Chapter Thirty One
Kali had always loved Autumn sunsets. The soothing, dazzling colours setting the horizon ablaze filled her with wonder, no matter how many times she saw them. But Camelot was teaching her to love the ever advancing Winter nights.
The late November air was brisk and bracing. But, as Kali looked upwards, she forgot about the cold. She knew that she would never tire of that sight. Of millions of stars filling every corner of the sky, as far as the eye could see. Endless eternity, stretching out beyond any concept of space or time. The sky over Camelot was humbling. Miraculous, even.
Outside Camelot, the night sky had been black and white. Beautiful, but simple. Tiny specks of light in an all encompassing void. But Kali didn’t have names for all the colours she could see above her. It was no wonder people didn’t believe in magic anymore, Kali thought. If they could see a sky so full of majesty, they might just rethink their views. Anything seemed possible, looking up at those stars.
As that thought crossed her mind, her senses awoke to a familiar presence. Her eyes found him immediately, drinking in every aspect of the smile he wore. When she realised he had been watching her, that the tender smile on his face was for her, Kali’s heart swelled to bursting. His smile widened at the blush colouring her cheeks and he moved fluidly to her side.
Hades tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear, sending shivers across her skin. She looked at their hands as he linked his fingers with hers. How something so simple could mean so much, she would never know. A smug smile teased the corners of Hades’ mouth again as he murmured “Shall we?”
Kali squeezed his hand in response; she couldn’t trust her voice when her heart was in her throat. As they walked, she realised that the demigods were giving them a wide berth. Curious, Kali looked up at Hades and managed to ask “Are we hidden?”
“Not this time.”
Their eyes met and he held her gaze for an eternity before moving slowly closer. She knew he was giving her a chance to stop him. Instead, she rushed to close the gap. Surprise flashed across his face for a heartbeat before he laughed into the kiss. His hands left a trail of fire across her back as he pulled her closer. His lips were gentle but hungry, making her tremble. She thought she had imagined the way it had made her feel. That in the time apart she had exaggerated. But she knew she could never get enough of him.
In the back of her mind, Kali registered a familiar tug in the pit of her stomach. Hades’ hand tangling in her hair distracted her, but he slowly drew back. She grazed his bottom lip with her teeth, a soft protest, and drew a ragged laugh from him. He brushed her lips once more, muttering “Watch your step.”
Puzzled, Kali glanced behind her and instinctively pressed herself closer to him. He laughed warmly as her hands gripped the light material of his shirt. “Surprise.”
When the initial shock faded, Kali found herself laughing. “You did that on purpose.”
“Perhaps.” He replied with a low, satisfied chuckle. She giggled, loosening her grip as he took a small step back. She turned, sighing contentedly as he put his arms on her waist, and leaned back against him. When she stole a glance back over her shoulder, a curious smile was playing on his lips.
In front of them was the edge of a cliff Kali had never seen, overlooking a thick forest. At the edge of the woods, she could make out a gleaming white stone path. A bridge crossed a large winding river, the water shimmering and sparkling under the starlight. The path continued to a building, a temple perhaps, of glittering pink crystal. As Kali breathed in the sight, a strange echo reverberated around her. A memory?
Hades drew her hair off her neck slowly and let his lips brush her skin as he murmured “I thought you would appreciate a better spot to see the stars.”
The haunting echo dissipated slowly, and Kali relaxed back against him and whispered, “What is this place?”
He seemed to consider her question for a moment before stating “Venus.”
“Venus?” Kali studied him over her shoulder, laughing. It sounded silly even to her when she asked, “Do you mean to say we’re…on another planet?”
“Would it be so strange if we were?” He smiled deviously and purposely brushed his lips against her ear as he replied “After all, you are currently in the arms of a god.”
“That is true…” Warmth crept over her at the promise in his voice. His chest was solid against her back. Immovable. When they were this close, it was hard to believe that he was always melting into shadows. Feeling the heat of his body against the chill of the evening was a new kind of torture for her.
“You can accept everything else without question, but the idea of being in another realm stops you in your tracks?” He chuckled, teasing her gently.
Kali blushed but she knew it had little to do with his words and everything to do with his fingers lightly brushing her side. She entwined her fingers with his to ground herself before replying. “When you put it like that, I guess it doesn’t sound as odd. But the whole concept of space and other planets has always been a little hard to fathom for me.”
“I should probably explain.” He laughed again, his deep voice soft as a caress. “The concepts of outer space and other planets were invented by mortals, desperately trying to make sense of things they could never hope to understand.”
She shivered slightly, her skin prickling at the thought. Her smile had faltered and a frown furrowed her brow. “So…what really happens when people travel to space, if there’s no such thing?”
“They drift in the emptiness between the realms.” Hades moved back slightly and turned her to face him with a light tug of her hand. In one smooth movement, he conjured a black jacket out of the shadows and wrapped it around her shoulders. Watching her troubled expression, he continued “I suppose that is more or less what space is – nothingness. But the human collective consciousness is a terribly powerful thing.”
Kali tilted her head, trying and failing to puzzle through his words. Hades smiled fondly at her silent questions and explained. “Where the nine realms exist, your scientists dreamed of planets. It’s ingenious really, how the world evolved under such an illusion. Now, mortals dedicate their lives to reaching these things they think they see in the skies. No matter how inhospitable we made them appear. And, somehow, their technologies have crossed through the abyss and into other realms. It is something none of the gods could ever conceive of.”
“That…isn’t right.” She stated decidedly, her gut twisting uncomfortably. Kali didn’t want to disagree with him, but what he was describing was against everything she believed. She could hardly fathom that level of manipulation. “People have dedicated their entire lives to studying something that never existed in the first place.”
“It’s true that many great minds have splintered at the reality once they discover it. That is why what I have told you is not widely discussed.” He had known that she would not be comfortable with such a grand deception. “But the people you are talking about have pushed humanity beyond all the limits imposed upon them. Everything they have worked to achieve has brought them further than they ever knew. They will not find hunks of rock and gas floating in the sky. But they made contact with the hellscape of Mars, and still push further. Soon they will design machines that will reach Olympus itself. They have nearly harnessed the powers of the gods, and they built them from scratch. I would hardly say that is a waste.”
Kali had been drinking in everything about him as he spoke. His animated expression captivated her, melting her temper. She couldn’t argue that he made an interesting point, but she would have to spend some time mulling it over. The thing that caught her most was his tone. “You really admire normal people, don’t you?”
“My interactions with mortals have been different to those of my brethren.” He said quietly. Hades took her hand and began to walk slowly with her along the edge. He thought carefully and admitted “I wouldn’t say admire is necessarily the right word. They interest me.”
“So, observing them is…like a hobby?”
“Take it how you will.” Hades knew that his ways would not always be her ways. They were different. It might not be easy for either of them to adjust, but he would not hide that from her. He sighed and sat slowly on a blanket that had appeared on the grass with them. “I could easily pretend to be something I am not. But I will never tell you simply what I think you want to hear.”
“I know. It’s one of the things I love about you.” Kali sat gently beside him and took his hand again. Their eyes met and her heart thudded. She could get lost in his stare. Shaking herself, she stammered “Tell me about the other realms.”
“So demanding.” His subtle smile held a wicked edge and he pulled her closer. Kali fell willingly against his chest and gazed up at him. She had no defence against that smile. The tiniest quirk of his lips affected every nerve in her body. After a moment, she murmured “I’m afraid if I don’t keep you talking, I won’t be able to think straight.”
“Remind me why that would be a bad thing?” Hades murmured, letting his fingers curl in the hair cascading over her shoulders, but he relented. Instead of pressing his advantage, he turned to open a picnic basket. Kali blushed; a picnic? Hades casually pulled out a steaming mug and handed it to her with a soft expression.
Kali had forgotten the chill with Hades’ jacket enveloping her with his scent. But the warmth of the drink was welcome, as was the sweet, creamy aroma. Hades waited for her smile before asking gently “What would you like to know, my love?”
They shared a long look until Kali let her curiosity take over. “You said there are nine realms?”
He chuckled; he loved the glimmer of excitement in her eyes. “All connected by what you might know as the world tree. Camelot is situated in Venus, along with the lesser camps for demigods who require less attention. It is a mostly peaceful place, and many of the gods who are not welcome on Olympus have made this world their home.” As an afterthought, he continued “Olympus is Zeus’ domain, home to most of the Olympians. It is a sight to behold, if a little extravagant. You would know it as Jupiter.”
Kali let his voice wash over her. She leaned into his side as he spoke, a content smile dancing on her lips. He fell silent briefly, breathing her in. Before he resumed his explanation, Hades filled two bowls with stew and placed a plate of freshly baked bread on the blanket between them. Kali giggled, wondering what else he had hidden away in the hamper.
He held his bowl to meet hers and continued “Neptune, as you might have guessed, is Poseidon’s realm. Only the sea gods are ever truly welcome there. Unlike the other gateways, Neptune’s are fluid and constantly changing. It is not uncommon for unwary travellers to find themselves in his domain. Very few are allowed to return unscathed; those who do tell tales of lost cities, of Atlantis.”
“Mars is home to monsters. Some are born of my realms, but they all seem to find their way there. It has heavy deposits of iron, and that has become their weakness. I doubt it has been explained to you, but no creature can be mortally wounded except by a material native to it. Mars is named for Ares because it is a place of constant war. He frequents it more than most, and often trains himself and his soldiers there.”
“What about Pluto? That would be yours, wouldn’t it?”
“Yes. Pluto is the Underworld.” He scowled as he added “My realm is possibly the largest. Though it is the smallest planet, if it can even be called that anymore.” He sighed. “Mercury is what humans call Tartarus.”
Kali giggled slightly at his grumbling. She didn’t have the heart to tell him that Pluto was officially not considered a planet at all anymore. Instead she said “I thought Tartarus was part of the Underworld.”
Hades seemed to hesitate for a moment before saying “It is and it isn’t. The only active portal to Tartarus is in my domain. But not only the dead are sent there. And no god can control the gate.”
Kali could feel his tension so she snuggled up against his side. She had already finished her stew while Hades had been speaking. She had been thoroughly pleased to find that is was a combination of winter vegetables, and it had the perfect blend of flavours and textures. “Thank you for dinner.”
Surprised, he glanced at her briefly before draining his bowl and putting it aside. “I’ll admit I wasn’t sure if a picnic would be the best idea, considering the temperature.”
“It’s wonderful.” She sighed happily. The cold air hadn’t bothered her all day with the warm glow in her heart. She couldn’t remember ever feeling as relaxed as she did then; by Hades’ side, under a blanket of starlight.
He wrapped her in his arms and stroked her hair softly. Kali trembled at his touch and his smug smile was dancing across his lips again. She blushed and his fingers found her chin, bringing her face to his. The way he moved tormented her. The kiss was brief and lingering, and Kali felt like her skin was on fire. But Hades still seemed more or less unaffected, always in control. She pouted and grumbled “How can you be so calm?”
“Calm?” He laughed, but it was a bitter sound. “I have had so much practice keeping my emotions under lock and key that I thought they were completely gone. I cannot remember the last time I felt anything. With you, it takes every ounce of control I possess to keep myself in check. And I’m not ashamed to say that it slips more and more every time you touch me.”
Kali’s lips parted on a gasp, and his eyes flickered to them instinctively. The echo his words sent tremoring through the silver cord that joined them resonated in her core. She knew he was telling the truth, and her heart pounded at the confession. Beyond a doubt, she knew that she, and only she, could break through his calm exterior.
The new confidence in her eyes caught his attention immediately and his brow furrowed slightly. He had expected her to flee from him. Every word he said, every time he reached for her, he waited for her to flinch. Instead, she met his gaze head on. She closed the distance. She chose him. Kali deliberately wound a strand of his dark hair around her fingers and softly murmured “Don’t you know yet that I’m yours?”
Hades closed his eyes, turning his face into the palm of her hand. His shuddering sigh tickled her wrist, and he murmured her name quietly. A warning that she had no intention of heeding. “Kali…be careful.”
“I don’t want to be careful.” She admitted quietly, with absolute certainty. “I want you.”
Hades groaned softly and his hand curled around the back of her neck. His thumb brushed across the pulse in her throat, sending a shock through her. She gasped and he claimed her lips, pushing her down on the grass. The delicate way he handled her made her feel precious, but his muscles were tensed with restraint. Kali lost herself as her mind instinctively reached out to him. The same way he would weave their fingers together, her consciousness entwined itself with his.
He shuddered and buried his face in her neck, blinded by her. She could feel his hesitation, his fear, and faltered until he murmured “You believe so deeply that I deserve you.”
I believe that we were made for each other. Her heart replied, sending the words before her mind could conjure them. Out loud, she added “I’m just sorry that you had to wait so long.”
It was presumptuous of her, Kali knew. He was a god. He was eternal, and she was a speck of dust, scattered in the wind. But from the moment they had met, she had felt connected to him. She knew that she was born to love him. And joining with him the way she had, she knew he thought she had the other half of his soul. Even as he hated himself for chaining her to something tattered and ruined, he could feel that she was his.
Hades trembled at her words and moved to rest his forehead against hers. He held himself up just over her body, and she wrapped her arms around him. They stayed that way for an eternity, until their hearts were beating the same rhythm. Eventually, Hades moved to lay at her side, linking their fingers.
The sky was full of blues and purples and reds, dancing between the stars. Their colours, Kali thought to herself warmly. “I wish I could stop time and make this night last forever.”
Her wistful whisper drew a tender smile from Hades, and he cupped her cheek. His fingers brushed her neck just long enough to make her shiver before he said “I have something for you.”
Kali started, surprised, but she had to bite her lip to hide her smile. Hades stood, taking her hand and pulling her with him, and extracted a small box from the pocket of the jacket Kali was wearing. She giggled, butterflies dancing a jig in her stomach. The only sign that he was nervous came when he thumbed the box before he handed it to her.
Inside the box, on a purple silk bed, lay a necklace. An intricate symbol was carved into a shimmering surface, glittering strangely in the moonlight. Kali was certain she had seen it before, but it eluded her. The metal was cool to the touch as she reverently brushed her fingers across it. “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. What is this symbol?”
“It is my emblem, and the symbol of my realm. The talisman is platinum, inlaid with black diamond. Both are native to the Underworld, so this bears a strong connection to my home.” His silky voice washed over her, and she couldn’t resist the urge to interrupt him with a kiss. He laughed softly; he knew that patience was not her virtue.
Kali could feel his hesitation, or anticipation, when she slowly pulled away. He brushed her cheek tenderly and murmured “If you should choose to accept it, you would be able to come and go in my realms as you please. It would express to your other suitors that they have missed their chance. Permanently.”
Kali’s hand trembled over the pendant and she searched his unfathomable eyes to confirm if she had heard him correctly. Her heart swelled and she took a moment to find her voice as her teeth irritated her bottom lip. Holding his gaze, she teased “Do I have to put it on myself?”
“I’m not sure you understand…” He hesitated at her easy acceptance. He could feel her certainty radiating from her, but Hades couldn’t believe that she would agree as if it were the simplest thing in the world. After a moment, he stated “This would be considered akin to a wedding band. Likely, it holds more significance.”
“Hades, I’ve been in love with you since the moment we met. I am yours. Only yours. As long as I live, I don’t intend for that to change.” She blushed as the words left her but kept eye contact; she didn’t always know what to do with the strong emotions cascading within her, but she could never be ashamed of them. After he remained silent, she smiled slyly and conjured a pout, mumbling “Don’t you know it’s bad form to offer jewellery to a girl and then take it away?”
She had been trying to get him to smile, and she failed. But Hades carefully drew the hair off her neck and deliberately fastened the chain. Her heart was racing so fast it made her chest ache. Kali slowly looked back at him, and his expression was unreadable when his eyes fell onto the pendant resting by her heart. She trembled at the intensity of his gaze. Her mind tentatively brushed his and she realised that he was afraid to move. If he did, his resolve to give her the time he thought she needed would shatter.
“Hades…” Kali’s voice was sultry as she turned fully towards him. Though he appeared relaxed, his jaw was clenched as he looked back up to her face. A smile touched her lips as she murmured a challenge. “What are you waiting for?”
A shadow passed across his face and barely a heartbeat passed before he claimed her lips for his own. A hand was tangled in her hair, forcing her head back as his lips moved down her throat. His teeth nipped at her, making her cry out. A dark chuckle followed, and Hades muttered “I have waited so long to hear you make that sound.”
“Where are we?” Kali asked breathlessly. She hadn’t felt a thing when he had moved them, but the chill was gone from the air and Hades’ scent was everywhere. She could see candles were the only source of light, casting their flickering glow through the room.
Hades showed no sign of answering the question; he had no need to. He simply slipped his coat from around her shoulders and let it fall to the hard wood floor with a soft thud. He kissed her again, slowly but with such purpose that she could hardly breathe. When Kali wrapped her arms around him, he swept her up, carrying her effortlessly to the bed. His lips trailed across her skin, leaving fire in their wake.
Pressing his forehead against hers, Hades sighed raggedly. “Are you certain?”
“I’ve never been this certain about anything in my life.” Kali replied, but she felt him holding himself back. “Hades, I will never regret choosing you. But if it’s too soon, or I need to stop, I trust that you’ll listen.”
Feeling his relief, Kali let her trembling hand brush his chest and moved to kiss the hollow at the base of his neck. His voice was determined and desperate, his hand tangling in her hair. “You make me spiral out of control in every possible way. I was not exaggerating when I told you that I believed my emotions to be gone until I found you. You are my sun, moon, and stars. Being away from you has been torture.” His gentle kiss was a dizzying contrast to his hammering heart. “Stay with me tonight.”
Kali was taken aback for a heartbeat, but she allowed a low, seductive laugh to escape her and replied “Only tonight?”
Hades’ face lit up with unconcealed joy. “I love you, Kali.”
Her heart stopped. She didn’t care if he saw the tears in her eyes, reaching her shaking hands to caress his face. “I love you too, Hades.”
As he pushed her back down on the bed, he entwined their fingers and his mind reached out to her. Yet again, she was overcome by the intimacy of being so open to him. She could not find the will to deny him the thing she needed the most. As the candles burned brighter, Kali did not hesitate to join with him: mind, body, and soul.
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