun breaking through clouds.

He paused, quietly asking “You can feel when I’m smiling?”

She could feel a strange smile passing over his lips but not quite touching them and she blushed. After a moment, she suggested “You have a very expressive voice.”

“Voice, huh?” A soft chuckle followed his words, and he sighed. “You really are full of surprises, aren’t you.” He touched her chin and held her gaze for a long moment, until she was breathless. And then he released her again and she felt him move towards the door. “But listen to me, taking up all of your time. I should let you look through your things and get settled.”

“You don’t have to leave…” She murmured hastily, not quite finding the willpower to look at him.

He moved back to her side and took her hand slowly. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Kali.” Cool lips brushed the inside of her wrist, before he slipped away again. That time, she could not summon the words to respond until long after he had already gone. Her skin burned and tingled. She stared at the door for a long while before sinking weakly onto the sofa in the room.

When her head wasn’t stumbling over every word he had said, Kali took a proper look around her new apartment. It was larger than she had expected. She had an open plan living room and kitchen, with a small table she could have dinner on. There was a sofa, an armchair, a coffee table, a bookcase, and a chest of drawers in the room. Two doors led off the living room: the bathroom, and her bedroom. Everything was decorated fairly plainly, with light wood units and cream walls. It wasn’t extravagant or fancy, but it was hers. She picked her bag up from where she had left it, by the door, and busied herself by opening up the welcome pack Chiron had given her.

There was a small booklet which explained the items, and Kali read through it with mounting interest. There was an intricate silver ring with a small sunstone set in a strangely familiar knotwork design. This was her ID band, according to the booklet. The sunstone was for Apollo, so everyone would be able to identify her. It glimmered enchantingly in the sunlight streaming through the windows, and Kali couldn’t help but smile at the dancing colours.

There was a map of the camp, a diary, and her lesson schedule enclosed. But the most fascinating item looked like a hearing aid. After reading what it was in the booklet, Kali wasted no time in putting it on. It was a translator. As there were so many different people from different parts of the world at the school, it was necessary that they all have a tool to understand each other. Whilst wearing the ear piece, the students would be able to understand any spoken language.

Finally, she came across the questionnaire she was supposed to fill out. It was mostly personality profile questions, from what she could see. Though she was also meant to list any skills, mortal or otherwise, that she had. She tried to be as honest as possible, but that part stumped her. She wasn’t sure she really had any skills. She was good with animals, but that was more to do with them being good with her. There were a lot of things that she could just do…but they weren’t achievements, they were just natural for her.

While she was mulling it over, still chewing on the end of a pen, there was a knock at her door. She started, panicking somewhat, until she remembered that Chiron had said someone would be round to give her a tour when he dropped her off. With all her dawdling, an hour had passed without her even realising. She hadn’t even started to unpack her things.

Gritting her teeth, Kali fumbled with the door before she opened it to reveal a face she knew well. Standing before her was someone she hadn’t seen or heard from in…four years? “Tom?”

His jaw dropped, grey eyes wide, and he struggled with himself for a moment. Kali could see that he didn’t know what to do, so she took a second to look at him. The same serious eyes, and the same floppy hair. The same baby face, though he had clearly had more luck growing a bit of stubble to hide behind than when he was sixteen. It took Kali too long to realise that this must have been where he disappeared to.

“Kali. You’re…here.”

“So are you.” She valiantly tried to smile, but his eyeline caught her attention and she ducked her head. Her hair fell expertly over her face, covering the more recent scars, and she mumbled “I guess you’re my guide today, then?”

“Yeah…” He scratched his head awkwardly, leaning against the doorframe. “I can’t believe I didn’t see that you were a demigod. It seems so obvious now, looking back.”

Tom’s smile hadn’t changed either. It was still slightly lopsided, a small scar on his lip making one side lift more than the other. She’d thought it was charming when she was younger. Everyone in her class had a thing for Tom, and she could see why, even if she’d never fallen herself. He was her partner in crime, and her confidant. He was the brother she’d never had, and she would have followed him anywhere. Then, one day, he just didn’t show up at school and she never heard from him again. He went from being her best friend, to just dropping out of her life without a word. And she’d never understood why.

“So, how’ve you been?” Kali asked, biting her lip with a weak smile.

“I’m so sorry, Kali.” He whispered, closing the distance between them and pulling her into a too-tight hug. “I should have just taken you with me.”

In spite of her best intentions, tears welled up in her eyes and Kali shook with the effort to keep them back. She buried her face in his shoulder and muttered “You didn’t even say goodbye.”

“I know.” Tom replied wretchedly. “Everything just happened so fast and…I have no excuse.” He hung his head and dropped his arms, taking half a step back to give her some space. There was no sign of his signature smile now, and Kali had never seen him look so weary. In the four years, he looked like he had aged at least ten. He sighed heavily, and his serious eyes met hers as he asked, “Do you think there’s any way you might be able to forgive me?”

“Damn it with the puppy dog look.” Kali mumbled, looking away. She scowled and insisted “That might work on everyone else, but not me!” She shoved him lightly out the door and followed, locking the door behind her.

Tom laughed and suggested “How about I show you around the camp, and we can catch up on old times?”

Kali couldn’t find any reason to deny him that, at least, and she really had missed him. It was bad enough that she was holding onto her abandonment issues with her dad. Maybe she could have a chance to move forward and have Tom back in her life. But…even if he had a reason to leave, he should have told her. If she had meant anything to him, surely he would have?

As they walked, Kali struggled to drag herself out of her head enough to listen to what Tom was saying. He pointed out a lot of the buildings and explained what he did there. He filled the silence with random tidbits of gossip and information about the gods. But it was obvious that she wasn’t completely there.

After a long silence, while they wandered almost aimlessly through the camp, Tom murmured “So…those scars…how did you get them?”

Kali paled and stared determinedly at her hands as they walked. There was a flash of talons, icy pain burning through her, the sound of her pounding heart filling her ears. She closed her eyes against the memory briefly, forcing it from her mind. The marks on her face and neck had stubbornly decided not to go away, even though months had passed. Constant reminders of her failure, and her loss.

“Kali?” He prompted, his voice gentle. It was the kind of tone Kali would use with a spooked animal, so she dreaded to think what expression she was wearing.

She realised that she hadn’t answered, so she composed a weak smile onto her face. “I’m not sure. If I had to guess, I’d say a harpy? But the memory is still hazy. It was before I knew about any of this. I’m still piecing it together.”

“Of course…” He hesitated, but asked “Were there many incidents?”

“I’m not sure.” Kali forced herself to shrug nonchalantly and then stated, “I’m still trying to figure out which ones were normal, and which weren’t.”

Tom hung his head, reaching to put his arm around her. “I should never have left.”

“I can take care of myself, Tom. You did what you had to do.” She murmured, barely managing to keep the bitterness out of her voice. The last thing she wanted to do was reassure her best friend that he’d been right to leave her behind. But she didn’t shrug off his arm. “Do people always stare at you this much?”

Tom glanced at her, noting the half smile she wore, and chuckled. “They’re not staring at me, Kali. But, no. They’re normally more subtle. There are always new kids in and out, so you’d think they would be used to new faces by now.”

As it was a Sunday, there were no lessons. That meant that the demigods were all out relaxing and practising. Sitting on the grass, splashing by the fountain, and sparring in the courtyards. But every one of them looked their way as they passed, like an outside force possessed them to do so. Some of them were trying to be subtle, glancing up from their conversations or books every few seconds. Others dropped their weapons and openly stared.

Gods were drawn to power, so perhaps something inside the demigods recognised that she wasn’t quite the same as them. Considering how different the gods felt to her, Kali thought, that wasn’t such an outlandish theory. But it made her worried; how long would it take the gods to realise what it was her father wanted to hide from them? Maybe Camelot wasn’t the safest place for her after all.

“Hey, it’s OK.” Tom nudged her. “They won’t bother you while you’re with me.”

Kali bit back the retort on her tongue, and then stopped in her tracks when she saw the stables. She sighed wistfully, and Tom chuckled “I thought you’d like to see the horses.”

“I probably shouldn’t.” She mumbled, more to herself. At his curious look, she smiled and lied “If I stop here now, I’ll stay all day.”

He seemed mildly disappointed but nodded. “Yeah, fair point. But I’ll bring you back later on to say hello, when we’re done.”

“Sure.” She forced another smile. “So what lessons do you do at a place like this?”

Tom sighed gently and rubbed his head. “I knew you weren’t paying attention earlier.” He laughed nervously and said “Guess this is a lot to take in, huh?”

“Well…” Kali started, trying to figure out a way to explain why she had been so distracted, but Tom held his hands up to stop her.

“It’s okay. I don’t mind, really. I’m still trying to process you being here myself. And you’re all grown up, too.” He smiled sadly, and Kali knew that he was struggling with missing so much. They had been friends for almost six years and he had been at her side almost every day.

“I wouldn’t go that far.” She mumbled sheepishly.

He ran a hand through his blonde hair, averting his eyes, and said “You’re not the same scrawny, clumsy kid that I used to drag around everywhere. You’re still a midget, don’t get me wrong, but-” He trailed off when Kali shoved him into the side of the library, snapping “I’m five foot nine, you ass!”

After a moment of silence, they both burst out laughing and Kali doubled over. Tom stumbled as he moved to push her back and they spent a few minutes play-wrestling, trying to get the upper hand. Eventually, they gave up and Kali dropped onto the grass, wearing her first real smile since they had left her room. “That’s better.” Tom said, nudging her cheek with his knuckle.

He slowly sat down next to her and put his arm around her, quietly asking “Are we gonna be OK?”

“Yeah…” She mumbled, resting her head on her knees. “I think so. But…you really hurt me, Tom.”

“I know. I’m sorry, Kali.” He pulled his arm away and turned to face her. “I’ll never leave you again. I can promise you that.”

Kali’s fragile hope could shatter at the smallest gust of wind, but she made a leap and decided to trust him. His grey eyes were honest, and his words resonated with sorrow and determination. “Okay.” She said. “Then we’ll be alright in no time.”

They stood and hugged, earning even more stares from the fellow students, and then Tom dragged her away from the bulk of the prying eyes and towards the library he had pointed out earlier. When he suggested they go inside, Kali agreed. She loved books anyway, but she would have gone almost anywhere to be away from the demigods staring openly at them.

He led her inside, into a high hallway with almost no light. The main room at the end opened out with grand archways and towering bookcases. It was a three-story building, but it was just one giant hall lined with mountains of bookshelves and the occasional ladders. There were some ledges that seemed for form a first and second floor, but the domed ceiling and the intricate chandelier that hung from it were in full view. Deep mahogany furniture was trimmed with deep green material and brass buttons throughout.

Stopping in the middle of the room, Kali gazed around her in wonder. Everything inside her went quiet, and she basked in the sheer grandeur and scale of it all. But stunned and amazed as she was, she was calm. This place was so peaceful. The only light came from the occasional hooded lantern and the grand fireplace. There were no windows, but there were skylights lining the ceiling, letting sunlight fill the library but for the long shadows cast by the ledges.

A hand on her shoulder snapped her out of her reverie and Tom laughed quietly. He rolled his eyes and whispered, “You didn’t hear a word I just said, did you?”

Kali barely wanted to breathe in case she would break the eerie stillness, so she shook her head. He grinned again and nodded his head towards the door, moving before she had a chance to answer. She was reluctant to leave, but even more reluctant to speak so she let him pull her from the library without argument. When they were back outside, Kali glanced wistfully at the door, but Tom insisted “There’s someone I want you to meet before I take you back to Chiron.”

“What do you need to take me to Chiron for?” She asked apprehensively.

“Just a couple of assessments. Standard stuff.”

“Oh.” She said simply. “But I still don’t know what we do here.”

“Then you should have listened.” He stuck his tongue out but relented at the scowl on her face. “Alright, so some of it is pretty normal. We do Psychology with Dionysus one week and Biochemistry the next. Apollo takes Music and then Healing. Then you have Artemis with Archery, and Tracking. Um…Cartography with Hermes, and Survival Skills. Things like that alternate every week to cover all the topics.”

“Are there any that stay the same every week or do they all change?” Kali wondered aloud, worrying that she would lose track of where she was supposed to be. Even with the timetable, she knew she would find it hard to focus.

Tom grinned, knowing how scatterbrained she could be. “Ancient History with Zeus – though he never takes that himself.” Kali tried and failed to keep the relief off her face and Tom laughed, before continuing “Ares does Weapons Training and Unarmed Combat in the Colosseum every week. Demeter does Horticulture; about plants and what they’re good for. I never really followed that one, but I guess it could be interesting to some people. My mum does Maths and Strategems.”

“Athena?”

“Of course.” He grinned, clearly proud, and Kali smiled. Tom had always wanted to belong to something just as much as she had. It was nice that he had found that here.

“So,” she prompted, “all the gods have a class?”

He nodded, putting his hands in the pockets of his tracksuit bottoms as they approached the fountain. “All the Olympians do, yeah. Even the Lord of the Underworld teaches the languages, but don’t let that scare you off.”

“Hades.” She murmured, more to herself. Her wrist tingled slightly at the memory.

“One and the same. He’s kind of intimidating but apparently most of the stories are made up.” Tom smiled, unaware that Kali didn’t need his reassurance.

As they drew closer to the fountain, Kali saw her first satyr. At least, she assumed that’s what he was. He looked like a normal guy about Tom’s age from the waist up, with auburn hair and olive skin. But he had long brown fur which encased his goat legs and ended in slate-coloured hooves. As they approached, his head flicked up and Kali saw hazel eyes that couldn’t decide if they were deep green or earthy brown. He grinned in their direction and bounded towards them, raising his hand to Tom.

“Sage!” Tom called, and grabbed the satyr’s arm firmly before pulling him into a bear-hug. He bleated as his frame was enveloped by Tom; he was the same height but much leaner and Kali was surprised he didn’t break in half. But he was smiling when he freed himself from the greeting.

Tom gave his lopsided grin and said “Sage, this is Kali.”

Kali shuffled awkwardly to Tom’s side and Sage frowned slightly, asking “Kali? Like your little sister, Kali?” He held out his hand to her and she shook it with a small smile, noting the two curly horns that peeked out of his auburn hair. She glanced at Tom and asked, “You spoke about me?”

“Might have mentioned you.” He shrugged sheepishly, and Sage let out a laugh that was more like a bleat and interrupted “Mentioned? He barely stopped talking about you his first few weeks here.”

“Sage, mate, if you don’t shut up right now then I might have to break your nose.” Tom muttered, glaring threateningly at his friend.

Sage just laughed again, and Kali smiled softly and muttered “I missed you too, Tom.”

That time she knew that he blushed, and he pulled her into an awkward hug and clapped her on the back briefly before almost pushing her away. She suppressed a giggle at his attempt at not showing any actual emotion. It was difficult for her not to mock him for it, but it didn’t seem fair when he was vulnerable. Sage shot her a grin and rolled his eyes at Tom and then sat down on the edge of the fountain and said “So, Kali, what do you think of the place?”

“It’s a lot to take in.” She admitted with a weak smile.

“I can imagine.” Sage smiled sympathetically. “I know it isn’t easy to leave everything you know. But at least everyone here understands that, so you’re not alone.”

Kali felt some of her tension ease at his words. “I didn’t think of it that way.”

He laughed, another bleat, and said “Don’t get me wrong, you’re the oldest new recruit I’ve ever seen arrive here. But at the end of the day, we’re all family and we’re all in this together.”

“Thank you, Sage.”

“Anytime. Anyone that can put up with this idiot is someone I can get along with.” Sage smiled kindly and his eyes warmed to a soft brown. He shot Tom a glance, asking “Don’t you need to take her to the Colosseum?”

“Yeah…” Tom stood reluctantly, shuffling his feet. “I guess I lost track of time a little.”

“Colosseum?” She paled slightly and just looked at Tom, waiting for confirmation.

He laughed. “Don’t look so panicked. Like I said, it’s just some assessments. Combat is kind of a thing here, as I’m sure you noticed.”

“So, my assessment is to do with fighting?” She said through the lump in her throat. Her stomach was knotting, making her feel sick; she wasn’t a strong fighter. And she knew that there would be an audience to watch her fall on her arse.

“Some of it is.” Tom laughed again, ruffling her hair. “So, we’d better hurry before too many of the demigods realise what’s going on.” He winked and jogged off away from her and in the direction of the arena.

Kali just muttered a curse under her breath and nodded to Sage, who was trying not to laugh out loud at the look on her face, and then sprinted after Tom. She caught him up quickly and tackled him to the floor before he noticed that she had caught up. She tumbled poorly and bruised her shoulder, but managed to scramble to her feet. Laughing, she broke into another run towards the arena with Tom hot on her heels.

When they reached the Colosseum, Kali doubled over and tried to regain her breath, unsuccessfully. Laughing made breathing difficult. Tom skidded to a halt beside her and looked like he was nursing a stitch, but he laughed and jabbed playfully at her side. Kali danced back, but paused when she saw Tom’s grin fall from his face. It was replaced by a serious expression, and Kali saw that Chiron was standing a few feet from them. His white fur was glowing in the afternoon sun, and his long white hair was now tied in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. Harsh blue eyes fixed on Kali until any hint of amusement had drained out of her.

Nerves wracked her, and her heart pounded in her ears. Time for her assessments. Time to fight.

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