Kali barely noticed how much she was aching until she finally sat down at the Round Table. Chiron had brought her back to the meeting room above the mess hall, but now they were the only ones inside. Without the additional pressure, Kali traced the intricate lines carved into the table. She sighed wistfully and murmured “Is any of this real?”
“All stories and myths must come from somewhere.”
She smiled hesitantly; that wasn’t a real answer. But it wasn’t a lie. Rubbing her shoulder, Kali winced and took a deep breath. She could feel bruises all over her, and everything was tender at best.
With a smile, Chiron shot a measured glance her way and calmly said “I assume you are not used to such levels of strenuous activity?”
“That would be a safe bet. Walking, and occasionally jogging,” if she was late for the bus, maybe “are about my limit.” Aside from fighting for her life in unexpected places.
“Then you will be in for a rough few weeks while you acclimatise to your new routine.”
Kali shrugged with an almost genuine grin. “I adapt quickly.”
“Likely a reflection of your accelerated healing. Growth and regeneration…you should be fighting fit in no time.” He scrutinised her thoughtfully for a minute, taking note of the new information. “If you consent, I wish to ask you a few questions.”
He was astute, even with such an offhand comment. Kali tried not to let her nerves show on her face. “Like the questionnaire you left?” She asked, with mounting trepidation.
“Yes.” He nodded approvingly. “Have you completed it?”
“Almost.” But she would be going over it with a fine-toothed comb before giving it back.
“Good. I will be collecting it at the end of the week, so you have some time. It may seem unimportant, but we like to know our students here. Please answer as honestly as you can.”
Kali gave him a meek smile, and he nodded. For the next hour or so, though to Kali it seemed longer, Chiron asked her seemingly random questions about herself. About things she liked and disliked, things she could do, things she struggled with. She considered them carefully before answering, turning each one over in her head for hidden meanings. Apollo had said she should be safe as long as people knew she was his daughter. But Chiron was sharp. She couldn’t afford mistakes.
Nothing jumped out at her as being dangerous, so she answered the questions honestly. Eventually, he brought up the topic of her suitors.
“What is your opinion of Ares?”
Kali bit her lip. What did she really think of him? He was attractive; he was a god, so he ought to be. He was strong. His eyes were kinder than she had expected. But he was volatile. He moved to violence quickly and without remorse or regret. He expected her to fawn over him, and was shocked when she didn’t, so he was obviously arrogant and entitled. “He has a different set of morals to me.”
Carefully, she continued “He uses any means to get his way, without considering the emotional effect it might have on other people.”
“And you think this is wrong.” Chiron stated. His voice was even, and his face passive, but Kali was afraid to speak plainly. She couldn’t lie now, though.
“I think it is unpleasant.” She admitted finally, staring at the etchings on the table again. She gazed at a carving of the Lady of the Lake holding Excalibur, and she frowned. “But I think that immortals can’t be held to mortal standards. Why should the God of War care about someone like me? My lifespan must be like the blink of an eye to someone that has seen the birth of my entire race.”
She sighed wearily; Hermes was harder to read but she suspected he was just as dangerous. “Life is a game to Hermes, maybe because that’s the only way he can get through it. He sees more than he lets on. He knows people. He knows how to pull the strings from near and far to get what he wants. And it scares me that he might already be pulling mine.”
“It sounds as though you are not interested in their courtship.”
“I thought I’d already made that clear.” She moved her hands into her lap and clenched her fists slowly. “I don’t want to be the latest in a long line of conquests for anyone. Mortal or otherwise.”
Chiron moved from his place at the table and said, “I believe that is all I require for today.”
Following his lead, Kali slowly got to her feet. Chiron clopped towards the door and opened it for her, holding out his hand. “The rest of the day is yours to do as you will. Your classes begin tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Chiron.” She grinned, relieved, and Chiron found his lips curving into a warm smile in response. It did not surprise him that she had caught the eye of Hermes and Ares. She had a magnetic personality and an honest heart. But he was glad to see that she clearly had no idea how dangerous she could become. A more ambitious demigod could easily play the hot-headed Ares against his tricky comrade. Luckily, Chiron could see that she was not so conniving.
Kali’s heart was pounding when she left, but she kept her smile up until the door closed behind her. Taking several shaky breaths, she wobbled down the stairs and was hit by the warming aroma of food. Her stomach growled in response, and she realised she hadn’t eaten anything all day. It hadn’t even occurred to her. But there were so many people in the mess hall.
Instead of stopping, she avoided the glances they were sending her way and swiftly exited through the high archways. She was mentally and emotionally drained; if she had to try to navigate and dance around people, she’d rather go hungry. The fresh air was soothing against her face and she hovered outside, teetering on the decision of where to go next.
Shoving her hands in her pockets, Kali trudged towards the hospital to check on Tom. She dragged her feet, worried that he might not want to see her, but her concerns were unfounded. Before she even reached the fountain, she saw Sage and Tom bounding through the camp towards her. A knot loosened in Kali’s stomach when they both waved and called out to her.
She didn’t even need to mention food; they practically ran to the Mess Hall on their own, dragging her along with them. Kali was giggling by the time they got there and the three of them were sitting at a table together with food before she really knew what was going on. She just sniggered and said, “I guess you were hungry, huh?”
Tom laughed and started stuffing his face with whatever he could reach. Kali turned to Sage to roll her eyes at Tom, but he was eating with similar gusto. Something slid into place, and she couldn’t help but laugh at the two of them. She watched Tom wolfing down some pasta and giggled “You really haven’t changed a bit in the last three years, you know that?”
He stopped and looked at her, his fork halfway to his mouth, and swallowed his last bite before saying quietly “You have.”
Kali’s eyes widened for a minute, but Tom just went back to eating and she frowned at the table for a moment. She could hardly recognise herself after a couple of days. Of course, four years had to have had a big impact on the girl Tom had known.
“Still veggie, huh?” Tom asked, shooting her a disapproving look.
Kali shrugged and laughed awkwardly “You sound so surprised. You don’t get any vegetarian demigods?” She laughed, somewhat nervously.
Tom reasoned “Not with all the training we need to do.”
“Well…” She bit her lip awkwardly, and mumbled “I guess that makes sense. I just…” Kali pushed her food around on her plate for a moment. Her mother had always pushed her away from eating meat for a lot of reasons. But was that maybe more to do with staying hidden than for her health? “I’ll think about it.”
Tom frowned a little at her silence but shrugged. Without another word, he turned back to his food and started eating again. Sage nudged her and pointed to his own plate, which held the same spinach and ricotta cannelloni as hers. With a wink, he made a start on his own plate, and Kali smiled gratefully.
Curious, she busied herself looking around the mess hall. The room itself was just like any school cafeteria that she had been in, and she had seen a few. There was a large central pillar, where the food was served, and she had no idea where the kitchen could be. Tables littered the room, and the large staircase circled the interior. As she looked around, she finally allowed herself to observe the demigods around her They were all still sneaking looks at her when they thought she wasn’t looking, and she groaned inwardly.
Already, Kali could see that most of the demigods stuck with their own. It wasn’t difficult to see which group was which. A group of muscular kids scowling darkly in her general direction were Ares’ children, Kali guessed easily. The two tables in the middle of the hall with the most beautiful children Kali had ever seen had to be Aphrodite’s.
As Kali observed, she assumed that the animated discussions must be about their hair and nails. She rolled her eyes and started to look away until she noticed a girl in a brown dress hit the floor by their table. One of the girls, with blonde hair cascading down her back and smooth tanned skin, laughed cruelly, and Kali scowled. The moment Kali saw tears in the large green eyes of the girl on the floor, she cursed darkly and strode over to them.
As she stepped away from the table, she heard Tom ask what she was doing but she didn’t reply. Instead, she fixed her eyes on the blonde who was still laughing unpleasantly. Kali wasn’t sure what she was going to do, but she had been that green-eyed girl once and she just couldn’t sit by and let it happen.
Her feet took her to the girl’s side, just as the blonde tripped her up again. Kali gripped the girl’s arm before she could fall again and lifted her back into an upright position, murmuring “Easy, I’ve got you.” Helping her get settled back on her feet, Kali smiled warmly.
The girl blinked her green eyes, which suddenly looked rather large, and Kali noticed that her ears were pointed. There was a slight green tinge to her skin, and it felt almost like bark under her arm. When the girl continued to stare at her wordlessly, Kali shifted slightly and said “I’m new here and you look like the sort of person I could get along with. What’s your name?”
“Willow.” Her reply was so quiet that Kali almost didn’t hear it.
“Hi Willow, I’m Kali. You’re a nymph, right?” Willow just nodded, and Kali grinned at her blank face.
An uncertain smile finally lifted Willow’s lips, and Kali breathed a sigh of relief. Putting herself out there was more difficult than she’d like to admit, even in a situation like that. Ignoring the eyes around them, Kali muttered “Do you know Sage? He’s a satyr, and a friend of mine.”
She pointed over to the table where Tom and Sage were sitting, and Willow nodded again. “Come on, let’s get some food and have a seat.”
Gently taking the nymph’s arm, Kali started to walk with her across the room. She only stopped when a girl’s voice shouted “Hey, you! Where do you think you’re going with my nymph?”
Kali raised her eyebrow and muttered to Willow to just go to the table before turning to face the blonde girl. She sighed wearily and started “Look, I don’t know who you are, but-”
“I am Amanda, the daughter of Aphrodite, and the head of the student council.” The girl interrupted, flicking her golden curls over her shoulder and looking haughtily at Kali.
“Would you mind letting me finish?” Kali looked pointedly at the blonde, Amanda, until she blushed indignantly, and then continued “As I was saying, I don’t know who you are, but I really couldn’t care less. You can’t own another person. Willow is not your anything.”
“Well, you are new, and you obviously haven’t figured out how things work around here yet so let me fill you in.” Amanda fixed a sickeningly sweet smile on her plump lips. “You’re Apollo’s, I heard, so you should fit in just fine. But if you aren’t from an Olympian, then you have no right to be here. If you’re not even a demigod, like Willow and your little satyr over there, you are less than nothing. They’re just wasting resources that should be given to those of us who deserve to be here.”
Kali blinked, taken off-guard, and stared at Amanda. When she was finally certain that the girl was being serious, she raised an eyebrow and asked sarcastically “Do they teach you to be this conceited or is it just a gift?”
“Excuse me?” She raised her eyebrows, looking angry and confused. She just stared at Kali for a moment with wide eyes and then sneered “You still don’t get it, do you?”
Kali snapped “No, you don’t get it. I don’t give a crap what kind of warped sense of entitlement you have or why. But everyone here deserves their place, or they wouldn’t be here. Their worth is not for you to decide. So do yourself a favour and back off, before you get yourself hurt.”
Amanda flushed angrily, spluttering “Are you threatening me?
“If I was then you wouldn’t have to ask that question.” Kali replied with a small smile that she knew would infuriate the flustered bimbo in front of her. Then she shrugged and continued “I was just giving you some friendly advice. What you do with it is up to you.”
With that, Kali turned from Amanda just as she opened her mouth to retort and walked back over to her table. She ignored the sniggers from behind her and the murmurs that followed her across the canteen. She even ignored the stunned look on Tom’s face. She just sat back down and shot Willow a kind smile before rubbing her temples gently to ease her headache. After a moment, Tom seemed to come back to his senses and he muttered “Gods, Kali. You really have changed.”
“What?” She asked innocently, looking at Tom’s bemused expression with a smile.
Tom just spluttered “Kali, last time I saw you I had to fight all your battles. You wouldn’t even stand up for yourself, let alone anyone else.”
“Yeah, but you left, didn’t you.” Kali said simply, regretting it instantly when hurt flickered through Tom’s grey eyes. She sighed and muttered “That’s not what I meant. It’s just that a lot has happened since we were at school together, Tom. And I just got so tired of being everybody’s punch bag. Besides, there are scarier things in this world than some little bitch in dire need of an attitude adjustment.”
Tom replied “Well, yeah. I’m just surprised that you were the one to pull her up on it.”
“I don’t like people who feel the need to make those around them feel like crap just to make themselves feel bigger. It isn’t right.”
Sage grinned, saying “You won’t hear any argument from me.”
Thankfully, Tom dropped it to shovel more food in his mouth. In the new silence, Kali valiantly struck up a conversation with Willow. Once she pulled the nymph out of her shell a bit, Kali saw that the girl had a lovely smile and that she was quite sweet. She didn’t have much to say but her wide eyes took everything in, with an almost childlike wonder.
The rest of the day passed slowly, wandering through the camp with her new friends. Kali did her best to avoid the continued stares of the other demigods. But it was all so strange to Kali that it went by in a blur. She could hardly keep up with everything. She knew that she was going to be getting lost for weeks, even with Tom’s directions.
By the time she got back to her room, Kali was exhausted. She barely managed to change before she collapsed into her bed. In her last lucid moments, she went over her day and marvelled that a place like Camelot could exist in the world she thought she knew. But the strangest thing to Kali about Camelot was how familiar it felt. She had friends. It felt right. It felt like she was where she belonged. And that was going to take some getting used to.
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