Kali was in a cave. She couldn’t see anything at first; she never could, but she knew that her eyes would get used to the dark eventually. When they did, she knew what she would see. The rough walls of the cavern, a pitch tunnel that she never dared approach, and the man in chains. The same dream she had been having for as long as she could remember.
It had changed with time; at first, she had been too afraid to even move. The first few years she started having this dream it had been a nightmare. The darkness had forced itself inside of her, swallowing her, and she had clung to the wall and screamed. It had not come to her often, but it stayed with her since that first visit.
As she grew older, it became more frequent. After a while, she managed to open her eyes in the dream and look at where she was. But she could not move, and all she saw was an empty abyss. Eventually, she managed to see that there was a structure, the abyss was a place. She felt the wall behind her and realised it was rock, realised that the emptiness was some sort of cavern. That cave tormented her conscious mind as much as it did her dreams, haunting her. Many nights she was afraid to sleep in case she was dragged back there.
It took some time for her to stand and step away from the wall. When she did, she was terrified of losing herself to the emptiness around her. The only reason she found the strength was because of the figure she had seen kneeling in the centre of the cavern. She had never seen him before, so preoccupied with not losing her mind in the hollow loneliness that consumed her when she was there. It was all encompassing. But, when she saw him, she could feel how hopeless he was. She knew that she could not abandon him to that place.
Kali had come a long way from that first tentative step away from the wall. She had approached the man with shackles on his wrists and sat with him in silence for what felt like hours at a time. She dreamt of him at least once every week now and it was almost as though he was calling out to her. There were parts of that place that still terrified her but as long as she sat with him she was not afraid; he would protect her. They never spoke but they understood each other without needing words.
It always felt so real but when she woke up and stepped out of the house into the world, the intensity of it all ebbed away. He still haunted her thoughts, but she knew he was just some figment of her imagination. She had seen a therapist, more than one, because of her ‘issues’ at her last schools and had mentioned the dreams once. The woman had told her that they were manifestations of her anxiety and her feelings of isolation, probably because of the loss of her father. Kali had tried to believe her, but the dreams were persistent, and they always felt so real.
Kali did not move; waiting for her sight to adjust; she still feared the consuming darkness. She had seen what lurked in the shadows, waiting for prey, once before and she did not want to encounter that particular beast. Not even in her dreams. This was the first night since before she had left for Camelot, before she had found out that the real world was a lie, that the man in shackles had called to her. So much had happened, things were so different, but he seemed so constant.
As soon as she could see the faint outline of him kneeling on the hard ground, where he always was, she moved to his side. She felt beings in the shadows around her but paid them no heed. She did not realise how uneasy she had been until she had arrived in that dark place. When she saw him, a weight lifted from her shoulders and she let go of a fear she had not known she was bearing.
It was that night that he spoke to her for the first time. His voice was barely a whisper and hoarse from so long without use, but it was oddly soothing when he murmured her name quietly. At the sound, she just looked at him blankly and a pained smile touched his lips. She could barely see, even accustomed as she was to the dark of that cave, but his silvery green eyes were bright as he looked upon her. He said her name again and she felt a tear spring unbidden to her eye, but she could not move.
“I did not think to see you again.” He said slowly, his voice so quiet she could barely hear him. “You are so far away. I thought perhaps you had left. But even now you have come to me.”
Kali knew that the language he was speaking was nothing she had ever really heard before, but she could understand every word and found herself replying in the same tongue. Her voice was almost as quiet as his as she hesitantly asked, “Is this…real?”
“I cannot answer that.”
“Who are you?” She asked desperately.
He said nothing. Kali wondered if he even had an answer to that question anymore. When she had given up waiting for a reply, he whispered “I am the endless shadow, hiding from the light. I am the silence that deafens in the never-ending night. I am the betrayer, betrayed by my own kin. I heal all but commit man’s gravest sin.”
The words echoed through the cavern and sent shivers down Kali’s spine. She could not shake the feeling that she had heard those words somewhere before. She just looked at him, looking into his shining eyes, and resisted slightly as she was pulled away and knew that she was waking up. His eyes shone with regret and Kali fought to stay just a moment longer, but she opened her eyes and she was lying in her bed. Before she got out of bed, she grabbed a notepad and pen and wrote down the riddle before she forgot it.
She lay back again and wondered, not for the first time, if it had maybe been more than just a dream. This life was so new to her that she just didn’t know if something like that was possible. But the thought that the dark cavern really existed terrified her, and the thought that the man in shackles was really imprisoned there was almost too distressing to think about. Kali pushed the thought aside as she had so many times before and forced herself out of bed.
It was still dark outside; one thing that Kali didn’t like about this time of year was getting up and going outside before the sun had risen. Pale light struggled through the gap in her curtains, but Kali turned from it and started getting ready. Her first lesson was Weapons Training with Ares again, so she pulled on a fresh pair of tracksuit bottoms and another red t-shirt and those clumsy army boots.
When Kali made her way into the living room of her flat, she remembered that she hadn’t yet looked at the gift baskets that had been left in the middle of the room. She had planned to last night, but she had just been so tired that it had slipped her mind. A small smile crept across her face as she sat on the floor and pulled the first one towards her. They were meant to be things that she needed for the classes, but she was still excited; presents were presents after all.
There were three baskets and a few boxes sitting on the floor of her living room and the first basket she looked at was tied with a purple ribbon. She picked up a bottle of wine from it and looked at it, puzzled about how this could be relevant to one of her classes. She wasn’t much for drinking but it looked like an interesting bottle so she replaced it beside the two others that were there and decided that she would try them at some special occasions. She read the card and saw that this was from Dionysus, the god of wine, the theatre and madness.
Though Dionysus specialised in the kind of madness brought on by certain drugs and substances, he was actually the main authority on all forms of insanity. Also in his basket were some books about biochemistry. Kali flicked through one of the textbooks briefly and then picked up the box in the bottom of the basket. The note attached to the box told her enough to know that she probably wouldn’t be using this in her free time; poisons and ingredients to damage the mind of your opponents. Useful though that may be in certain situations, Kali doubted she would be able to sink so low; it seemed dishonest and unnecessarily harmful.
The next basket was pink and was filled to the brim with makeup, accessories, and general beauty products. Not to mention a number of bottles of perfume that Kali had never even heard of. According to one of the many notes in this basket, these and the list that had been written down were the fragrances that would complement her own natural scent perfectly. She was sceptical but assumed that the goddess of love, lust and beauty would know what she was talking about. All the makeup and products were meant to be perfect for her, but she had decided to reserve judgement until she had tried them.
Part of her wanted to hate this particular goddess; Amanda had only highlighted what Kali had assumed Aphrodite and her family would be like. But Jem was of the same stock, and he was more interested in other aspects of beauty and love. Still, she guessed that Aphrodite was reflected more in her Barbie doll daughter when she read the note that said makeup was compulsory in her classes. Kali scowled and put aside that basket, reaching for the third and final basket.
This one was not decorated with a ribbon but with flower buds that were growing from the woven wood of the basket itself. Kali did not need to read that label to know that this was from Demeter. Inside was a selection of aromatherapy oils and a large compendium of plants and their uses. She half-smiled and made a mental note to write up the notes from the horticulture class while she could still read them.
There were two boxes on the floor and Kali opened the one that was embossed with the symbol of Hermes – the caduceus – first. It held a variety of lock picks and a Swiss army knife with many attachments that Kali didn’t even recognise and had no idea what they would be used for. She guessed that she would find that out in the ‘Survival Skills’ classes with Hermes which she would be starting the following week. There was also a miniature globe and a selection of maps which were clearly to be used in the cartography classes.
The final box smelled of the sea. When Kali lifted it, she could hear waves crashing. The box itself seemed to be made of coral of some sort. Inside was an intricate looking compass and other navigation tools. There were also sea shells littering the bottom of the box and three books – one about sailing, one about horses, and one about the sea itself and the creatures within. The latter seemed to have been written by Poseidon himself, or at least those in his court, and when Kali looked through it she saw that it went into great depth and detail about the politics of his kingdom.
Before heading to the arena for Weapons Training, she put the gifts in her bedroom. She was not looking forward to seeing Ares again, but she felt almost ill thinking about the class she would be having with Apollo later in the day. She tried to stop thinking about it and just jogged across the camp towards the Colosseum for the class.
Weapons Training passed in much the same way as before. No matter how stubborn she was, there was only so hard she could push her pathetic muscles. But she knew she would improve, with hard work and a little patience. The latter didn’t come naturally to her, but she had time. She was picking up the weapon drills with little difficulty, and she found she enjoyed it. Even more so, she enjoyed that Ares was keeping his distance. If she wanted to catch him off guard, she had to hide her improvement from him as much as possible.
Finally, the time came for Kali’s first Archery class with Artemis. She had been looking forward to it greatly; any relation to the God of Archery was sure to be able to shoot an arrow. She could relax and be herself. No hiding. Not to mention, Artemis and Apollo had no secrets from one another so she already knew who and what Kali was.
Even as a child, Kali had always admired Artemis. As the maiden goddess, she was unmarried and drew her worth from herself. She was the complete opposite of Kali’s mother in that. Kali could remember imagining Artemis as an older sister when she was struggling. In some ways, meeting her was like greeting an old friend. But it was also embarrassing that her imaginary friend turned out to be a real person. A powerful goddess, at that.
Artemis treated Kali like she was no different to the other students. She was attentive, with a warm smile and a no-nonsense attitude. There would be no special treatment, and that was the way Kali preferred it. Things were similar with Apollo later in the day, in the Music class. Unlike Artemis’, her father’s distance bothered her. She didn’t know how she wanted him to act, or what she wanted him to say. More than anything, she was angry with herself for being so worried, or expecting anything at all.
After Music, Kali wanted to be alone. Instead of seeking out Tom, she sat at the edge of the lake. It was a popular spot, but she managed to find a quieter section, further from the mess hall. She simply sat watching the reflections of the sunlight in the water until it was time to go to Psychology, where she ended up sitting with Jem and Carl. The two boys were pleasant company, which helped her shake off her lethargy enough to seek Tom out for some training before dinner.
For the little time they had before dinner, Kali simply focused on channelling channel her feelings towards something that would make her fight rather than give up. Her distracted thoughts put her on the floor more than she would have liked, but any progress was good progress.
The closer Kali got to the mess hall, once they had called it a night, the more her anxiety spiked. Clearly, she wasn’t ready to face such a rowdy place in her current headspace. Before she could think of any excuses, Sage turned to her with a smile, saying “See you tomorrow.”
She grinned, relieved, and gave him a quick hug before heading back to her rooms for the evening. Despite a night of dreamless sleep, Kali didn’t feel much better come sunrise. Her first class would be Unarmed Combat, and she was afraid of the fire that had burst from her the last time she fought someone up close. Even in a practice bout with Tom, it had just erupted from her without warning.
But she knew she couldn’t shy away from it forever. More than anything else, that new little “talent” was one that she had to learn to control. Fear wouldn’t do her any good. Not that knowing that made it any easier to snap out of her uncertainty.
Kali shuffled her feet on the way to the Colosseum, forgetting about breakfast, and reluctantly joined the group running laps. Ares was, thankfully, busy with one of the other groups they shared the arena time with, so Kali managed to keep her head down and focus on keeping up. One of the teaching assistants, Jared, went through the “usual” gruelling drills with them until it was time to pair off to practice.
Her head was a jumble of guards and forms, so Kali was relieved when she was pulled aside with a couple of others in the group. Jared spared them half a steely glare before shouting “Eliza, make yourself useful and get over here.”
“Got some greenies could use a hand.”
The girl, Eliza, looked over at them with clear disdain and stomped towards the group. With bright red hair and tanned skin, she didn’t look much like her father. The only thing that set her with the rest of her siblings was her muscular build.
Jem, an almost permanent fixture at her side, decided that would be a suitable time to tell Kali everything he knew about their coach. The only thing she really picked up from Jem’s hurried whisper was that Eliza had been at the camp since she was a child. She was only seventeen, younger than Kali, but was in one of the older classes because of her experience.
“I thought only Aphrodite’s brats liked to gossip.” Eliza called out, her glare fixed on Kali. “You here to fight, or not?”
Kali was slightly taken aback, but she knew she shouldn’t have been surprised by the hostility. Clearly, a lot of Ares’ demigods had issues expressing themselves without resorting to violence. Shooting Jem a small smile, Kali stepped forward and said “I’m here to learn.”
In a heartbeat, Eliza had tackled her and pinned her to the ground. Startled, Kali didn’t struggle and just lay dazed. Smug, the girl leaned in and said “Lesson one. There are no countdowns in a real fight.”
She released her and Kali pushed herself to her feet, feeling bruised. Again, Eliza swung without warning and Kali barely managed to pull herself out of the way. Trying to remember the forms they had been shown, she blocked the next attack and was rewarded with a knee to the gut. She fell back, tasting blood, but pushed herself back to her feet with a grimace.
Eliza watched her with unveiled disgust, grunting “You’re not even that strong; he usually likes women that can actually handle themselves. I don’t know what he sees in you.”
“Trust me, neither do I.” Kali admitted, breathing heavily.
Eliza scoffed and then threw herself back at Kali without hesitation. Kali had guessed she would and was more prepared this time. She didn’t want to be ‘worthy’ or Ares’ attention, but she did resent the implication that she wasn’t good enough for him. This girl didn’t even know her. As her irritation swelled into anger, Kali’s focus sharpened.
Forgetting the jumbled techniques she had tried to absorb, Kali just clenched her jaw and reacted. Chiron had said that she was a ball of instincts, so she should use them. Smoke curled the ends of her hair and she launched through a wide swing Eliza sent her way. The girl was being reckless because she was fighting someone with less experience. Kali would make her regret it.
Kali lost count of how many blows they exchanged. Hardly any made real contact, and Eliza was sweating just as much as Kali was when she finally managed to flip her. Once again, Kali rolled back up onto her feet, but Eliza held up her hands and muttered “You were holding back.”
“I usually am.” She coughed, sitting back on the hard ground.
“Huh.” Eliza paused to breathe, clearly battling herself. Begrudgingly, she asked “So what did you do to get him to notice you?”
Kali just looked at her, panting. “What?”
“You must have done something. To impress him, gain his favour, that sort of thing.” Eliza’s tone was dark again, but she wouldn’t look at her.
Kali sighed irritably and stated “Ares knows that, as far as I’m concerned, he can take his favour and shove it.” The last words were directed to where he was stood watching, and he laughed openly. Grimacing, Kali muttered “I didn’t do anything to get him to notice me; I didn’t want to be noticed.”
“So…you don’t like him?” Eliza frowned, confused, and Kali realised that she had thought that Ares’ advances were welcome.
Kali actually laughed weakly and said “No offense, but he’s a creep.”
“I’m not going to argue about that.” She admitted quietly, pushing the red hair that had been spiralling out of her ponytail away from her face.
Kali smiled slightly, and asked “Does this mean you’ll go easier on me?”
“Probably not.” Eliza grinned, the first smile Kali had seen from her, and Kali chuckled. She worked well under pressure, so this arrangement would suit her fine. But she was already exhausted, and they had barely even begun.
For the rest of the class, Eliza walked the underachievers through the stances they had been learning. When they were finished, Eliza was hovering awkwardly so Kali grinned and said “See you at lunch.”
Without waiting for a reply, she left with the rest of the group. She’d need to hurry if she wanted to change into fresh clothes before their next class. Especially if she still wanted to be able to follow someone there so she wouldn’t get lost. Again.
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