The library was almost empty, Kali found with relief. Pale sunlight peeked through the heavy curtains, dancing on the polished wooden floors. It was easy to find deep shadows to escape the sun, and she wasted no time in doing just that. She breathed deeply, savouring the musky scent of the dusty tomes around her. The last bit of tension fell from her shoulders; this place felt like home. Not the house she had lived in with her mother, or any memory she could pick out. It was a deep-rooted sense of security and belonging.
In the month since she had arrived, Kali hadn’t stepped foot back inside this place. She had been so focused on her training that she couldn’t find it in herself to make time for such luxuries. Looking around, she knew there would never be enough time to explore this place fully. That didn’t mean she wasn’t going to try. With what time she had until the next class, Kali knew she wouldn’t have long enough to get lost among the aisles just yet. Promising herself she would return, she focused on following the list she had crammed in her bag.
Bookshelves towered over her, blocking out the light and beckoning her deeper along the twisting pathways. The rustling pages and creaking shelves distracted her, but eventually she managed to find most of the books she had come to find. The last one was a compendium Demeter had insisted would help. Kali wasn’t sure when a compendium of plants from other realms would be of use, but she was learning not to question the gods.
Eventually, Kali asked one of the waif-like creatures that were the librarians for directions. Skin like paper crackled as a bony finger pointed the way. Kali gratefully followed the golden trail that had appeared, but hesitated at the conveniently placed ladder. The compendium was nearer the top of the bookcase.
Kali put her other books down and looked up. Swallowing the lump in her throat, she muttered some words of encouragement to herself and stepped tentatively onto the first rung. It held. She tested her weight. It held.
As she climbed slowly, Kali felt more than saw her vision distort. A wave of nausea washed over her and she stopped, gripping the ladder. This was not the time for a panic attack. Clenching her teeth, she managed to climb a little further, determined not to give in. Her head swam, and her foot missed the next rung.
Instinctively tightening her grip, Kali managed to hold on as she slid down until the jagged splinters forced her to let go. Then she was falling. She had the strangest feeling of being weightless before arms closed around her.
Embarrassed, Kali shifted slightly but Hades only held her closer. “You are making a habit of this, my love.”
She trembled as he whispered into her hair. When he put her feet back on the ground, she mourned the loss of his arms around her. Hades steadied her as her trembling legs refused to respond, catching her against his chest with a quiet chuckle.
He slipped his hand into hers, entwining their fingers. “Join me for a drink?”
Kali’s eyes widened slightly but she cast her gaze down to hide her expression. That was answer enough for him. He chuckled again and led her through the shelves. Kali hadn’t realised there was a café, hidden in a shadowy nook. The library was a labyrinth of secrets.
Kali could feel Hades’ smile as she looked around and savoured the warmth of his hand in hers. She didn’t know why it meant so much to her, just his hand around hers. It was suddenly more important than anything else in the world. His thumb feathered across her knuckles and her heart raced.
The only light in the alcove came from lanterns on the tables. There were already two drinks on the table, and Kali sat with a grin. Surrounded by books and dim flickering lights, no distractions or interruptions. It seemed so easy to melt into the background, unnoticed and undisturbed, in that place.
“It would be nice, I think.” Kali murmured. Glancing up at Hades, she felt his questioning eyes and continued “To disappear into the shadows.”
Hades’ smile was obvious in his soft voice as he changed the subject, murmuring “What do you think of the library?”
“It’s the most peaceful place I have ever been.” She admitted wistfully.
“Even with the rickety ladders and the deadly falls?” He teased.
Kali blushed and argued “Clearly even they have their uses.”
A quiet chuckle escaped him. “True enough. But is the place not too dark for you?”
Kali watched the way the light flickered, entranced by the dancing flame. The darkness around them only enhanced the glowing white core of the fire. “A small flame in the dark can be brighter than the sun.”
Hades paused, unreadable for the first time since she first met him. Biting her lip, Kali continued “In all honesty, the sunlight is unsettling for me. I can never concentrate; it buzzes and hums. There are corners of this place that feel as though the sun could never reach them.”
When he finally replied, his tone made it seem that he was speaking more to himself than anyone else. “I suppose it is good to hear that you are not opposed to the darkness.”
Kali took a moment to hide her smile in her mug, drinking more of her hot chocolate. Cursing her racing heart, she murmured “Thank you for your warning. Earlier, I mean.”
“How are you feeling?” He asked gently.
“Shaky. Other than that, I don’t really know.” She bit the inside of her lip and looked up at him across the table. “How did you warn me?”
“The same way you called to me last night.” His invisible gaze held hers captive.
Kali blushed at the reminder, but pressed “I didn’t know I did call to you. Let alone how.”
Hades was silent for a while, and Kali had the sense that he was choosing his words. Eventually, he began, “It isn’t widely discussed. In all honesty, I’m not sure how to explain something that comes so naturally to me, but I know it is unusual for a demigod to possess the skill.”
“Unheard of.” He corrected her quietly. “Perhaps that can remain the case?”
“More secrets.” She mumbled, looking at the hands she had twisted in her lap.
“Our secret.” Those words sent a pleasant shiver through her. He paused, pleased with her reaction. His voice was deep and soft as he continued “After all, it is forbidden for a god to communicate this way with mortals. I am entirely at your mercy should you wish to report this.”
Kali giggled. She couldn’t get enough of his playful tone; something she was certain was only hers. And yet, curiosity got the better of her as it frequently did. “Why is it forbidden?”
“Zeus fears anything he cannot control. The gods are under his ruling, so he believes he is in command of our actions. The demigods have more freedom. The idea that the Olympians could spark an uprising without him knowing about it has long been at the front of his mind. If he knew that I had spoken to you, of all people, he would be furious.”
The idea seemed to entertain him. “Me of all people?”
Kali wasn’t sure if she should be offended until Hades murmured seriously “You are no fool, Kali. You know how he fears your influence in his ranks already. Simply by having captured the interests of Hermes and Ares so completely, you have more sway than any demigod before you.”
“I don’t have sway over Hermes or Ares. Their interests don’t mean that much to them. I don’t mean that much to them.” She added quietly. The whole situation still bothered her.
“You should hope that isn’t the case, after your fight with Ares today. No demigod could have done what you did.” Hades frowned, troubled.
Impulsively, she reached out to touch his face gently, whispering “You shouldn’t worry so much; you’ll get wrinkles.”
Kali blushed furiously at her bold move, but couldn’t bring herself to pull back away from him. Her fingertips burned at the contact. When Hades took her hand in his, feathering his thumb across her knuckles, she was sure he could hear her heart pounding.
Laughing gently, Hades murmured “How do you know I don’t already have wrinkles?”
He slowly let go of her hand and she pulled it back with a silent sigh, already missing the feel of his skin. She thought about what he had said and admitted “I suppose I don’t. I don’t really know anything about you.”
Silence, then a sigh. “Kali…you need to understand that none of the gods are perfect. Our power can be its own prison. We all have our flaws.”
She hated the hard edge she could hear in his voice. Before he could continue, Kali insisted “I haven’t noticed any of yours yet.”
“Yes, you have.” His voice softened as he enquired “You do not see it as a flaw that I am always in shadows, even where there are none?”
“No. I don’t.” She answered honestly. She looked down at the empty mug in her hands and murmured “But if you think it is a flaw then why not change it?”
That time, his quiet laugh held a bitter note. His voice was so soft that Kali struggled to hear his reply. “It makes relations with Zeus…easier. When he looks at me, he is reminded far too much of someone he would rather forget.” She felt him examine her closely. “It doesn’t bother you, not seeing me?”
She started to answer that it didn’t, but something stopped her. After a moment of hesitation, she admitted “I’m not sure. I suppose it depends how long it goes on. I mean…will I ever get to see you?”
“Is it so important to you to know how I look?” He asked gently.
“No.” She replied honestly. “But it is important to me that you might eventually lower your guard and let me see you. I don’t need to know where your scars are or the colour of your eyes. I don’t need to see your smile because I can feel it. But…without trust there can’t be anything else.”
Kali looked away, wishing she had the courage to back up her words. Her mouth was unruly; it often admitted things she wasn’t ready to divulge. She hadn’t even admitted to herself how she felt about him, or how she wanted him to feel about her. She knew, of course, but saying it out loud would change things. She hadn’t known him long, but from the moment they met, he felt familiar. Like he was already a part of her. They were connected, somehow.
When she knew Hades was going to speak, she braced herself for whatever he would say. But she was unprepared for his words: “My eyes are blue.”
Her eyes snapped up to his shadowy face for just a heartbeat, and she whispered, “Thank you.”
“I thought you said you didn’t need to know.” Another laugh, warm and almost musical.
That laugh. Kali smiled, content, and answered “I didn’t. But maybe I needed you to tell me.”
Hades’ cool fingers traced the back of her hand. They soothed her heated skin, but did nothing to ease her racing heart. He lifted her hand, brushing a kiss across the inside of her wrist. “I would enjoy spending more time with you soon.”
Kali expected him to disappear, but he lingered for her reply. “As would I.”
“Until then.” His hand faded from hers, and she was alone again.
The bell rang, shrill even in the sacred confines of the library, and jolted Kali out of her reverie. She grabbed the books and scrambled to put them in her room. She was almost late to Horticulture, earning her a stern frown from Demeter. Her rushed apology seemed sufficient; the goddess sighed with a fond smile when she was done.
She found Jem quickly, and it didn’t take him long to notice how distracted she was. When she knocked over yet another planter, he sidled over to her and whispered “Still thinking about that kiss?”
Kali’s hand twitched as she remembered, for the hundredth time, Hades’ lips on her wrist. She looked at Jem, flushed, uttering “Huh?”
“You know, you’re not doing a good job convincing anyone that you aren’t hooking up with Ares.” He glanced over to make sure Demeter hadn’t noticed their hushed discussion. “You’ve been walking around like a moonstruck idiot all morning.”
“Ares.” Kali felt like a bucket of cold water had been tipped over her as she realised what he meant. In all the excitement, she had almost forgotten. “The assessment. Right.” A smile tugged at her lips as she remembered the surprise on Ares’ face as he landed on his back.
“Well I guess we can talk about that, as you’ve brought it up.” He said, a goofy grin on his face. “What the HELL Kali!”
Kali winced, though her smile remained. She look quickly over to Demeter, who seldom responded well to chatting in her classes. The goddess seemed not to have noticed and was continuing pottering around the greenhouse. The threat of divine punishment deterred him, barely, until they could escape for lunch.
On the way to the mess hall, Kali was bombarded with attention. Demigods she had never spoken to were giving her high fives, or pats on the shoulder. Nods of acknowledgement followed her wherever she looked. Some demigods kept their distance, looking disgruntled, and others stared at her with what she could only describe as awe.
All she wanted to do was lock herself away in her room. For a few minutes, she was too taken aback to comprehend their actions. Then, the attention startled to overwhelm her. More than that, it was terrifying. Before they reached the mess hall, Tom and Sage joined them so that they could help escort her. Between Tom, Sage, Jem, and Carl, she managed to get a little peace from prying eyes at lunch.
“It’s like they forgot it was just an assessment.” Kali muttered sheepishly.
Tom was the first to break the silence as the guys stared openly at her. “Kali, are you crazy? Assessment or no, this is Ares we’re talking about.” He ruffled her hair and she shoved him away.
“Ares could destroy me in the blink of an eye if he wanted to.” She insisted. After a moment, she averted her eyes. The thought had been eating at her since he had kissed her again, so she admitted “He probably let me win anyway.”
“Of course he did. There’s no way you could actually beat him.” A voice called out, surprising them.
“Eliza.” Kali stood up to hug her with a smile.
Sage’s expression was less friendly. He stomped a hoof, irritated, and countered “You weren’t there. Kali was amazing.”
Eliza just rolled her eyes and sat at the table with them. “She’s an okay fighter, sure. I know that better than you; I’m actually in some of her classes.”
“We train with her every day. We know what she’s capable of.” Tom argued, no sign of his signature smile.
“Since when do you train?” Eliza asked, shooting an incredulous look at Kali. When she didn’t deny it, Eliza scowled and shook her scarlet hair out of her eyes, stating “Look, it doesn’t matter. No one beats my dad. He let her win because he wants her to fall for him.”
Tom and Sage started to stand up, but Kali held out her hand; it wasn’t the first argument they’d had with Eliza and it wouldn’t be the last. “Hey, it’s OK. Eliza’s right.” A little too opinionated sometimes, but Kali couldn’t fault her for speaking her mind. Even though her opinion belittled the work she had put in.
For once, Eliza read the atmosphere. Reluctantly, she added “But…I mean, you still passed your first assessment. So that’s good.”
“Yeah. Her friends are having a little lunch party.” Tom said, pointedly.
Eliza ignored him, looking around the group. With a sour expression, she asked “The nymph didn’t show?”
“Willow wasn’t feeling up to it. Been a heavy morning.” Sage said, painting on a pleasant smile.
“So much for friends, huh.” She turned to Kali again with a stony expression. “After everything you’ve done for her, she couldn’t even sit at the table with you?”
Kali smiled patiently. Not everyone understood anxiety, but she did. She knew it wasn’t easy for Willow to be there. It wasn’t easy for her, and she didn’t even have to deal with outright discrimination wherever she went. “She doesn’t owe me anything. I’d rather she takes care of herself.”
“Takes care of herself? That jumped up little nymph is too lazy to even show up here half the time.”
The first frown crept onto Kali’s face. “Eliza, you can’t mean that.” She said quietly, feeling the pressure building around them.
Eliza stared at Kali for a moment before she deflated. “I just…don’t like when people hurt you. Your friends should be here for you. That’s all.”
“And I get to be here for you guys too. Including Willow.” She said finally.
Eliza was quiet for the rest of the lunch break, and Kali hoped she was mulling over what she had said. She was entitled to her views but most of the time she just didn’t think before she spoke. She wasn’t a bad person, she was just careless. Sometimes, she got so caught up in her own issues that she forgot to consider other peoples.
The afternoon was a hectic haze. Jem and Carl took it upon themselves to be her bodyguards, which was laughable in itself. Ben, the only child of Hermes in their class, eventually joined them to help. Though that was only after laughing for several minutes while he watched them.
Carl was no good at talking to people, and couldn’t make eye contact. Not to mention being one of the shortest guys in their class. Jem was tall but he was popular, so everyone knew that he wasn’t interested in fighting.
Ben had a bad reputation for finding his way into places he shouldn’t be, and he always carried a knife. When a couple of demigods challenged Kali to a duel, he swept over and fixed them with a cold glare. They didn’t seem intimidated, but they quickly decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. Kali couldn’t understand why, but she was grateful for a reprieve.
“Finished enjoying the show?”
“Your knights aren’t the most effective, cute as they are.” He threw a wink at Jem, and Kali made a note of the resulting blush. It would be nice to have something to respond with the next time he brought up her suitors.
Ben joined them on the way to the arena to watch the Heroes’ weekly session. His presence was enough to deter some of the attention. Kali didn’t know much about Ben; he mostly kept to himself, but she was sure she would hear all there was to know from Jem sooner or later.
Ben didn’t sit with them, but he hovered nearby. The nonchalant way he leaned against the wall was betrayed by the intensity in his eyes when the fight began. There was something hungry in his expression. Something Kali couldn’t place. Whatever it was, it resonated in her.
Kali turned away and snuck out of the arena, doing her best to avoid attention. She’d had more than enough of the dizzying atmosphere for one day. The last thing she wanted to do was watch more fighting. She felt sick at the thought of going home, but she needed the quiet.
She impulsively checked the corners and the ceiling as she climbed the stairs to her apartment. Inside, she inspected every nook she could see before settling herself down on the sofa. There was a soft grey blanket folded neatly beside her. Tentatively, she tried to reach out to Hades. It took a few attempts to find the delicate silver cord that led her to him.
She whispered a quiet thank you, hoping she was doing it right. Warmth trickled back to her. She felt his words more than she heard them. “Sweet dreams, Kali.”
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