It shouldn’t surprise her that the God of Travellers found her on the journey to Camelot. Fear made her hand shake slightly, but she brushed it off and forced her face into an indifferent scowl. “Tulips aren’t really my thing. But I suppose the gesture was nice?”
“I’m not going to hurt you.” He said with a smile.
Kali’s face hardened, and she grimaced “I’ve heard that before.”
“It’s a shame that Ares found you first. I would have liked the chance to woo you before you got all jittery.” His eyes flickered down towards the blade at his throat as though he only just noticed it was there, and his grin widened. Mirth filled his colourful eyes and he said “You know, I’m immortal. That blade won’t cut me.”
Kali surprised him by grinning, coolly stating “It cut Ares.”
The mischievous grin faded to a look of interest, but no apprehension. Kali hated how little power she had in this situation. They might as well be having coffee as her holding a knife to him. Even knowing that it would cut him, he didn’t seem remotely bothered. Instead, he looked at her with twinkling eyes and admitted “I heard he tried to do a blood tie. You must really be something.”
“Hades said that too.” Kali murmured thoughtfully. “What’s a blood tie?”
“Hades, huh?” Hermes still stood patiently, leaning casually against the side of the train. They were moving now but Kali’s hand stayed steady. Even if it was an illusion, she needed to feel like she was in control of something. He watched her for several moments, his eyes still twinkling, before saying “A blood tie is the only way Ares could keep the rest of us off you. You’re not in anyone’s territory, so you don’t have a god’s protection. By exchanging blood with you, Ares could bind you to him and stop anyone else trying to claim you.”
She didn’t know why he was telling her any of this. But if it undermined his competition, it was probably worth it to him. Still though, her stomach turned at the memory of Ares trying to force his bleeding wrist over her mouth. “So, if he’d given me his blood…”
“You would be his.” He replied simply.
Anger boiled her blood. Her hand tightened on the knife, but she dropped it to her side. She hung her head, as though defeated, but her voice was still strong when she snarled, “Do I not get a say in any of this?”
“Ares must have been sure you’d succumb to his particular charms. Or perhaps you drove him into a corner.” He laughed, still not moving from his position against the side of the carriage. “But it is usually inevitable that the gods get what they want.”
“I guess you’ll both have to be disappointed, because I have no intention of giving either of you what you want.” Kali walked away towards the seats, but she wasn’t surprised when he followed. They had the carriage to themselves, but so far he was being a gentleman.
He sat opposite her, spreading himself out in the available space in the same way a cat would. Kali smothered a laugh at the thought, and Hermes’ smile returned. But his eyes pinned her down when he continued the conversation. “Those are some harsh words, considering you don’t even know me.”
“That’s the thing. You don’t know me either. But you’ve decided you want me because of…what, exactly? How I smell?” She glared right back at him. He hid his power under his winning smile, but Kali could still feel it pulsing in the space between them. She just didn’t care.
Hermes didn’t know if she was brave or stupid, but the reckless glint in her eyes drew him in. “Something like that. Though I will admit you are very attractive when you’re angry.”
“You people can’t just decide you’re going to control my life.” She muttered, but the anger was dropping out of her as quickly as it had flared up. It was getting difficult to summon the energy to really care about anything anymore.
“Who said I want to control you?” Hermes saw the spark fading from her eyes and goaded her. “That’s Ares’ thing, not mine. Personally, I’d like to see you wild.”
Kali rubbed her forehead, fighting another headache, and met the god’s gaze. “Will you please just leave me alone?”
“I’ll think about it.” He shrugged, and the colours of his eyes seemed to swirl as Kali looked at him. She looked away before she could get caught up in the dancing light. Grinning at the dizzying effect he was certain he had on her, Hermes crossed his arms across his chest and asked slowly “So, Hades approached you too?”
She coughed unconvincingly and hoped that her blush wasn’t too obvious. “I wouldn’t say that. He’s doing my dad a favour by not letting you guys accidentally rip me apart while you’re fighting over me.”
“And your father is…?” He asked, expectantly.
“Apollo.” Kali admitted, thinking that it hardly mattered if he knew now. It wasn’t a lie. She felt her lips straining to return his smile, in spite of her determination not to. He was too charming for his own good. “I figured it must be obvious to everyone, except me.”
“Oooooh. Bitter?” He winked but leant forward with a thoughtful expression. “I can see why he’d ask Hades to watch out for you. He’s lost a lot of his kids over the last couple of decades. Probably why he hid you away from us too.”
Instead of being drawn into his conspiratorial whisper, Kali leant back. But he had piqued her interest. With a growing sense of foreboding, she asked “Lost?”
“It’s a dangerous world out there. Even without over-zealous gods vying for your attention.” Hermes said carefully, avoiding a real answer. But Kali understood.
“I don’t really believe in coincidences…” She sighed on a shudder. Afraid to know the answer, she took a deep breath and asked, “Am I in danger from you, Hermes?”
Hermes laughed again and stretched back in his chair. “I think I stand a better chance winning your hand fair and square, on this occasion. So, no. No danger from me just yet. Although, you feel stronger than his normally do. Different somehow.” His smile was different, inquisitive, and Kali just shrugged and turned her gaze to the window, watching as the houses and fences gave way to trees and rolling hills.
“I will admit, I would very much like to taste your lips, Kali.”
The confession came so suddenly that Kali felt her face and neck turn immediately red. Flustered, she stammered “You can’t just say that to a girl!”
“Should I take that as a ‘not yet’?” Hermes whispered, leaning ever so slightly forward and Kali fought the urge to laugh, but she was still too embarrassed.
She arranged her features into a stern expression, and insisted “You should take it as a ‘do you want my knife to familiarise itself with your testicles’!” She flashed the knife again for good measure, hoping she seemed at least slightly intimidating.
“‘Not yet’ it is.” Hermes grinned, his eyes gleaming. “Pity. But I think I’ll have fun changing your mind.” He winked and then stood, steady despite the constant moving of the train. He bowed his head slightly and then turned and walked away into the next carriage and out of sight.
Kali frowned after him and bit her lip. She had no idea what he had gotten from that conversation, but she was terrified that she had said the wrong thing. Not because she cared about his opinion, but because her life could literally hang in the balance. When she got to Camelot, she would need to be very careful who she spoke to and what she said.
Kali let herself get lost in her thoughts for a while, she wasn’t sure how long. When she managed to snap out of her reverie, she only had a few minutes left of the train journey. It was drizzling in Cardiff and she pulled her hoodie back on and zipped it up. The temperature was so different there than at home. Kali shivered when she looked at the sky; she couldn’t even see the sun through the grey clouds overhead. An omen? She pushed the thought aside and just pressed on to find a taxi, where she could be warm and dry for a little while longer.
It was about fifteen miles to Caerleon and a quick internet search told Kali it should take less than an hour, depending on traffic. The taxi driver was friendly and tried to make conversation as he drove, but Kali was tense, so her replies were short. She wasn’t great with people at the best of times. Now, she had too much else on her mind to keep forcing a smile. The more her nerves nagged at her and the edgier she got. She was sure the driver was as glad to be rid of her as she was to escape the car by the time they arrived.
All Kali wanted to do was run as she approached the amphitheatre, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to sprint onwards or flee back. What lay ahead of her was unknown and daunting, but it was where she knew she belonged. What was behind was everything she had ever known. But what she had known had been a lie. Besides, she had come this far. Kali pushed her dark hair off her face and let it tumble over her left shoulder. Steeling herself, she took a deep breath and took her first fateful step.
It wasn’t raining heavily but the damp clung to her clothes and Kali shivered slightly. She usually liked the rain, but this kind of drizzle sent a chill through to her bones. She glared up at the sky but was soon distracted by the pull she felt towards a tunnel she could see. She instinctively pulled back, but she knew this must be the path to Camelot.
As soon as she had stepped into the tunnel, it closed behind her and she was plunged into darkness. The sudden silence knocked her breath from her lungs, and she had an image of being buried alive. Squeezing her eyes shut, Kali forced herself to breathe and did her best to compose herself. But it was a hard image to shake off.
The tunnel was winding seemingly at random, and it was mostly downhill. Luckily, there was only the one tunnel for a long time, so Kali didn’t need to worry about getting lost. When it did eventually start to branch off, she didn’t know which way to go. Every path seemed to have a different lure, calling to her. She finally decided to stay on the main path and ignore the smaller branches. At least that way she could remember where she had been.
Stumbling through the darkness, Kali’s hand gripped the hilt of the knife in her pocket. After walking for what seemed like hours, she saw a figure just ahead. The girl had obviously seen her, but she made no effort to help or hinder Kali’s progress. As Kali got closer, she saw the girl was rather shapeless and about a head shorter than her. But she was also clearly muscular and much wider than Kali was. Her pale hair was slicked off her face in a tight ponytail, and she wore no makeup to hide her poor complexion.
The girl stepped forward and said “You’re what he’s hung up on? Really?” She scowled with revulsion and then muttered “I’m Tracy. You on your way to Camelot?”
“I am. You meant to be my guide?” Kali asked, already knowing the answer.
“Not exactly.” Tracy grinned, showing slightly uneven teeth and Kali saw that a couple of them were even missing. The smile was aggressive, and Kali didn’t quite know what to make of her, but she could guess whose kid Tracy was and why she was there. And Kali doubted that this welcome was a pleasant one.
Sure enough, Tracy continued to say “See, my Dad was detained, but he wanted you to have a proper greeting when you got here. He asked me to pop along and make sure you were…comfortable. Just until he gets here to see you himself. Mighty keen, he was, that you should get to see him before you got all swept up in the system at Camelot.”
“So, you’re here to…stop me?” Kali asked slowly, not all too sure yet what her chances would be against this girl who looked not unlike a barrel.
Another unpleasant show of bad teeth followed. “Just delay you a bit. He said I could do it however I wanted so I’d guess ‘violently’ would be the best bet. ‘Specially as you’re just one of Apollo’s; I hear they’ve never been too good with fighting. You’re all healers and singers and you never seem to want to hurt anyone.”
Kali frowned but knew that if Tracy was underestimating her, she stood a chance. She sighed wearily and put her bag on the floor. She looked at Tracy for a moment before asking “Do we really have to do this?”
“Yeah. I think we do.” Tracy grinned but it looked more like a snarl as she lunged towards Kali and slammed her against the wall.
She tried to punch Kali in the face, but Kali twisted away, and Tracy’s fist smashed into the wall instead. She grunted with pain and rounded on Kali again with a snarl. Tracy swung another punch and this time Kali wasn’t quick enough to avoid it and she spun away as Tracy’s fist collided with her cheek. The other side of her face smacked against the wall of the tunnel. Kali scowled and spat out blood before trying to kick Tracy in the stomach.
Tracy doubled over at the impact, but the fact that she had practically rock-solid abs had saved her from the brunt of the blow. Without straightening up, the demigod charged at Kali and knocked her to the floor, falling on top of her and trying to pin her down. Before she could get a good enough grip, Kali managed to buck Tracy off her. When she tried to get back on top of her, Kali managed to kick her in the face. Tracy howled with pain as her nose crunched under Kali’s boot and Kali scrambled hastily to her feet. But her ankle twisted painfully when Tracy pulled it out from under her, and she fell back to the floor.
Kali decided to end the fight then; she was bruised, bleeding, and she knew that this girl was just buying Ares enough time to get to her himself. Kali couldn’t let that happen. She couldn’t let Ares get there are bind her to him. Even knowing what he had to do didn’t mean she’d be any less powerless to stop it.
With one fluid movement she rolled over, pulled the knife out of her pocket, and slashed Tracy across her stomach. The look of shock that flashed across the demigod’s face sent a wave of nausea through Kali. She was certain that a camp for demigods would need miraculous healers, but she couldn’t believe that she had just stabbed someone. It was self-defence, maybe, but Tracy didn’t really mean her any harm.
Tracy fell heavily to the floor and Kali caught her, regretting it when the girl’s weight settled on her. Cursing, she pressed her shaking hands against the slash to try to stem the blood. In her panic, she didn’t notice her hands were glowing until a wave of exhaustion washed over her. Tracy was looking at her with wide eyes, until they both realised that the bleeding had stopped.
Without missing a beat, Tracy leapt up and slammed Kali against the wall. Pain flared across her back, but Kali snarled and hurled herself at the girl. She managed to get onto Tracy’s back and held on like a monkey, wrapping her arms around her neck. She squeezed the girl’s throat with all of her strength, not relenting even when Tracy slammed them both back into the side of the tunnel.
Eventually, the thrashing stopped and Tracy fell to the floor. Kali released her hesitantly and was relieved when she stayed down. But she wasn’t going to hang around. If this was where Ares wanted her, there was no way she would stay there.
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