When Kali opened her eyes, she was in her own bed. Her boots were nearby, but she was still wearing the clothes from her excursion last night. She sat up slowly, wincing as a sharp twinge shot through her arm. Otherwise, there was a dull ache in her ribs and she felt a little tender. But, thinking back on last night, she knew it could be worse.
She had always healed quickly, too quickly, but she was glad of that now. Without it, she had no idea what condition she would be in. It didn’t even feel that strange to her, but she had learned over the years that she should hide it.
The pain returned when she stood and stretched, but she stuck with it. Kali’s shoulders clicked but the pain didn’t worsen. It was fairly steady so hopefully she’d get used to it until it faded. As long as she didn’t overdo it, it would probably be back to normal in another day.
The events of last night came back to her again and she shivered. If Hades hadn’t gotten there when he did, how far would Ares have gone? It terrified her to know that she had been completely powerless to stop him. What only made it worse was that she was sure he hadn’t even been trying.
She dropped back onto her bed and put her forehead on her knees, breathing hard. “Get it together.” She muttered to herself, hoping the sound of her voice might steady her. A panic attack would do nothing but hinder her. Not that she had really decided what she was going to do yet. That was something else she would need to think about.
One more chance. She would give her mother one more chance to tell her what was happening. Either way, her father…Apollo…had seemed intent that she go to the camp for training. And if it would help with the headaches and everything else she tried to work through every day, then she was willing to give it a try. But it would bring her closer to Ares, and the other gods. It didn’t seem like a logical move, to go right up to people who would want to kill her and would be more than capable of doing so.
With her mind racing over those thoughts, it took Kali a while to realise that her head wasn’t hurting. Maybe it was because she had expended so much energy? Or was it that she had slept better than she could ever remember last night? She blushed when she remembered that she had snuggled up against Hades and buried her face in her hands.
But Hades had put his arm around her. He had come for her even though she’d heard Apollo tell him he could leave her for the night. She didn’t know how he had known she’d needed him, but he had hauled Ares off her when she had been sure there was no way out. Surely, that meant it was more than just a favour for Apollo?
Kali shook her head and tentatively stepped out of her room. She was up earlier than usual so she was sure there was no chance of bumping into Lynette, but she was still careful not to make too much noise. When the floorboards creaked as she passed the door to the master bedroom, she froze and held her breath. But the silence remained, and she continued through the dark house to the living room.
On the table was a new vase full of colourful tulips. Kali rolled her eyes; the new boyfriend was clearly doing his best to woo her mum. Though, she reminded herself, they’d already been together for a year. It didn’t sit right with her, but she knew Lynette hadn’t been lying. But she hadn’t even told Kali his name. Curious, Kali wandered over to the flowers and plucked the card out.
Her heart plummeted when she saw that the pin holding the card was in the shape of a winged staff, with two snakes coiled around it. A caduceus? Sure enough, the name on the card was her own. There was no message, just her name, but her hands were trembling when she put it back on the table. Hoping that she was wrong, Kali used the search function on her phone to check her suspicions.
The flowers were from Hermes.
Kali ran back up the stairs and knocked anxiously on her mother’s bedroom door. There was no answer, not even the usual grumbles and curses. Tentatively, she opened it and found the room was empty. She frowned and moved back into the hallway, calling “Mum? Are you home?”
Silence. If Hermes knew where she lived, and Ares had found her just down the road, was it possible that one of them had taken her? Her heart in her throat, she hurtled down the stairs and collided with Hades’ chest. She had realised at the last moment that he was there, feeling his presence more than seeing him. But it was too late to change her trajectory, so she just buried her face in his chest instead.
“Easy, dove.” Hades murmured. She could hear his smile in his voice. “This is a warmer welcome than I was expecting.”
Blushing, she stepped back away from him and stumbled on the bottom stair. Hades caught her with a chuckle, and she felt his arm slide around her waist. She realised that she had essentially thrown herself into his arms. But he had caught her, hadn’t he?
Cursing her distracted thoughts, Kali let Hades pull her up and averted her gaze. Even if she couldn’t see him, she still had a feel for him. It was clearer and clearer each time he was near her. But she shook herself and stated “My mum isn’t here. Is it…could Ares or Hermes have done something?”
“They could have, but I don’t see a reason they would.” He replied quietly. Kali could hear the resignation in his voice and her stomach plummeted.
“But…she wouldn’t just…” Kali’s voice trailed off. If it was an anniversary, it was more than just plausible that Lynette would spend the night out. With everything else that was happening, she hadn’t even considered that. So, while she’d had her whole world fall down around her… “How do I get to Camelot?”
Hades was silent for a moment but suggested “Perhaps you ought to think this through a little more.”
“Hermes knows where I live. Ares can’t be far behind. And my dad” she hesitated; it still felt strange to think about, “made it pretty clear that there is nowhere else for me.”
Another moment of silence, before Hades said, “You will not be able to speak with your mother for quite some time once you leave.”
“She didn’t tell me.” Kali admitted, the words suddenly bursting out of her. “For all she knows, I’m still having an existential crisis because my entire world is a lie. To be honest, I’m not so sure I’m out of the woods on that yet either. But she left. I needed her…” Her voice shook, and she looked down at her hands again.
“She is still trying to convince herself that Apollo was lying about your power.” He murmured, but he moved beside her on the sofa. Without thinking, Kali leant against his side again; his closeness comforted her.
“Yeah, maybe.” It didn’t matter. She could run around in circles trying to understand why her mother did the things she did. But the bottom line was that she had left her there alone. Instead of opening up and putting Kali first, she was clinging to the lies she had told her all her life.
The hurt tightening in her chest faded somewhat when Hades shifted to put his arm around her. Without thinking, Kali mumbled “Why do I feel so comfortable around you?”
“Comfortable?” He chuckled, though the sound was somewhat bitter.
Blushing, Kali refused to look at him. But she valiantly continued “I can never normally relax around anyone. But being near you…steadies me.”
“Your honesty is going to be the death of me one of these days, Kali.” He sighed gently. “If you are serious about going to Camelot, then I can only help you so much. Apollo asked me to keep you safe but there are certain trials I cannot interfere with. I can give you the entrance, but you must reach it alone.”
“I’m not afraid.” She insisted.
“Did you know that your father is incapable of telling a lie?” Hades said lightly, his tone giving nothing away. “He can evade as much as he likes but if you drag an answer from him, it is always the absolute truth. Most of his children over the years have inherited that particular weakness.”
Kali shuffled uncomfortably, but retorted “Considering how much you dance around answering a question, you’d be a hypocrite to lecture me about putting on a brave face, right?”
“Lecture?” He laughed, and Kali could feel the rumble in his chest. “Kali, love, you are one of a kind. And I hope you never lose that fire in your eyes. But you should be careful how you speak to the others. They will likely not allow you the liberties I do.”
That was something Kali had been wondering, so she threw caution to the wind and asked, “Why do you?”
He laughed, and his hand brushed her neck as he curled her hair around his fingers again. “I could hardly protect you if I were too busy getting offended by your familiar mannerisms.”
“Familiar?” She echoed, frowning curiously. His fingers at her neck were distracting, but the word resonated with her. Familiar was exactly how he felt to her. Instead of letting her mind focus on that, she brushed it aside and grinned at him. “I can’t be the first one to speak to you like this.”
Hades did not answer, and they sat in silence for a long time before he murmured “What are you planning to do?”
“I don’t know. I’m angry.” She mumbled, leaning forward with her arms on her knees. Staring straight ahead of her, she grimaced and said “I gave her every chance to tell me the truth. I can’t understand how she could just lie to my face.” She clenched her jaw and shook her head, glancing back over her shoulder at the dark space Hades occupied. “I can’t stay here…and things have been getting worse lately. If going to this camp or school or whatever it is will help me, I shouldn’t walk away from that. Right?”
“I cannot influence you in this, Kali. No matter how much I would like to.” He sounded almost pained.
Kali nodded, knowing she shouldn’t try to put the choice on anyone else. She stood slowly, and felt Hades move to the other side of the room. “Everything I thought I knew about my life has been a lie. She told me my dad was dead. It took me years to start believing her, but I did. Every time anything happened that I couldn’t explain, she told me it was all in my head. She even took me to see therapists and doctors to test for post traumatic stress, and a whole list of other disorders to explain them away.” She took a deep breath, holding back the tears that were threatening to overwhelm her again. Before they could take hold, she insisted “Will you tell me how to get there?”
The tears glittering in her eyes when she looked at him then made him hesitate. He laughed quietly at himself; how could he say no when she looked like that. He wondered if she even realised that she had followed his movements around the room. If she knew how terrified she should be in his presence. He wasn’t as immune to her charms as he wanted her to believe.
Eventually, Hades replied. “The nearest entrance would be the amphitheatre in Caerleon, in Wales. I cannot tell you more but, from what I’ve seen, you’ll find the way.”
Anxiety nagged at her. “What about Ares and Hermes?”
“They should be occupied elsewhere, at least until sunset.”
Putting on a brave face, Kali smiled again and stated, “I’ll see you there, then.”
“I’m sure you will.” Cool lips brushed the back of her hand and Kali’s heart leapt into her throat. Before she could react, the shadows lifted from the room and she knew that Hades was gone. She hadn’t realised how dark the room had been. For the first time in her life, she hadn’t even noticed the sunrise.
Kali knew she should move fast, but after last night she needed a shower. Savouring the feeling of the water scalding her skin, she took longer than she intended. By the time she was finished, it was already nearly eight. If she was unlucky, someone would call her mum before nine to ask why she wasn’t at school. But the shower had been worth it, and she felt refreshed and ready to face the day.
She wrapped herself in a warm towel for a few moments but did not bother trying to dry her hair. It would do what it wanted regardless. Instead, she just pulled it into a long plait over her left shoulder and got dressed. Comfortable jeans, a band t-shirt, and a hoodie were the first clothes she happened across, so she flung them on and started to get her things together.
While she packed, her mind drifted over everything that had happened. Everything she could remember was shifting in her mind now that she knew the truth. Memories she had convinced herself were dreams. Things that had been explained away as an overactive imagination. Anger boiled her blood, but she had no outlet for it, so it just simmered under her skin. She was surprised smoke wasn’t coming out of her ears.
With new purpose, Kali grabbed a notepad and a pen from her school bag and started to write. Tears splattered the paper before she finished, but her hand didn’t falter. She didn’t even read through it. She simply signed it and left it on the table for her mother to find.
With one last look around the living room, Kali took a deep breath and left the house. Her hands were shaking when she locked the door behind her. Her rucksack was uncomfortable, especially when she was trying to avoid jostling her shoulder. But she hitched it up again and double checked the train times on her phone. Music blared in her ears and she hummed along while she walked; the songs in her ears gave her strength.
Kali had already plotted out her course to Caerleon and she kept running over it in her mind. It was bad enough being chased by gods and other creatures without getting lost somewhere on the way to Wales as well. She hated going anywhere on her own; so much could go wrong. But the music kept her nerves at bay and helped her focus. Not to mention calming her frantic thoughts. She hadn’t even left the postcode yet, and she was already panicking about what could go wrong.
She was too warm in her leather jacket, but she didn’t have the room in her bag for it. When she got to the station, she was overheating so the hoodie ended up around her waist. Her ticket was purchased quickly, and she managed to ignore the small queue that formed behind her. Now she would just have to hope that she wouldn’t make too many mistakes or go to the wrong platform.
After a short wait at the station, she got onto the train and settled herself against a window in the second carriage from the back. Evidently it wasn’t a very busy time of day, or perhaps she was just lucky, because Kali was almost alone in the carriage. There were two women gossiping about their colleagues at the other end of the carriage and a man seated a little way from her just staring out the window. Kali knew she had over an hour on that train, but she kept one eye fixed on the screen that would tell her where they were.
After a while, her eyes wandered. She found herself observing her fellow travellers briefly as her mind drifted back to uncomfortable things. She massaged her shoulder absentmindedly and her eyes fell on the women. They were in their late thirties, perhaps. One was slightly plump with rosy cheeks and a blonde bob cut, and the other was her polar opposite. Kali frowned curiously and watched them for a few minutes, wondering what their lives were like. Her music was too loud to catch their conversation, but they seemed animated and relaxed.
She pulled her gaze away, realising that the sick feeling in her chest was jealousy. Instead, she looked at the other passenger. The man was quite attractive, she realised as her eyes fell on him, and there was a glint in his hazel eyes that was slightly mischievous when they flicked up to meet hers. Kali flushed, embarrassed to have been caught watching him, and looked back out the window again. But before she looked away she admired his defined features. He was slim and quite tall, with sandy hair and a boyish face and there was something about him that captured Kali’s attention. There was something different that she didn’t see in the two women at the other end of the carriage, but she just couldn’t place it.
Kali turned up her music and forced herself to ignore the other passengers, gazing at the sun as it winked from behind the clouds. Eventually she got unsteadily to her feet and got off the train, navigating through the bustling people and the confusing signs to the next platform she needed. The train was already there, waiting, so she got on it and made herself comfortable. There weren’t many people on this one either and Kali was relieved. This time, she didn’t pay any attention to the other passengers. Her nerves were making her restless and she just wanted this to be over, wanted everything to be normal again. But, at the same time, she refused to live a lie anymore.
A few stops later, Kali was on the platform in the underground. She stood against the wall to avoid being jostled too much by the people. The train was packed, but she was only on it for a few stops. She could handle it. She stayed standing with her bag on her back and her eyes on the floor. Anything to avoid having to interact with any of the many people pressing in around her. The air was stale, and Kali had to turn up her music to hear it over the noise of the train. When she finally managed to escape the confines of the cramped carriage, she took a deep breath and decided that she did not like public transport.
Kali stood staring at the station map for a long time, trying to get her bearings. The back of her neck prickled, and she glanced around her uneasily. It was only then that spotted the man leaning against the wall beside her, watching her. His hazel eyes were smouldering now, and his sandy hair fell across his face, casting it in shadow, but Kali knew it was the same man from the first train she had been on. She wondered if it could be a coincidence, but something told her he was following her.
As soon as that thought entered her head, she became certain of it. She looked away from him and forced herself to turn away to find the last platform she needed. Her carriage was completely empty until the man stepped onto the train and gave her a wink and a grin. Kali just looked at him for a moment and then stood up, leaving her bag where it was, and walked slowly over to him. His smile widened, and Kali grimaced to herself. But she didn’t want to hide, and she wasn’t going to run.
Before she could come to her senses, she closed her hand around the handle of the knife in her pocket. The knife she had cut Ares with. Moving with a confidence she did not feel, Kali swept the knife up and pressed it to his throat.
His eyes glittered, mesmerising her for a moment, and he laughed “Did you like the flowers?”
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