Chapter Thirty Seven
It was mid-morning when Kali and Hades appeared in a narrow alleyway, somewhere in London. She had never been all that interested in the different districts and areas, so she hadn’t asked where they were going. All she knew, and all she cared about, was that there were lines and lines of shops to choose from.
Kali suppressed a shiver; a cold, biting wind swept through the alley and she huddled into Hades’ chest. “I think my first stop will be to get a coat.”
The bundle that Hephaestus had given her had included a pair of leather trousers, and a bodice of sorts. Both were apparently armoured and highly resistant to heat, but a note from Aphrodite had explained the design of the items. Apparently, she couldn’t bear seeing any of her students wearing something so unfashionable. That meant that the top was more like a corset, with a matching sleeveless bolero jacket.
Her arms were bare, but for the armguard and archery glove that had remained untouched by the goddess. They were similarly resistant to heat and fire, and they were the most comfortable of their kind that Kali had ever worn. She particularly liked the scaly pattern carved into the leather. But they offered little protection from the cold.
Peeking her head out from their hiding place, Kali saw that frost was clinging to the railings of the gates nearby. And freshly fallen snow lay untouched on several paths. Definitely getting a coat first.
“I wish I could stay.” Hades murmured into her hair.
“Me too.” She admitted, quietly. Shaking herself, she insisted “I’ll be fine. I promise. Besides, you can’t keep skipping these meetings. If they have to send someone to get you again, Zeus might have an aneurism.”
“Are you trying to convince me to go, or to wait?” He chuckled, and Kali laughed with him; he had a point there. But he did need to leave.
Kali forced her niggling worries from her mind and promised, “I’ll call you if I need anything, okay?”
“Have fun, my love.” With that whisper, the shadows drew around him and he faded from her sight.
She slung the duffle bag over her shoulder, still disconcerted by how light it felt. Even though she knew that she had her staff, knives, and bow in there…it could have been empty. Smaller items had been stored in the side pockets but no matter how much she put in, there was still room to spare. Even her staff, which should have been too big end to end to fit in the first place, sat comfortably in the bottom of the bag. It was an amazing item, and Hades had refused to explain how it worked. All that he would say was that she had no excuse not to get everything she needed.
As snow crunched beneath her feet, Kali hoped that the boots Hermes had given her were waterproof. She shuffled her feet to admire them again. More delicate than the combat boots she had been trudging around in, but not so dainty that they couldn’t take some punishment. Kali especially liked the wing design that moulded the leather into a cuff around the top of the boots. She hated to admit it, but Hermes did have good taste.
Looking around her, her eyes were immediately drawn to all the Christmas lights and decorations that she could see. Her ears picked up the faint hum of carols in the street, and jolly, jingling tunes blaring out of the shops she walked past. She hadn’t really thought about Christmas in Camelot. There was the festival for the new year, but it hadn’t even occurred to her that December meant Christmas.
Kali wandered into a few generic clothing shops before deciding that the current fashions were of no interest to her. A-line tops and “petite” baggy jumpers would never sit right over her frame. And the colours were all greys and pastels, and mustard. After only a couple of minutes, she stepped right back out onto the street. Not even the threat of hypothermia would make her buy one of those puffy coats.
The next street Kali came to was much more promising. There was a huge indoor market full of stalls with all sorts of different accessories and trinkets. Beyond that, a bridge over the river would take her to some cafes and clothing shops that she had never heard of. And, she nearly drooled, an alternative footwear outlet. That made up her mind for her and she strode purposely past the market, telling herself that she would get to it later.
The first shop she reached had a long burgundy trench coat in the window. It looked like leather and would nearly reach the floor. Too cumbersome, she tried to convince herself. But she stood gazing at it and she just couldn’t tear herself away. She dreaded to think how much a coat like that would cost. Once, she wouldn’t have even let herself look at it because she could never afford it.
If I have to come down there and physically drag you into that shop, I will. Hades’ voice rippled through her mind, startling her, but that was all the nudge she needed. She laughed and pushed open the door. The displays were crammed with so many different styles and designs. Even just on her way to the coat, which she’d spotted the second she entered the shop, she had picked up a hoodie, two pairs of trousers, and several tops. She had replaced them all as soon as she’d grabbed them, but she knew she’d probably end up going back for them before she was done.
When Kali eventually got to the shoe shop, she was laden with bags. Despite feeling that she wouldn’t be able to spend Hades’ money, she had managed to completely forget her misgivings and his urging. It was actually fun. It had been so long since she had been shopping. She had never been able to relax and just get whatever she wanted before. There had always been so many factors to consider. So many reasons to hold her back. She hadn’t gone crazy, but she wasn’t restricting herself the way she had expected either.
She stopped in a café opposite the shoe shop before going in. Partly to get off her feet for a bit, and partly to transfer the shopping bags into the duffle bag. It was busy in there, so she was confident that no one would really be paying attention to what she was doing. Even if they did, any normal person would explain away something so unusual. Sure enough, no one looked at her strangely or challenged her while she was there.
Sitting alone in the café, Kali marvelled at how free she felt. She had never liked being in a new place on her own before. The thought of getting lost, or having to interact with people she didn’t know, always used to give her panic attacks. The discomfort wasn’t gone, but it didn’t cripple her the way it used to. She closed her eyes and reached out to Hades with a soft caress and smiled when he returned it. Maybe it was because she was never really alone anymore.
Finally, finally, she went into the shoe shop with just her too-light duffle bag over her shoulder. She had never considered herself girly, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t like shoes. She took longer in that shop than in the rest of them combined, trying to decide on which boots to get. Eventually, she bought a pair of vegan leather ankle boots with chrome heels. They were too high to be comfortable, but she convinced herself that she would be able to run in them if she had to. Besides, she couldn’t wear flats to a club.
With that in mind, she went looking for a jewellery shop. A glance up at the sky told her that she had been wandering around for almost four hours. Embarrassed, Kali shoved the feather braid she had picked up from the market into the nearest side pocket of the duffle bag and pulled out an item she hadn’t used in a long time.
She had retrieved her mobile phone from where it had been sitting since her birthday before she left. Her fingers found her web browser and she typed what she was looking for into the screen. Directions from her location to the Immortals club. Just as she was leaving the shop, pleased that she had completed her secret mission, her eyes fell on a glittering blue pendant.
She let her fingers brush over the necklace and thought of her mother. Tentatively reaching to Hades, he gently reminded her that she didn’t need his permission. With conflicting feelings, Kali bought the necklace and slipped the gift box into her pocket. She had no idea how she could get it to her mother, but she still hated how she had left.
Pushing her turmoil aside, she turned her attention back to her phone and did her best to navigate the streets to the underground. Her sense of direction was still terrible. Even with the map, she got lost. Twice. But with her face glued to her phone, she didn’t care if anyone was staring or laughing at her. It was nearly three o’clock by the time she got to where her phone told her the postcode was.
She sent a sly invitation to Hades to help her change, even though she was going to stay in the leather trousers and corset. She felt a tremor through their bond, and he murmured that she was cruel to tease him when they both knew he had to work. But she could sense that he wasn’t really complaining. She whispered to him that she was nearly done; just the chat at the club and then she would jump on the train back home.
Theoretically, she should have been able to get there in an instant. Just as she should have been able to transport herself to London without his help. She had tried sun-stepping a couple of times over the last week with no luck. Hades told her she was overthinking it, but she didn’t really know how else she was supposed to make it work. She didn’t know how it had happened in the first place. But, she thought, there was no harm in trying again on the way home.
She grabbed a panini from another coffee shop that was just about to close. The girl behind the counter was not impressed, but Kali slipped into the bathroom quickly to change her shoes and apply some eyeliner. She had the panini, and another hot chocolate, to take away and both were devoured in a matter of seconds. Shopping was more tiring than Kali remembered. Though maybe that had more to do with how much wandering around she had been doing without a break.
After walking for about five minutes, Kali was sincerely regretting the shoes. She wasn’t changing, and she was not returning them. She would not admit that these boots had gotten the best of her. But she just wasn’t used to heels and her feet were already burning. Kali spent most of her time in flat boots or barefoot.
When she approached the general area of the club, Kali pulled out the “invitation” her father had given her. She hadn’t seen anything when she had swept past the area earlier on. But with the card in her hand, a gleaming golden door had appeared. It was pulsing and glowing, not that she could miss it blocking up half the pavement.
The door was smooth and unblemished. There were no markings, and no signs of a knocker or a handle. Kali approached it and reached out a tentative hand to touch it. The surface of the door rippled like water beneath her fingers, and she stepped closer. Apollo, as usual, hadn’t bothered to tell her anything, but it was pretty clear that the way in was to step through the doorway. With one hand gripping the card that would grant her entry and the other clamped around the strap of her bag, Kali took a deep breath and stepped through the door.
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