Kali almost jumped out of her skin, but she managed to contain her reaction to a small jerk. Her head smacked against the wall and she winced but held back her cry. She looked at the man touching her wrist and saw that he literally melted into the shadows. His grip was tight on her, and she wondered if he thought she would run from him.
For some reason, she didn’t really mind that he was still touching her. His hand had loosened somewhat when she had relaxed against the wall and now it was almost comforting, like an anchor. Without the contact, Kali might have wondered if he was even real. Watching the shadows clinging to him, a chill ran through her and seeped into her bones. But it was nothing new to her.
A long moment passed between them in silence, and Kali realised that she had been gazing at him. She blushed, and dropped her eyes, but the voice came again. Soft and deep, the man murmured “You are calmer than I would have expected.” At her silence, a tinge of amusement trickled into the man’s tone and he sighed “Tut, tut, little dove. Eavesdropping hardly suits you.”
“Says the man skulking in the shadows.” She muttered, flashing him a smile. She was met by silence and felt that the man was weighing her up. “How long have you been listening and watching without anyone knowing that you’re there?” She continued quietly, her voice barely a whisper.
“Ah.” He replied, the hint of amusement growing in his gentle voice. “Touché.”
Kali smirked slightly, pleased with herself, but her smugness was short-lived. The man in the shadows suddenly gripped her wrist tighter and pulled her into the darkness with him. She heard him breathe an apology in her ear, and he covered her mouth. “I know this is difficult, but it would be better if you remained silent.”
Her breath caught in her throat as he pressed her gently against the wall. His lips brushed her ear at his quiet warning, and Kali took a deep breath to steady herself. She had never been in such close proximity to a man and, even if he was practically invisible, he was a stranger. So why was her face was flushed, and why was her heart racing? She didn’t feel uncomfortable even so close to him. Even in the darkness.
Kali could only look at him and she could feel his hesitation. “You…are not afraid.” He stated, curiously. Kali didn’t know why she wasn’t; this situation should be unnerving in the least. But, with a small sigh, the man put something small in her hands and crushed them around it. A chill crept over her body and the first hint of fear gripped her. But the sensation evened out soon enough into something that felt like a cool breeze against her skin. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was almost refreshing.
While the feeling took hold, the man was silent. Kali could feel his eyes on her and opened her mouth to ask what he was doing but he pressed a finger to her lips. Lightning crackled across her skin at his touch, and she gasped softly. He froze, looking down at her. Her eyes found his even though she could not see him. In that instant, time stopped.
“Don’t move until I come back over to you.” He suddenly whispered, and the moment was broken.
The man stepped out of the shadows towards Apollo, who had just rounded the corner, and they embraced like brothers. But Kali just took another deep breath and tried to control her trembling. What was the matter with her? She looked down at her hands and saw that they were shadowy. Even as she looked down at them, her eyes wouldn’t quite focus.
Kali came back to her senses as Apollo fixed his glittering eyes on the man. Even in the middle of the room, the darkness would not release him. She couldn’t get any kind of idea what he looked like. Not even his height was discernible. “When did you get here, Hades?”
“A few minutes ago, perhaps. Not long. I didn’t think it wise to…interrupt.” Hades said calmly, the shadows still masking his expression.
“You’re getting sloppy, old friend.” Apollo’s eyes narrowed, and his voice took on a decidedly suspicious note. He was clearly testing the waters when he continued “When I heard a noise back here, I thought I would have to deal with some pesky mortal.”
Kali stiffened when his eyes floated over the place she stood, but Hades merely chuckled softly, admitting “It has been a while since I have walked on such slick tiles.”
“Are you telling me that you slipped?” Apollo froze in place, a boyish grin tugging at his mouth.
With a formal tone, Hades replied “I am saying nothing of the sort. Draw whatever conclusions you see fit.”
Apollo laughed, a full belly laugh, and Hades chuckled quietly in response. Kali watched them, frowning, and wondered if Hades was always this evasive. Mostly, though, she reeled at the revelation of the other man’s identity. “In any case, thank you for coming.”
Kali felt eyes flicker back over her hiding place and fought the urge to move further away. Her leg twitched, and she bit her lip. Before she could decide whether or not to leave, Hades’ silky voice washed over her. “I take it your demigod did not see things your way?”
“Does she ever?” A dark note had crept into his voice, and Apollo scowled.
Hades waited patiently, letting the time drag on. Kali thought that he sounded agitated when he prompted “And you would like me to…?”
“I need to know how far she’s come. Lynette told me that she doesn’t know what she is.” Apollo shook himself out of his inner grumblings and ran his hand through his dark hair, flicking it off his face. He sighed and his voice was softer, sadder, when he murmured “I saw her, and she didn’t recognise me.”
“Her mother kept it from her?” Kali could tell from the slight inflections in Hades’ deep voice, even as quietly as he was speaking, that he was frowning.
“Yes. She would have been killed today by her actions, and she had no idea that her blood would protect her. Her birth right.” Apollo paused, and Kali held her breath. “But she still risked her life for that child.”
Quietly but firmly, Hades stated, “She will make a fine Hero.”
“If that is the path she chooses.” A proud smile was playing about his lips and Kali fought the tears that were welling in her eyes as she realised that her father was proud of her. It shouldn’t matter, and she told herself that she didn’t need his approval; he had left her. His next words were more ominous, and his face fell back into a dark scowl. “If the others do not get to her first.”
Casually, Hades asked “Hermes is still intent on finding her?”
“He is the best in all the realms at finding people. I have managed to mask her presence so far but…I fear today’s events would have been a beacon for him.” Apollo hesitated for a moment, weighing up the question he wanted to ask, before proceeding. “The girl…did she…?”
“She had reached the ferryman. Kali could have died, dragging her back the way she did.” Hades’ voice held the same touch of humour she had heard earlier on, and it did strange things to her. “Charon is not best pleased that his flawless record has been tarnished.”
“I was afraid of that.” His voice was decidedly ominous, and Kali frowned, wondering what was going on. Charon was the ferryman of the dead? So, if she bought into any of this, that meant she had brought the little girl back from the edge of the Underworld? And Hermes was ‘after’ her? “I’ve tried to dissuade him but…you know what he’s like. As soon as he caught wind of her, he was hooked. Then I put obstacles in his way and it just made him want to find her more. Hermes has always loved the chase.”
“No more than you do, old friend.” Hades teased, though his voice was quiet again. “And Ares?”
Apollo grimaced. “Worse. But at least he isn’t very good when it comes to tracking her.”
“That will change now.” Kali shook her head and tried to focus on her breathing. This didn’t make any sense. Even if the gods they were talking about were real, and she was growing more and more willing to believe that they were, she was nobody. She was nothing. She slid as silently as she could into a sitting position, just so she wouldn’t pass out. She hardly heard the rest of the exchange until Hades said, “Are you taking her with you?”
“Not tonight. Lynette said she wanted time to explain things.” His tone implied that wasn’t an obligation he shared or agreed with. If anything, it sounded like he had let it go for an easy life. Knowing that her mother was where she got her stubborn nature, Kali wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case. “If I’m taking Kali away from her mother, she at least deserves to know why.” Apollo added, sounding grim.
Knowingly, Hades said “You want me to watch over her.”
“Not tonight.” He sighed wearily and ran his fingers through his brown hair one more time. “But if you can check in on her in the morning, I would be in your debt.”
“I do like open ended favours…” Hades stopped for a moment, clearly thinking. Finally, he stated “As you wish. Now, go and talk some sense into your woman.”
Apollo nodded restlessly, muttering “Wish me luck.”
With a weary sigh, he turned from Hades’ shadowy figure and strode away. Kali was vaguely aware of her mother’s voice, but it sounded much further away. There was a kind of roaring in her ears that she couldn’t quite get past and her head was suddenly swimming. If she hadn’t already been on the floor, she was sure she would have fallen then.
A finger brushed her forehead gently, and a weight lifted from her shoulders. Kali could feel her breathing even out slightly, and warmth eased back into her limbs. She hadn’t realised that she had been trembling until the shivers ceased. Hades’ voice felt like a caress when he murmured “Well…you are not a quivering wreck, so that went better than expected.”
“Oh please. It takes more than my dad coming back from the dead and turning out to be a god to unsettle me.” Keeping her voice low, she aimed for bravado but fell dangerously short. She noticed her hands shaking again and grimaced, “No, wait, I was wrong. That might be just on the level.”
“Breathe, Kali.” He was still standing over her, a hand touching a strand of her damp hair. She could feel him towering over her, but she didn’t feel threatened. If anything, she felt almost secure. Hades sounded almost apologetic when he added “The Skotádi can be unpleasant.”
“Skotádi?” She repeated the word curiously, letting her tongue curl around the pronunciation. It was strangely familiar, but she couldn’t quite place where she had heard it before. Like an echo of a dream she’d once had.
“Darkness.” He replied. After another short pause, he confessed “Even the gods find it difficult to subdue the effects. You are surprising resilient.”
Kali wasn’t sure how to take that, so she filed it away in her mind. Instead, she muttered “Gods.” It was real, then? Or she was even crazier than she thought. All of a sudden, she remembered that the man who was so close to her, leaning over her, was one of them. A god. She bit her lip but quickly shot Hades a sly smile, asking “So…am I supposed to bow?”
A genuine laugh escaped him, surprising her. When he cleared his throat, she wondered if it had startled him as well. After a moment, he said “That depends entirely on what you want, Kali. I certainly don’t expect your deference.”
“What do you expect?” She asked quietly, looking back over her shoulder and into the shadows.
“You’re starting to sound afraid of me.” He said quietly, his even tone sounding almost troubled. With a small laugh, he admitted “That took longer than usual.”
“I am not afraid.” Kali stated absolutely, turning fully to face him. The tiniest hesitation showed on her face when she clarified “Not of you, at least.”
Silence followed her words, until he finally changed the subject, offering “You must have questions.”
Relieved as she was, Kali hesitated. “Is that really okay? I mean…don’t you have somewhere better to be?”
“Good point.” Kali’s heart dropped into her stomach; of course he had somewhere better to be. But before she could respond, his hand curled around hers. “Hold on tight.”
At his whisper, Kali felt a tug in the pit of her stomach. She squeezed her eyes shut and found herself clutching at the front of Hades’ shirt when her feet seemed to leave the ground. It was barely a moment, but his chuckle washed over her, and she blushed. When he released her, she could feel a cool breeze on her face. Curiously, she opened her eyes and gasped.
Kali backed up a few steps into the wall behind her, looking out over the roof of the main building of the safari park. The height didn’t bother her, but she was dizzy from whatever Hades had done to bring them there. She braced herself against the wall but took a deep breath of the crisp evening air.
From the shadows, Hades watched her. When she seemed to have regained her balance, he murmured “I thought you might like some air.”
Her heart fluttered as he softly brushed his fingertips against her hair. When she finally found her voice, she murmured softly “He called you Hades. I was always interested in mythology growing up…my mother didn’t approve, but…you’re the Lord of the Underworld? God of the Dead?”
“I am.” His answer was quiet, but Kali was sure there was a hint of amusement in his low voice.
She just nodded and then said, “And my father is Apollo.”
“He is.” Again, that same even answer with a tinge of something she couldn’t quite place.
Kali bit her lip, keeping her voice low even though they were alone. “And you mentioned Ares and Hermes…” She sighed and shook her head, breathing “This is impossible, right? I’ve lost my mind?”
“I wouldn’t say so. You know that you have never been like other girls. When you were a child, before you thought that you should hide who you were, things used to happen. To you, and around you. Things your adult mind cannot explain, and reasons away. Your natural talent with a bow. The fact that you heal much more quickly than you should. Your uncanny ability to know when someone is lying to you.” He almost seemed to hesitate for a moment, but his voice was still even when he added “The freak tidal wave that destroyed your school after your teacher struck you.”
“How did you…” Kali swallowed the lump in her throat. That was another memory she had tucked away. “I never told anyone that.” She said, her voice small.
Again, Hades’ fingers found a lock of hair curling at her shoulder. “Apollo found out from the man when he looked into what happened there. He has a way of getting the truth out of people.”
To distract herself, Kali asked “So…I’m a demigod? Like Heracles, from the myths?”
“Not exactly.” He chuckled again, and Kali got the sense that he was laughing at her comparison.
Despite his amusement, Kali frowned. “But, I thought-”
“Your mother is a demigod. One of Poseidon’s children. You are…” His eyes caught her, though she couldn’t see them, and she held her breath while he searched for the right word. “More.”
Her mind flickered back to what Apollo had said; if anyone knew Lynette was her mother, they would kill her on sight. It was like a bucket of cold water over her head compared to the warmth that had been blossoming in her chest. “And that means that people will want to kill me?”
A strangled laugh left her. “You don’t sugar coat it, do you.”
She could feel his smile. A shadow of it formed in her mind. His soft voice seemed tender and caring when he murmured “From the little I have observed about you, I wouldn’t have thought you would appreciate veiled lies or half-truths. Even for the sake of comfort.”
“If Hermes and Ares want to find me…court me?” She glanced his way to see his reaction but, unsurprisingly, he was still cloaked in darkness. If anything, the shadows around him were only deepening in the waning sunlight. “They would at least think I’m a demigod. If it’s so forbidden, then why would they risk it?”
“The relationship is not taboo in the slightest.” Hades said carefully, weighing his words. “What is feared is the offspring of such trysts. Demigods are not meant to be able to conceive with a god, but it is not unheard of. And it never ends well for either side. Zeus passed a decree a few centuries ago, prohibiting reproduction in these partnerships. In the few times it has happened, the gods have taken measures.”
“Oh.” She stated quietly, sagging slightly against the wall and staring determinedly at the floor. Her head was reeling from everything that had already happened that day and she knew that the day wasn’t even over yet.
Hades brushed a strand of hair from Kali’s face and murmured “How are you feeling?”
She trembled at his touch but valiantly said “Well, I’m re-evaluating my stance on brutal honesty.” She took a deep breath before trying for a smile. “Otherwise…could be worse? Is there anything else I should know?”
“The rest can wait.” Hades watched her for a long moment, his indistinct form still hidden from her. “Are you ready to go back?”
“I’m not sure. I don’t think I can move.” Her hands were pressed hard against the wall like she was trying to hold onto it to keep from falling.
Hades slipped his arm around Kali’s waist and held her protectively to him. In that position, her head was resting on his chest and she could hear his steady heartbeat. It was a strange sensation to feel the hard muscles of his chest but see only darkness. Her eyes told her he couldn’t be there, but she could feel him shifting under her fingers. He sighed shakily, muttering something she couldn’t make out, and his arms tightened around her.
With another light tug in the pit of her stomach, they were in the reptile house. Kali didn’t ask how they had gotten there and she didn’t let herself dwell on the feel of his arms around her. She didn’t even try to right herself. She just smiled shakily and muttered “You’re taller than I thought.”
Hades chuckled, surprised, and Kali could tell that he was smiling again when he murmured “You are an interesting young woman, Kali.” He took her hand gently and slowly moved it to his lips. He kissed it lightly and she could feel his grin. “Do try to stay out of trouble long enough for us to meet again.”
Kali blushed, looking down with a smile, and murmured that she would do her best. Hades grew more serious as he lowered her hand again. He sighed, “Be careful of the gods. All of them have their own agendas.”
“And what is yours?” She asked softly.
He just chuckled softly again and replied “You shall probably find out soon enough. Until we meet again, Kali.”
With that, he was gone. Kali still had not managed to see more of him than just a faint outline but too much else had happened for her to really mind. Her head was spinning with what she had heard, but everything inside her felt numb. She knew from experience that whatever she was feeling would hit her soon enough. For now, she let her mind hum over things and determinedly ignored them.
Just as Kali approached Gloria’s cage and started to whisper softly to the snake, Lynette strode into the room and told her daughter that they were leaving. Kali just stared at her blankly for a moment, but she was already at the door. She started and rushed after her mother, following her through the park to the car. Lynette didn’t look back.
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