To escape the prying eyes, Tom dragged her towards the library he had pointed out earlier. When he suggested they go inside, Kali quickly agreed. She loved books anyway, but she would have gone almost anywhere to be away from the demigods staring openly at them.
He led her inside, into a high hallway with almost no light. The main room at the end opened out with grand archways and towering bookcases. It was a three-story building, but it was just one giant hall lined with mountains of bookshelves and the occasional ladders. There were some ledges that seemed for form a first and second floor, but the domed ceiling and the intricate chandelier that hung from it were in full view. Deep mahogany furniture was trimmed with deep green material and brass buttons throughout.
Stopping in the middle of the room, Kali gazed around her in wonder. Everything inside her went quiet, and she basked in the sheer grandeur and scale of it all. But stunned and amazed as she was, she was calm. This place was so peaceful. The only light came from the occasional hooded lantern and the grand fireplace. There were no windows, but there were skylights lining the ceiling, letting sunlight fill the library but for the long shadows cast by the ledges.
A hand on her shoulder snapped her out of her reverie and Tom laughed quietly. He rolled his eyes and whispered, “You didn’t hear a word I just said, did you?”
Kali barely wanted to breathe in case she would break the eerie stillness, so she shook her head. He grinned again and nodded his head towards the door, moving before she had a chance to answer. She was reluctant to leave, but even more reluctant to speak so she let him pull her from the library without argument. When they were back outside, Kali glanced wistfully at the door, but Tom insisted “There’s someone I want you to meet before I take you back to Chiron.”
“What do you need to take me to Chiron for?” She asked apprehensively.
“Just a couple of assessments. Standard stuff.”
“Oh.” She said simply. “But I still don’t know what we do here.”
“Then you should have listened.” He stuck his tongue out but relented at the scowl on her face. “Alright, so some of it is pretty normal. We do Psychology with Dionysus one week and Biochemistry the next. Apollo takes Music and then Healing. Then you have Artemis with Archery, and Tracking. Um…Cartography with Hermes, and Survival Skills. Things like that alternate every week to cover all the topics.”
“Are there any that stay the same every week or do they all change?” Kali wondered aloud, worrying that she would lose track of where she was supposed to be. Even with the timetable, she knew she would find it hard to focus.
Tom grinned, knowing how scatterbrained she could be. “Ancient History with Zeus – though he never takes that himself.” Kali tried and failed to keep the relief off her face and Tom laughed, before continuing “Ares does Weapons Training and Unarmed Combat in the Colosseum every week. Demeter does Horticulture; about plants and what they’re good for. I never really followed that one, but I guess it could be interesting to some people. My mum does Maths and Strategems.”
“Of course.” He grinned, clearly proud, and Kali smiled. Tom had always wanted to belong to something just as much as she had. It was nice that he had found that here.
“So,” she prompted, “all the gods have a class?”
He nodded, putting his hands in the pockets of his tracksuit bottoms as they approached the fountain. “All the Olympians do, yeah. Even the Lord of the Underworld teaches the languages, but don’t let that scare you off.”
“Hades.” She murmured, more to herself. Her wrist tingled slightly at the memory.
“One and the same. He’s kind of intimidating but apparently most of the stories are made up.” Tom smiled, unaware that Kali didn’t need his reassurance.
As they drew closer to the fountain, Kali saw her first satyr. At least, she assumed that’s what he was. He looked like a normal guy about Tom’s age from the waist up, with auburn hair and olive skin. But he had long brown fur which encased his goat legs and ended in slate-coloured hooves. As they approached, his head flicked up and Kali saw hazel eyes that couldn’t decide if they were deep green or earthy brown. He grinned in their direction and bounded towards them, raising his hand to Tom.
“Sage!” Tom called, and grabbed the satyr’s arm firmly before pulling him into a bear-hug. He bleated as his frame was enveloped by Tom; he was the same height but much leaner and Kali was surprised he didn’t break in half. But he was smiling when he freed himself from the greeting.
Tom gave his lopsided grin and said “Sage, this is Kali.”
Kali shuffled awkwardly to Tom’s side and Sage frowned slightly, asking “Kali? Like your little sister, Kali?” He held out his hand to her and she shook it with a small smile, noting the two curly horns that peeked out of his auburn hair. She glanced at Tom and asked, “You spoke about me?”
“Might have mentioned you.” He shrugged sheepishly, and Sage let out a laugh that was more like a bleat and interrupted “Mentioned? He barely stopped talking about you his first few weeks here.”
“Sage, mate, if you don’t shut up right now then I might have to break your nose.” Tom muttered, glaring threateningly at his friend.
Sage just laughed again, and Kali smiled softly and muttered “I missed you too, Tom.”
That time she knew that he blushed, and he pulled her into an awkward hug and clapped her on the back briefly before almost pushing her away. She suppressed a giggle at his attempt at not showing any actual emotion. It was difficult for her not to mock him for it, but it didn’t seem fair when he was vulnerable. Sage shot her a grin and rolled his eyes at Tom and then sat down on the edge of the fountain and said “So, Kali, what do you think of the place?”
“It’s a lot to take in.” She admitted with a weak smile.
“I can imagine.” Sage smiled sympathetically. “I know it isn’t easy to leave everything you know. But at least everyone here understands that, so you’re not alone.”
Kali felt some of her tension ease at his words. “I didn’t think of it that way.”
He laughed, another bleat, and said “Don’t get me wrong, you’re the oldest new recruit I’ve ever seen arrive here. But at the end of the day, we’re all family and we’re all in this together.”
“Thank you, Sage.”
“Anytime. Anyone that can put up with this idiot is someone I can get along with.” Sage smiled kindly and his eyes warmed to a soft brown. He shot Tom a glance, asking “Don’t you need to take her to the Colosseum?”
“Yeah…” Tom stood reluctantly, shuffling his feet. “I guess I lost track of time a little.”
“Colosseum?” She paled slightly and just looked at Tom, waiting for confirmation.
He laughed. “Don’t look so panicked. Like I said, it’s just some assessments. Combat is kind of a thing here, as I’m sure you noticed.”
“So, my assessment is to do with fighting?” She said through the lump in her throat. Her stomach was knotting, making her feel sick; she wasn’t a strong fighter. And she knew that there would be an audience to watch her fall on her arse.
“Some of it is.” Tom laughed again, ruffling her hair. “So, we’d better hurry before too many of the demigods realise what’s going on.” He winked and jogged off away from her and in the direction of the arena.
Kali just muttered a curse under her breath and nodded to Sage, who was trying not to laugh out loud at the look on her face, and then sprinted after Tom. She caught him up quickly and tackled him to the floor before he noticed that she had caught up. She tumbled poorly and bruised her shoulder, but managed to scramble to her feet. Laughing, she broke into another run towards the arena with Tom hot on her heels.
When they reached the Colosseum, Kali doubled over and tried to regain her breath, unsuccessfully. Laughing made breathing difficult. Tom skidded to a halt beside her and looked like he was nursing a stitch, but he laughed and jabbed playfully at her side. Kali danced back, but paused when she saw Tom’s grin fall from his face. It was replaced by a serious expression, and Kali saw that Chiron was standing a few feet from them. His white fur was glowing in the afternoon sun, and his long white hair was now tied in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. Harsh blue eyes fixed on Kali until any hint of amusement had drained out of her.
Nerves wracked her, and her heart pounded in her ears.
“Are you ready?” Chiron asked quietly, turning to look at Tom. Straightening up and letting his hand drop from his aching side, Tom swept his floppy hair off his face and nodded. Chiron then murmured “Very well. Go and choose your weapon.”
Kali started; she was fighting Tom? Chiron looked down at her and she valiantly painted a smile on her face. She managed to keep it there under his harsh stare until Chiron’s gaze softened and his lips twitched reluctantly. Kali sighed with relief and her smile grew less strained, but Chiron said “You are about to begin your first assessment. You will be sparring with Thomas so that I may see how proficient you are. It has been quite some time since any of Apollo’s children have been here, so we are…unsure as to how you will fare in some areas. Now, choose your weapon.”
“Weapon?” Kali bit her lip. Hoping she didn’t sound as stupid as she felt, she mumbled “Won’t that be a bit dangerous?”
“Not at all.” Chiron smiled considerately and explained “Our healers will have no trouble repairing any damage you may cause. The training weapons are unsharpened, but they can still break bones so please treat this as a real combat situation.”
“Alright.” She replied, chewing on her lip. Even if she knew that whatever damage she did would be easily remedied, she wasn’t all that keen on hurting anyone. Especially her friend. Then again, she reasoned, he was a child of the goddess of strategic warfare, so she wasn’t likely to be able to hit him anyway.
With that thought at the front of her mind, Kali allowed a small grin to touch her lips. She wasn’t a trained fighter and she always kept a tight leash on her temper. What would it be like to let that loose, and just see what happened? She couldn’t really hurt anyone here, in such a controlled environment. Besides, there was one tiny petty part of her that was angry enough to lash out. If this assessment was necessary to put her in the right class, then surely she needed to stop holding back and do her best?
Kali closed her eyes for a moment to centre herself. She could feel a fire burning in the pit of her stomach and she clung to it, feeding it. All of her anxiety, and fears, coalesced into that little ball of energy and she pulled it all together. She knew that she would need those flames if she was going to fight anyone.
Approaching the long rows of weapons where Tom stood waiting, Kali saw with a small smile that he had chosen a sword. She didn’t know the finer details of this kind of old-school weaponry, but it was nice. It had a long blade, and a fairly large hilt so that he could wield it with both hands. It didn’t look too heavy, either, though she probably wouldn’t be able to swing it.
She meekly looked at the array of spears, axes, and swords. Nearby there were hammers, maces, and staffs. Another table held knives, and assorted weapons that she couldn’t name, let alone wield. She was sure that even this was a test, but it was one that she had no idea how to pass. A bow, she knew what to do with. But she had only ever seen things like this on the internet and in museums.
There was only one way to fight with a knife: dirty. She would have to get in close, and that required stealth or skill. Or both. She had neither. Knives were out. The hammers and maces looked heavy. They relied on strength: something else she was lacking. Another sword might work, but there were so many different varieties laid out. The blades were all different sizes, some were curved, and some didn’t have guards. It was too complicated; which was the right fit for someone like her?
Eventually, feeling pressured, Kali just grabbed a spear. The one she chose was one of the shorter ones as she wasn’t sure how to wield something that was taller than her. At least with a weapon like that, she could choose which end to use. If Chiron was surprised by her choice, he didn’t show it. Kali did notice the slight crease of Tom’s brow, though, and wondered what he had expected her to pick up.
It was too late to change her mind as she faced him in the centre of the Colosseum, so she pushed it out of her thoughts. Kali glanced at Chiron and he nodded with a small, encouraging smile. Another deep breath, and she faced Tom, stating “I’m ready.”
Circling each other slowly, the two of them waited. Kali was patient, much more willing to react than act, and it was Tom who finally struck first. His blade met thin air as Kali spun aside and she knocked his arm out of the way with the shaft of the spear, but she knew that had been a test. He had just wanted to know how she would react, how fast she was, and if she would be easily afraid. Kali could see that he was pleased with how much he learned with that single failed attempt.
She refused to let him psych her out. Of course, he knew much more about all of this than she did, but that was only to be expected. Instead of worrying, she focused on the fire building within her. It burned painfully, and she could have sworn that her breath was smoke when she exhaled before Tom swung again. She brought the spear up in both hands to block this time and was relieved that the sword didn’t snap through the wood. Before Tom had a chance to recover, she kicked him in the stomach and managed to smack the middle of the spear into his jaw when he lost his focus.
Tom stumbled, and Kali grinned but something warned her to hold back. She wasn’t fast enough or sure enough to really take advantage of the opening. After only a second or two, Kali knew that Tom’s staggering was feigned and, sure enough, he shot her a grin when she did not advance.
After that, he barely gave her a moment to think. She was preoccupied with dodging and blocking a flurry of attacks. Her arms seemed to move on their own and she struggled to keep up. She was trying to get some distance, where she might have more time to react, but when she tried to step back Tom followed. His blade was flashing in the sunlight and Kali was finding it easier and easier to not care about hurting him. If she could ever lay a blow on him in the first place.
What she needed was to switch their positions, to make him retreat while she went on the offensive. She knew he was keeping up such a constant stream so that she wouldn’t be able to think. Only reacting was too limiting. Realising that, Kali changed tactics. Allowing frustration and weariness to show on her face, Kali lowered her guard just enough that she only just blocked the most recent of Tom’s strikes. She could see triumph in his eyes and knew that he believed she was slowing and getting tired.
Then, as a small grin curled his upper lip, Kali rolled aside and tripped him with her spear. He was surprised enough by her sudden recovery that he fell, staggering to the floor. Before he could try to right himself, Kali’s knee was on the wrist of his sword arm and the blade of her spear was at his throat. They were both panting and sweating; that fight had lasted longer than either of them had expected. Kali was definitely worse for wear than Tom. But it was only when she had pushed herself up and offered Tom her hand that she realised something: she had won.
But Kali realised, with a sinking feeling, that the assessment wasn’t over. Chiron trotted over and nodded, saying “Well done. That was…illuminating.” He waved Tom back towards the weapon racks, and turned back to Kali. “Now I wish to see how you fare with no weapons. Stow your spear and return to the centre of the ring.”
When she faced Tom once more, his face was set grimly. He did not like losing. Kali recalled how competitive he had been at school, but that could only have gotten stronger at Camelot. She bit the inside of her lip anxiously; he would be much more serious that time. But her insides were still churning, and her victory had done nothing to quench the inferno now raging inside her. She fixed her eyes on Tom and saw him frown curiously as Chiron told them to begin.
Without hesitation, Kali dropped and tried to sweep Tom’s legs from underneath him. To her annoyance, she hadn’t caught him off guard. He hopped over her leg and moved in to take advantage of her lower position. He went for a knee to the face, which Kali growled about, but she dropped back and rolled up onto her feet. Grounding herself, she ducked under another punch and kicked him in the stomach with as much might as she could muster.
He doubled over with a groan but caught her leg and twisted her onto the hard ground. Kali landed painfully on her shoulder and cried out with frustration, but flicked her foot up into his chin as he tried to move in. That gave her the chance to push herself back up and get a little distance. A metallic taste was in her mouth, and Kali felt a little dizzy. Her skin was prickling painfully, and the sun beat down on the pair of them as they circled each other slowly. But she grinned as she waited for an opening.
She was vaguely aware of the buzzing crowds that had filled the stands of the Colosseum. She could feel more than hear their excited chattering, but she didn’t want to think about them. She didn’t want to know that they were watching her. Tom noticed her glance away, and took full advantage of her distraction. He charged in with surprising speed, but Kali managed to drop to avoid his attack. She surprised even herself by tackling him in response, her shoulder colliding with his stomach. The momentum knocked him off his feet and Kali fell with him. In the tussle, Tom he gripped her wrists and rolled so that her body was beneath his before she could get up as they hit the floor.
Somehow, she managed to bring up her legs and tip him off her with an effective jolt and she kicked him in the chest when he tried to move back. He leapt smoothly to his feet and Kali snapped into a crouch, looking up at him and preparing to defend herself. She drew on the last reserves of her strength, calling on the simmering embers inside her. As he lumbered towards her like a bear and she twisted aside before punching him in the stomach.
It wasn’t until her fist made contact that Kali saw the flames encasing her hand.
Tom cried out, surprised, and scrambled to pull off his blazing shirt. She saw his skin blistering where her punch had scorched him, and she gasped, falling back, as she looked at her hand. The flames extinguished themselves slowly, but Tom’s face was creased with pain and Kali felt numb. Tom looked at her and took a shaky step towards her and Chiron calmly called out for them to stop.
Kali stumbled to her feet and moved to Tom’s side. She half-expected him to push her away but he grinned weakly. “Don’t worry; I’ve had worse.” There was truth in his grey eyes, but there was also pain. He took a shaky breath and muttered “Not bad, Kali.”
“Don’t waste your energy.” She mumbled, chewing her lip.
“When did you learn to fight like that, anyway?” He shot her a smile that did not reach his eyes, and his voice held a note of shock.
Kali looked down, hiding behind her hair. “I have no idea.” She admitted quietly.
Chiron, standing patiently at Kali’s side, softly interjected “Instincts.” Kali just looked at him, frowning, but he nodded and insisted “You fight based solely on what your body is telling you to do. You move when it tells you to move. It is interesting that you should find it so natural to fight when your siblings are usually healers. And not many of Apollo’s children have his way with fire.”
“I thought that Hephaestus was the god of fire?” Kali said weakly. She had to suppress a slightly hysterical laugh; that was what she was confused about? Which god it belonged to, not the fact that she had somehow conjured it? Then again, it wasn’t the first time. It also wasn’t the strangest thing that had happened in the last week; she was talking about gods to a centaur after all.
Chiron smiled gently and the look in his eyes was one that Kali was already getting used to; almost pitying but essentially kind. He simply said “Hephaestus is the god of useful fire. Apollo is the god of wildfire, which is a different beast entirely.”
“Oh.” That was as much of a reply as Kali could really manage.
“As I said, it is unusual that you have the ability to control fire. And the way you fight suggests some precognitive ability also. Something else that most of his children do not inherit.” His eyes were no longer warm but searching. After a moment of looking at Kali, he just shrugged and suggested “But perhaps you will not be quite as skilled at healing or some of his other abilities that your siblings excelled at.”
“Speaking of healing…” Kali murmured, looking hesitantly at Tom. “Shouldn’t we get Tom to the hospital to sort out that burn?”
His eyes swept over Tom, then he looked to the edge of the arena, where Sage was hovering. At Chiron’s glance, the satyr rushed over and pulled Tom’s arm over his shoulders to support him. Sage winked at Kali, and Tom valiantly smiled before dragging his feet away. Hospitalising Tom wasn’t exactly how she would have planned their reunion to end up. But he didn’t seem to be holding a grudge. And there was a small part of her that was smug; even if he’d been holding back, she’d done well.
But Kali’s worried gaze faltered and darkened when she remembered the crowd. She risked a glance and bit her lip; it wasn’t just demigods that had gathered. Ares and Hermes were both there as well.
Hermes was leaning casually against the railing of the stands, openly laughing. His eyes glittered even at a distance, trying to lure her in. Ares had stood by the main exit with his arms crossed over his chest. He made no attempt to hide his attraction, and his eyes slid over her. Kali shuddered slightly and turned to Chiron with a forced smile, saying “Are there any more tests?”
“Your physical assessment is over, for now.” He replied, with a knowing look. Gesturing towards the exit, he walked alongside her and put himself between her and Ares. With a casual nod at the god as they passed, Chiron led her quietly from the Colosseum and towards the centre of the camp.
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