ARCHIVE (Awakening – Chapter Seven)

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

Chapter Seven

Kali was in a cave. She couldn’t see anything at first; she never could, but she knew that her eyes would get used to the dark eventually. When they did, she knew what she would see. The rough walls of the cavern, a pitch tunnel that she never dared approach, and the man in chains. The same dream she had been having for as long as she could remember. It had changed with time; at first, she had been too afraid to even move. The first few years she started having this dream it had been a nightmare. The darkness had forced itself inside of her, swallowing her, and she had clung to the wall and screamed. It had not come to her often, but it stayed with her since that first visit.

As she grew older, it became more frequent. After a while, she managed to open her eyes in the dream and look at where she was. But she could not move, and all she saw was an empty abyss. Eventually, she managed to see that there was a structure, the abyss was a place. She felt the wall behind her and realised it was rock, realised that the emptiness was some sort of cavern. That cave tormented her conscious mind as much as it did her dreams, haunting her. Many nights she was afraid to sleep in case she was dragged back there.

It took some time for her to stand and step away from the wall. When she did, she was terrified of losing herself to the emptiness around her. The only reason she found the strength was because of the figure she had seen kneeling in the centre of the cavern. She had never seen him before, so preoccupied with not losing her mind in the hollow loneliness that consumed her when she was there. It was all encompassing. But, when she saw him, she could feel how hopeless he was. She knew that she could not abandon him to that place.

Kali had come a long way from that first tentative step away from the wall. She had approached the man with shackles on his wrists and sat with him in silence for what felt like hours at a time. She dreamt of him at least once every week now and it was almost as though he was calling out to her. There were parts of that place that still terrified her but as long as she sat with him she was not afraid; he would protect her. They never spoke but they understood each other without needing words.

It always felt so real but when she woke up and stepped out of the house into the world, the intensity of it all ebbed away. He still haunted her thoughts, but she knew he was just some figment of her imagination. She had seen a therapist, more than one, because of her ‘issues’ at her last schools and had mentioned the dreams once. The woman had told her that they were manifestations of her anxiety and her feelings of isolation, probably because of the loss of her father. Kali had tried to believe her, but the dreams were persistent, and they always felt so real.

Kali did not move; waiting for her sight to adjust; she still feared the consuming darkness. She had seen what lurked in the shadows, waiting for prey, once before and she did not want to encounter that particular beast. Not even in her dreams. This was the first night since before she had left for Camelot, before she had found out that the real world was a lie, that the man in shackles had called to her. So much had happened, things were so different, but he seemed so constant.

As soon as she could see the faint outline of him kneeling on the hard ground, where he always was, she moved to his side. She felt beings in the shadows around her but paid them no heed. She did not realise how uneasy she had been until she had arrived in that dark place. When she saw him, a weight lifted from her shoulders and she let go of a fear she had not known she was bearing.

It was that night that he spoke to her for the first time. His voice was barely a whisper and hoarse from so long without use, but it was oddly soothing when he murmured her name quietly. At the sound, she just looked at him blankly and a pained smile touched his lips. She could barely see, even accustomed as she was to the dark of that cave, but his silvery green eyes were bright as he looked upon her. He said her name again and she felt a tear spring unbidden to her eye, but she could not move.

“I did not think to see you again.” He said slowly, his voice so quiet she could barely hear him. “You are so far away. I thought perhaps you had left. But even now you have come to me.”

Kali knew that the language he was speaking was nothing she had ever really heard before, but she could understand every word and found herself replying in the same tongue. Her voice was almost as quiet as his as she hesitantly asked, “Is this…real?”

“I cannot answer that.”

“Who are you?” She asked desperately.

He said nothing and Kali wondered if he even had an answer to that question anymore. When she had given up waiting for a reply, he whispered “I am the endless shadow, hiding from the light. I am the silence that deafens in the never-ending night. I am the betrayer, betrayed by my own kin. I heal all but commit man’s gravest sin.”

The words echoed through the cavern and sent shivers down Kali’s spine. She could not shake the feeling that she had heard those words somewhere before. She just looked at him, looking into his shining eyes, and resisted slightly as she was pulled away and knew that she was waking up. His eyes shone with regret and Kali fought to stay just a moment longer, but she opened her eyes and she was lying in her bed. Before she even got up, she grabbed a notepad and pen and wrote down the riddle before she forgot it.

She lay back again and wondered, not for the first time, if it had maybe been more than just a dream. This life was so new to her that she just didn’t know if something like that was possible. But the thought that the dark cavern really existed terrified her, and the thought that the man in shackles was really imprisoned there was almost too distressing to think about. Kali pushed the thought aside as she had so many times before and forced herself out of bed.

It was still dark outside; one thing that Kali didn’t like about this time of year was getting up and going outside before the sun had risen. Pale light struggled through the gap in her curtains, but Kali turned from it and started getting ready. Her first lesson was Weapons Training with Ares again, so she pulled on a fresh pair of tracksuit bottoms and another red t-shirt and those clumsy army boots.

When Kali made her way into the living room of her flat, she remembered that she hadn’t yet looked at the gift baskets that had been left in the middle of the room. She had planned to last night, but she had just been so tired that it had slipped her mind. A small smile crept across her face as she sat on the floor and pulled the first one towards her. They were meant to be things that she needed for the classes, but she was still excited; presents were presents after all.

There were three baskets and a few boxes sitting on the floor of her living room and the first basket she looked at was tied with a purple ribbon. She picked up a bottle of wine from it and looked at it, puzzled about how this could be relevant to one of her classes. She wasn’t much for drinking but it looked like an interesting bottle so she replaced it beside the two others that were there and decided that she would try them at some special occasions. She read the card and saw that this was from Dionysus, the god of wine, the theatre and madness. Though he specialised in the kind of madness brought on by certain drugs and substances, he was actually the main authority on all forms of insanity. Also in his basket were some books about mental illness and about biochemistry. Kali flicked through one of the textbooks briefly and then picked up the box in the bottom of the basket. The note attached to the box told her enough to know that she probably wouldn’t be using this in her free time; poisons and ingredients to damage the mind of your opponents. Useful though that may be in certain situations, Kali doubted she would be able to sink so low; it seemed dishonest and unnecessarily harmful.

The next basket was pink and was filled to the brim with makeup, accessories, and general beauty products. Not to mention a number of bottles of perfume that Kali had never even heard of. According to one of the many notes in this basket, these and the list that had been written down were the fragrances that would complement her own natural scent perfectly. She was sceptical but assumed that the goddess of love, lust and beauty would know what she was talking about. All the makeup and products were meant to be perfect for her, but she had decided to reserve judgement until she had tried them.

Part of her wanted to hate this particular goddess; Amanda had only highlighted what Kali had assumed Aphrodite and her family would be like. But Jem was of the same stock, and he was more interested in other aspects of beauty and love. Still, she guessed that Aphrodite was reflected more in her Barbie doll daughter when she read the note that said makeup was compulsory in her classes. Kali scowled and put aside that basket, reaching for the third and final basket.

This one was not decorated with a ribbon but with flower buds that were growing from the woven wood of the basket itself. Kali did not need to read that label to know that this was from Demeter. Inside was a selection of aromatherapy oils and a large compendium of plants and their uses. She half-smiled and made a mental note to write up the notes from the horticulture class while she could still read them.

There were two boxes on the floor and Kali opened the one that was embossed with the symbol of Hermes – the caduceus – first. It held a variety of lock picks and a Swiss army knife with many attachments that Kali didn’t even recognise and had no idea what they would be used for. She guessed that she would find that out in the ‘Survival Skills’ classes with Hermes which she would be starting the following week. There was also a miniature globe and a selection of maps which were clearly to be used in the cartography classes.

The final box smelled of the sea. When Kali lifted it, she could hear waves crashing. The box itself seemed to be made of coral of some sort. Inside was an intricate looking compass and other navigation tools. There were also sea shells littering the bottom of the box and three books – one about sailing, one about horses, and one about the sea itself and the creatures within. The latter seemed to have been written by Poseidon himself, or at least those in his court, and when Kali looked through it she saw that it went into great depth and detail about the politics of his kingdom.

Before heading to the arena for Weapons Training, she put the gifts in her bedroom. She was not looking forward to seeing Ares again, but she felt almost ill thinking about the class she would be having with Apollo later in the day. She tried to stop thinking about it and just jogged across the camp towards the Colosseum for the class.

Weapons Training passed in much the same way as before. No matter how stubborn she was, there was only so hard she could push her pathetic muscles. But she knew she would improve, with hard work and a little patience. The latter didn’t come naturally to her, but she had time. She was picking up the weapon drills with little difficulty, and she found she enjoyed it. Even more so, she enjoyed that Ares was keeping his distance. If she wanted to catch him off guard, she had to hide her improvement from him as much as possible.

Finally, the time came for Kali’s first Archery class with Artemis. She had been looking forward to it greatly; any relation to the God of Archery was sure to be able to shoot an arrow. She could relax and be herself. No hiding. Not to mention, Artemis and Apollo had no secrets from one another so she already knew who and what Kali was.

Even as a child, Kali had always admired Artemis. As the maiden goddess, she was unmarried and drew her worth from herself. She was the complete opposite of Kali’s mother in that. Kali could remember imagining Artemis as an older sister when she was struggling. In some ways, meeting her was like greeting an old friend. But it was also embarrassing that her imaginary friend turned out to be a real person. A powerful goddess, at that.

Artemis treated Kali like she was no different to the other students. She was attentive, with a warm smile and a no-nonsense attitude. There would be no special treatment, and that was the way Kali preferred it. Things were similar with Apollo later in the day, in the Music class. Unlike Artemis’, her father’s distance bothered her. She didn’t know how she wanted him to act, or what she wanted him to say. More than anything, she was angry with herself for being so worried, or expecting anything at all.

After Music, Kali wanted to be alone. Instead of seeking out Tom she sat at the edge of the lake. It was a popular spot, but she managed to find a quieter section, further from the mess hall. She simply sat watching the reflections of the sunlight in the water until it was time to go to Psychology, where she ended up sitting with Jem and Carl. The two boys were pleasant company, which helped her shake off her lethargy enough to seek Tom out for some training before dinner.

Tom and Sage took her to a small clearing, through a small swathe of trees but still within the camp’s limits. Kali appreciated the nature, and the quiet. Sage gave her a searching look, but he didn’t ask her what was wrong, and she didn’t have the energy to bring it up. For the little time they had before dinner, Kali simply focused on channelling channel her feelings towards something that would make her fight rather than give up. Her distracted thoughts put her on the floor more than she would have liked, but any progress was good progress.

The closer Kali got to the mess hall, once they had called it a night, the more her anxiety spiked. Clearly, she wasn’t ready to face such a rowdy place in her current headspace. Before she could think of any excuses, Sage turned to her with a smile, saying “See you tomorrow.”

She grinned, relieved, and gave him a quick hug before heading back to her rooms for the evening. Despite a night of dreamless sleep, Kali didn’t feel much better come sunrise. Her first class would be Unarmed Combat, and she was afraid of the fire that had burst from her the last time she fought someone up close. Even in a practice bout with Tom, it had just erupted from her without warning.

But she knew she couldn’t shy away from it forever. More than anything else, that new little “talent” was one that she had to learn to control. Fear wouldn’t do her any good. Not that knowing that made it any easier to snap out of her uncertainty.

Kali shuffled her feet on the way to the Colosseum, forgetting about breakfast, and reluctantly joined the group running laps. Ares was, thankfully, busy with one of the other groups they shared the arena time with, so Kali managed to keep her head down and focus on keeping up. One of the teaching assistants, Jared, went through the “usual” gruelling drills with them until it was time to pair off to practice.

Her head was a jumble of guards and forms, so Kali was relieved when she was pulled aside with a couple of others in the group. Jared spared them half a steely glare before shouting “Eliza, make yourself useful and get over here.”

“What?”

“Got some greenies could use a hand.”

The girl, Eliza, looked over at them with clear disdain and stomped towards the group. With bright red hair and tanned skin, she didn’t look much like her father. The only thing that set her with the rest of her siblings was her muscular build.

Jem, an almost permanent fixture at her side, decided that would be a suitable time to tell Kali everything he knew about their coach. The only thing she really picked up from Jem’s hurried whisper was that Eliza had been at the camp since she was a child. She was only seventeen, younger than Kali, but was in one of the older classes because of her experience.

“I thought only Aphrodite’s brats liked to gossip.” Eliza called out, her glare fixed on Kali. “You here to fight, or not?”

Kali was slightly taken aback, but she knew she shouldn’t have been surprised by the hostility. Clearly, a lot of Ares’ demigods had issues expressing themselves without resorting to violence. Shooting Jem a small smile, Kali stepped forward and said “I’m here to learn.”

In a heartbeat, Eliza had tackled her and pinned her to the ground. Startled, Kali didn’t struggle and just lay dazed. Smug, the girl leaned in and said “Lesson one. There are no countdowns in a real fight.”

She released her and Kali pushed herself to her feet, feeling bruised. Again, Eliza swung without warning and Kali barely managed to pull herself out of the way. Trying to remember the forms they had been shown, she blocked the next attack and was rewarded with a knee to the gut. She fell back, tasting blood, but pushed herself back to her feet with a grimace.

Eliza watched her with unveiled disgust, grunting “You’re not even that strong; he usually likes women that can actually handle themselves. I don’t know what he sees in you.”

“Trust me, neither do I.” Kali admitted, breathing heavily.

Eliza scoffed and then threw herself back at Kali without hesitation. Kali had guessed she would and was more prepared this time. She didn’t want to be ‘worthy’ or Ares’ attention, but she did resent the implication that she wasn’t good enough for him. This girl didn’t even know her. As her irritation swelled into anger, Kali’s focus sharpened.

Forgetting the jumbled techniques she had tried to absorb, Kali just clenched her jaw and reacted. Chiron had said that she was a ball of instincts, so she should use them. Smoke curled the ends of her hair and she launched through a wide swing Eliza sent her way. The girl was being reckless because she was fighting someone with less experience. Kali would make her regret it.

Kali lost count of how many blows they exchanged. Hardly any made real contact, and Eliza was sweating just as much as Kali was when she finally managed to flip her. Once again, Kali rolled back up onto her feet, but Eliza held up her hands and muttered “You were holding back.”

“I usually am.” She coughed, sitting back on the hard ground.

“Huh.” Eliza paused to breathe, clearly battling herself. Begrudgingly, she asked “So what did you do to get him to notice you?”

Kali just looked at her, panting. “What?”

“You must have done something. To impress him, gain his favour, that sort of thing.” Eliza’s tone was dark again, but she wouldn’t look at her.

Kali sighed irritably and stated “Ares knows that, as far as I’m concerned, he can take his favour and shove it.” The last words were directed to where he was stood watching, and he laughed openly. Grimacing, Kali muttered “I didn’t do anything to get him to notice me; I didn’t want to be noticed.”

“So…you don’t like him?” Eliza frowned, confused, and Kali realised that she had thought that Ares’ advances were welcome.

Kali actually laughed weakly and said “No offense, but he’s a creep.”

“I’m not going to argue about that.” She admitted quietly, pushing the red hair that had been spiralling out of her ponytail away from her face.

Kali smiled slightly, and asked “Does this mean you’ll go easier on me?”

“Probably not.” Eliza grinned, the first smile Kali had seen from her, and Kali chuckled. She worked well under pressure, so this arrangement would suit her fine. But she was already exhausted, and they had barely even begun.

For the rest of the class, Eliza walked the underachievers through the stances they had been learning. When they were finished, Eliza was hovering awkwardly so Kali grinned and said “See you at lunch.”

Without waiting for a reply, she left with the rest of the group. She’d need to hurry if she wanted to change into fresh clothes before their next class. Especially if she still wanted to be able to follow someone there so she wouldn’t get lost. Again.

She managed to relax in Archery with Artemis. Focusing on her target made it easier to ignore everything else. But Music put her right back in a terrible mood. Her restless night was catching up with her, and she was irritable at best. It was a relief when lunch came and she could escape the confines of the classroom again.

Hermes surprised her by being completely professional in his class after lunch. She kept shooting him suspicious glances, sure he was up to something, but he was the picture of innocence. When the class was over, he called her over and gave her a reading list, to catch up if she was interested.

When she took the paper from him, his hand closed gently around hers and he pulled her closer. To her surprise, he pulled her into his side and put his arm around her, like a friend. Before she could process things enough to react, he said “So I hear Ares has posed a little challenge for you, for this month’s assessment.”

“How do you…of course you would know that.” She scowled, looking away. His arm was still around her shoulders, and he was steering her out of the classroom. She squirmed slightly, but forgot that she wanted to escape when he started speaking again.

“He isn’t easy to impress.” Hermes pointed out, grinning at her pout. Didn’t she know how tempting those lips of hers were?  “You’ll have to do something pretty spectacular if you want him to honour his end of the bargain.”

“Yeah? Like what?” She flinched inwardly at her tone; this was still someone she should respect but she was acting like a bratty kid.

His grin widened “Like put him on his back.”

Her eyes snapped back to his face in disbelief and she stopped in her tracks. “Hermes…he’s a god. In case you hadn’t noticed, he’s too strong for me.” Grimacing, she added sarcastically, “At this rate the only way to get him on his back would be to sleep with him.”

“I thought you would have a little more imagination than that.” He teased, feigning disappointment. When he was certain he had her attention again, he lowered his voice and leaned closer. In their current position, his lips brushed the side of her neck and he loved the way her breathing hitched at his proximity. Still, he let her step away, his wolfish grin still in place. Quietly, he continued “You should know that Ares has even more pride than you do. He doesn’t think things through, and he’s stubborn. Regardless of his strength, he would be the easiest one of us for you to overpower because he is certain that you are weak.”

Swallowing the lump in her throat, Kali muttered “Thanks for the heads up.” She knew he was just trying to get on her good side. She still couldn’t understand why, but she wasn’t going to question it. That didn’t mean that she was going to let him touch her again.

When Kali looked back up, Hermes’ face was hovering mere inches from hers. He looked deep into her eyes, murmuring “Grateful?”

She was sick of being on the back foot. Sick of being hunted and feeling like prey. No matter what the contact did to her, it was only because she wasn’t used to being chased by a man like him. That was all. It wasn’t about him. Just like his attraction wasn’t about her.

Kali moved fractionally closer as though to kiss him and then whispered, “Not that grateful.”

Hermes just laughed and moved back again with a shrug, like it didn’t really matter. She would never admit it to him, but she couldn’t help but admire his confidence. Confidence that she had never had. He was utterly certain that he would be able to bring her around to his way of thinking. It was a strangely attractive quality. Even as angry as she was that he pushed her off balance, out of her comfort zone, she wouldn’t argue that a part of her liked the attention.

More whispers followed her after that, but it was hard to find the energy to care. The gossiping, at least, was like every school she had been to. It was almost a grounding factor. Which was sorely needed, when her life made no sense to her. Everything had changed so much, so quickly, and the ground was still spinning beneath her.

A comforting presence at her back steadied her as she shuffled towards the centre of the camp. Kali sighed, closing her eyes, and whispered “Was this a mistake?”

“That’s still for you to decide, love.”

Hades’ voice was sombre, and Kali glanced towards him. In the waning sunlight, the shadows were deep and her eyes refused to focus. Before she could conjure her voice, she was startled by someone calling her name. She turned to see Tom waving at her, and felt Hades slip away in silence.

Oblivious to her disappointment, Tom asked “Ready to head to the Colosseum?”

Kali thought back to what Hermes had told her, and sighed. She could never surprise Ares if he saw her training. But if she didn’t train, she couldn’t improve enough to surprise him. “Is there anywhere else we can train?”

“Why?”

“I just…” She hesitated, biting her lip. “I don’t want him to see my progress.”

Tom rolled his eyes; she had never been good at hiding her motives. “Because…?”

“I want to make him hit the floor.” She said in a rush, the words tumbling out before she could decide if she wanted to make some other excuse. “And I want to do it in front of everybody, in the assessments at the end of the month.”

Tom stared at her for a long time, trying to tell if she was serious. “You do realise he’s the god of war, right? As in, god.”

“I know it sounds crazy. But he won’t be expecting anything from me.” Even if she doubted Hermes’ motives, his logic was sound. “If he underestimates me, I can surprise him. I just…I want him to leave me alone, and this is the only thing I can think of.” Kali’s face was set, but her eyes were uncertain and her voice shook.

“Kali, you know I could never say no to you.” That was a lie, but she wasn’t prepared to call him on it. “But I’m telling you now, getting stronger isn’t the way to get him to leave you alone.”

Her hands shook. Ares had lied to her before. Maybe he meant what he said, but he could change his mind. But she had to believe that he would honour their deal, especially when it seemed he believed it was impossible for her to impress him. If he really wanted her, then he had to know that she would never tolerate more lies. “Where else can we train?”

“I know a place.” Sage said quietly. Throughout the exchange, he had been silent. His eyes held none of the doubt or disbelief that Tom’s did. Just a peaceful determination Kali was getting used to. He always seemed to understand more than she said. It should worry her, she supposed, but he had become a soothing presence for her. Somehow, she knew she could tell him anything without fear of judgement. Unlike Tom, he had never looked at her with discomfort, or pity.

Together, the three of them left the clearing and slipped into the forest. Distracted by the sights and sounds, Kali tripped over her fair share of tree roots and even a stump. Still, the evening sun danced through the canopy. The fallen leaves glittered in the golden light, and Kali was captivated. She had never spent much time around nature, but she had already fallen in love by the time they reached a small glade.

“There should be enough space for you here.” Sage stated calmly, settling himself on the overgrown trunk of a fallen tree.

As positive as Kali had been about the area, she began to regret it once they got started. She ended up on the ground more than ever. Mostly because she couldn’t pay attention to her surroundings. When dodging one of Tom’s strikes, she smacked her head on a low branch. When lunging forward, she tripped on a tree root. When they were doing push ups, her hands slipped out from under her on the damp leaves blanketing the ground.

When Kali flung a fallen branch through the trees with a shouted curse, Sage laughed and insisted it was his turn to train her. But his training took the form of meditation. Sitting still was not one of her strengths, but he didn’t mind. Even though Kali hated to do anything that required effort to improve, it didn’t take long to see the point of it. If anything, that made it even more important that she learn.

Still, she wanted to give up after the first evening. It was mentally exhausting, yet she still couldn’t settle to sleep. Many more nights like that and she wouldn’t be any good to anyone. She coasted through her classes that Friday, barely aware. Clumsy, and distracted, she would have gotten lost if Jem hadn’t physically steered her to classes.

The last class on Friday was Ancient Greek, with Hades. That was one classroom she managed to find on her own. Stepping in that room was soothing. Whether that was about the lack of sunlight or the god she was becoming all too comfortable around, she couldn’t say.

But Hades was joined by two visitors.

Kali soon learned, from more of Jem’s gossiping, that this was a weekly occurrence. Heracles and Achilles, two of the most prominent heroes of Greek Mythology, travelled back from the beyond most weeks. She recognised them immediately from when she had first arrived. Achilles had been the one to walk her to meet Chiron when she arrived.

Blushing furiously, Kali remembered what a mess she had been. And she had been almost rude when he showed her to Chiron. Granted, she had been tired and injured, but still! Achilles had to be one of the most well known heroes of all time. She was mortified that she hadn’t made a better impression. Burying her face in her hands with a groan, she wondered absently if one of Sage’s meditation techniques would help her mood.

Hades’ voice rumbled through the room as he began the lesson. Kali snuck a peek at Achilles to find him watching her curiously. She hurriedly looked back at her desk, pretending to focus on her pen. But she couldn’t ignore his presence. Both he and Heracles felt so different to the demigods in her class. It wasn’t just their physical strength, though it was obvious at a glance that they had an abundance of that. There was a power deep in them both that none of the other demigods had.

Frowning, Kali wondered if the gods had perhaps diminished in power over time. With less of a foothold in the world, had they themselves become weaker? Most demigods Kali had met were little different from regular people, apart from the training. They had abilities, sure, but she couldn’t see why they would be seen as more than just natural talents. The stories made Heroes seem so much more than she could see around her.

She scribbled a note to herself as a reminder to look into her new theory, before she forgot about it. After that, Kali relaxed and focused on the sound of Hades’ voice. Ancient Greek was a captivating language, even more so when he spoke it. Kali had managed to grasp the feel of it, even if she couldn’t understand the words themselves. Languages had always been something she picked up quickly.

Every time she snuck a peek at one of the heroes, they were watching her subtly. She wanted to talk to them; she had so many things she wanted to ask them, but she restrained herself. She didn’t want to come across as some needy fan; she was already awkward enough. Besides, she had to be careful not to expose herself. She still didn’t know what “normal” demigods could see and what talents were just hers.

At first, Camelot had felt like a place she could be free, a place she didn’t have to hide how different she was. But with each passing day, she realised that she needed to be more careful there than anywhere. One slip was all it would take for the gods to know what she was. The most dangerous place for her to be was where she felt like she was safe.

She remained wrapped up in her thoughts until Jem shook her arm at the end of the class. She scrambled to pack her bag, but allowed herself a look back at Hades before she left. As always, shadows around him started to shift as their eyes met again. Kali heard Jem ask if she was alright, and tore her gaze away. She hoped he would assign her breathlessness to being startled, but kept her gaze averted.

She considered heading straight to the glade to wait for Tom and Sage, but Carl distracted her by asking quietly “Are you coming to the arena to watch them?”

“Watch who?” She asked absentmindedly, barely listening to what he was saying. She hadn’t even noticed him join them in the hallway.

“The heroes. They always fight when they’re here. I think Ares likes them to so that we can all see what we could achieve. But they have been at it for centuries so mostly it just makes us want to never piss those guys off.” He chuckled nervously and Jem watched him with a curious smile, but Kali was suddenly intrigued.

She hesitated a moment and then nodded, saying “I’m in. When will they be fighting?”

“Pretty soon after classes finish usually.” Carl replied and then nervously suggested “We could go now if you want?”

Kali smiled and shrugged. “Up to you.”

This was something that she very much wanted to watch. As they walked across the grass, Carl said that it made most of the demigods a bit demoralised; none of them could ever be that good. But Kali thought that it would be the best motivator; something to work for. She liked to set herself the highest goals, like her determination to defeat Ares. She needed something driving her forwards.

When what looked like the entire camp had packed themselves into the stands of the Colosseum, Heracles and Achilles arrived. There was no introduction. It was like they weren’t even aware of the crowd that had gathered to watch them. They were not there to entertain the demigods; they were there to train and test each other. Kali respected them for the lack of showmanship or theatrics. The tension was palpable.

When they began, all thought left her mind. She found herself leaning forward, like every demigod there. Her eyes followed every flicker of their blades and every step in their dance. It was overwhelming. The sensation, the thrill. Kali was captivated by the rhythms and the drumbeats that she was certain none of the other demigods could hear.

Achilles was fire. Relentless. Hungry. Always on the offensive, overreaching himself recklessly but with the skill for his chances to pay off. Heracles was stubborn like the earth. He remained steady, despite his partner’s unrelenting attacks. His energy was contained, and it kept him grounded while Achilles’ rushed out to meet his opponent as often as his blade did. They were both disarmed eventually and it was clear that Heracles would be the winner as soon as the first few blows were dealt after that. It wasn’t very long before Achilles was pinned to the hard earth, Heracles standing over him.

Heracles lifted Achilles back to his feet, and they both turned to face their audience. Both men were drenched in sweat but they stood tall, letting the crowd drink their fill of the authority they commanded. It was clear that the demigods had enjoyed watching the brutality in the ring, but many faces were unnerved by the display. These men were not gods, but they were mountains that most would never scale. But Kali found her fire.

As she watched them, she realised she had been looking at it all wrong. She had been trying to figure out how to trigger it. How to control it. She even went to Chiron to ask if any other demigods had similarly active abilities, so she could learn. But there was no one at the camp like her. Not anymore.

It had happened when she was afraid, and angry. But she hadn’t been able to replicate the results. Watching the heroes, it clicked. It was never fear, or rage. It was something that swelled inside of her chest and refused to submit or back down. The closest thing she could use to describe it would be…pride.

Slipping away from the crowd that swarmed the heroes, she strode to the far edge of the Colosseum. Pride was something she had tried to push down. It was easy with her insecurities to believe she was worthless, so what use did she have for pride. But she closed her eyes and tried to summon it.

She was the daughter of a god. She was strong. And she would put Ares on his back in his own arena.

As her skin prickled, she grinned. Heat curled around her, and the rain that had started to fall sizzled against her bare arms. Now that she understood it a little better, the feeling was compulsive. The pull of the flames, driving their way outwards. It felt alive.

Kali shook herself and forced the feeling back down. Soon, she would try to call the flames and control them. But she knew better than to try when she was so tired. If she could barely walk in a straight line, what hope did she have of summoning more than a spark? Besides, she couldn’t very well practice in the Colosseum.

As the days passed, her evenings were soon taken up by physical training with Tom, and spiritual training with Sage. She was swept up in the rhythms and patterns of every day in the life of a demigod. She struggled to keep up with her classes, spent time with her new friends, and tried to hold back in the arena. Eliza despaired at her lack of progress, and even asked if she wanted extra help. But she could tell Eliza liked to be the stronger of them.

The only thing that set her apart from the rest of her group was the attention she received from Ares and Hermes. When Ares pushed her, she turned to Sage’s meditation techniques. It was easy to remind herself that he had hurt her. He was controlling, and dangerous. And she had one chance to prove that she wouldn’t let him do whatever he wanted. She had to keep her eyes on her goal.

Hermes, however, was much better at playing the game. He still hadn’t kissed her, but he made it very clear he wanted to. She would have worried about falling prey to his charms if she hadn’t found herself thinking of someone else more and more often. Hermes seemed not to notice, though he did mention that it had never taken so much time for a woman to come around to his way of thinking.

“I’m starting to worry that Ares already swayed you. His brutish confidence is something women find attractive, or so I’m told.” His eyes twinkled, and Kali was struck again with the feeling that he was seeing far more than she was willing to reveal.

Rolling her eyes, she brushed aside the feeling and asked “Do you really believe that all women want is a man with confidence?”

“I don’t care what all women want. Just you.” He leant in suddenly, his fingers lightly touching her chin. Hermes waited there for an agonising moment, watching as her eyes widened and her breathing hitched. Then, just as abruptly, he danced away with a grin. It wasn’t until he had moved that Kali realised she hadn’t pushed him away that time.

Grimacing, she knew that he had noticed as well. But she was getting so used to his antics that he seemed almost harmless. It was easy to forget that behind the charming features was a cunning being more ancient than she could conceive.

“Just me?” Kali laughed, trying to shake off her unease. “For now, maybe.”

“Maybe.” He grinned, moving in closer again. Too close.

“You’re incorrigible.” She replied, returning his grin. But she shrank inwardly at his proximity. Putting her hand on his chest, she pushed him lightly back. More than anything else, she was surprised that he moved. Her dealings with Ares always turned into a power struggle. She couldn’t help but compare them, even though she knew what Hermes chose to show her was all to his design.

“You don’t seem to mind.” He winked. Not waiting for her denial, he swanned away, leaving her watching after him.

Jem sidled up to her, raising his pierced eyebrow, and teased “I thought you weren’t interested in getting involved with him?”

“I’m not!” She grinned reluctantly, then found herself laughing. If anything, the game he was playing made him feel like an old friend. “That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate his appeal.”

“He has had a long time to practice his charms.” Jem smiled, a little too knowingly.

“And a lot of targets, I’m sure. I won’t be one of them.” She reminded him, and herself. Thoughtfully, she added “Especially while his flirting is more about his ego than about me.”

“Then why are you blushing?”

“Because I’m embarrassed.” She insisted; it was mostly true. “Believe it or not, I’m not used to getting attention from guys. I just…don’t really know what to do with it.”

Jem looked sceptical, but he seemed to buy the theory that she couldn’t lie. Something she didn’t plan to correct anytime soon. Shrugging, he simply said “I just don’t understand why you’re not interested. He’s a hell of a god.”

“Jealous?” She joked.

Jem surprised her by nodding, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Have you seen him? Who wouldn’t be?”

She shifted where she stood. It hadn’t occurred to her before, but any demigod would probably kill to be in her shoes. Jem was right, Hermes was very attractive. So was Ares, if she was being honest. They ought to be; they were gods.

“Looks aren’t everything.” She muttered to herself later, standing in front of her mirror. She didn’t take the time to look at herself often; her scars still brought back memories that she preferred not to relive. But she couldn’t ignore the person looking back at her. It had been less than a month, but she had changed so much.

Over the last four weeks, every moment of her free time had been dedicated to training. She had been a little overweight, her skin pale and sickly. The only thing she had ever liked about herself was her hair, and that was only on the occasional good day. But she looked…healthy? Strong? Vibrant was the only word she could decide on. She was a saturated version of herself. Or perhaps she had always been a muted version of what she was supposed to be.

Biting her lip, she threw on one of her baggy shirts and tracksuit bottoms to go for a run. She would find sleep hard to come by unless she wore herself out, she knew. There was too much on her mind, too much energy coursing through her. She could count the hours until the assessment. It was laughable, really, how much she had pinned on her success. If she couldn’t impress Ares, it wasn’t like she had to give up.

Kali returned to her room long after curfew, restless and uneasy. She sat against her front door, burying her head in her knees, and tried to focus on her breathing. It took longer than usual, but she managed to slow her heart rate back to an acceptable level. Soon, she promised herself, it would be over. She could sit back and just enjoy learning anything and everything she could.

She righted the toppled vase on the table, wondering when she had knocked it over. But she could clean up later. She should at least try to sleep, or she would be useless in the assessments. Stumbling through her bedroom door, she absentmindedly wondered when she had closed it. She didn’t normally, unless the guys were coming over.

Stopping by the bed, she felt a chill. The window was open? Kali’s skin prickled. She forced her dry throat to swallow, clenching her jaw. Someone had been in her room. Rooted to the spot, she frantically looked around her for anything out of place. Her wide eyes darted about until they focused on a drawer that was slightly open.

Prepared as she was, knowing that something was out of place, she still couldn’t stifle the scream that escaped her when she pulled the drawer open. A mass of black swarming spiders filled the drawer, so dense she could not see her clothes beneath. Her throat closed off, choking her, as she scrambled away. Her mind fragmented at the thought that she had to close the drawer. They would come for her. She had to close it. But she couldn’t make herself move closer.

Instinctively, she threw herself back, away from the dresser, needing to escape. Her mind was blank, and tears immediately sprung to her eyes. The sound of breaking glass startled her, and she turned sharply to see a jar shattered on the floor in front of the door. Pouring across the floor from the shards of the container were thousands of tiny black bodies, scurrying towards her.

Sobbing, she screamed internally but she could not draw the breath to make a sound. She scrabbled back to a wall, watching helplessly as smoke surged around her. She curled up into a ball, her fingernails digging into her scalp, and focused her mind on Hades. With every fibre of her being, she wished he was there, and cried his name with her soul.

In a heartbeat, he was at her side. Without a word, Hades scooped her into his arms and held her protectively to him. He sighed into her hair, murmuring words her mind didn’t recognise but her heart knew. She buried her face in his chest, shakily whispering “You came.”

“You called to me.” He replied simply, holding her as if she were as light and delicate as a feather.

“You’re stronger than I thought as well.” She joked, weakly. His gentle laugh reassured her, and her heart settled as she filled her lungs with his scent. She felt his body still against her, and she shivered for a completely different reason when he whispered “Careful, love. I’m not quite the gentleman you think I am.”

A wave of dizziness swept over her, fatigue making her limbs heavy. “Where are they?” It was hard to conjure any remnant of the panic she had felt before, but she had to know.

“I asked them to leave.” He replied, his voice still low.

The intimacy wasn’t lost on her, but she was too drained to let her insecurities hold her back. There was nowhere she would rather be than in his arms. “Thank you, Lord Hades.”

He whispered something in a language she couldn’t quite hear, but it felt like a prayer. When Hades touched her chin and lifted her face slowly, her heart stopped. Heat rushed through her, and Hades brushed his lips across her jaw. “You are going to be the death of me, Kali.”

Reluctantly, he lowered her onto the sofa. When he started to move back, her hand clamped onto his wrist. She felt his surprise, but her fingers wouldn’t obey her. She loosened them enough to move her grasp to his sleeve instead. He was frozen in place, leaning over her, and she couldn’t meet his eyes as she begged “Please don’t go.”

“You’re trembling, dove.” He sighed raggedly. In a smooth motion, he moved to sit beside her, linking his fingers with hers and pulling her to lean against him.

With her body pressing against his, Kali realised that he seemed just as shaken. “So are you.” Biting her lip, she looked up at him. Her eyes refused to focus, but she didn’t need them. It was pitch black in the room around them either way, and she could feel his presence so clearly.

“I don’t like when someone hurts you.” His voice held an edge that sent a thrill through her. “What are you thinking?”

Kali started, feeling the heat rise to her cheeks. Hades’ eyes were on her face, unwavering, searching. Calling her. She must be feeling more fragile than she realised; she was letting her mind wander to places she usually shut down. She couldn’t find the energy to care if this was a terrible idea.

Instead, she moved her trembling hand to his face and shakily found his lips with her fingers. Before she could talk herself out of it, again, she brushed them with a tentative kiss. Hades didn’t move, but the shadows themselves whispered around her, pulling her closer.

“Kali…not like this.” His hand wound itself in her hair, and he rested his forehead on hers. She could feel the tension in his body as he struggled with himself. “If I let this happen, I’d be taking advantage of you. I know you don’t want a reckless kiss in the dark when you’re shattered, in more ways than one.”

I want you, she admitted to herself. Out loud, she sighed “What do you want.”

He brushed a tear from her cheek with his thumb, and his low voice was a promise. “I want everything you are willing to give me. But I want your eyes open.”

Kali buried her face in his neck, smiling at the lie in his voice. He gently stroked her hair, and she felt herself slipping into the soothing darkness as he whispered “Rest, my love. I’ll keep you safe.”

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