Kali scurried back, letting the words die in her throat and the last of the heat seep out of her. Suddenly, she felt cold and grey, as though all the colour had ebbed away with the warmth. The cold wasn’t the chill of the water; it was inside of her. She stared blankly at the girl, now surrounded by the paramedics. Someone was at her side, silently handing her a towel, and Kali looked up to see that it was her mother. Lynette wasn’t even looking at her, her cold expression fixed on the little girl.
Holding the towel, Kali made no move to dry herself. Instead, she continued to stare at the girl who was now on a gurney. Her throat constricted when she tried to speak so it took her a few tries before she managed to croak “Will she be okay?”
Lynette nodded slowly before managing to prise apart her lips and unclench her jaw enough to mutter “It looks that way.”
A woman, clearly the girl’s mother, rushed over to Kali and her mother and grasped Kali’s hands tightly, saying ‘thank you’ over and over. Kali just looked at her, shaken, and whispered that it was nothing. But the girl’s mother just touched Kali’s face with tears in her eyes and whispered “You saved Katie! You saved my baby! God bless you.”
Kali watched her go, unable to process anything that was happening, and then looked back at the pool. She dropped the towel that she still hadn’t used and moved to the edge of the water. Ramu lifted his head above the surface and looked at her steadily so she slowly placed her hand on his nose. After a moment, he softly butted her hand and then slipped back below the surface and away from the people gathering to see what was happening. Kali’s mother was watching her carefully and she pulled her back away from the medics, who were still checking on the little girl, Katie. Her eyes were almost accusing when she asked, “Why did Ramu help you?”
“I…think I asked him to.” Kali said slowly, trying to get her head around the idea while wondering why her mother looked more angry than surprised.
After silently keeping up that cold stare for a moment longer, she stated “She wasn’t breathing when you pulled her out.” Kali just shook her head, worried at the fierce expression on her mother’s face, and Lynette continued “You don’t know how to do CPR.”
She shook where she stood. What else could she have done? After a few seconds of trembling under her mother’s glare, she stammered “I’ve seen it on TV. I don’t know what I did.”
“I do.” She stated grimly. “Why were you here?”
Kali recoiled slightly from her mother’s cold tone and stammered “I…don’t know. What’s going on?”
Lynette ignored the question and just repeated “Why were you here?”
“I just…felt like I should come here early…I…” Kali murmured shakily and then uncertainly said “I’m sorry?”
“What?” For the first time since Kali had gotten out of the pool, her mother smiled slightly and insisted “You saved that girl’s life; no one else would have reached her in time, but you did. Don’t be sorry for that. Ever.”
“Then…why do I feel like I’ve done something wrong?” Kali asked, trembling, and wiped a tear from her cheek.
Lynette clenched her jaw for a moment and then muttered “We can talk about it later. You should go and change before you freeze to death. I still need to finish my shift; will you be alright until then?”
Kali nodded weakly, though she wasn’t sure that she would be. She shuffled to the locker rooms to get the spare clothes her mother kept, feeling the obvious dismissal. They weren’t exactly Kali’s style, but they were warm, and they were dry, so she couldn’t complain. She peeled off her white blouse – which now looked and acted more like a second skin than a shirt – and pulled on a tight grey t-shirt bearing the safari park logo and baggy black tracksuit bottoms.
The air conditioning in the changing rooms made her shiver but at least her clothes were dry. Her shoes, however, weren’t. She thought about going barefoot but that wouldn’t be a good idea when she ventured outside where there were other people. Instead she put on some thick, dry socks and just hoped that would be enough to protect her feet from the moisture. Her feet squelched a little in the shoes as she walked but it was bearable, and Kali had a lot else on her mind to distract her.
As much as she didn’t want to go back into the crowd of people who had seen her dive into the pool after Katie, her bag and her blazer were still in the stands. So, she kept her head down and slipped out as soon as she found her things, heading for the reptile house to see Gloria.
Gloria was a twenty-five-foot python and she was magnificent. Everyone was terrified of her except Kali and the head keeper, Colin. He and Kali were quite close and when he saw her come in he winked and beckoned her over even though he was giving a talk to a group of visitors. He smiled at their nervous faces as he told them that he would be getting Gloria out, so they could see her properly. “Now I would like to introduce my beautiful assistant, Kali, who will be handling Gloria while I do what I do best: talk.”
Kali stifled a giggle and picked Gloria up, letting the snake coil around her arms and neck while the group in front of them gasped and backed away slightly. Kali whispered softly to Gloria and then smiled at their audience and asked quietly if anyone would like to stroke the snake. A couple of people shuddered and shook their heads violently, but someone stepped forwards nervously and Kali coaxed him into brushing his hand along Gloria’s body.
After some talking and a few more brave volunteers managing to get close enough to the gorgeous snake to touch her, Colin moved them on to the next part of the tour. He came back quickly and ruffled Kali’s hair, receiving a scowl, and he laughed at her expression before frowning and muttering “Your hair’s wet.”
Kali blushed and mumbled “Yeah. Long story.”
“Is it something to do with the ruckus at the pool?”
“Kinda.” She smiled at Colin; he was so easy-going and good-natured that it was hard not to smile at him. She hesitated, looking at his expectant face, and admitted “Well, completely.”
“A kid fell in.” She muttered grimly.
“Huh?” He started; the barriers were fairly high and there were guards to stop people climbing them, if anyone was crazy enough to try. Colin’s expression slowly grew scared and he murmured “Wait, wasn’t it the whales today? Ramu’s first public appearance?”
“Yeah. Don’t worry, though. Nothing happened.” Kali sighed, stroking the python curling around her neck absentmindedly.
Colin waited a moment, his hazel eyes glittering slightly as he chuckled “So…remind me why you’re soaked?”
“I pulled her out.” She felt his scowl more than saw it and kept her eyes averted, muttering “What?”
“You do realise you could’ve been killed! Those whales aren’t like the dolphins! They weren’t reared here, they’re predators not performers, no matter what Lynette might be able to get them to do!”
Kali was taken aback by his tone; she hadn’t expected him to be worried about her and she flushed at his reprimand. She argued “I know how violent and territorial they are. I know. But she was just a little girl, Colin! What was I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know. But did you even think about the fact that you could’ve been hurt?” He sighed but his expression softened slightly.
“Honestly? No, I didn’t. I saw she was about to fall in and I just ran to get her but by the time I got to the railing she was already in the water. I didn’t think about it at all. It was simple; no one else would have been able to get her in time.” She stated, making it sound like it really had been the easiest thing in the world. She said nothing of the terror she had felt, the fact that she had known that they both could have been ripped to pieces. She didn’t even know why she had jumped into the water without a second thought. All she knew was that she had, and she wouldn’t have any regrets if she had gotten herself killed doing so. Just as long as the girl, Katie, was alright.
“It’s a good thing you were there then, Kali.” He smiled warmly and put his hand on Kali’s shoulder. She knew that he would have hugged her if Gloria hadn’t been doing it for him. He hesitated and then asked, “Is the kid okay?”
“The medics said she’d be fine.” Kali smiled, trying not to think about what might have happened if she hadn’t reached Katie in time.
Seeing Kali’s troubled expression, Colin smirked and teased “So you retreated here to escape from the attention until Lynette’s finished and can take you home?”
“No, I just couldn’t bear to be away from you for so long.” She said sarcastically, sticking out her tongue at him. Gloria shifted slightly around Kali’s shoulders, so she sighed and handed the python to Colin to put back in the tank. “Snakes have a comforting effect on me, to be honest.”
He raised an eyebrow as he took Gloria from Kali’s outstretched arms and commented “You’re a very strange girl.”
“You have no idea.” She grinned as though joking but when he turned away to sort Gloria out her eyes darkened, and she bit her lip nervously. When Gloria was safely back in her cage Colin turned to Kali and put his arm around her shoulders when he saw how unsettled she was looking. She sighed, and Colin asked if she was really alright. She just nodded but he wasn’t convinced so he gave her a little squeeze and then asked if she’d be okay there on her own for a while. “It’s just that I’m meant to be giving another talk on some of the smaller guys in a minute so…”
“Don’t worry about me, Colin. I’m alright. And I won’t be alone; I have Gloria, and Vince.” She nodded to the boa constrictor in the other tank across from Gloria’s, a gorgeous snake, even bigger than Gloria was.
Colin smiled and shrugged, but suggested “I have to do the next shows on my own. How about a kiss for courage?”
Kali forced a laugh and muttered “Kiss yourself.”
He touched his chest as though wounded and then jogged after the tour group, leaving Kali standing between the cages on her own. She sighed weakly and rubbed her temples; her headache was coming back again. She sat cross-legged in the middle of the floor and hummed quietly to herself, trying to distract herself from how cold her feet were.
Kali remembered Katie’s mother’s face as she sat there, seeing the tears and the sheer relief on the woman’s face. She had looked even paler than Katie had when Kali had first pulled her out of the pool. She had been beside herself, Kali had felt it when the woman took her hands in hers. It had shaken her to her very core, the thought that she could have lost her daughter. It was all Kali could do not to just collapse where she stood with the sheer force of that woman’s feelings crushing her. For a brief moment, Kali wondered if her own mother would have been as distraught if she hadn’t surfaced from the pool. Before she could dwell too deeply on that thought, she pushed it away.
Luckily, there were many other things to distract herself with; Kali’s world, the one she had worked so hard to create, was crashing down. Strange things had always happened around Kali, but this seemed different somehow. It was like something in her was awakening and there was nothing she could do to stop it. She had been able to see what was going to happen, actually see it in her mind. She didn’t have a working inner eye, so it couldn’t be an overactive imagination. The picture had been crystal clear.
She hadn’t been holding her breath in that pool, but she had felt perfectly fine. Maybe time had been moving slower than she had felt it. Adrenaline could do that, she knew. Maybe she hadn’t been under the water very long. That would explain the fact that her lungs weren’t screaming out. But she had spoken to Ramu. He hadn’t attacked them because he had understood her, she was certain of it.
Then there was Katie. Kali knew that she hadn’t been breathing when she pulled her out of the water and her little heart had not been beating. Kali had no expertise in first aid, and her mother had implied that there was something else she had done. Maybe she had just managed to fluke CPR. Those annoying adverts were clearly more informative than she had thought. But then why was her mother so upset?
As she buried her pounding head in her hands, Kali felt sunlight warming her back. She turned slowly and saw a man standing in the room. His face was angelic but strong, with cheekbones so defined that they could have been carved from stone. Their eyes met, one set so dark and the other a startling golden colour, and Kali had the feeling that he was seeing everything about her. Seeing right into her soul. She stood slowly and could not shake the feeling that she knew this man, like an echo. There was something about those startling eyes.
Kali still could not place him but then he spoke, softly saying “You should learn to trust your instincts, Kali.”
His voice was musical, deep and melodic like a cello, and something stirred in Kali’s blood as though it were trying to leap out of her and meet this man. He simply stood, so casual and relaxed, leaning against the wall and watching her with his brown hair falling over his face. Kali found her voice finally and said experimentally “Something is wrong.”
“Something is coming for me.” She stated, knowing it was the truth but seeking confirmation nonetheless. The man just nodded slowly, a smile dancing on his face. “Why?” Kali frowned, wondering what she had done to warrant so much attention. She thought back over the day’s events but pushed it to the back of her mind; she was confused enough already.
The answer was simple: “Power.”
She frowned, not sure what he meant but unable to phrase the right question. He seemed to understand her confusion and he stared blankly at her for a moment or two, losing his apparent ease. He hesitated as though he could not believe that she really didn’t know what he was talking about. After a moment, he scowled, asking quietly “Where is Lynette?”
“The pool.” She answered automatically. The man nodded in thanks and then turned on his heel and left Kali standing alone again, staring blankly at the space he had been.
Kali was already moving before she had made up her mind. Eavesdropping had always felt dishonest to her, but Kali knew that she would never hear the whole story from her mother. And she knew that man. Something was going on, and it involved her. She justified her actions right up to the doors of the changing rooms behind the pool. She crossed her fingers and took a deep breath before pushing open the door and slipping quietly inside. She winced as her boots squelched but she was lucky; her mother and the man with gold eyes hadn’t noticed her yet.
Creeping away from the door and into the shadows behind some lockers, Kali pressed herself into the wall. Holding her breath, she edged closer to where the voices were coming from until she could hear what was being said. The first thing she heard clearly was her mother insisting “She didn’t need to know!”
“Of course she did.” The reply was soft, the man’s tone far calmer than Lynette’s had been. “Did you truly believe that if she did not know who she is, who I am, she could live a normal life?”
Kali frowned, confused but needing to know more, to understand, and crept slowly closer. She needn’t have bothered; her mother was almost shouting as she replied “I thought she had been spared all of this! She is almost never attacked, she stays under the radar, and she hasn’t had any episodes! She hasn’t been getting any of the usual symptoms and…she’s almost eighteen. If something was going to happen then it would have done a long time ago.”
“You foolish woman.” The man sounded tired. “Lynette, she may have managed to keep hold of herself, but only barely, and the effort is tearing her apart. You say she has had no symptoms, so you must be blind to the pain she feels.”
“Don’t you lecture me about my own daughter!” Lynette snapped fiercely, and Kali almost shivered just at the thought of the look that she knew would be on her mother’s face.
“She is our daughter.” The man’s voice was soft and calm but there was an edge to it that had not been there before, like a warning.
Lynette ignored the darkness that had crept into his voice and retorted “You didn’t raise her! I did!”
There was a silence and Kali considered moving closer again, but she was still reeling from the knowledge that this man was her father. She had known, of course, when she saw his eyes but…she had been told that her father had died when she was very young. Locked up in her own thoughts, she almost missed his quiet reply. “You knew my reasons for leaving, for staying out of her life for so many years, and I have never been far away.” Another pause, and then the man, Kali’s father, sighed softly and stated, “You had no right to keep this from her.”
“I wanted to keep her safe.” Lynette’s voice was weaker now too but stubborn and somehow immature, like a child having a tantrum.
“She is the most powerful being outside of Camelot. Did you honestly think that you could hide her from the gods? They are already searching for her and it is only a matter of time before they stumble across something.” Kali frowned and held her breath, wanting, needing, to hear more.
Lynette’s voice was dark as she asked, “They want to hurt her?”
“They want to court her. You know that we are drawn to power; it is not something we can control. It just rolls from Kali in waves. I should not be surprised but…” He sighed for a moment and then continued “Thankfully, Hades has always been immune to such things, so he has been helping me keep things under control. But it has not been easy. The older she gets, the harder it is to hide her scent, and her power is still growing rapidly. The only thing we can do now is send her to Camelot where she will be protected from their advances. The rules are far stricter there than they are out here. I had hoped to avoid it but…even I can see no other way out.”
Lynette hesitated and then slowly asked “Is there something that you aren’t telling me?”
“She shines like the sun. I can see her burning up from the intensity of the power that is inside of her.” He sighed and then admitted “I am afraid.”
“But if she goes to Camelot? If they teach her, train her?” Lynette sounded worried, but Kali’s ears heard something she thought she recognised as relief.
“It will help. But you must not go with her.”
Lynette made a noise of disbelief and exclaimed “She can’t go all the way there alone! What if something happened?” Though she sounded insistent, Kali wondered if there wasn’t something almost hopeful in her mother’s tone. The tiniest hint that she wanted to be free of the burden that was her daughter.
“Lynette, my dear, think about this.” He said patiently and then reasoned “If they see you, realise that you are her mother when she is so obviously a daughter of Apollo, they will kill her on sight.”
Kali sagged slightly against the wall and stared blankly ahead of her; what world had she suddenly shifted into? Everyone was going mad, and the worst part was that it all fit so perfectly together in her mind. Her father was Apollo, a god, and other gods wanted to find her and ‘court’ her just because she was powerful in some way? She was to be going to a school to be trained somehow even though they would kill her immediately if they knew who she was? And somehow all that craziness made perfect sense.
She was going completely insane, Kali decided. Strangely, the part that bothered her most was her mother’s reaction. Lynette seemed to be almost glad to be rid of her and have her life back. Kali hoped that she was imagining it but…
Considering whether she should be fighting her sudden urge to flee, Kali looked at the door across the room. She wondered absently if her parents – that word felt strange in her mind – would notice if she bolted for it. She took a slow step away from her hiding place and felt a hand softly close around her wrist as a voice murmured “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
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