The feeling of sunshine on her face, warming her skin, was what pulled Kali back into consciousness. She was still groggy, but the sunlight wouldn’t let her roll back over. Blearily, she opened her eyes and froze when she saw who was in the room with her.
“Good morning, Kali.”
“Good morning.” She almost flinched at how rough her voice sounded in comparison to his. But, she thought, she shouldn’t expect any less from the God of Music. A long silence followed, and Kali wondered if her father was as unsure how to act as she was. She glanced down at her hands, clenched in her lap, and conjured a smile. “How can I help you?”
“I was hoping that we may have a chance to speak before you meet with the others.” He said, with a serene smile. “I am Apollo.” Kali bit her lip but didn’t respond, and Apollo watched her carefully before murmuring “I am your father.”
Kali averted her gaze from his expectant face and mumbled “I know who you are.” She didn’t know how she felt about any of this. Didn’t know how she was supposed to respond.
“That is a relief. I was uncertain how much your mother would tell you.”
“Hades didn’t tell you, then.” Kali muttered, with a bitter smile.
Apollo’s voice was confused and…suspicious? “Hades? You have met?”
“Ares attacked me. Hades intervened.” Kali made a valiant effort to look back at him, but his presence almost seared her vision. Nonchalantly, she stated, “When I asked, he told me how to get here.”
“It seems I owe him a larger favour than I had intended.” He sighed wearily. “No matter, you are safer now.”
A small laugh escaped her throat. “Am I?”
“Safer is not the same as safe.” He admitted carefully. After a long moment, he tilted his head and said “You are taking this surprisingly well.”
“I am very tired.” She corrected him. Kali knew that she wasn’t exactly handling anything yet; she was just storing it away to deal with later. Rubbing her brow, she groaned “Do you mind if we skip that conversation and get to what I’m meant to tell people? I mean, I’m not overly keen on getting torn apart because of my own ignorance.”
Apollo seemed surprised for a moment before his calm smile settled back on his face. “As long as they believe you are my daughter, which you are, there is nothing else to be done. It is not something that the gods look out for as only comes about so rarely.” A flicker of unease touched his features and Kali realised that he wasn’t very good at hiding his emotions. Something they had in common, apparently. She shook herself out of her thoughts to hear him warn “Avoid spending too much time near Poseidon; he is shrewd and most likely to recognise the sea in your blood. Otherwise, learn what you can.”
Absentmindedly, she nodded. “So…what now?”
“You have three hours to yourself. Now that you are awake, you will be called to meet with Zeus and he will expect you at sunrise.” He paused to let that sink in, silently noting the panic that flared in her eyes. “The largest building by the lake is known by the demigods as the mess hall. The meeting room is on the first floor. There are stairs on the outside of the building, around the edges. Do not be late.” He turned and began to walk to the door.
Kali panicked and called out “Wait! I…what am I supposed to call you?”
He paused mid-step but didn’t look back at her. His voice was quiet, unassuming, as he replied “If you feel comfortable, I’d be happy with father. But we can start with Apollo.”
More than anything, Kali wanted to run and hug him. She wanted everything to be the way it was supposed to be. She wanted to be able to forgive and forget, and move forward. But she couldn’t pretend that she was alright with anything that had happened. No matter his reasons, he had left her. Her mother had lied to her for her entire life. Everything she knew was an illusion. A lie. So, instead of doing what she knew he was hoping for, she mumbled “Thank you, Apollo.”
“I will see you later, Kali.” He hesitated for a heartbeat before glancing back and smiling down at her. “Well done for getting here in one piece.”
Kali sat staring at the door where he left for a long time once he had gone, taking the sun with him. Eventually, grumbling to herself, she rolled out of bed. Three hours until sunrise. But Apollo hadn’t told her that she had to stay there. Wherever there was. Looking around the room, she shuddered; it looked like a hospital room. The clinical smell lingered in the air, and the walls and floor were white.
She stumbled as she explored the room; her limbs were still heavy with sleep. Or maybe it was the shock of the last day. She didn’t know how long she had been asleep, but so much had happened in the twenty-four hours before she had collapsed. Her brain still needed time to catch up.
Kali just wanted a long bath and a warm bed. She couldn’t risk going back to sleep; Apollo’s warning not to be late was ringing in her ears. But maybe she could at least have a shower?
The thought of finally being clean gave her new strength, and Kali forgot her troubles for a while under the boiling water. She had never been one for long showers, but it felt like hours the she stood under the steam. Once she emerged, she felt refreshed and ready to face the day.
Someone had already taken her old clothes away, and changed the bed sheets, while she had been in the shower. The thought of a stranger in the adjacent room while she showered wasn’t exactly comforting. But she dressed quickly and assessed her injuries, finding with relief that she had none. Even her broken arm was completely healed. Either she had been asleep for a week, or someone had helped it along.
Wasting no time in getting the hell out of the hospital, Kali grabbed her bag and hightailed it to the door. There were signs to the exit and she had no trouble finding her way. But the corridors were silent and strangely empty. Even at the crack of dawn, there should be people there. Especially when someone had been around to change her bed.
Kali breathed a sigh of relief as she stepped out into the morning twilight. She desperately wanted to explore but she could smell the sunrise on the horizon. Instead, she started making her way towards the large domed building she could see, by the lake.
When she had arrived, she had been too exhausted for the shock to really register. Now, she looked around her in awe at the camp, which still seemed to be unfolding around her. The buildings were of odd design, new and old and ancient all at the same time. There were elements of every time period in each of the buildings and some of it worked well but some of it was just a mess. Thirteen monuments had been built in the clearing and Kali assumed that there was one for each of the Olympians.
Stares followed Kali as she made her way to the Mess Hall and she tried to pretend she couldn’t hear the demigods whispering about her as soon as she passed them. How had news travelled so fast? Surely, she should have just blended in with so many people her age around. There were some demigods fighting, practising, and some sitting on the grass relaxing or reading. But all of them stopped to watch her pass.
By the time Kali got to the Mess Hall and gone up the stairs that encircled the edge, she was feeling a little weak again. It was rather precarious without any sort of railing and Kali worried that she would fall. She couldn’t help but wonder how Chiron got up there.
All the information was overloading her brain. Things were just moving so quickly, and it was all rather straining mentally for her. Her brain seemed to be trying to shut down to block out all the new data it was receiving. While her mind was lagging behind, her heart was hammering in her ears. She felt detached, separated from herself, but just focused on breathing as she approached a large door. Her hand hovered over the polished oak for several moments before she finally managed to make herself knock.
The few seconds of silence that followed crashed over her. What if she was in the wrong place? What if she was too early? The sun had just crested over the edge of the camp but…
A deep voice she recognised called “Enter” and Kali released the breath she had been holding. She was sure that had been Chiron’s voice, and he had been nice when she had arrived. And yet the energy she could feel emanating from the room as she opened the door was daunting. To say the least.
Kali took a deep breath to steady herself as she stepped inside, and the door swung silently shut behind her. She had never been all that good at meeting new people, but she could normally hide her nerves rather effectively. Now, though, her heartbeat thundered in her ears and her breaths were short and shallow. Her legs shook slightly as she walked towards the chair that had been pulled out for her.
As she forced herself to look up from her hands, her eyes fell onto a large round table made of smooth stone. There were intricate carvings covering every surface. When her eyes fell on the image of a sword buried in a stone at the centre of the table, she remembered that Apollo had called this place ‘Camelot’. “The round table?”
“Indeed.” Chiron replied with a smile and Kali started; she hadn’t meant to speak but the words had slipped out. She tried for a strained smile and Chiron indicated to the seat she had stopped behind. As she sat, she snuck a look around the room and her eyes were drawn to a shadowy corner. Hades’ presence calmed her slightly, though something felt different about him this time.
The sound of a man clearing his throat grabbed her attention and her eyes snapped to the man sitting opposite her. He was on the other site of the massive table, but his presence loomed right over her. She didn’t know how she hadn’t noticed before. She suddenly felt claustrophobic, but she clenched her jaw against the fear boiling over inside her.
The man’s eyes were stormy in colouring and in the way the irises swirled. That was enough of a clue for Kali to know who he was. But he flaunted his power in a way that the other gods Kali had met did not. She could feel it just oozing out of him and he wore it like a cloak while other gods masked it to blend in more. Even across the large room, it smothered her.
But even with that, Kali did not think that he was any more powerful than Hades was. Still, if she was right then he was the King of the gods and she bowed her head to him and focused her attention on him as she thought she should. He looked almost confused but seemed to be amused by her and he stated, “You know who I am?”
“I believe so.” Kali replied, pleased when her voice did not wobble or crack in any way. She had half expected it to be no more than a croak from the way her throat was constricting but it sounded more or less normal. Zeus pinned her down with his gaze, like a bird of prey. “Describe your journey here.”
His tone made it clear that he didn’t want any embellishment, so Kali bit her lip and spoke frankly. “I entered the tunnels in the amphitheatre, and followed them here. I don’t know how long I was down there but after a little while, a demigod apprehended and attacked me. I managed to subdue her, eventually, but then what I would describe as a hellhound came at me.”
She faltered, and Zeus’ scowl deepened menacingly. Chiron, standing at Zeus’ side, prompted gently. “And then?”
“I…think I killed it.” She admitted, quietly.
Zeus scoffed and raised an eyebrow, incredulously. “You destroyed a hellhound? Using what?”
“A knife.” A knife that she was dearly missing. She didn’t feel safe in this room.
Zeus watched her silently for several minutes. Kali managed, to her surprise, to remain silent until he finally continued “A knife? And then?”
“I grabbed Tracy and dragged her to the exit. Didn’t even try to get her up the slope, though.” Guilt shifted in her stomach, and she glanced down at her clasped hands. “Is she OK?”
Zeus rose from his chair with a grimace and boomed “I’ve heard enough.” Kali shrank back slightly in her chair, startled by the sudden change, but Zeus didn’t bother to look at her. Instead, he turned to the gleaming centaur beside him and waved a hand. “Chiron, wrap this up.”
As Zeus swept out of the room, his feet didn’t seem to touch the ground and a perpetual breeze sent his cloak billowing behind him. Kali wondered if it was for effect, or if he just couldn’t fully control the blustering winds. As the door slammed, she glanced back to where she could feel Hades waiting.
“Tracy will live. The greatest injury was to her pride, I am certain.” Chiron continued the conversation as though nothing had happened. “Tell me, why would Ares send one of his children to apprehend you?”
Kali looked back down at the table and traced the celtic knotwork automatically. “I think it would be best to ask him; I would only be speculating.”
Kali sighed, but she knew it wasn’t a request. “Tracy said that he wanted to see me before I got swept up in the system here…and he approached me before I left to come here.”
“Is that why you made the journey? To be closer to the God of War?”
Was he testing her? Kali grimaced and insisted “To be safer from his advances. And it wasn’t the only reason, but I won’t pretend that it wasn’t a factor.”
“Then why are you here? You must be able to fit in with life in the mortal world, or you would have found your way to Camelot much sooner. Why now?” Chiron’s voice was pleasant, but his icy eyes drilled into her.
Kali looked away again, a deep unease settling over her. Reluctantly, she murmured “I didn’t know.”
Suspicion and surprise coloured his features. “You were unaware of your heritage?”
“I found out the day before I left to come here. I thought my dad died when I was three. I don’t want to live a lie anymore. Nothing ever felt real in my old life. Now that I know why, I can’t just go back.” She could hear the plea in her voice; she was afraid that they were going to send her away. She didn’t belong here either.
For a moment, she felt the brush of cool fingers against the back of her neck. The contact steadied her, but she lowered her face to let her hair mask her blush. A soft voice murmured in her ear “I’ll see you soon, dove. Not long now.”
Kali felt Hades’ presence fade, and she snuck a glance at Chiron again. But she couldn’t figure out if he had even noticed the exchange. He had been watching her impassively for a little while, and he continued to mask his features as he asked, “Why do you think your father kept his distance?”
“I would like to believe it was to protect me.” She said, quietly. “From what I’ve heard…there aren’t many of his children around anymore. But, honestly, I doubt it is as simple as that.”
The only sound in the silence that followed was the light clopping of his hooves on the hard floor as he paced slowly around the room towards her. “How many crossroads did you pass on your way here?”
Kali blinked. “Um…metaphorically, or…?”
“In the tunnels. The maze?” Chiron prompted patiently.
Again, Kali was at a loss. “I didn’t see any crossroads. I just followed the tunnel here.”
Chiron made a thoughtful sound. “And did you encounter any traps?”
Kali just shook her head.
“You have no need to be nervous. Reaching us here, alone, is all that was required to secure your place.” He smiled down at her kindly and moved towards the door. “Come, let me show you where you will be staying. We can continue the discussion on our way there.”
Oh goody, Kali thought to herself, but she had the sense to remain silent. Instead she nodded and followed Chiron out of the room and back down the stairs. Even with how precarious and narrow they were, Chiron didn’t show even a hint of discomfort or difficulty. Kali did her best not to stare, but she guessed that he probably noticed by the amused smile that had settled over his features when he finally began to speak once more.
“We sent someone to investigate the tunnels. There was a pile of ash, and rather a lot of blood. More than just yours. And yet, Tracy had not a scratch on her. Can you explain?”
Kali stopped in her tracks for a moment and took a deep breath. “I stabbed her. We were fighting, and I panicked, and I made a poor choice.” Putting it like that didn’t seem sufficient. Looking down at her hands, she could swear that she still saw Tracy’s blood all over them. “As soon as what I had done sank in…I tried to stop the blood and, I don’t know how but, I healed the wound.”
“Has anything like that happened before?” Again, his voice was light and gave nothing away. He continued to walk, keeping a pleasant smile on his face. They could have been discussing the weather.
“Once.” Kali admitted, walking after him and trying to ignore the other demigods they were passing. Everyone was still openly staring at her. It was starting to make her feel like an exotic animal at the zoo. “I’m still trying to piece it together.”
“Very well.” The look he sent her way made her feel like he was sizing her up. Testing her. His voice was too measured, too even, when he asked, “And Ares is the only one to have approached you?”
She hesitated, not wanting to go into it, but he would find out eventually. If he didn’t know already. Lying would get her nowhere. Acknowledging it out loud was still uncomfortable, though. “Not exactly. Hermes has expressed an interest…I guess. He sent me flowers, and I met him on my way here. Before I reached the amphitheatre.”
“You are as evasive as your father…”
“I’m sorry. I’m not…I shouldn’t mislead you. I just…I’m still trying to process all of this and…” She paused, remembering what Hades had said about her father’s limitations. Without thinking, she sighed and continued “When you can’t really lie, you pick up habits to work around it.”
Chiron nodded and sighed wearily. “I understand. Trying to have a direct conversation with your father is like trying to hold an angry snake. He twists and turns until I am dizzy. But he has had thousands of years to practice. You have not. Is that clear?”
Chiron’s piercing eyes had her shifting uncomfortably, and she nodded. “Crystal, sir.” She tried for a smile and insisted “I’ll work on it.”
He just laughed “Why do I suspect you intend to work on your evasion, and not on being more forthcoming?”
“I can work on both.” Kali sent him a slightly mischievous grin, testing the waters, and was relieved when he chuckled again.
They had stopped in front of a normal looking apartment building, and Chiron held out a simple canvas bag to her. “Welcome to Camelot, Kali of Apollo.” She took the bag with a grin; there was a warmth spreading in her chest like a bubble. Chiron studied her for a long moment and said “Any of the apartments in this building are available for you, so choose whichever you like. A guide will be by in an hour to show you around. We will also need to carry out some physical assessments of your abilities.”
“What…day is it, sir?”
“Sunday. Your classes will begin bright and early tomorrow morning.” Another reassuring smile that she didn’t quite know what to make of. “Your schedule is in that bag, along with a few useful items. There is a small inventory, describing the items, so please familiarise yourself with them before your guide arrives.”
With a final nod, he handed her a small silver key and trotted away. Kali took a deep breath and weighed the key in her hands for a long moment. This was really happening. The key was small and simple, nothing special really. But it was. To Kali, it was the symbol of a place that was hers. A place she could belong.
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