Chapter Thirty Four
Kali woke with a start to find herself on a hard, stone floor. Sweat still beaded her forehead and the echoes of nightmares twisted her thoughts. She was panting, like she had run a marathon, and her head was full of cotton wool. It took her a while to push herself up off the floor; she was weary, and her limbs were sluggish. All that remained of her dream was a distant rush of wings in the back of her mind.
Shivering, Kali stumbled slightly on the flagstones and tried to get her bearings. She must still be dreaming, she thought to herself; she had never seen these hallways before. A flutter of a banner at the other end of the corridor gave her pause. White pillars and archways of marbled stone lined the length of the hallways. Something about this place…maybe she’d had this dream before?
Glancing down at herself, Kali realised she was wearing a pale gold silk dress. She knew it was silk from the way it shimmered in the flickering firelight, and the texture against her skin. Strange; she was usually limited to sight and sound in her dreams.
Her hair was so long, long enough to sit on, and it was fastened in several places with gold clips of various designs. A bracelet adorned her right wrist, similar in design to her own charm bracelet. She brushed the lion engraving curiously.
That made sense if she was dreaming, she knew, to have her bracelet. But this still felt different. An unsettling chill crept over her as she was pulled out of her reverie by intangible whispering. Her eyes were drawn back towards the banner waving ahead of her, and she took a tentative step. Her bare feet made no sound against the cold stone floor. It was only then that she noticed that there was no noise at all in this place, but for those unnerving whispers. A breeze washed over her and drew her attention back to the place the banner had been. Now, a woman stood there instead.
At least, Kali thought it was a woman. The figure was clothed in elegant white robes with gold trim, but they were hunched over, and Kali couldn’t see their face. Even so, she knew this person. Knew them from the very core of her being. Her mind was empty, but her body was striding towards the robed figure and her mouth moved to call out a name she had never heard, and yet recognised. As she struggled with herself, she managed to force her legs to stop moving and the figure stilled. The hallway went dark. The clean white stone turned grey and grimy, crumbling. The gentle breeze became a harsh, roaring wind. The robes were tattered and any sign of what colour they had once been was faded away. But the woman still stood, waiting for her.
Kali backed herself against a pillar to try to resist the wind tearing at her hair and clothes. Looking at herself again, she seemed to be back to normal. She was relieved; her jeans were more aerodynamic than the flowing dress would be. Hunkering down, she did her best to assess her surroundings, but it was hard to see with her eyes streaming against the onslaught.
The woman, standing straighter, extended her hand and beckoned Kali closer. Fear choked her for a moment and, if anything, Kali wanted to flee in the other direction. Something deep inside her begged her to retreat. But Kali was tired of being afraid. And it was only a dream. Her fears couldn’t hurt her there. And it was more likely that this was something she needed to confront. To work through. So she set her jaw and took her first tentative step towards the woman.
The wind picked up and Kali thought for one terrifying moment that her feet were going to lift off the shattered walkway. She didn’t know what this place was, but something terrible had happened there. And it must have been abandoned for a long time. Dead trees littered the horizon and the land was barren. She couldn’t see much with her hair wrapping itself around her face with each new blast of wind, but she didn’t need to see. She just needed to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. The wind grew in force, a howling beast. Yet, something in the sound was sad to her; the wind was mourning.
As soon as the thought hit her, her fear melted away in favour of compassion. The wind eased. She straightened her back and closed her eyes, breathing slowly. The wind still whipped around her, but she willed herself to be calm. To stop fighting the currents. Sure enough, in mere moments, the wind was but a whisper. Welcome back, it seemed to say.
When Kali opened her eyes, the gentle smile fell off her face with a startled cry when she saw the robed figure in front of her. She hadn’t even heard the figure move or felt its presence. Before Kali could get her bearings, the figure sank into a deep bow, its head nearly touching the ground, and croaked “My Lady. You have grown.” The hood fell back as the figure stood, revealing a creature Kali could only describe as a hag. “It is time.”
“Why am I here?” Kali stammered, trying and failing to keep her voice even as panic set in again.
A humourless laugh. “The threads of fate are not so easily unwoven, my dear. You of all people should know that.”
“I don’t understand.” Kali was shaking. Everything the hag said sent waves of fear coursing through her, despite her best attempts to stay calm. She glanced around her at the dead wastes and swallowed the lump in her throat. “What is this place?”
“This is nowhere.” The creature dismissed her question with a wave of a crooked hand.
Kali frowned and focused on the hag again. Leathery skin pulled taut, empty white eyes, withered hands. Scattered patches of thin hair. She didn’t feel like the creature was evil or cruel, regardless of appearances. But something about this place, this person, terrified her beyond reason. She knew that she had never seen this creature before, nor seen any creature quite like her, so why was she afraid? And why was it that something felt so familiar about her? Despite the chill in her bones, Kali grit her teeth and asked, “Do I know you?”
She was met with a shrill cackle, harsh and cold in the empty wastes around them. The crone made no attempt to answer Kali’s question. Instead, she rasped “The time comes for the queen’s return, from quaking seas and skies that burn. In the darkness, light shines through and time, once still, will rise anew.”
The words echoed around Kali and rippled through her. Something inside her seemed to answer the call and her blood boiled. White hot pain seared through her and Kali fell to her knees and choked “What did you do?”
Silence met her, and she screamed as the fire inside her spread through every nerve in her body. It was like something was trying to claw its way out of her, bursting through her veins. She writhed and looked up to see empty eyes staring back at her. “What…did you do?” She begged.
“The answers you seek lay within.” This time, the creature’s eyes were almost pitying. They were the last thing Kali saw before the world around her went blissfully dark.
* * *
Hades regretted summoning Apollo, even before he had finished sounding the first letter of his name. Kali would not thank him for it. But, when another tremor rocketed through her, he knew he had little choice. She was writhing and twisting in his arms, her body feverish and her eyes rapid beneath their lids.
The whirlwind of fire that blasted out of her had destroyed most of the room and torn him from sleep. He had extinguished the flames at first, but another wave exploded out of her when she screamed. He knew she would mourn the loss of her things when she woke. Making sure she survived long enough was his main priority.
Agonizing seconds passed with no response, and Hades wasn’t sure that Apollo would answer. For a heartbeat, Hades considered Commanding the god to his side. It was as easy as breathing for him to enforce his authority over the younger gods. He used it so rarely that he was sure they had forgotten. Forgotten the root of his powers. He had promised himself not to give in to that side of himself, the whisper that pulled him constantly towards the Old Ways he tried to forget.
Before he could begin to form a decision, there was a tentative knock on the door. Apollo could feel nothing inside the room, the blanket of Hades’ darkness so absolute and consuming that not even a glimmer of Kali’s outbursts had leaked out. With a fraction of a glance towards the knock, Hades flung the door open. The God of Light was dragged through the darkness towards them.
“What did you do!” Apollo roared, fixing burning eyes on the man holding his daughter.
A deafening silence settled over them as a dark fury radiated from Hades. Apollo cowered visibly and bowed his head. “My apologies, my Lord.”
Apollo bowed his head and the embers flickering in his eyes evened out into a soft, steady glow. With a deep breath, Apollo held his hand over Kali’s face and a frown creased his forehead. “She is…” A wreath of fire surrounded them, interrupting him, but Apollo just tilted his head slightly to the side and continued “Too strong.”
The fire continued to rage around them, despite all of Hades’ attempts to stifle it. Focusing on dampening the power pouring out of Kali’s unconscious body, he grunted “Can you help her?”
“Yes but…this shouldn’t be happening.” He was still calculating, detached, barely seeing his daughter through the puzzle in front of him. “She shouldn’t have this much power.”
“Apollo, concealing both of your powers will not be easy for long.” Hades snapped, bringing him back to the urgency of the situation. Kali wasn’t immortal. This could quite literally rip her apart if they didn’t move quickly. Even the God of Death couldn’t bring her back from that. “Do what you have to do. We will figure out the rest later.”
He blinked, startled for a moment, and nodded deeply. “Of course.”
Without another word, Hades fused his consciousness to Kali’s. In doing so, he anchored her to him and shielded her from as much of the roaring energy threatening to consume her as he could. Apollo was right; she shouldn’t have this much power. A firestorm was cascading through her and burning her up from the inside out. Her body wasn’t made to contain such a thing.
He was vaguely aware of Apollo’s energy surrounding her and strengthening her but a voice inside him whispered that it would not be enough. At this rate, she would go mad from the intensity of the pain searing every inch of her. Putting his faith in Apollo, in Kali’s father, he wrapped her mind in a blanket of soothing darkness before it could snap. And there he stayed, in the inky blackness he had always known, with the woman he loved in his arms.
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