Chapter Forty Two
It only took Hermes a matter of seconds to find Hypnos. Hades had grabbed the scruff of his shirt and they both appeared over the minor god instantly. Even the easy-going messenger had to shake himself to clear his head after such a violent shift. But Hypnos did not seem surprised. Either he knew what Kali was to Hades when he took her, or his own lethargic nature meant he hadn’t even processed their sudden arrival. Hades jumped at the former, but Hermes suspected the latter was more accurate.
Hypnos looked up at them slowly from his mountain of pillows and it seemed to take him an eternity just to blink. Confusion touched his heavy-lidded eyes, but he didn’t speak. Hades was practically oozing rage, so Hermes stepped up and asked “Where is the demigod you attacked tonight?”
“Attacked?” He asked slowly. A frown half formed on his face before his eyes drifted closed again but Hermes struck him hard across the face. The minor god groaned tiredly and muttered “Go away.”
“We tried it your way.” Hades said darkly from behind them. Hermes shivered but turned back to Hypnos with a shrug and a grin. “You had your chance.” He muttered before shrinking back and letting Hades take his place over the god. Something like recognition flashed across Hypnos’ droopy face and his eyes opened fully for the first time.
“She was yours.” He visibly paled and tried to move back but shadows struck him from every angle and latched onto him. They coiled around his body from his toes to his chin, until only his mouth and eyes were free. No sign of drowsiness remained; only terror.
“Ah, now that expression is much more to my liking.” Hades smiled grimly. “You will tell me where she is.”
Hypnos’ voice was still slow, but it trembled. “I don’t know what Eris does with them.”
“Eris?” Hermes asked with dread, but Hades tightened the leash around the god until his eyes bulged. Hermes hurried forward to his side and muttered “Don’t you want to check he’s telling the truth first?”
Without a word, Hades hand lashed out and gripped Hypnos’ face. A startled cry was torn from the god, and so were his memories. When he had what he needed, a large grey longsword appeared in Hades’ hands and Hypnos’ head rolled onto the pillows. Hermes watched it bounce down the cushions towards the ground with morbid fascination.
Snapping Hermes out of his reverie, Hades spat “Eris would never demean herself to step into the mortal world. One of her cowed minions would have come.”
“Depending what she would have sent…there won’t be any trace to follow.” Hermes murmured carefully. Weaker beings didn’t leave enough of a mark on the world to linger more than a few minutes. Their options were severely limited if they couldn’t pick up on anything else where she was taken. He didn’t need to tell Hades that.
Before Hermes knew what was happening, they were back in the street near the Immortals club. He staggered slightly upon landing; the rides were getting rougher and rougher the more Hades lost his control. But it didn’t take long to realise that there was nothing left to find. Hades was pacing, the shadows growing with each passing second. Fear was not an emotion the messenger was used to, but the void had a way of forcing itself inside of you, swallowing you. He had known how far gone Hades was when he had found Apollo curled up in a ball.
But he didn’t know how to diffuse this situation. The only thing that would keep Hades from swallowing the world would be finding Kali, safe and sound. Luckily, another voice broke the heavy silence with exactly what they needed.
“Brother!” Hades flinched but froze mid-stride to await the Stargazer’s words. “She is in trouble?”
Hades knew that he was a broken man, and he was failing her. There was only one option left to him and it was one he couldn’t afford to take. And yet, here he was. “Can you find her?”
“You really do love her. Huh.” He seemed genuinely surprised, but the expression was swiftly replaced with a triumphant smirk. The Stargazer sneered, “You accept the price?”
Hades snarled but his face was set determinedly. His eyes held all the blackness of the void as he spat “One. Chain. Only.”
The information flooded through him and he disappeared again with a thunderous crack. Once Hades was gone, the Stargazer sighed “Fool. I would have helped her for nothing.”
* * *
Kali shrieked and dropped to the ground. Even as the dirt scoured even more skin from her shoulders, it would hopefully do the same for the acid that was searing into her flesh. Her skin burned and blistered and, in places, fell away. Even as she felt the creature approaching, her fear and blood a pungent odour it would follow, she nearly lost consciousness from the pain.
How she managed to start moving again, she would never know.
She knew that hydras had poisonous breath and venomous fangs, but spitting acid? Sure, she had cut off its head in possibly the most painful way, but this was just unnecessary! One of her knives was useless and melted beyond recognition. She only had one weapon, and two heads to go. Why, oh why, didn’t she have a goddamn sword!
Kali’s breathing was coming in shallow bursts now and her vision was spotted. She had used three of the diamonds so far, but they were only giving her a minimal advantage. This creature didn’t rely on eyesight the way humans did. Each of the heads seemed to be modelled after a different snake, and one of them had pits on each side of its head which Kali recognised from her time in the safari park. The pits would sense infrared light, heat, like night vision goggles. The diamonds may bend the light away from her, but they couldn’t hide her own body heat.
That was the head she was going after next.
Using her fire would slow down the creature’s regenerative abilities significantly, but if she didn’t hurry it would still get its head back before she was finished. A hydra would only fall once all of its heads were gone. She needed to pick up the pace.
The pain flared with every tiny movement, but she needed to keep moving. Kali knew if she stopped, she would die. It was as simple as that. Hopefully, she had enough regenerative energy of her own to regrow the skin. She tripped, her legs getting heavier by the second, but staggered up and kept running. Still invisible, only one head could pinpoint her exact location. So she used the other head to block herself from view.
She danced around it like that for a few seconds before leaping as high as she could into the air, aiming for the snake’s neck. The wing designs on her boots suddenly burst free from the leather. Kali cried out, drawing the hydra’s immediate attention and ire, but the boots carried her much faster than she could have moved alone. Before she or the hydra knew what had happened, her knife was embedded in its throat.
As with the first head, Kali drew on the fire that her pain was only feeding. A white jet extended from the blade, through the thick neck. She screamed at the effort it took to tear the knife through the leathery hide. But just like the first head, this one fell to the ground with a horrendous, acrid smell.
Without any kind of command, the boots dragged Kali back and out of the way of the final head. She struggled for balance, but this was much easier if she didn’t fight it. The boots clearly had a mind of their own. Kali startled herself when a laughed bubbled from her chest. She was more light-headed than she had thought.
With the help of her flying boots, and one more diamond that she crushed between her fingers, the last head should be no trouble at all. Both of her knives were misshapen and distorted, but they were only a means to an end in this fight. The poor mutilated blades only had to pierce the hydra once more, and they did not fail her. As before, she decapitated the final head and cauterised the wound in one swift move.
And in another swift move, she dropped down to the ground and fell to her front. Cheers rose around her but this time she could not move to join them. She was panting weakly into the dirt and her mind roved over her body, taking stock of the damage.
Her ankle was swollen, and her legs felt as bruised as the rest of her, but they seemed mostly uninjured. Many of the scrapes and scratches on her arms were at least partially healed. But she was certain she had at least two broken ribs. And her shoulder was still on fire, threatening to blot out everything else. Her throat felt like it was in shreds, and swallowing was all but impossible. Her head was killing her, probably from the times it had smacked against the floor during her fights.
How long had it been since she had eaten, or slept? It felt like days, but it couldn’t be. Every muscle shook with the effort it took her to push back onto her knees. She was vaguely aware of the cheers rising, and a group of people chanting her name. She stared blindly around her and stayed put. She wouldn’t have been able to stand, even if she could gather the energy to care.
A face swam into view and Kali was confronted with dark red eyes and cracked grey skin. Thick lips stretched into a manic smile as Eris examined her. Instead of her usual cackle, Eris chortled. Kali didn’t even flinch as the goddess’ fetid breath wafted into her face. Eris straightened up to her full height, well over six feet, and called “Bring the griffin.”
“Griffin.” Kali whispered the word with awe, hoping she hadn’t heard right.
When a shadow blocked out most of the arena floor, she knew that her prayers had fallen on deaf ears. The torches went out, plunging the cavern into darkness. But Kali could see the talons the size of machetes, and massive paws, scrambling around her. Bucking and twisting in its chains was the largest creature she had ever seen. It was impossible. She hadn’t seen it come into the arena, and she had no idea how it had entered. There was no way it would have gotten through the gate.
Kali’s eyes fell on the thick, heavy chain that was bolted to the centre of the arena floor. Her eyes moved slowly over each link, all the way up to the barbaric metal collar on the majestic creature in front of her. It twisted and struggled, crying out in frustration and anguish. The cry was fearsome but heart-wrenching.
Watching the griffin struggle, Kali knew that she wouldn’t be able to fight it. Even if she would be remotely capable of hurting this magnificent creature, she certainly didn’t have the heart. But the way it was writhing, it could easily trample her regardless of her intentions. She wouldn’t be fast enough to get out of the way. Especially slumped on the arena floor where she was.
Instead, Kali closed her eyes and tried to reach out to the griffin with her mind. It seemed beyond distressed at the binds and tears ran unabashedly down Kali’s cheeks. It wasn’t pity that coloured her emotions, but a deep and endless sorrow. A sorrow laced with an ancient rage deep within her. Who would chain a creature so inherently free?
She had tried to open her mind to the griffin but that seemed only to draw its attention to her. It lunged at her, but her Kali didn’t falter. She was actually glad that she was so exhausted because her reaction time was sluggish. Instead of flinching or grabbing for her weapons, she sat where she was and watched with a calm she did not feel.
Harsh, calculating eyes pierced her. Kali endeavoured to communicate that she would not hurt the creature, though the idea that she could was laughable at best. Even so, the reassurance slowed it and it drew close enough that Kali could see every detail in its thick, storm-grey feathers. Striking golden eyes narrowed, considering her, but it was uncertain. Her mind felt honest, but she was soaked in blood and it had endured much in this place.
The griffin struggled uselessly and glared at her. It didn’t take an animal whisperer to know what it wanted. Needed. A creature of the sky should never be chained to the ground. Kali struggled to her feet as slowly as possible, but a sharp clatter in the cavern startled it into acting. It lunged forwards, straight for Kali, and she felt warmth surround her.
As the griffin trilled and cooed its confusion, Kali found herself standing at its side, nearer the smooth transition of feather to fur. Her boots carried her upwards and she landed slowly on the creature’s back. Her hands disappeared in the soft stormy feathers between the wing joints. The physical contact made it easier to connect to its consciousness, and she dared not waste time lest it buck her off.
You are so beautiful. She sent towards the griffin on a whisper. Her heart was breaking at the sight of the shackles, carving into the fur. Its back legs were chained along with the collar, and on closer inspection she could see the blood staining its fur and feathers. Everything inside her screamed that someone had bound this beast. A tiny, tentative plea echoed back through the limited connection.
Kali’s rage blotted out everything else. Such a creature, reduced to a plaything for a minor god. A pitiful coward who wouldn’t even fight for herself. She reached forwards to touch the collar and it disappeared, shattering into dust. Every link followed like a chain reaction and the griffin reared back, tossing Kali to the ground, immediately taking to the sky.
But there was nowhere to go. It was an enclosed space and the griffin was still trapped there with them. Kali hadn’t thought that far ahead, and she covered her mouth to smother the sob that escaped. There was no way out.
With no option of escape, the griffin set its sights on destroying the one that had put it in chains. It flew like a bullet towards Eris and Kali had never seen such a terrifying and magnificent sight. If Eris were killed, would they be able to get out?
Her hopes were dashed before they were even fully formed when a single blow of the goddess’ midnight blade sent the griffin hurtling back. A scream tore itself from Kali’s throat and warmth surrounded her again. She was immediately at the creature’s side, whispering to it to stay calm. Promising that she would heal it and they would both be free.
Her hands grew hot against the feathers covering the griffin’s chest. The wound wasn’t deep, but it seemed to paralyse the creature. Soon. She whispered into its mind, stroking its ruffled feathers. I swear you will be free of this place soon.
Nails dug into her scalp as Eris hauled her up and away from the griffin. “You broke our agreement.” She snarled, the hot breath on Kali’s neck making her skin crawl. She didn’t have to suffer that discomfort for long; Eris threw her back against the other side of the arena. Kali’s earlier injuries all flared back to life and she looked up blearily to see Eris approaching the griffin.
“COWARD!” Kali was on her feet and her voice was the only sound in the cavern. For several aching seconds, the goddess just stared at her. But Kali could see the hatred building in her eyes. “Is that why you send your pets? You’re afraid that a puny demigod will get the best of you? Face me yourself!”
Time seemed to stop as Eris appeared directly in front of her. Kali had just enough time to know in her soul that she was in serious trouble before a hefty boot made contact with her stomach. She flew back into the arena wall and dropped to the floor. She valiantly struggled to her feet but immediately dropped again. She felt like she had been hit by a train.
“I guess Ares was holding back more than I thought.” She choked on a laugh and immediately regretted it. She coughed and spat blood onto the dirt as Eris stepped in front of her again. Her hand fumbled desperately in the dirt around her and closed around the broken horn of the minotaur. A calloused hand gripped her throat. As the goddess pulled her up, crushing her throat just as hard as the minotaur had earlier on, Kali managed to ram the horn deep into the fleshy area between Eris’ neck and shoulder.
Her success was short-lived when Eris sneered in her face. The hand at her throat loosened slightly, giving Kali a brief reprieve. But before she could blink, Eris drove her fist into Kali’s stomach. The blow alone sent her hurtling backwards again. That time, Kali’s head cracked against the railing of the gate, and she collapsed in a heap.
As she gasped for air, spots clouding over her vision, she heard a familiar voice say her name. Though she had never heard that tone of alarm from him, she recognised it immediately and snarled. She was NOT close enough to death for last words for the God of War. Not now, not ever.
Fury and dread filled her with equal measure, infusing her with strength. Heat scorched her from the inside out and she shuddered with the intensity of it. As Eris stood over her once more, a flash of fire burst from her and blasted the goddess back. But it didn’t end there.
A tornado of scorching blue flames swirled furiously around Kali. They shot into the sky like a beacon and the roof began to crumble above them. Sunlight poured in, bathing Kali in its brilliance, and her feet lifted from the ground. Her hair was flowing out around her and her eyes were glowing the same golden colour that was now intertwined within the fire.
Those terrible gold eyes snapped back to Eris’ face, divine Judgement, and radiant flames entombed the goddess. The sound of her screams filled the arena. The demigods could just make out the shape of the goddess writhing on the floor as she was consumed. It only took seconds for her to disappear completely, crumbling away into white ash.
Kali glanced at the cage and it disintegrated around the demigods in an instant at her silent Command. Most of them fled, as afraid of her as they had been of their captives. Maybe even more so. Ben, however, staggered forwards with a handful of others she didn’t recognise and called out to her.
At least, she assumed that’s what he was doing. She couldn’t hear anything over the roaring in her ears. Her thoughts were swirling around in her head too quickly for her to keep up. Every inch of her was on fire, inside and out, and it hurt more than she could even comprehend. As soon as it began to register, her world tipped sideways and she plummeted out of the sky. The whirlwind of fire began ebbing away and the world went white. Kali was unconscious before she hit the floor.
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