The man’s cold, dead eyes were still staring at her when the policeman pulled her up off of the floor. They were white, as though he had been dead for a while. But Hekate had felt his warmth when he was holding her throat. She felt it.
Hekate had taken a life. Whether or not she had pulled the trigger, she had just taken a life. The bile was beginning to rise into her throat when the policeman grabbed her shoulders. She couldn’t hear anything. Not the screams, not the policeman, not even Marcia. Her eyes couldn’t leave the eyes that were still staring back at her.
“Ma’am! Are you all right?” The policeman began to shake her shoulders. When she didn’t respond, he jerked her around, so she couldn’t see the body anymore. Her eyes didn’t move, despite the body being out of view. He tried again to call out to her again.
Hekate…you have to leave this place. You have to move.
Slowly, Hekate’s eyes began to blink as Moro’s voice brought her back to life. They met those of the policeman as she began to nod. “I’m fine.”
His eyes narrowed, not believing her. “Come on, we have to take your statement and the paramedics are going to need to check you out.” He noticed the two teenagers who were trying to get through the barrier of people. “Are those your friends?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
He waved to his colleagues, allowing Marcia and Erik through the crowd. Hekate’s knees nearly buckled when Marcia collided into her. Her arms gripped her neck so tightly, Hekate thought she would choke. Marcia was shaking as she whispered into her ear. “You scared me half to death. I’m not letting you do this alone. No way.”
Hekate slowly lifted one arm to wrap around Marcia’s waist as she glanced at Erik. His eyes were still wide in shock as if the man were still holding a gun to her head. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
She wasn’t okay. None of this was. But as Hekate looked back down at the lifeless body on the ground, she remembered what was more important. Something had escaped the dead man. Something that was powerful and felt immense. Goosebumps rose all over her body when she recalled the feeling. She had to follow it.
“I need to get out of here,” she whispered.
Erik’s face suddenly hardened. “Okay. Follow my lead.”
He walked over to the policeman who had stepped away to give us a moment. Unable to hear them, Hekate merely stepped out of Marcia’s arms. Although unwilling to unlink her arms at first, Marcia finally took a step back but kept a firm grip on Hekate’s forearm.
Erik returned a moment later. “You can go to the bathroom over there. They’ll be waiting here for your statements.”
She bit hard into her tongue, hearing the hint in his voice. Hekate nodded, before walking towards the bathroom. In the corner of her eye, Erik began walking in the opposite direction. Although Hekate wasn’t his biggest fan, she was grateful to Erik in that moment. He knew she was serious when she said she had to leave, and didn’t question it.
When they were safely alone in the bathroom, Hekate scanned the room for an opening. Marcia caught on quickly. “Erik is probably going to head for his car and just leave. We need to do the same.”
“I agree,” she said before pointing towards the window in the back, “Think we can squeeze through that?”
Hoisting her up, Marcia pried the window open and began to crawl out. Under her breath, Marcia murmured, “For Christ’s sake.” She turned her head back towards Hekate. “It’s not a short jump. Be careful.” With that, she maneuvered her way out of the window, twisting so she could land on her feet instead of her head.
You both are sturdier than most. You’ll be fine.
Hekate nodded to Moro’s voice before beginning to climb out herself. It was a struggle with no one to boost her. Using the sink and stall for leverage, she climbed up to the window before pulling herself up and through. When she landed, her legs shook as pressure from the ground practically rocked her entire body. Had she made one wrong move in her jump, she would have probably broken an ankle.
“Where did we park again?” Marcia whispered as she kept crouched to the ground.
Hidden behind the dumpsters, Hekate peered around the corner. The police cars were converged at the entrance to the food court. A few rows of cars to the right was their car. Hekate pointed. “Over there. Come on.”
Keeping their backs to the police cars, the two of them walked slowly to their car. The last thing they wanted was to draw attention to themselves. Marcia linked her arm with Hekate’s, as if to make sure nothing would separate them. Hekate noticed she was still shaking, but said nothing. She didn’t want to think about anything until they were safely at home.
Without hesitation, Hekate broke into a sprint.
Marcia ran next to her, trying to keep pace. “What’s wrong?”
They wouldn’t get far before finding out. A force suddenly hit the back of Hekate’s legs, causing her to tumble forward into their car. She slammed her head into the side mirror before hitting the ground, nearly knocking Marcia down with her.
When she first opened her eyes, black specks clouded her vision. Through the fog in her head, she looked to see the thief’s arms wrapped around her legs. He began to crawl towards her face. “I’m sorry. He said I can’t let you get away.”
As he reached for Hekate’s throat, Marcia kicked him clean in the face, knocking him into the side of the car next to them. “Hijo de puta!” she exclaimed.
Marcia quickly jerked her arms under Hekate’s to pull her up before turning to face the thief again. “You had better leave. Or you’ll regret it.”
He began to pick himself up off of the ground. He reached to wipe the blood dripping from his nose. “You don’t understand. I don’t have a choice.”
Scrambling to her feet, Hekate stood behind Marcia. Her eyes quickly surveyed the parking lot to make sure no one had noticed the scuffle. Thankfully, their car was sandwich between two tall trucks, hiding majority of the fight. Hekate moved to stand in front of Marcia and spat her own blood towards the thief’s feet. “There is always a choice.”
“Sometimes, there isn’t,” he said, his voice suddenly deeper than it had been a moment ago. His entire body shook, causing him to lean forward.
Suddenly, Hekate felt it. The same sensation that had given her goosebumps in the mall had returned. The power she felt was now hovering over the man as he practically bowed at their feet.
Hekate and Marcia could only watch in horror as his body began to twist in an unnatural fashion. His arms jerked to the side as his head fell deeper into his lap. When his neck jerked backwards, Hekate could see his face. It was screaming. His mouth was wide, eyes wide open but there was no sound. They could only hear the cracks as his body was contorted. He was petrified.
Before either of them had a chance to react, he lunged towards them. His chest pulled forward as if being tossed at them. He didn’t have to go far. His hand hit Hekate’s chest and it felt like she was being lit on fire. The intensity was so strong, Hekate fell to one knee, arms spread wide as if to catch herself should she fall.
Marcia lunged herself towards man. She punched his face numerous times. Each time harder than the last, but his eyes never left Hekate’s. His hand wouldn’t budge. His face was swelling and becoming bloodied from the force she had put behind her fist, but he wouldn’t move. Finally, she moved to try and push against him with all the force she could muster, but nothing was working.
His eyes were locked on Hekate’s. She felt the fire as it intensified on her chest. And she heard screaming in her head. Screaming from the thief, her own mind screaming, and unfamiliar voices mixed in with them. She felt something beginning to brand her skin underneath his hand. To keep herself from screaming out loud she bit her tongue, tasting the blood beginning to well up in her mouth. Her hands reached to cover her ears, attempting to block out the wails and cries of the voices that had entered her mind.
Suddenly, the white wolf leaped from Hekate’s chest and onto the man. The force from Moro and Marcia collided into the man, toppling him to the ground. The moment his hand left her chest and slammed into the truck behind him, the voices were gone. Moro’s sharp teeth glistened before she bit into the man’s throat. Blood squirted out as she bit harder, staining her beautiful white coat of fur red.
Marcia pushed herself back, away from the man now flailing on the ground, attempting to free himself from the wolf’s sharp teeth. She rushed towards Hekate, attempting to push her back. She didn’t notice her hands were now bloodied and bruised until she stained Hekate’s shoulders with it.
“We need to get out of here,” she exclaimed.
Moro’s golden eyes darted at them. Go home.
Hekate didn’t move. She was frozen, staring at the thief’s face. His cheeks had sunken in as he attempted to scream again, but instead a gurgling sound came out. Her eyes never left his. They were wide, shocked. If someone stumbled upon them, it would look like an animal attacked an innocent bystander. Nothing about his appearance screamed demon or possession. He was nothing more than a puppet. But Hekate could still feel whatever it was. It still hovered over him.
Snapping out of her trance, Hekate pushed Marcia out of the way. “Get in!”
Marcia ran to the passenger side of the car, as Hekate slid into her seat. Her hands fumbled with the keys, nearly dropping them two times before the car key finally slid in. The engine had barely roared to life before Hekate quickly shifted gears and pulled out of the parking lot. She didn’t accelerate past the speed limit until they were on the main road, not wanting to draw attention to themselves.
She drove in silence, attempting to calm her nerves as best she could by breathing. Marcia sat beside her, constantly looking behind them for the police or something worse. When she turned to face the front, she evaluated her hands. Opening the glove box, she pulled out a napkin and began dabbing away the blood, hissing every time she pressed too hard on a cut.
Hekate’s chest burned the entire drive to Marcia’s house. It still felt as though the man’s hand was holding onto her collar bone. The indention of his fingers still felt raw.
When they finally arrived back at Marcia’s house, Hekate turned the engine off, letting her hands fall to her lap. Eyes glazed over, she sat in silence.
“Are you okay?” Marcia asked in only a whisper.
Hekate could only shake her head. Before she could stop them, her eyes began to tear. The shock of the day’s events finally subsiding. Marcia reached over and wiped a drop of blood that had made it to Hekate’s cheek. “Why didn’t you fight back? You just stood there.”
Feeling the bile beginning to build, Hekate jerked the door open and rushed outside. She leaned against the side of the car as she became sick. Marcia jumped out of the car and ran around to hold her hair. She began to rub her back. “Let it out. Let it out.”
After dry heaving a couple more times, Hekate finally sat against the car, leaning back against the driver’s seat and met Marcia’s worried stare. “I killed someone. That wasn’t a demon. Neither was that thief. They were humans, Marcia. Do you understand?”
She nodded, her chestnut eyes blazing. “I do. But here’s what keeps me going. I remember they were trying to kill you. Both of them. I’d rather see them dead, than you.”
Although she knew Marcia was right, it still ate at her. The thought that she had caused the death of those two men bit into her stomach, threatening to come back up again. Marcia grabbed her cheeks, forcing their eyes to meet again. “Listen to me. It isn’t your fault. That was them. It was not your fault.”
“She’s right,” a voice from behind said.
Hekate shifted out of Marcia’s grip to see Moro walking towards them with a small brown bag hanging from her mouth. Her fur coat was stained red around her mouth and chest, still dripping with blood. “The Horseman decided to pay you a visit sooner than I anticipated. Both of those men were already dead the moment they met him.”
A limp in Moro’s walk caused Hekate to narrow her eyes. “That’s not all his blood.”
The wolf tilted her head towards her hind leg. “The police took a shot at me, for killing the young man. It is no matter. As soon as I am dormant again, it will be healed. The police will have no memory of you either. At least of your faces. I took care of it before I left the scene.”
Marcia moved to bend down to Moro’s level. Without thinking, she reached for the bag as she pat the wolf’s head. “What’s in the bag?”
Moro tilted her head forward, allowing Marcia to take the bag. “It is the book they were trying to steal. I believe it might have some value.”
Hekate bent down to look Moro in the eyes. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m fine.” Moro leaned forward to lick the tears away from Hekate’s cheeks. When she stepped back, she glanced at the girl’s chest. “You’ve been branded. You were branded by Death.”
Hekate looked down towards the burning sensation that hadn’t subsided. The t-shirt she had been wearing was practically destroyed, the top of it charred away where the hand had been. Her chest was red from the heat, and on the top of her left breast was a brand. It was an odd shape. The brand looked as though it was supposed to be a small scythe, but there were four distinct claw marks over the handle. The blade itself was chipped in the middle and burned deeper than the claw marks.
As she reached to touch it, Moro bumped her hand with her nose. “Leave it. Nothing can be done if you’ve been branded. Death is the one Horseman that fate cannot fight. Not like the others.”
Marcia leaned in to take a closer look. “What do you mean? Can’t you heal it or something?”
“This isn’t a normal burn,” Moro began to explain, “This is the brand of a Horseman. Of Death. It cannot be healed. Once you’ve been branded, your fate is usually sealed.”
“Meaning I’ll die?” Hekate asked.
“No,” Moro said, shaking her head, “It means you can’t die.”
Marcia leaned back, pointing at the brand. “That’s a good thing, though. Right?”
“No,” Moro stated, hesitating to say more.
“Tell me,” Hekate said, her voice suddenly firm.
She sighed, flinching at the wound on her hindquarters before starting again. “After a human has been branded, then your soul has been claimed. So, on the day Hekate dies, her soul will be claimed by Death, itself. Forced to serve for eternity. Joining his army. Behind the sealed doors or not. It matters not. One way or another, you will be claimed. Most do not survive a month after they’ve been branded. Death always comes for those he has claimed.”
“That’s bullshit!” Marcia shouted. “You gave her this power so she could fight that thing. I don’t care what his name is! The whole point is for her to put him back. Wouldn’t putting him back make the damn thing go away entirely? It doesn’t make any sense!”
Hekate leaned back until she hit the ground. She sat in a daze, not even hearing Marcia protests anymore. In one day, she had witnessed the death of two men and her soul had been claimed. Claimed by the one Horseman that even Moro feared.
That must have been who Hekate felt with each of the dead men. The power was immense, enough for Hekate to feel terrified. It didn’t feel controlled. It felt…chaotic. As if even Death wasn’t able to fully contain his power. It would make sense considering how the thief reacted to his power and possession.
But everything made sense considering the words he spoke to her. Death would have been a gift. He wasn’t lying to her when he said some things were worse than death. Considering his name, he would know. He wanted her soul. From the way he spoke, he didn’t want it for anything other than a game. She was a toy to him.
A ripping sensation caused Hekate to shake as her wings tore through her shirt and emerged. She no longer felt pain. She didn’t even flinch when her muscles ripped open to release them. Her own blood covered the feathers from as they ripped out at a great speed, matching her rage.
Marcia froze mid-sentence to stare at her best friend before looking around for the threat. When there was nothing, she moved to stand closer to her best friend, grabbing her hand for support. Hekate used the hand to help support her in standing, her eyes reflecting the burning on her chest. “He’s not taking me that easily.”
Moro, feeling the intense energy coming from Hekate, began to disappear, returning to her dormant state. Hekate could feel her words as they echoed through her mind.