Kali took her time opening the main door of the building, savouring every moment and storing it away. She had already decided she would have the top floor, and she walked slowly up the stairs. It was bright in the building, with light pouring in from every side, and the walls were white with a gold border. Fitting for Apollo, Kali thought.
When Kali reached her door, she took a deep breath and used the key to unlock it. She entered with a small smile, but froze in the act of closing the door behind her when she felt someone else in the room. Mentally crossing her fingers, she murmured “Hades?”
“Lucky guess.” The reply came in Hades’ deep voice, soft as a caress.
Kali grinned and turned towards him, leaning back against the door. “I made it.”
A gentle chuckle answered her. “Not exactly in one piece. I figured you wouldn’t have any trouble with the maze, but I can’t say I expected a hellhound to attack you down there.” There was a slight pause before Hades quietly asked “How are you holding up?”
“I’m not in any pain.” She said, cryptically, casting her eyes down.
“Kali…” He stopped, and Kali felt arms close around her, drawing her into his chest. His voice was soft, and his lips brushed her hair as he murmured “I know it is difficult, but you did what you had to do to survive.”
Trembling, Kali struggled to keep herself together, but tears began streaking down her cheeks. “I know I need to move on, or get over it, or whatever…I just…”
Hades’ hand closed around the back of her neck and his fingers tangled gently in her hair. “There is nothing wrong with feeling the way you do about this. You shouldn’t have to be a cold-blooded killer. You did what you had to, but you can still empathise with a creature most see as a monster.” A thumb brushed a tear from her cheek. “That says a lot about you, you know.”
“You’re…different here.” It was true; even holding her, there was something…between them. She could feel him, but he wasn’t as solid as he’d been before. His scent was diminished somehow.
He didn’t sound surprised. If anything, his voice was teasing. “Am I?”
“I feel like you’re further away from me than before. The shadows are…deeper here.” Even so, she couldn’t help but sink into his embrace.
“You are very astute.” He whispered into her ear, and then went very still. “Give me a moment, dove.”
After a few seconds, his form solidified under her hands and she felt his grip tighten slightly around her. Breathless, she stammered “What…happened?”
His finger curled a strand of her hair absentmindedly, and he explained, “I did not wish to be seen observing earlier, so I masked my presence more thoroughly than usual.”
“But…” She hesitated for a heartbeat, confused. “I could still feel you.”
His chuckle rumbled against her chest and she blushed furiously at her own words. “Yes, you could.” He murmured silkily. “And I have to say, you were very sneaky in that meeting.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” She replied, unconvincingly. Despite her best intentions, a small grin crept onto her face and she quickly gave up when he laughed again.
“I assume that Chiron believes you cannot lie, like your father? That was a good idea.” Slowly, almost reluctantly, his arms lowered, and he took a small step backwards, away from her. “I shouldn’t stay…”
Kali’s heart plummeted. She was surprised by how bereft she felt as it crossed her mind that he didn’t have to look out for her there. After all, Apollo had only asked him to make sure she arrived safely. “Am I going to see you again?” She mumbled, casting her gaze down.
“Absolutely.” He replied certainly, with a gentle laugh. “I’m afraid to say that you’re stuck with me now, love. Though it would be best if you didn’t mention how…unaffected you are by me.”
“Unaffected?” She muttered, more to herself. That wasn’t a word she would use, but it was probably best not to correct him. She shouldn’t forget that he was a god.
“Poor choice of words?” He made a thoughtful sound in the back of his throat, and murmured “How do I affect you, I wonder?”
A thrill rushed across Kali’s skin despite herself, but she forced herself to shake her head and ignore her racing heart. “You’re a scoundrel.”
“Scoundrel? You wound me!” He exclaimed.
Kali rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t suppress the grin that was trying to creep onto her face. She dropped her face again, to hide her expression, and stated “Liar. You’re grinning like the bloody Cheshire cat right now.”
“Oh am I, indeed?” He tried to feign indignation but instead he laughed until his jaw ached.
“I can feel it.” Kali finally looked up and her answering smile was like the sun breaking through clouds.
He paused, quietly asking “You can feel when I’m smiling?”
She could feel a strange smile passing over his lips but not quite touching them and she blushed. After a moment, she suggested “You have a very expressive voice.”
“Voice, huh?” A soft chuckle followed his words, and he sighed. “You really are full of surprises, aren’t you.” He touched her chin and held her gaze for a long moment, until she was breathless. And then he released her again and she felt him move towards the door. “But listen to me, taking up all of your time. I should let you look through your things and get settled.”
“You don’t have to leave…” She murmured hastily, not quite finding the willpower to look at him.
He moved back to her side and took her hand slowly. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Kali.” Cool lips brushed the inside of her wrist, before he slipped away again. That time, she could not summon the words to respond until long after he had already gone. Her skin burned and tingled. She stared at the door for a long while before sinking weakly onto the sofa in the room.
When her head wasn’t stumbling over every word he had said, Kali took a proper look around her new apartment. It was larger than she had expected. She had an open plan living room and kitchen, with a small table she could have dinner on. There was a sofa, an armchair, a coffee table, a bookcase, and a chest of drawers in the room. Two doors led off the living room: the bathroom, and her bedroom. Everything was decorated fairly plainly, with light wood units and cream walls. It wasn’t extravagant or fancy, but it was hers. She picked her bag up from where she had left it, by the door, and busied herself by opening up the welcome pack Chiron had given her.
There was a small booklet which explained the items, and Kali read through it with mounting interest. There was an intricate silver ring with a small sunstone set in a strangely familiar knotwork design. This was her ID band, according to the booklet. The sunstone was for Apollo, so everyone would be able to identify her. It glimmered enchantingly in the sunlight streaming through the windows, and Kali couldn’t help but smile at the dancing colours.
There was a map of the camp, a diary, and her lesson schedule enclosed. But the most fascinating item looked like a hearing aid. After reading what it was in the booklet, Kali wasted no time in putting it on. It was a translator. As there were so many different people from different parts of the world at the school, it was necessary that they all have a tool to understand each other. Whilst wearing the ear piece, the students would be able to understand any spoken language.
Finally, she came across the questionnaire she was supposed to fill out. It was mostly personality profile questions, from what she could see. Though she was also meant to list any skills, mortal or otherwise, that she had. She tried to be as honest as possible, but that part stumped her. She wasn’t sure she really had any skills. She was good with animals, but that was more to do with them being good with her. There were a lot of things that she could just do…but they weren’t achievements, they were just natural for her.
While she was mulling it over, still chewing on the end of a pen, there was a knock at her door. She started, panicking somewhat, until she remembered that Chiron had said someone would be round to give her a tour when he dropped her off. With all her dawdling, an hour had passed without her even realising. She hadn’t even started to unpack her things.
Gritting her teeth, Kali fumbled with the door before she opened it to reveal a face she knew well. Standing before her was someone she hadn’t seen or heard from in…four years? “Tom?”
His jaw dropped, grey eyes wide, and he struggled with himself for a moment. Kali could see that he didn’t know what to do, so she took a second to look at him. The same serious eyes, and the same floppy hair. The same baby face, though he had clearly had more luck growing a bit of stubble to hide behind than when he was sixteen. It took Kali too long to realise that this must have been where he disappeared to.
“So are you.” She valiantly tried to smile, but his eyeline caught her attention and she ducked her head. Her hair fell expertly over her face, covering the more recent scars, and she mumbled “I guess you’re my guide today, then?”
“Yeah…” He scratched his head awkwardly, leaning against the doorframe. “I can’t believe I didn’t see that you were a demigod. It seems so obvious now, looking back.”
Tom’s smile hadn’t changed either. It was still slightly lopsided, a small scar on his lip making one side lift more than the other. She’d thought it was charming when she was younger. Everyone in her class had a thing for Tom, and she could see why, even if she’d never fallen herself. He was her partner in crime, and her confidant. He was the brother she’d never had, and she would have followed him anywhere. Then, one day, he just didn’t show up at school and she never heard from him again. He went from being her best friend, to just dropping out of her life without a word. And she’d never understood why.
“So, how’ve you been?” Kali asked, biting her lip with a weak smile.
“I’m so sorry, Kali.” He whispered, closing the distance between them and pulling her into a too-tight hug. “I should have just taken you with me.”
In spite of her best intentions, tears welled up in her eyes and Kali shook with the effort to keep them back. She buried her face in his shoulder and muttered “You didn’t even say goodbye.”
“I know.” Tom replied wretchedly. “Everything just happened so fast and…I have no excuse.” He hung his head and dropped his arms, taking half a step back to give her some space. There was no sign of his signature smile now, and Kali had never seen him look so weary. In the four years they’d been apart, he looked like he had aged at least ten. He sighed heavily, and his serious eyes met hers as he asked, “Do you think there’s any way you might be able to forgive me?”
“Damn it with the puppy dog look.” Kali mumbled, looking away. She scowled and insisted “That might work on everyone else, but not me!” She shoved him lightly out the door and followed, locking the door behind her.
Tom laughed and suggested “How about I show you around the camp, and we can catch up on old times?”
Kali couldn’t find any reason to deny him that, at least, and she really had missed him. It was bad enough that she was holding onto her abandonment issues with her dad. Maybe she could have a chance to move forward and have Tom back in her life. But…even if he had a reason to leave, he should have told her. If she had meant anything to him, surely he would have?
As they walked, Kali struggled to drag herself out of her head enough to listen to what Tom was saying. He pointed out a lot of the buildings and explained what he did there. He filled the silence with random tidbits of gossip and information about the gods. But it was obvious that she wasn’t completely there.
After a long silence, while they wandered almost aimlessly through the camp, Tom murmured “So…those scars…how did you get them?”
Kali paled and stared determinedly at her hands as they walked. There was a flash of talons, icy pain burning through her, the sound of her pounding heart filling her ears. She closed her eyes against the memory briefly, forcing it from her mind. The marks on her face and neck had stubbornly decided not to go away, even though months had passed. Constant reminders of her failure, and her loss.
“Kali?” He prompted, his voice gentle. It was the kind of tone Kali would use with a spooked animal, so she dreaded to think what expression she was wearing.
She realised that she hadn’t answered, so she composed a weak smile onto her face. “I’m not sure. If I had to guess, I’d say a harpy? But the memory is still hazy. It was before I knew about any of this. I’m still piecing it together.”
“Of course…” He hesitated, but asked “Were there many incidents?”
“I’m not sure.” Kali forced herself to shrug nonchalantly and then stated, “I’m still trying to figure out which ones were normal, and which weren’t.”
Tom hung his head, reaching to put his arm around her. “I should never have left.”
“I can take care of myself, Tom. You did what you had to do.” She murmured, barely managing to keep the bitterness out of her voice. The last thing she wanted to do was reassure her best friend that he’d been right to leave her behind. But she didn’t shrug off his arm. “Do people always stare at you this much?”
Tom glanced at her, noting the half smile she wore, and chuckled. “They’re not staring at me, Kali. But, no. They’re normally more subtle. There are always new kids in and out, so you’d think they would be used to new faces by now.”
As it was a Sunday, there were no lessons. That meant that the demigods were all out relaxing and practising. Sitting on the grass, splashing by the fountain, and sparring in the courtyards. But every one of them looked their way as they passed, like an outside force possessed them to do so. Some of them were trying to be subtle, glancing up from their conversations or books every few seconds. Others dropped their weapons and openly stared.
Gods were drawn to power, so perhaps something inside the demigods recognised that she wasn’t quite the same as them. Considering how different the gods felt to her, Kali thought, that wasn’t such an outlandish theory. But it made her worried; how long would it take the gods to realise what it was her father wanted to hide from them? Maybe Camelot wasn’t the safest place for her after all.
“Hey, it’s OK.” Tom nudged her. “They won’t bother you while you’re with me.”
Kali bit back the retort on her tongue, and then stopped in her tracks when she saw the stables. She sighed wistfully, and Tom chuckled “I thought you’d like to see the horses.”
“I probably shouldn’t.” She mumbled, more to herself. At his curious look, she smiled and lied “If I stop here now, I’ll stay all day.”
He seemed mildly disappointed but nodded. “Yeah, fair point. But I’ll bring you back later on to say hello, when we’re done.”
“Sure.” She forced another smile. “So what lessons do you do at a place like this?”
Tom sighed gently and rubbed his head. “I knew you weren’t paying attention earlier.” He laughed nervously and said “Guess this is a lot to take in, huh?”
“Well…” Kali started, trying to figure out a way to explain why she had been so distracted, but Tom held his hands up to stop her.
“It’s okay. I don’t mind, really. I’m still trying to process you being here myself. And you’re all grown up, too.” He smiled sadly, and Kali knew that he was struggling with missing so much. They had been friends for almost six years and he had been at her side almost every day.
“I wouldn’t go that far.” She mumbled sheepishly.
He ran a hand through his blonde hair, averting his eyes, and said “You’re not the same scrawny, clumsy kid that I used to drag around everywhere. You’re still a midget, don’t get me wrong, but-” He trailed off when Kali shoved him into the side of the library, snapping “I’m five foot nine, you ass!”
After a moment of silence, they both burst out laughing and Kali doubled over. Tom stumbled as he moved to push her back and they spent a few minutes play-wrestling, trying to get the upper hand. Eventually, they gave up and Kali dropped onto the grass, wearing her first real smile since they had left her room. “That’s better.” Tom said, nudging her cheek with his knuckle.
He slowly sat down next to her and put his arm around her, quietly asking “Are we gonna be OK?”
“Yeah…” She mumbled, resting her head on her knees. “I think so. But…you really hurt me, Tom.”
“I know. I’m sorry, Kali.” He pulled his arm away and turned to face her. “I’ll never leave you again. I can promise you that.”
Kali’s fragile hope could shatter at the smallest gust of wind, but she made a leap and decided to trust him. His grey eyes were honest, and his words resonated with sorrow and determination. “Okay.” She said. “Then we’ll be alright in no time.”
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