I strode through the front doors of the God Complex with my bag slung over one shoulder and Ky’Elli stalking on silent paws behind me. My eyes scanned the area out of a habit so ingrained it no longer even registered that anything else should be done. My gaze caught on a disturbance. A young goddess was running like a madwoman through the crowd. Adrestia. I had not seen her in eons, but no matter. She had been my squire, was my squire, always would be my squire. Something had her frantic and panicked. A state I had rarely seen her in. I made a subtle change in course to intercept her.
Adrestia pushed past people in her dash for the elevators. She seemed lost in a nightmare and focused only on escape. She frantically pushed at the elevator buttons, murmuring with each heaving breath, “Come on, come on, come on.”
I walked up behind her, knowing better than to simply reach out and touch her while she was in this state. Instead, I infused my voice with just a touch of my power and said, “Adrestia, Goddess of Revolt.” The ground vibrated, the lobby shook, and the mortals instinctively ducked. Maybe I had put a little too much power into those words. Names had a power all their own, and Adrestia’s had been screamed across battlefields for ages.
Adrestia jumped, whipping around and throwing a wild haymaker. I leaned back to avoid the lightning-fast punch, my hand coming up to catch the deceptively delicate fist as it came at my face. Ky’Elli hissed and stepped closer. Her hackles lifted as a low growl rumbled in her throat. I studied Adrestia as images of her past deeds, good and bad, flashed through my mind at the skin-to-skin contact. It was all overshadowed by her panic and the jumbled memories that had sent her fleeing.
“Adrestia, what is wrong? What has happened?”
I saw the moment reality returned to the young goddess and watched as she attempted to collect herself. The chaos in Adrestia’s eyes cleared just a bit as recognition flared in their depths. I could see sweat clinging to her skin and her slight shiver as her cheeks flushed. I wasn’t sure if it was due to embarrassment, shame, or a mix of the two. She straightened her spine, her chin lifting as she pulled her hand from my grip.
Adrestia stood tall and saluted, still panting with the effort of her run. Her body trembled, unable to throw off the physical effects of whatever trauma she had experienced. I reached out to press the elevator button for my floor. I maintained my firm tone, knowing it would help ground her.
“Come, Adrestia, we will go and speak of this where there are fewer ears to overhear.”
Adrestia swallowed hard, lowering her saluting hand and dropping her eyes. My lips quirked as I heard the near lament of her thoughts. She knew it was going to be nearly impossible to hide anything from me. She scratched at her right leg uncomfortably, her voice resigned. “Yes, Lady Nemesis.”
The elevator arrived with a ding. I waved Adrestia forward, inviting her to enter first. She stepped into the elevator, leaning against the wall and letting out a relieved sigh. She struggled to slow her breathing and used her sleeve to wipe at the sweat on her forehead.
I followed behind her, Ky’Elli close on my heels, and pressed the button for the 20th floor. I kept my expression blank as I tried to sort out the images pouring into my mind from Adrestia. They made no sense as if they were nothing but the jumbled sequence of a dream, but they felt real. I kept my voice low but commanding as I said, “Deep breaths, Adrestia. You are safe here, and we will get this sorted.”
Adrestia looked at me and nodded, pausing to draw in a long breath before saying, “It’s… Permission to speak freely, Lady Nemesis?”
I studied her intently for a moment and then gave a subtle nod. “Granted.”
“It’s good to see you, my lady.”
My lips lifted at the corners in just a hint of a smile. “And you. I had heard you were back, and I regret I was not available earlier. It has been too long.”
“It has.” Adrestia looked at Ky’Elli with suspicion but didn’t say anything.
Ky’Elli side-eyed Adrestia, ruffling her feathers with a soft serration of sound before settling her wings neatly along her back. She was getting so big, her head now reaching mid-thigh and her legs gangly. Her voice was changing as well, losing a bit of the child-like tones. I was surprised to realize I would mourn that. “Kiri, she is very afraid, and I am not sure she likes me.”
“She is, and she just doesn’t know you yet, mikros. But she is no threat to us. She is one of the few beings I would trust to fight at my side.”
The elevator stopped, and I stepped out, waving away the wards I had placed when I left. I stepped into the cool darkness of my home in the God Complex, leaving the door open behind me. “Come on in, Adrestia. I will make us some tea.”
I watched as Adrestia stepped into my home, her eyes on the floor and shifting awkwardly as she made herself as small as she possibly could. I stepped a bit further into the entryway, not wanting to crowd her, but was stopped in my tracks by the scent lingering in the air. I lifted my head, inhaling deeply, my eyes narrowing as I took a closer look around my home. No one should have been in there. It had been closed up since I left for the Underworld. But there was no doubt that the scent of pure flame, of fire, hung heavy in the air.
“Ky’Elli, do you smell that? Does that smell like Joran?” I looked down at her, watching as she sashayed by me toward the kitchen without responding. “Ky’Elli?”
She looked at me over her shoulder as I tried to read her thoughts, only to find a wall. I felt my eyebrow rise in surprise. Well, that was new. I could break it, but I did not want to do that. Her response surprised me even more. “I think you already know, Kiri. But it is no reason to get all worked up about it. It is just Joran.” Cheeky beast.
I grumbled in irritation and set my bag down. I could feel Adrestia’s continued discomfort and confusion as I walked further into the kitchen, giving her a moment to herself.