Becoming – Chapter Six

Chapter Six

As Kali walked away from the fountain, she was attracting even more stares than usual. When she picked up on some of the whispers, she realised that she was still covered in her own blood. Her grey top was drenched and, now that she was thinking about it, was sticking to her uncomfortably. But if she didn’t find Eliza, she’d never work up the nerve to resolve things.

It didn’t take Kali long to find her standing at the edge of the Colosseum, with a face like thunder. Eliza’s arms were crossed and she was glaring darkly at the two fighters. Kali faltered for a heartbeat before approaching her, saying “Got a minute?”

Eliza rolled her eyes with a scowl, and grunted “Fine.” With that, she turned and strode away from the stands and out towards the treeline. The sun had begun to set, and the sky behind them was a dusky pink. Mist filled the woods ominously, but the air was still crisp and cold.

Once they were away from the crowds, Kali felt better and worse. Eliza stopped and leant against a tree, looking at her pointedly. Anxiously, she began, “Eliza…about the fight…”

“Don’t worry about it.” Eliza replied shortly, shrugging.

Kali blinked. Don’t worry about it? “Uh…what?”

Eliza smirked and put her hand on Kali’s shoulder. “It’s cool. I know how you get in a fight.”

“I…”

She smiled and shook her head confidently, interrupting “You don’t need to apologise.”

Kali had been at a loss for words, barely comprehending that Eliza was trying to turn this around on her. But at that, she snapped. “You’re right. I don’t.” She replied firmly, meeting Eliza’s gaze with a blazing stare.

Eliza looked astounded, stammering “Seriously? You don’t think you did anything wrong?”

“Eliza! You stabbed me!” Kali pulled at the hem of her top to indicate the blood that soaked it.

Eliza threw up her hands with frustration. “I can’t be held accountable for my actions in a fight!”

“We weren’t in a fight!” Kali shouted, drawing the attention of some demigods at the outskirts of the camp. 

Outraged, Eliza yelled “I can’t believe you’re bringing that up, after everything you’ve done. After everything you’ve put me through!”

Tears sprang to her eyes, and Kali shook her head weakly. “What the hell is going on with you?”

“You!” Eliza grabbed her by the collar, getting right up in Kali’s face. “Why do you have to take away everything I want! I was meant to win and be a champion. I’ve been waiting all year for this. Now, Tom won’t even talk to me because of you!”

Kali broke her grip but refused to back away. For once, she was determined to stand her ground. Even so, she was fracturing with every word Eliza spat at her. Taking a deep breath, Kali dropped her tone and sighed. “From what I hear, you did that to yourself.”

“No! You have him wrapped around your little finger, and now he hates me. He hates me, just because I had the guts to say what we’re all thinking about you! I wish you’d never been born!” Eliza bellowed, and went to swing towards Kali’s face.

Before Kali could decide if she even had the energy to move, a thick sheet of ice jutted out of the ground between them. Something lodged into it as Eliza’s fist struck. A punch-knife. Kali was shaking with grief; she couldn’t understand what was happening. How could she have missed this?

Eliza snarled with frustration but dropped her fists and left the knife lodged in the ice. Slumping her shoulders, she muttered You’re better off without me. You’ve shown that today. You don’t need me, and I definitely don’t need you. I think it’s better for both of us if we stop pretending we actually like each other.”

With that, Eliza all but ran back towards the Colosseum. Kali watched her until her Crispin stated, “You have some interesting friends.” His voice was even and unwavering. Kali only knew that he was being sarcastic from the slight twinkle in his piercing eyes when she turned to look at him.

“That…isn’t how I expected that to go.” She shook herself, remembering her manners. “Thank you for helping me.”

He bowed, explaining “It would be a shame to scar such a beautiful face.”

Kali rolled her eyes with a wry smile, and threw a sidelong glance at him. Piercing eyes reflected the light caught in the ice, and Kali muttered “And you wonder why every girl here swoons when you speak.”

“Not every girl.” He grinned, looking at her pointedly.

Her smile faded and she looked down at her fingers, fiddling awkwardly with the hem of her top. Taking a deep breath, she mumbled “You…don’t think I have Tom wrapped around my finger, do you?”

Crispin looked at her sharply for a moment and sighed. “From what I’ve seen, Tom thinks of you as a little sister. As I have a little sister of my own, I can say with confidence that you absolutely have him wrapped around your finger.”

At that, Kali giggled and the weight on her chest lightened a little. “I didn’t know you had siblings.”

“We haven’t had much of an opportunity to be introduced.” He shrugged, with another dazzling smile. Not for the first time, Kali was glad that she was immune to his charms.

“Let’s walk and talk?” She suggested shakily. “I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.” Plus, she could feel that Hades was restless to be with her. The feeling was mutual, though she appreciated that he was trying to respect her privacy.

“I could eat.” Even Crispin’s shrug was elegant.

Kali wandered away from the treeline and back towards the centre of the camp. She wasn’t sure where she was going, exactly, but her feet trudged on their own accord towards the fountain. The silence wasn’t uncomfortable, except that it gave her more time to dwell on what had just happened. Eventually, she wondered aloud “Do you mind if I ask…why did you swear yourself to me? I…”

“Feel you do not deserve our gratitude?” He suggested, with a knowing smile. “I don’t think you realise what you did in that place. Each and every one of us had given up. We knew without a doubt that we were never getting out of there with our lives, or our freedom. I was taken with my brother and my sister, and I could do nothing to protect them.”

“I’m…are they…?” Dread filled her at the thought of those she knew she hadn’t been able to save. She didn’t want to ask, didn’t want to hear the answer.

“They lived. They are free, because of you.” His voice was firmer, and thick with an emotion that Kali couldn’t name.

A wave of relief washed over her, and she automatically thanked any god that might be listening. “You would have gotten them out of there.”

He paused mid-stride and looked at her again. His expression was of confusion and surprise, but a fond smile formed as he sighed “You really don’t know what you inspire in people, do you. Even here, you could rally every demigod to your side if you chose to. It’s no wonder there are whispers that the King himself is afraid of you.”

“That’s…” But she couldn’t argue with him when everything told her that he spoke the truth. At least, he believed he did. Instead of trying to correct him, she muttered “I suppose the stories must have been embellished more than I thought.”

“Not to us, Kali.” He reminded her, sternly. “We witnessed, first hand, what you were capable of. Only four of us made it official, the old-fashioned way, but I’d wager every one of us would lay down our lives and our loyalty for you. It isn’t just gratitude…there’s something else about you. I feel like you didn’t just save my life…you saved my soul. Something inside of me feels different, and I know the others feel it too. Sworn or not, we all feel connected to you.”

“I don’t want power over you, Crispin. Any of you. I just didn’t want her to keep hurting people.” She finished, awkwardly. She wouldn’t pretend to be some righteous defender or a hero. Even if she sounded naïve or stupid, she wasn’t going to take advantage of Crispin, or the others.

Crispin stared at her for a long moment, his mask dropping away. Then his face broke into a smile and he laughed. “No demigod stands up to a god, Kali. But you have been getting away with it since before you got here, if the stories are true. Three Olympians openly competing for your attention? You talk to Apollo, and argue with him, like he’s any normal father.”

Shouldn’t she? “Well…no one told me not to? He might not be normal…but he’s still family…”

“That isn’t the relationship most demigods get to have with their parents.” He explained gently. “There’s something in you that just draws people to you. Even the gods. Being around you makes people happy.”

“Not everyone.” She mumbled. The energy dropped out of her, and she stopped walking in spite of herself.

It didn’t take a genius to guess what she was thinking about, and Crispin knew from experience that it was a slippery slope. He moved in front of her and bent to look into her eyes. “Listen to me, Kali. Some people are so used to basking in their own darkness that they can’t handle the light. Your ‘friend’ back there can’t stand the fact that not everyone is as selfish as she is.” He placed his hands on her shoulders, insisting “You show her a way to be a better person, and she chooses to focus on how bad that makes her feel instead of trying to move forward.”

Kali glanced up and frowned, hearing the almost wistful undertone in his voice. “What about you?”

“I owe you a debt I can never repay. But I will not pretend that it isn’t refreshing to be around a girl who isn’t swooning, or after my money.” He paused for a moment, judging her response, and said “You really don’t know who I am, do you?” He laughed and dropped his hands from her shoulders.

Kali bit her lip, confused. “I’m sorry?”

Crispin smiled again and held out his hand to her to start moving again. As they walked back towards the fountain again, he continued, “Don’t be. I prefer it that way. You talk to me, and fight me, like an equal. It doesn’t happen often.”

“That must get lonely.” Kali said quietly, throwing another glance his way.

Despite the deep sadness Kali could pick out from his body language, his smile was still firmly in place. “No more lonely than many who come here, searching desperately for a family and a home. I have both, so I consider myself very lucky indeed. A little loneliness is a small price to pay for the life I have the opportunity to lead.”

“You’re allowed to be upset sometimes, you know.” She murmured. Kali sighed and stopped again, taking his arm and making him turn to face her. Her voice was stronger when she insisted “Your problems…your feelings are no less valid than anyone else’s, Cris. Yes, you’re rich and handsome. Yes, you have a more nuclear family than some people. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be hurting, or admit when life sucks.”

He sighed and stopped, the smile slipping ever so slightly. Pointedly, he stated “I thought I was meant to be comforting you?”

“She has that effect on people.” A soft voice murmured from the deep shadows.

Crispin stopped in his tracks and smoothly dropped to one knee, bowing his head. “My lord.”

“I like this one. He remembers who I am, unlike the rest of your friends.” Hades said, clearly amused. “But stand up.” He stepped out of the shadows and held out a hand to Crispin. “As long as you are protecting her, you need not bow to me.”

“As you say, my lord.” Crispin rose reverently and Kali smiled; she often forgot Hades’ title and position. Before she started to wonder whether she should be more respectful, he tugged her hair playfully and murmured “Don’t you dare, love.”

Kali snuggled against him, mumbling “Eliza…it didn’t go well.”

“I know.” He kissed her head.

Tom and Sage moved closer and Crispin held out his arm in greeting to them both. Tom hesitated for a moment before taking it, bowing his head awkwardly. “Lord Crispin.”

“Lord?” Kali glanced at him, confused.

“Cris is fine.” He smiled politely at Tom. Amusement twinkled in his eyes as he glanced at Kali, but she noticed his smile freeze.

Kali punched his arm with a grin, and said “I’m not curtsying.”

He laughed, surprising himself, and a warmer smile spread across his face. “That’s a relief. You’re hardly graceful; you’d probably hurt yourself.”

Another rumble of thunder rang out through the camp and Hades glowered. He looked back at Kali and squeezed her hand apologetically. “He’s always like this during the festival.” With a light kiss, he sighed I will make this up to you tonight.

You don’t need to be at my side to be with me. Kali insisted gently. I couldn’t have handled any of this today without you. Go and play nursemaid, and I’ll see you soon.

Hades chucked quietly and touched her cheek for a long moment before melting away into the shadows once more. When he was gone, Tom approached Kali slowly and hugged her, mumbling “I’m guessing it didn’t go well.”

“You could say that.” Kali muttered, her eyes burning again. Frustrated, she rubbed her eyes and said “I’m starving. Let’s grab something to eat.”

A timid voice came suddenly from her left, saying “Excuse me, Kali, of Apollo. But you’re needed in the Colosseum, if you please.”

“For the love of…” Kali grumbled, pushing her hair irritably out of her face. Taking a breath, she turned to the young blonde satyr with a smile. “Thank you, I’ll be there shortly.”

Kali looked up at the dark sky and sighed. The sun had set quickly, and the air was getting colder without its feeble warmth. She remembered that the last fight of each day was a pitch battle, for all those who were undefeated in their earlier rounds. It would last until only one person was left standing.

Noticing the look on her face, Tom asked “Have you chosen your team?”

She looked at him blankly. “What do you mean?”

“That’ll be a no then.” Sage said, laughing. “You can choose two people to go with you, to have your back, for the pitch battle.”

“Not us, though.” Tom interrupted. “Sage and I already took part in one, so we’re not eligible.”

“Don’t flatter yourself.” Kali stuck out her tongue childishly, and Tom laughed. But then she turned to her newest friend with a nervous smile. “Crispin? Do you think you could fight with me?”

He thought for a moment, seriously considering whether their styles were compatible, and Kali was grateful that he wasn’t refusing off-hand. “If you can keep your distance with your fire, and not touch the batons again…I think that could work.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.” Kali grinned, and she already knew who else she could ask. If she couldn’t have Sage or Tom, there weren’t many people she could trust to have her back or knew well enough to know they’d fight well together. Her limited options would just make this quicker.

She was really looking for Ben; but she didn’t know if he had already taken part in a pitch battle. And her time was running out. When she bumped into Hannah, she glanced back up at the dark sky and sighed. Despite their rocky beginnings, Hannah was a solid fighter and had a good attitude. But she shifted uncomfortably; she had already agreed to be someone else’s partner. Kali clapped a hand on her shoulder with a smile, and just said “Then I guess I’ll be able to put you on your arse again later. Stay on your feet long enough for me to find you.”

Hannah laughed, relieved, and Kali bit her lip nervously as she left. A voice from behind her said “And here I thought I’d be top of your list.”

“Ben!” Kali cried, turning to him with relief clear on her face. “Please tell me you’re not already spoken for!”

He raised an eyebrow and grinned mischievously. “I’m not, but I’m not happy about being second to Hannah.”

“You’re not. I panicked when I couldn’t find you.” She insisted, even though she knew he was joking around. Hannah was a good fighter, but Kali had defeated her much too easily earlier in the day. Ben was fast, fierce, and unassuming. And, more importantly, she knew she could trust him.

“That’s fair enough then.” He shrugged and bowed his head formally, saying “My blades are yours.”

She moved to hug him, but he darted back and looked pointedly down at her top. Kali muttered a curse; she had forgotten she was still covered in blood. Ben laughed and said “Go change. We’ll cover for you.”

“I’ll be five minutes!” She insisted and sprinted back towards her room. Halfway there, warmth surrounded her, and she found herself standing in the middle of her bedroom. Without stopping to wonder how she had managed to make it work, Kali fought the brief dizzy spell and grabbed her duffel bag. She reached in and pulled out the armour that had saved her life countless times.

Steeling herself, Kali began to prepare. That time, she didn’t care about having an unfair advantage; this festival was about acknowledging how you got to where you were. So, she was going to represent each of the gods that had helped her over the last two months. That meant wearing Hephaestus’ armour, which Aphrodite had altered, and Hermes’ boots.

She pulled out the recurve bow that her father had given her and fastened her hip quiver. Ares’ staff had collapsed down into a manageable size, so she hooked it onto her belt. Finally, Kali tied the pouch of black diamonds onto her belt and touched the necklace she always wore, for strength.  She was ready.

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