Chapter Thirty Five
Waking up had never been much of a problem for Kali. As soon as the slightest hint of sunlight had peeked through her curtains, she was awake and ready to face the day. But there was no sunlight here. She was exhausted, and the thick darkness that cloaked her was her only balm from a world of fire. Something told her that she was safe there, in her blanket of night.
But there was a prickling sensation at the edge of her awareness. Heat, and pain, and an ancient unfathomable rage. Just outside of her consciousness, she felt it screaming. Burning. It roused her and called to her. She was afraid but…there was a compulsion in the call that she couldn’t ignore. Her mind rushed forward to meet it and a voice hummed and resonated inside of her. A voice that seemed to say, “Welcome home.”
Kali flinched and opened her eyes blearily. She felt arms around her and a voice she knew muttered “She’s awake.”
Calm washed over her as Hades said, “Leave us.” Of course, it was his arms she could feel around her.
“I will return later.” A stubborn edge that Kali knew well laced the words, but she turned away from the voice and clasped Hades’ hands.
“Hades.” She mumbled, trying to sit up but struggling to fully wake. Panic set in; this was not something she often experienced. Her mind was laden with fog that she couldn’t shift. Her throat felt thick, but she managed to mumble “What’s going on?”
He brought her hand to his lips and whispered “Easy, my love. You’ve had quite the ordeal today.”
She found enough energy to move her head enough to look around and saw that she was lying on the sofa of her living room, with her head resting in Hades’ lap. The fog was lifting, and she caught a distinct smell of charcoal in the air. IT was one of her favourite scents, but something about it made her sick. Something was wrong. Another glance around the room showed her the blackened edges of her bedroom doorframe. Her voice was still hoarse and her words were choked. “What’s going on?”
Even as he knew that she wouldn’t appreciate him sugar-coating the truth, Hades worried that she wouldn’t be able to handle too much all at once. This uncertainty wasn’t familiar to him and Kali sensed his hesitation and braced herself. Feeling that, Hades nodded to steady them both. “Your powers…got away from you last night. And they nearly consumed you.”
“Got away from me?” She repeated his words slowly, unease gripping her, and forced herself to sit up. Her movements were still sluggish, but she had a little more control with each passing minute. Without another word, Hades helped her stand and they walked together towards the bedroom.
Kali froze when she tentatively pushed what was left of the door inward. It was blackened and cracked, barely upright on its warped hinges. The smell she had been desperately trying to ignore wafted out at her and she nearly gagged. But all the energy left her body again when she saw the devastation that was once her room.
Her throat was thick, and she felt nausea sweep through her. She managed to keep the contents of her stomach where they were, but the sick feeling wouldn’t abate. Tears blurred her vision as her eyes fell on the pile of ash that had been her wardrobe. But encompassing all of this was a tinge of trepidation. “I did this?”
“You did.” Hades’ voice was a gentle rumble against her back. Through their bond, she could feel his relief at her recovery but also a kind of admiration.
She blinked away tears and glanced back at him over her shoulder to ground herself. “How was it?”
“Magnificent.” He whispered reverently, and Kali felt warmth returning to her. Seemingly as an afterthought, he casually added, “Though I would have preferred if the intensity behind it hadn’t nearly killed you.” His teasing smile faded, and his eyes were harder when he sighed, “Kali, something tore this out of you. What’s the last thing you remember?”
“I don’t know…” Kali hated how her voice shook. She clenched her jaw and forced herself to take a deep breath. She would not look at the remains of the room around her. “I was with Heracles and Achilles, getting knocked on my arse. Then we had dinner…” She shook herself. Focus. “The last thing I remember was falling asleep in your arms and…dreaming.”
She shook the niggling feeling out of her mind and forced a laugh. “That shouldn’t be so strange, should it?”
“Close your eyes and clear your mind.” Hades commanded, softly. When he could sense that she had done so, he continued in an even voice. “Give me the most honest answer you can. If you’re unsure, tell me. Ivory or Horn?”
“Neither.” She replied immediately.
Hades frowned “Are you sure?”
“No? Well…I think so?” Kali had been certain when she answered but she didn’t even know what he was asking. Her lip trembled with doubt.
“Hey, easy. It’s okay.” He gathered her in his arms and kissed her forehead. “We don’t have to do this now.”
She nodded mutely and buried her face in his chest, shivering. More tears sprung to her eyes and she didn’t have the energy to fight them. She whimpered “Did anything make it out?”
“You did.” The tremor in his voice made her realise how worried he had been. Kali started and met his solemn gaze. The tears glistening in her eyes squeezed his heart, but he did his best to mask his expression. He needed to be there for her.
Kali was still shaking but she wrapped her arms around Hades’ neck and pulled him close to her, hugging him tightly. He stiffened for a heartbeat before relaxing into her arms and burying his face in her neck. She ran her hands through his hair and whispered “I’m not going anywhere. I promise. I’m yours and I will be right here with you. Now, and forever.”
That was a promise she surely couldn’t keep. But she made it anyway. And she made it with every intention of finding a way. In a thousand years, a thousand lifetimes, she knew she would still love him with every fibre of her being. She knew it in her soul. And she opened that part of herself to him so that he would feel her certainty. So that he would know he would never lose her.
He relaxed slightly in her arms, releasing the tension she hadn’t realised he’d been holding, and he took her hand. Moving back slightly from the embrace, he kissed her and rested his forehead on hers. They stayed like that for a long time before he murmured “Are you ready?”
“No.” She mumbled. “But I can’t keep putting it off, can I?”
“Is that all I am? A distraction?” He jested with mock outrage and a sardonic smile lifted one side of his mouth.
She nodded, a hoarse giggle escaping her. “And a very diverting one, at that.”
Hades didn’t miss the way her voice shook, and he squeezed her hand. Reassured by his presence, she took a long, hard breath, and turned back to the room.
The devastation around her nearly overwhelmed her again but…she had done this? She knew that she had barely started to tap into her more unique abilities. But she had honestly thought that there couldn’t be much more than she had already done. Fire was dangerous enough. She shied away from the thought that she could do damage on this kind of scale.
“So much for Apollo’s kids being healers…” She muttered. But her voice was edged not in bitterness, but awe. That kind of power, destructive though it was…that was inside her? She was capable of that? Her body still stung and burned slightly, and she scratched absentmindedly at her arm; a prickling pain refused to subside. The motion caught Hades attention and he frowned slightly, concerned.
Kali awkwardly pulled the shoulder of her top down to humour him; he had told her that Apollo had healed a lot of damage already. But what they saw was not what they had expected. At the top of her right arm, just below the shoulder, was a strange circular symbol. Kali couldn’t make it out, but it looked like it had been carved into her skin and a golden glow emanated from it. From her. Like the cracks in her skin revealed the light within.
Curiosity flickered over Hades’ face, but Kali was relieved to see that he didn’t appear to be concerned. Her hand wandered to her left ear, just over her pulse, where a similar burning feeling persisted. Hades’ eyes followed. He touched Kali’s wrist and pulled her hand away, revealing another, smaller, mark that had appeared.
Looking in the mirror Hades handed her, Kali valiantly stated, “Well, it is kind of cute. Just the sort of tattoo I’d get, if I were that way inclined.”
“I don’t recognise this one.” He brushed his thumb over the mark on her neck, sending a shock of electricity through her, before continuing “But the other one looks like a map.”
“A map?” Deep breaths. Kali thought, rubbing her forehead to try to calm her reeling mind. Ignore the fact that none of this makes any sense. Unless I’m dreaming, and I’m sure I’m not, this is happening. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t possible! She ground her hand into her forehead once more to snap herself out of it and croaked “Okay…so how and why would I have something like that on my arm?”
“That is a very good question. And one that I cannot answer.” He looked truly baffled, and Kali was as amused as she was afraid. Her turmoil was easy to sense, so Hades lifted her into his arms and said “But it is a question for another time. For now, we need to get you some new clothes.”
“New clothes?” Her voice shook. Her things were gone. “Do I need to talk to Chiron for more uniform?”
He nodded solemnly, his hands dancing in circles at her back to keep her grounded, in the moment. “Yes. And while you’re at it, I’d suggest requesting a day off to go shopping to replace your things.”
Kali bit her lip, mumbling “How long was I out?”
“It’s Saturday.” He glanced out the window at the moon at its peak and added, “Just about.”
“I should apologise to everyone for missing my classes…” She hung her head and pressed her hands to her face to muffle her sobs. “Why can’t I stop crying?”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. You feel like you have lost almost everything tying you to a life you have always known.” His voice washed over her, and his strong arms steadied her. “But that life is still there, Kali. The memories and feelings attached to the objects still reside within you. You didn’t lose them.”
“You’re right.” She said, in a small voice. But that doesn’t make this any easier.
I know, my love. The words were a caress in her mind, and Kali buried her face in his chest. Breathing him in, she felt her sobs begin to subside and her breaths started coming easier. Eventually, she was composed enough to turn back to the room. Her jaw was set, and she was determined to get through. It took a while, and more than once she felt her world shattering when she would find the remains of yet another piece of her life that she couldn’t get back. The loss of her music box, which had been filled with photos, was especially difficult to accept. But Hades stayed at her back; a supportive shadow.
When they were finished, Hades told her that he would arrange to replace the furniture. But he knew that Kali would want to be in control of at least something. That was why he had suggested that she get her new clothes herself. Money was no issue, and it would be best if she could build something of her own out of the ashes.
There were still a few hours until sunrise, so Hades brought Kali to their room in the Underworld to rest and recover. Kali was certain that sleep wouldn’t come easily after her nightmares had nearly destroyed her. But before she knew it, she was waking up in Hades’ arms feeling warm and safe.
A free day ahead of her, and the soot finally washed from her hair, Kali could face the morning with a little more optimism. What was done was done. Everything happened for a reason. She was just going to have to make sure that she made some good from this. Her clothes, at least, were old and didn’t even fit her that well anymore. She could do with replacing them and finding a style that matched her a little better.
“That smile suits you.” Hades whispered in her ear, wrapping his arms around her waist.
“Wallowing was getting boring.” She insisted, trying to reinforce her intentions to keep moving forward. She allowed herself a moment to lean back into his embrace and sighed contentedly. But if they didn’t go soon, she would lose her resolve. And she was far too ready to sink back under the blankets and never resurface.
Feeling her nerve teetering, Hades took her hand in his and murmured “Are you ready to go?”
A nod was about all that she could manage as her stomach twisted painfully, but Hades whisked them back to her room on a whisper. Looking around her, Kali could see no sign of the fire at all. The bed was new, and a similar design, and all the furniture had been replaced. They were all slightly closer to Hades’ tastes than the original units. If Kali hadn’t been so overwhelmed, she would have laughed. As it was, another nod was all she could manage.
“A blank canvas.” Hades whispered, still holding her. She turned in his arms and kissed him, more tears forming in her eyes. He brushed them away with his thumb and said “I’ll wait for you here. Take your time.”
That earned him a small smile, but Kali muttered “There are only so many hours in the day, Hades.”
He just smiled and shrugged, and Kali managed to stride purposely from her room and all the way to Chiron’s office before she faltered. Deep breaths, she reminded herself. You can do this.
But her hand hovered over the door for what felt like hours before someone cleared their throat behind her. Kali’s heart plummeted as she turned to see Chiron standing patiently at the end of the hall. He was smiling, but those piercing eyes narrowed, and she knew he was wondering why she was so nervous. “Would you care to take a walk?”
“Of course.” She stammered. “That would be nice.” Nice? She scowled at how stupid she sounded, but she followed behind Chiron as he made his way back out into the open air. They walked in silence and Kali wondered for a moment why he would even have an indoor office. Sure, the halls were more than large enough to accommodate him, but he didn’t strike her as being comfortable cooped up.
“Paperwork.” The words broke Kali’s pondering and she looked at him blankly.
Certain that she must have misheard, she said “Pardon?”
“You were wondering why I’d have an office inside the building, were you not?” He glanced at her surprised face with a knowing smile. “When Zeus was younger, he would cause gusts and storms whenever I was working. It became inconvenient to constantly rewrite important documents. Any official business, I decided to relocate into a more secure area.”
She frowned and, before she could stop herself, she asked “Can’t he still do that inside your office though?”
“Yes.” He sighed wearily, telling Kali just how frequently he had done just that. Kali giggled and caught herself, averting her gaze. This time, Chiron’s smile reached his eyes and he stated, “I am glad to see that your new position has not changed you, Kali.”
Kali started slightly; she hadn’t seen it that way. After a moment under Chiron’s watchful gaze, she admitted as such, and added “I know it may sound strange, but I don’t think of him as the Lord of the Underworld. If I did, I would probably go crazy wondering why he’d even look at someone so far out of his league.”
“Which, I suspect, is why you caught his eye.” A frown creased between his eyes. Chiron’s face fell back into its polite mask and he waved a hand, saying “But enough of such things. You wished to speak with me?”
The difficult part. Kali gulped visibly and bowed her head. “Yes…I…would like to beg a favour, if I may.”
“Speak…” His tone gave nothing away, but Kali was certain he was suspicious.
“I had an accident in my room…with my fire.” She added, hastily. “I’ve lost…everything.” She averted her gaze and focused on her breathing again to push down the tears, frustrated. “I was hoping that I could have replacement uniform.”
She had expected him to be angry, or to lecture her, but his eyes were kind when he looked down at her. He seemed to consider for a moment, waiting for her to continue, and prompted “And you were hoping that you could be allowed to leave, for a time, to replace what was destroyed?”
“Well…yes.” She hung her head and mumbled “I know that this is my own fault, but I swear I’ll be more careful. I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.” She hoped.
“It explains, at least, why you are walking about bold as brass in one of Hades’ shirts.” He watched her bite her lip and sighed, rubbing his neck. Zeus wouldn’t be happy if he found out, but Chiron always had a weakness for dedicated students. Especially when they reminded him of Achilles, as Kali did. It was no easy thing to admit to your mistakes and ask for help. “Very well. I will have your new items sent to your room. You may leave today, provided you are back in time for your classes in the morning. And I would suggest you discuss your abilities with your father before you experiment on your own again.”
“Thank you, Chiron.” Kali had been certain he would reprimand her and refuse to let her leave. She was uncomfortable with the lie, though it wasn’t that far from the truth, and her heart was pounding. But she beamed at him and the tight knot of anxiety in her chest eased again.
With a quick bow, Kali left Chiron and headed to the arena. She had considered putting it off until she got back, considering how little time she had, but the last thing she wanted to do was insult the gods. Hades had once said to her to show respect, no matter how friendly they seemed. He would likely be the only exception, now that she wasn’t “stringing along” Ares or Hermes.
Glancing up at the sky, Kali could see that it was only about eight o’clock. On a Sunday, shops wouldn’t open for a while anyway. In any case, she needed to apologise to Ares, Demeter, and Hephaestus for missing their classes on Saturday. She scratched nervously at her neck and pulled her hair back over her left shoulder to conceal the mark. Ares would notice it if she wasn’t careful, she was sure, and she didn’t want questions she couldn’t answer.
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