There was a brush of something across her cheek. Hekate tried reached up to flick whatever it was away, but as she tried to lift her arm she found it was trapped. Something tight was holding her wrist. The grip only tightened as she attempted to struggle. Her chest began to burn as whatever it was continued to brush along her face and neck.
She realized her eyes were sealed shut, not allowing her to see what was touching her. As she tried to gasp for air, she realized something was covering her mouth – or had taken her mouth away. She could no longer feel her lips or her eyes. It was as if they had never existed in the first place. As the feelings of isolation and entrapment swallowed her, Hekate began to panic.
Her restrained arm was lifted into the air and she felt a cold iron that was placed in her hand. Forcefully, she began to fight through the layer of skin. She pulled so hard, the skin began to rip away, peeling away the blockage, but covering her vision with red. The newly ripped skin dangled over her cheeks, causing blood to drip down her face and over her eyes. Her blurred vision only caused her panic to increase.
Fighting, she repeated this gruesome process with her mouth. A loud scream erupted as she pulled and ripped away the skin that had grown over her lips. The pain was enough to almost make her pass out. The taste of copper filled her mouth as she attempted to take a deep breath. Each one felt like it would drown her. Hekate spit, attempting to rid herself of the nauseating flavor.
Her vision began to clear as she blinked away the rivulets of blood. Her eyes glanced up, realizing the cold iron was a sword held firm in her hand and ready to strike. There was nothing holding onto her wrist, but she still felt something holding her nonetheless. Taking a deep breath, she moved her eyes down to see what was on the ground.
At her feet was a person. Someone was kneeling in front of her, hands bound behind their back. Although she couldn’t hear it before, now she could hear the person whimpering. Their shoulders shook underneath the black sweatshirt, the hood pulled over to cover their head. Hekate tried to pull her arm away from the sword, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Move!” she rasped in an attempt to scream.
The figure kneeling before her froze, only to tilt her head to the side. On the ground in front of her was her best friend. Marcia. Her black curls were matted onto her forehead from sweat, and tears continued to fall down her cheeks. She only shook her head before looking down again, waiting.
“Move!” Hekate tried to yell again.
This time, the figure looked up with another face. Her face. Hekate met her own eyes in horror. The face matching her own was bruised, with cuts lining her cheeks and neck. Hekate attempted to jerk the sword again to no avail.
Behind her, lips brushed her ear. “Death is a gift.”
As soon as it finished the words, Hekate’s arm fell. Two things happened. The head rolled away. And black wings sprouted from the body’s back.
Hekate jerked forward, her body covered in sweat. The brand on her chest burned as she blinked furiously attempting to see her surroundings. She was in her bed with Moro at the foot of it, asleep.
Her hand reached up subconsciously touch the brand that continued to burn into her chest. The indention was deeper now. She could easily feel the shape of the symbol left by Death. In an attempt to calm herself, Hekate took a deep breath, only releasing it after a few seconds had passed.
The alarm on the nightstand next to the bed began to beep causing Moro to stir. As she opened her eyes, she carefully took in the energy surrounding Hekate. She quickly stood and looked over the room, attempting to find whatever had Hekate on alert.
“It’s nothing,” Hekate whispered.
Moro turned to her again before sitting on her hindquarters. “Something happened. Your wings are out.”
Hekate turned her head to see Moro was right. Through the panic, she hadn’t even realized her wings had appeared. They were darker, with tints of red now lining the edge of the majority of her feathers. Taking a breath, she focused on them until they disappeared.
“Sorry,” she murmured.
“Don’t apologize. Just tell me what happened,” she urged.
Hekate swung her legs to the edge of the bed for standing. Her entire body ached as if the struggle in her dream had really happened. The thought caused her to shake before she could take her first step.
“I just had a bad dream, that’s all,” she said, in an attempt to sound calm.
She wasn’t very successful. Moro jumped from the bed before disappearing.
Something has you panicking. Your entire body is aching, and you’re still sweating from whatever it was. Tell me the truth.
The words tickled across her mind. They felt strange and foreign, when yesterday, they felt as natural as breathing. Hekate began to change into her uniform for school before answering.
“It’s nothing, really. I had a nightmare,” she said, her voice still shaking.
Do you not understand why that’s a problem?
“No,” Hekate said as she glanced into the mirror on her dresser. The reflection of Moro sitting on the bed was still there.
I’m a part of you. Anything you feel, I feel. Anything you experience, I experience. The only time that doesn’t happen is when I’ve made a conscious effort to separate our minds. I never made the effort last night.
Her body was beginning to finally calm down as the burning began to dull. She took another deep breath before slapping her cheeks. “Maybe it’s because you were asleep.”
Impossible. The connection was still there.
“Then what’s your theory?” Hekate asked as she pulled her hair into a ponytail. Although a shower would have felt great, she wasn’t in the mood to put in any effort today. She even passed on putting on any makeup before walking out of her room with her bag.
The brand. I could feel it burning into you. The problem is, I wasn’t able to feel it initially. It wasn’t until you were fully awake that I began to feel the sensation.
“Morning honey!” Hekate’s Mother exclaimed.
On the kitchen counter was a bowl of cereal with the milk beside it. “Breakfast?”
She nodded. “The simple stuff! I have to run out soon. Are you leaving for school soon?”
“Yeah,” Hekate said as she sat in the bar chair to begin pouring the milk.
Her Mother reached for the keys on the board beside the door. “Have a good day at school!”
“Have a good day at work,” Hekate echoed.
The house was silent with the exception of the popping sound coming from the cereal slowly absorbing the milk. Hekate didn’t move for a few moments. She merely sat there and stared at her bowl. Only when she was beginning to see pieces become soggy did she finally pick up her spoon to eat.
Are you going to be able to go to school?
“Yes,” she muttered through a mouthful, “The last thing I want is to let this disrupt my life. Besides, Marcia will have questions if I don’t show up today. I want her to focus on finishing receiving her power from Diana tomorrow.”
Nothing more was said between them that morning. Hekate merely kept to her schedule as usual. She arrived at school, took notes, and socialized as if it were any normal day. No one noticed the moments when her smile would fall and her eyes would darken at the memory of her dream. Not even Marcia. It was something she kept well hidden.
She wondered what it meant. It was connected to the brand that hummed with heat all day. She knew that the moment she woke up. It wasn’t something she could explain how she knew, she just knew.
The image of Marcia kneeling on the ground, crying, accepting her fate terrified her more than seeing her own face. Hekate didn’t care what happened to her. She accepted her fate whether or not Marcia wanted to admit to it. But the moment the head rolled, black wings sprouted from the body. Hekate was sure of it. In the end, she wondered who’s head really did roll: was it hers, or Marcia’s?
Only in the late afternoon did someone pull her from her lingering questions. Caleb grabbed her attention before she walked into her last class of the day. “What’s up?”
Behind him, Hekate noticed a Amara and a few of her friends who had been approaching stop when Caleb had grabbed her arm. They were visibly upset, but Hekate couldn’t focus on their angry expressions. She could only focus on the hand that was still holding her arm. The hand that caused butterflies to assault her insides. She could hear Moro chuckling quietly in the back of her mind.
“I wanted to make sure we were still good for coffee today. You seemed a bit distracted this morning, so I wasn’t sure,” he said, hesitating when he mentioned this morning.
In all honesty, Hekate had completely forgotten about it. She had been so preoccupied with the nightmare, the memory of the coffee date had vanished. Hekate smiled at him, in an attempt to reassure him. “I’m still good if you are.”
He smiled in response to her own. “Great! I’ll meet you this afternoon then.”
Another memory flashed across her mind as he started to walk away. “Wait! I have gymnastics practice this afternoon. Is it okay to meet an hour later? Fair warning, I won’t have time to shower after practice.”
He chuckled. “Not a problem.”
She grinned to herself as she watched him walk away. The same girls from before began to follow again, but not before glaring at Hekate one more time. The butterflies from earlier began to feel like acid as they turned to follow him. Instead of letting it linger, she turned for my last class of the day.
“Shut up,” she mumbled.
Hekate had to admit, it had taken her completely off guard to have a boy ask her out. Especially one she hadn’t even known for a day. But thanks to Erik, it happened anyway. The excitement and shock was new to her. She wasn’t quite sure how to handle it. But she appreciated the distraction.
By the time Hekate was halfway through her floor routine in practice, the happiness of the day’s earlier disruption was gone. Every time she landed a flip, she felt the burn on her chest intensify, but only for a split second. And each time it did, the more agitated she became. By the time she had landed her final tumble, she wasn’t in the best of moods.
We’ll find a way.
Living in Hekate’s head gave Moro a disadvantage. She couldn’t lie either. She could say all the nice things she wanted, but neither of them were sure of anything. This brand was something different. It tipped the scales in the Horseman’s favor and they both knew it.
Unfortunately, everyone else in the room didn’t get the memo about Hekate’s degrading mood. One of the girls Hekate had recognized from earlier was beginning to make her way to the floor. She was about the same height as Hekate, but she filled out in areas Hekate only dreamed of. It made it slightly difficult for her to be a gymnast, but she was able to pull it off for now. Her reddish blonde hair had been pulled back into a tight ponytail, causing her severe expression to worsen as she approached Hekate.
“Hi,” she said as she stopped to block Hekate’s path from leaving the floor.
“What do you want, Jen?”
Jennifer shifted her weight to shift her hips to the side with her hand resting on it. “Are you dating Caleb?”
Hekate simply stared at her for a second before coming up with a response. “What are you talking about?”
“Caleb. Are you guys dating or not?” She asked again.
“What does it matter to you?” A voice from behind Hekate chimed.
Marcia stood behind her best friend. She wasn’t the type to allow Hekate to be cornered, whether it was by a demon or a human. But Hekate wished she had stayed out of it.
Jennifer glared at the both of them and flicked her hand into the air. “He just got here. Don’t you think you’re too easy to go out with him right away? He hasn’t even seen what this school has to offer when it comes to quality.”
“If that were true, then why would he be asking Hekate out. Can’t claim something that isn’t true, sweetie,” Marcia scoffed.
Hekate held her hand into the air before Jennifer had a chance to retort. “Look. I’m just going to talk to him and drink coffee. Not a big deal. Now. Move.”
Something in Hekate’s eyes caused Jennifer to take a step back. Even Marcia had unconsciously leaned away. Hekate knew she was intimidating them. But she barely able to control her patience at this point. The brand on her chest had begun to burn again, causing her eyes to widen for a split second before resting on Jennifer again.
She took the small movement as a threat. But instead of trying to fight back, Jennifer began to back up. “Whatever. He’s just curious about your stupid name. Once he realizes it’s only a name, he’ll get bored and come back.”
As she began to storm off, Marcia leaned forward to yell more insults. Hekate grabbed her arm to stop her. “Drop it. It’s not a big deal.”
“Are you loco? She’s being a bitch! And should be put in her place,” Marcia exclaimed.
Hekate swallowed the anger she was beginning to feel build before answering her. “She’s not worth it. Besides, I need to leave to meet Caleb. Staying here to fight over him would be pointless.”
The frown on Marcia’s face was replaced with a smile. “You have got to call me right after to tell me everything! So not fair that you get a date this week, and I had to cancel mine.”
Hekate grinned. “You’re going out with him this weekend. It was postponed. Not canceled.”
“I guess,” she grumbled, “Seriously though, call me when you get home.”
“Yes, dear,” Hekate joked.
It only took Hekate a few minutes to rush back to the locker room. Instead of putting her school uniform back on, she chose to simply wear her shorts over her purple leotard. Throwing her school hoodie on, she rushed out of the locker room with her bag. By the time she had jumped into her car, it had begun to drizzle outside.
The coffee shop was already pretty full when she arrived of people attempting to wait out the rain. Hekate had to rush inside to avoid getting drenched by the now torrential downpour. Caleb was inside, sitting at a table in the back. He was still trying to brush the water from his hair when Hekate approached.
He grinned when he noticed her. “I’m surprised you made it through this rain! Aren’t you cold?”
She shrugged, moving down to sit in the chair in front of him. “I’m all right. I’ll just copy everyone else and get a hot drink to warm me up.”
As she reached for the wallet inside of her bag, Caleb stopped her. “I got it. What do you want?”
She hesitated, but only for a moment. “I’m actually craving some hot chocolate.”
He stood as the side of his face rose in a grin. “Sounds perfect. I think I’ll do the same. I’ll be right back.”
As he stepped away to place their order, Moro decided to take advantage of their alone time.
Do you remember what happened during your practice?
Hekate merely nodded to herself. There were too many people around her, and if she began talking, it would be noticed.
During your confrontation with the girl, we were disconnected again.
She tried to remember back to that moment. When Jennifer confronted her, the brand on her chest had begun to burn again, like it had when she was tumbling and when she had woken up this morning. Each time was unique. The brand was also hot, but now she was beginning to feel it flare up.
The brand is separating us.
“Death is a gift,” Hekate murmured.
“What was that?” Caleb asked as he set the drinks on the table before sitting down.
Hekate shook her head before grinning. “Nothing, just talking to myself. How long were you waiting for me?”
He shrugged. “Not too long. The extra few minutes gave me time to find an open table. It’s like the whole city wants to hide from the rain in here.”
She took a sip of her hot chocolate, burning the tip of her tongue. “Sorry about that. I would have gotten here sooner if one of your girlfriends hadn’t stopped me.”
“Girlfriends?” His confused expression seemed genuine to Hekate.
When she set the cup back onto the table, Hekate didn’t move her eyes from it. “Yeah. Jennifer. She pretty much laid claim to you.”
His eyes widened. “Are you serious? She’s crazy. I’ve only known her like two days. Oh man, I’m sorry. I’m sure that wasn’t fun. I’ll talk to her later.”
Hekate grinned to herself before looking up. “Don’t worry about it. I can handle myself. Besides, I’ve only known you for two days too.”
With his hot chocolate pressed to his mouth, Hekate could see the smile curve around the edge. “Oh, I’m sure you can. Of that, I have no doubt. Still, I should talk to her so she’ll stop whatever rumors she’s telling. I have my eye on someone else. I’d hate to get a reputation already.”
The blood rushed to her face as she took him his words. “And who would that be?”
His eyes diverted to the side before he met her eyes again. “I thought it was obvious. The talented gymnast sitting in front of me, of course.”
The butterflies that had turned to acid earlier in the day had returned. They fluttered furiously, forcing her blood to pump furiously to her face. Her hands began to sweat against her hot cup. His continued blunt behavior continued to take her off guard. She liked it.
Her hesitation made him nervous. “Is that a no?”
She jerked her head up, causing her leg to hit the table, nearly knocking the drinks over. “No! I mean, that’s not what I meant. I was just surprised.”
“I’m not pushing you into anything. Just think about it,” he said, this time confidently.
Hekate’s hand began to reach for the brand again, but she paused before letting her hand fall again. It wasn’t burning. But the anxiety she was feeling let her wanting to touch it for comfort. That fact alone frightened her. She didn’t want the brand that was supposed to kill her, comfort her.