When Marcia dropped Hekate back at her house, she was thankful she had suggested a sweater to cover Hekate’s shredded shirt. She could see the lights in the hallway turned on, and a shadow moving around in the back. Hekate noticed it as well before sighing. They sat there in silence as the car idled until she felt enough energy to open the door.
“Thanks for the ride home,” she glanced down as she stepped out of the car, “And for the clothes.”
Marcia tried to smile reassuringly. “No problem. Try and put on a smile. Your mother can smell bull from a mile away.”
Hekate’s head tilted sideways as her eyebrows raised. “Usually, yes she can. But I’m getting better at hiding things.”
She pointed towards Hekate’s eyes. “Then fix that before you walk in.”
Frowning, Hekate shut the door of the car, before scoffing as she turned towards her house. Waving on arm in the air, she began the steps up to her front door. She did not have the energy to fake happiness, but she knew if she didn’t, her mother would want some sort of answer as to why.
Her mother heard the door open from the kitchen. “Hey hun! How was your day out with Marcia?”
Not wanting to explain the book in her purse, Hekate left the bag on the staircase. Taking a quick deep breath, her feet pushed forward, and her lips curled up. “It was all right. Marcia kept flirting with Erik the whole time. It was nauseating.”
Laughing, her mother set a tray of fried chicken onto the counter with some macaroni and green beans. “One day, you’re going to find a boy that you like and you’ll be just as gross. Or a girl! I don’t judge.”
“Shut up,” Hekate said, instantly wanting to change the subject, “You cooked dinner?”
“We lucked out I had some spare time this afternoon. I was able to make one of my famous homemade dinners. Thought I’d spoil you some after you did so well at the gymnastics meet!” she exclaimed.
Hekate found the reason for her mother’s fancy cooking ironic. Had it been yesterday, she would have thought the timing great. You kill a demon, you earn a chicken wing. But now it was, you murder some humans, you get that same chicken wing. It felt wrong
Do not continue to punish yourself.
The brand on her chest began to itch. Her hand reached between bites of green beans to scratch. She wouldn’t touch it directly. Not with her mother sitting just across from her. Instead, she scratched the outside of the hoodie, making sure to continue smiling and responding to any questions thrown her way.
“How are your classes going?”
“What makes Erik so special?”
“Is he really that stupid?”
Each one Hekate could answer without over thinking. Her mind always occupied elsewhere with the memories of the last three days. Only when she stood up to clean the dishes did her mother finally get distracted by something on the television. “Can you believe that happened today? I’m so thankful you guys when to the mall across town instead.”
Glancing back from the sink, Hekate saw what she was talking about and instantly felt nauseous. It was a news report of the attempted robbery and death of the two men. Police were asking for any information on who the men where, and who the girl was who fled from the scene. No one got a good look at her face, but they were concerned with her well being, making it clear she was not a suspect, but a possible victim.
“Yeah, we were lucky,” she said, turning back to the dishes. Her hands pressed harder onto the dishes, scrubbing away any leftover food, anything to distract from the sound of the report.
When she finally finished, she rolled her sleeves back down and turned for the hallway. “I think I’m going to turn in early.”
“Don’t forget you have school tomorrow. I don’t want to hear you up late on that computer of yours,” her mother said, as she began to flip through the channels on the television.
“I – I won’t. I’m really tired anyway. I’m ready to crash,” she said, angry her voice was beginning to crack through the facade.
Where is the journal?
Hekate leaned down to grab her purse before making her way upstairs. The motion alone was enough for Moro to understand. Walking into her room, she pulled the bag that contained the journal from her purse before dropping it on her bed. Beginning to feel the day’s frustrations piling up again, she threw her purse towards the other side of the room.
Although she could feel Moro’s anxiety towards the books the men had tried to steal earlier today, Hekate needed a minute to be human. She needed a minute to compose herself, along with her thoughts. She wanted to take a shower, to not only wash the sweat and blood off but perhaps the memory of the day as well. It was the only thing she could think of that would help.
As she carefully pulled off Marcia’s hoodie, the brand shifted from an itchy sensation to a burning one, as if a branding iron was pressing into her chest. Although it wasn’t as bad as it had been, the pain was still enough to slow her down. It was as if the brand was going to burn through her, until it had reached her soul, to steal it away.
Finally, she lifted her eyes to the mirror. She stood naked from the waist up, taking a moment to think. With each inhale, the intensity of the burning would increase. But as she stood there, it would dissipate with each exhale. Carefully, she lifted her hand as she leaned forward. The heat radiated unnaturally from the brand. Before her fingers could touch it, she angrily jerked her hand back, slamming it into the counter.
“Damn it,” she hissed.
Despite the burning, she took another deep breath, trying to calm herself down. Reaching for the nozzle of the shower, she switched the water on, carefully removing the rest of her clothes. She’d probably have to throw the shirt away. It practically destroyed now.
Water trickled down her back as she stood in the shower. She hadn’t even bothered to turn the water up. Instead, it raised goosebumps as the lukewarm water hit her skin. The water felt like prickling ice needles until she turned. The moment the water hit her chest, it was a relief. Although only temporary, it acted as a numbing agent, allowing her to breathe without any pain. Only when she was beginning to shiver did she turn and work to scrub the day away.
Feeling a little better, Hekate finally left the shower, certain she had wiped away all of the dried blood. Knowing her mother would have questions, Hekate threw her T-shirt away in the trashcan in her bedroom. Still feeling the chill from the shower, she pulled on a swear of black sweatpants, and her gray hoodie.
She pulled the towel from her hair and began to squeeze out the excess water. In the corner of her eye, she realized Moro was sitting on the bed, watching her.
“What?” she asked, her voice low.
Moro’s head tilted to the side as she narrowed her eyes. The reaction seemed too human. Her fur was still lightly stained by the blood, but almost completely gone. “Your reactions surprise me.”
Dropping the towel that had been wrapped around her, Hekate reached for a hair thing on her dresser to tie her wet hair up. “What do you mean?”
“For one,” she began “Don’t most humans take hot showers when they seek comfort?” Moro asked.
Hekate raised an eyebrow to the question. It seemed out of place considering the earlier in the day. “Most humans do. I wasn’t looking for comfort.”
Moro’s head tilted to the side again, curious. “Then what did you seek?”
Without taking offense, Moro merely nodded. “Interesting. Just like your fight today.”
That was the topic Hekate knew would come up the moment she left her cold shower, and the one she would have preferred to avoid. “What are you talking about?”
“While you were being held captive, you weighed your options. Before making any sort of defensive movement, you took into account those around you. But the men dying in front of you left you guilty. Why would you feel guilty?”
“I thought one of the commandments was to never kill,” Hekate scoffed, only half of her aiming for sarcasm.
Moro began to shake her head. The human gesture made Hekate have to remind herself that Moro was no ordinary wolf. She wasn’t even sure the wolf was even her true form; not with her behavior mimicking that of humans so well. And the fact that Selene had alluded to it.
“You misunderstand,” she began, “It is in the commandments not to kill, and you should stray away from that option whenever possible. But if your own life is in danger or those around you by that person, a hard choice has to be made. And you made it. That was brave.”
Hekate began sucking on her teeth, not comfortable with the conversation. “What about the thief?”
Moro’s eyes hardened. “I had no choice. I was already too late to stop him from branding you. He wasn’t going to stop. His soul was already gone.”
The word soul caused Hekate to shiver for a moment. “His soul was gone?”
“What is in this journal?” Moro asked, suddenly changing the topic.
She was tempted to ask again, forcing Moro to give her a straight answer. But something in her sudden change told her Moro wasn’t going to give up the answer so easily. Accepting it, for now, Hekate stepped forward to open the bag, revealing a small brown journal. The binding was old, with strange symbols carved into the leather cover. When she reached down to touch it, she could feel the heat radiating from it. It matched the heat she felt on her chest.
“Be careful,” Moro warned.
As her hand touched the cover, the burning on her chest intensified. It was bearable, but only barely. Lifting the leather cover, the pages within were old and stained brown. Inside, there was nothing. The pages were blank.
She flipped through the pages, attempting to find something she might have missed. The longer she held the journal, the hotter her chest became. When the pain was almost too much, strange letters began to appear on the pages, revealing some unfamiliar language. It was only a few pages in when she noticed the words covering the pages were not in ink. The smell of the ink was beginning to make her queasy.
Stepping closer, Moro used her snout to push Hekate’s hands away, leaving the book open on the bed. “Don’t touch it. It’s written in blood. It’s trying to resonate with your brand.”
When Hekate’s hands released the journal, the nauseating feeling vanished and the burning subsided to a dull ache. “What does it say?”
Moro was silent. Her eyes intent on the pages below. As Moro read, Hekate began to hear whispering. Her eyes jerked around, searching for the source. Voices she didn’t recognize whispered her name, Selene’s name, and spoke in a tongue that left her uneasy. Her hands reached to cover her ears as the noise was becoming louder.
“Moro, what’s happening?”
Finally, Moro shifted her gaze towards Hekate. “You’re hearing the stolen souls. The ones whose blood was used to write these incantations.”
“But what are they for?” Hekate asked, stepping closer to see the pages again.
“They’re instructions. And plans. Incantations on how to subdue anyone like you. Something about how to break through the Gates to release Death’s brothers. Repeating the plague. These are plans they were trying to pass around to lesser demons and the soulless,” Moro explained.
Hekate’s hand unconsciously reached for the brand.
“Death is a gift,” she murmured.
Moro nodded, finally looking away from the journal. “In a way, it would be. That would be the easiest way to solve his problems and free you. But he doesn’t think that way. He can’t just let you go.”
“He didn’t,” Hekate said harshly.
“No, he didn’t,” Moro agreed.
Hekate moved to sit in her computer chair as she stared at Moro. She leaned into her fist, her lips pressing on her teeth. Her entire life had changed only a few days ago, and already she was on the verge of losing her soul. Death was wasting no time in finding ways to get rid of her. Not to mention torture her. As if to respond to her thoughts, the brand’s heat began to increase.
Moro glanced up at her. “It’s interesting that it is Death doing all of this.”
“Why?” Hekate asked through her fist.
“Because,” she began, “Death has always been efficient. Never wasting life, or wasting time. Although a Horseman, he is also absolute. His behavior must mean something else is happening that we don’t know about.”
Hekate’s eyes narrowed at the assumption. What could be worse than a Horseman escaping and beginning the apocalypse. Everything she remembered about the book of Revelations depicted things that caused her to shiver, even now. Even after everything she had learned in only three days. She wasn’t sure what to believe anymore.
Finally, she looked up, letting her fist fall onto the armrest. “I don’t think we should let Marcia help me with this. It’s too dangerous.”
“It is too late for that. Her soul is already connected to yours, and soon she’ll have wings to match your own. Nothing can be done to stop what has already begun,” Moro argued.
Hekate scoffed. “And yet you’ve asked me to stop the apocalypse. Why can one thing be stopped but not the other? It’s not fair.”
Moro was silent for a moment. The two of them simply stared at the other, waiting for someone to answer the question. Finally, Moro spoke in a soft tone, “I’m sorry. But no one ever said this would be fair, even if I wish it could be.”
Hekate stood up, her voice was harsh as she continued to try and keep her voice down. “You said it yourself. There is usually only one at a time who has these powers. Why make her a target when you already have me?”
Moro didn’t react to Hekate’s lost temper. Instead, she began to stand. This time when she spoke, her voice was in Hekate’s mind, overshadowing the voices from the book.
Everyone has free will. You accepted the task put in front of you. Marcia volunteered for your sake. Your souls are now bound together, and nothing can change that. You’ll just have to accept her help now, and accept that she will be made into a target, the same as you.
In a burst of rage, Hekate walked to her bed and lifted the book from the bed. Her palms burned as she held it, nearly causing her to pass out from the reeking smell of blood. Releasing her anger, the insides of her palms began to glow silver. In a matter of seconds the room burst with light, leaving no shadow untouched.
The voices tied to the journal began to scream so loudly, Hekate could hear nothing else. They screamed and ached for her to stop, shouting all sorts of profanities. She was erasing them, and they were frightened. She was sure her mother would run into the room at any point, wondering what was going on.
Beneath her burning palms, she felt the journal beginning to disintegrate. As each page began to fall away, the pieces didn’t go far. They never even fell to the ground. Instead, they continued to disintegrate further, becoming nothing more than dust. Floating around her, the dust began to land on her skin, her eyes, and even her hair. With each dust flake that landed, she felt it disappear into her body.
She was absorbing the pages and the blood. She was absorbing whatever power was in the journal, including the extra souls. Her eyes began to be tainted red from broken blood vessels as she took in the demonic energy that had entered through her skin. For a brief moment, it felt like her entire body was being torn apart from the inside out. Never had she felt this must power before.
The light from her palms suddenly vanished when the journal was no more. The remaining dust particles floated through the air until her body absorbed them all. Although her wings weren’t visible, she could feel the energy work to permeate its way to them. Though not technically there, should they emerge later, she knew they would be tainted. Changed by what she had done.
The voices were gone, leaving only the silence of the room and Moro’s breathing. The burning in her chest dulled once again as well. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, grateful that the smell of blood was finally gone, leaving behind the scent of her shampoo. All evidence of the journal was now gone.
Dropping her hands, she glared down at Moro. “No one will touch her. I’ll make sure of it. I’m not letting her get branded like me.”
Moro’s eyes met Hekate’s in shock. Even in her long lifespan, this was a first for her. Never had she seen a human absorb that much power from a demonic artifact. Though the plans were certainly meant to get to the soulless, she didn’t think this act of defiance would hinder their plans that much. Death was smart and would always have a back up plan.
Before Moro even had a chance to speak, Hekate climbed into bed, turning off her nightlight in the process. She was exhausted from the onslaught of energy she had just taken in and her eyes burned from the pressure from earlier. She had no desire to discuss the subject with Moro anymore either.
The bed shifted under Moro’s weight until she was gone, returning to her dormant state. Hekate was left in the dark, to stare at the ceiling. She was alone. And she was frightened.