Marcia’s car was sitting in the driveway when Hekate pulled up beside her in the rain. It hadn’t let up the entire time she had been with Caleb, let alone the drive home. She collected her bags before running into the house. Inside, she found Marcia at the kitchen counter and her mother standing on the other side. Both of them were eating something from bowls. Hekate could smell chili.
“Hey. Sorry, I’m late,” Hekate apologized to both of them.
Her mother looked up from her bowl first. “You are late. Don’t forget it’s a school night. You’ve both usually been good in the past, but I don’t want you guys staying up too late.”
Marcia leaned back to glance at Hekate before scooping another bite up into her mouth. She tried to speak through the food. “We’re just going to catch up on some homework and watch some YouTube videos. Nothing too exciting.”
Hekate threw her bag onto the living room couch before returning to take a seat next to Marcia. There was already a bowl of hot chili waiting for her. She didn’t realize how hungry she was until she took the first bite, burning her tongue for a second time that night.
“Thanks, Mom. This is delicious,” Hekate said through a mouthful.
Marcia suddenly leaned into her, tilting her head onto Hekate’s shoulder. “So. Are you going to tell me how your date was, or not? Since one of us got to even go on a date?”
Her mother nearly choked on the sip of water she had just taken. “Excuse me? A date? My daughter went on a date? This must be some kind of mistake!”
I’ll admit, even I was surprised.
“Shut up,” Hekate grumbled before biting into her food again. The last thing she wanted was the third degree on how the coffee date had gone. Especially after Jennifer had tried to start something with her at their gymnastics practice.
Marcia wasn’t going to let it drop. “Si! Your daughter went on a date! She’s growing up, I’m so proud. Tell me! How did it go?”
“We just had coffee. That’s it. We talked for a bit, hung out, then I came home. End of story,” Hekate said, attempting to let the subject drop again.
Leaping from her chair, Marcia walked over to the kitchen sink to drop her empty bowl. “You’re not getting off that easy.”
Thankfully, her mother took pity on her cornered daughter. “Come on, Marcia. Give her a break. She’ll tell us when she’s ready,” leaning closer to Marcia, she whispered, “She better.”
Annoyed by the topic, Hekate devoured the rest of her dinner as fast as she could so she could escape. “We have work to do. Come on.”
“Don’t stay up too late,” her mother reminded them.
“Yes, ma’am!” Hekate exclaimed.
Marcia was right behind her when she ran upstairs to her bedroom. Although Hekate’s goal was to focus on the mission for the night, Marcia wasn’t going to let it go. “Seriously, what happened?”
“Seriously, do you want your powers or not?” Hekate retorted.
The topic of powers shut Marcia up right away. Instead of pressing the issue further, she fell onto her bed in defeat. “What exactly is going to happen?”
Throwing her leotard into her hamper, Hekate slipped into a large t-shirt and sweatpants as Moro materialized beside Marcia. “I’m not even sure.”
Marcia absentmindedly began to scratch Moro behind the ear. “Any idea, wolf?”
Moro glanced down at her. “I’m not allowed to mention it until we are there. It has to come from Diana.”
She groaned, sitting up. “Can I borrow some clothes? I didn’t bring a bag.”
Hekate pointed to her dresser. “I’m surprised you’re even asking.” As Marcia began to change into another pair of sweatpants and a tank top, Hekate realized something. “Nothing strange has happened since you were last there?”
“You mean besides all the attacks on you? No, not really,” Marcia said casually.
Moro was uncharacteristically silent during their discussion of powers. When Hekate was given her abilities, she was attacked on day one. She wondered if Moro had sent something to watch Marcia the same way she was watched her entire life.
“It’s possible they aren’t aware of her yet. She still has to receive her blessing from Diana,” Moro said reassuringly as she jumped down from the bed.
She stared at the wolf, now sitting beside her legs. Moro was staring back at her. That could have been the reason, but it didn’t seem enough. The demons had made a point to go after her the second she returned from the door. Marcia was still untouched. She may not have received her full power then, but their souls were connected, regardless. And yet, the demons still did nothing.
“Probably,” she said, though she didn’t believe her words. Her hand reached to touch the brand again. It had imprinted itself so deeply into her skin, it felt as though it was being distorted, changing shape. Her fingers traced the imprint through her t-shirt. Moro noticed but chose not to comment.
Marcia was getting uncomfortable with the ominous silence. Wanting to break it, she ran up behind Hekate and wrapped up arms around her waist before lifting her into the air. “Come on! Let’s get me some wings!”
“Very well. Both of you, take hold of me and we’ll go,” Moro said as she stood.
Once Hekate was freed, she crouched down beside Marcia. They both placed a hand on Moro’s neck. Her fur was soft, almost inviting. The blood from the night before now gone, leaving no trace. It gave them both the same calming effect Hekate had felt while beside the doors and Selene.
There was no slow build. There was no shift in energy. One minute, they were in Hekate’s room and the next, they were in a forest. In front of them was another large gateway, however, this one was far more beautiful than the last. With intricate designs layered in gold along the wooden door, it felt inviting. Peaceful.
A woman stood before them. She was beautiful. Dressed in a linen fabric, it draped across her chest, pinned at the shoulders. She did not wear the armor Selene wore. Instead, her linen dress hung loosely over her body. Her brunette hair pinned back with intricate braids, leaving only a few strands to fall on her forehead. She was breathtaking in her grace.
The golden almond shaped eyes stared back at them. Her eyes were sharp, not matching the kindness behind her smile. Hekate suddenly felt extremely under dressed. She could feel the woman evaluating them. “Welcome to Eden.”
Moro stepped forward, forcing them to release her fur. “Good evening Diana. I hope all is well up here.”
“It usually is,” Her voice was like chimes in the wind as she spoke.
They stood to greet Diana, but the moment Hekate moved to speak, her chest began to burn furiously. Her knees buckled under the pressure as her hand reached to grab hold of the brand as if to pull it off and end the pain. She leaned over her knees, holding her breath as she refused to cry out.
“Don’t touch her,” Diana said. When she spoke this time, her voice was like ice.
Marcia didn’t seem to care either way. “What are you talking about?” She reached over to grab Hekate’s shoulders, attempting to unfold her.
Ignoring the girl, Diana looked at Moro. “Why would you bring someone who has been branded here? She cannot be here. The tainted cannot be anywhere near the Gates.”
Moro didn’t have a chance to respond. Marcia was quicker to her words. “Isn’t that the point of us bringing her here? If you can’t fix her, then I will find a way to do it! Give me my powers and we’ll leave!”
Diana raised an eyebrow. “Very demanding for a human.”
“Shut up!” Hekate growled.
Everyone froze to look at her again. Moro slowly approached Hekate, nudging her with her nose. “I can’t feel you again.”
Hekate jerked her head up, her black glare causing Moro to take a step back. “You angelic creatures think you have everything figured out. Think your grace allows you to belittle everything else. But you seem to forget, while on your pedestals, that everything dies. Even you. There will be blood. Human and angel alike. And it will be my gift to you.”
Before anyone could react, Marcia jerked Hekate’s shoulders before raising her fist. “Be quiet!” Her fist met Hekate’s face so hard, her hands started to bleed. Hekate’s nose cracked under the pressure, blood covering her face.
“This is the girl you want me to give my power to?”
Marcia shook her hand. The punch felt as though she had broken it, but it was possible it was only severely bruised. “This is why I need the power. We have to find a way to take that thing off of her. It’s changing her, and I don’t like it.”
Moro nodded and moved to stand next to Marcia as Hekate laid unconscious behind them. “I’ve spoken to her without Hekate’s knowledge on occasion. She knows that the brand is changing her friend. She has me to help her, but she needs more. Maybe her friend, and maybe my other half.”
“Your other half?” Marcia asked, still shaking her hand.
“Yes. Technically we are in a few mythologies as different things from each time we visited your plane over the centuries. This isn’t even my true form. I merely chose it to best fit Hekate’s soul,” she said before looking back at Diana, “If you lend us Muninn, it could prove useful. Especially with his talent,” Moro explained.
A memory flicked across Marcia’s eyes. “Why do I know that name?”
Diana raised her hand into the air. “It was the name he was given from centuries ago. He hasn’t been around humans since then, unlike Moro. Moro has changed her names a few times.” She shifted her focus back to Moro. “He has been observing the girl since the first time you were here. He will need to agree. I cannot force him to do anything.”
Hekate slowly began to stir behind them. No one noticed at first, but when she spit the blood from her mouth, all three of them flinched. Marcia raised her fist. “Do I need to punch you again?”
As she sat up, Hekate wasn’t sure why she was bleeding at first. But after a moment, her memory of the venom laced words returned to her. She wasn’t sure what possessed her to even say them. She wish she could have just said something had taken over. But the truth was, whatever it was, revealed her darkest thoughts. Not necessarily the threat itself, but the aggravation of angels acting holier than them. It was a darkness she had tried hard to hide from even Moro.
Hekate shook her head. “No. I’m not sure what that was. I’m sorry.”
As she began to stand, a scratching noise began behind the Gate. Hekate was confused at first, as she could see through the bars, opening up to another large forest. But something on the other side had begun to peck and scratch it’s way through. Suddenly, the Gates opened, but only a fraction. From behind, something white flew through the crack before slamming shut, sealing the Gates again.
It was only for a split second, but Hekate knew she saw something. Through the crack, there was a brilliant light, one that hurt her eyes. There was a tree in the distance, far behind the entryway. Before she could get a better look at it, the Gates had shut. She cursed internally for not getting a better look. Moro eyed her carefully, but did not comment.
The white raven circled above before landing on Diana’s arm. She held her arm to the side as she began to stroke the raven’s chest with the other. “Hello, old friend.”
“Why have you summoned me?” he asked. The voice was deep and older. The same as Moro, his mouth did not move when he spoke, but you knew where the voice was coming from, regardless.
“Hello, brother,” Moro said.
The raven turned to look down at the wolf. “Sister.”
“It looks like Selene’s fight has bled even here. They’re requesting our assistance. More than before,” Diana explained.
Marcia stepped forward. “I need to be able to fight with them. And maybe even find a cure for Hekate.”
Muninn flew towards Hekate, stopping only to hover in front of her. “You’ve been branded. There is nothing that can be done. You will die. Your soul will be taken.”
“There is something we can do,” Hekate calmly said.
“And what is that?” Diana asked voice laced with curiosity.
Hekate jerked her head up in defiance. “We kill Death.”
Muninn jerked backward. “Impossible. Death cannot be killed. Not until the second death has occurred. Why are you talking about killing Death?”
Diana shifted her weight to her back leg as her arms crossed over her chest. “Isn’t he the Horseman that escaped?”
Moro nodded. “Yes,” her head tilted back towards Hekate, “He’s right. You can’t kill Death. All we can hope to do is reseal him.”
“Everything can die, one way or another. We just have to find a way to do it,” Hekate snapped.
Tired of the back and forth, Marcia interrupted them. “We need to focus on right now. We can’t stay here forever, or her mother is going to find out we’re gone.”
Hekate’s words still rang in the air. But Diana nodded as she held her hand out and placed it on Marcia’s chest. “You’re right. Muninn, are you willing to help?”
The white raven stared at them before lowering his head. Before them, the raven’s form began to change. His feathers began to darken, as its body grew in size. The claws that had been delicately holding onto Diana’s arm, grew into large talons. His black eyes began to shimmer as they shifted to a golden amber, matching the markings on the door.
“Very well,” he said when he lifted his head. The white raven that was in front of them had transformed into a golden eagle. He was beautiful.
Marcia was in awe as she stared at the eagle. She lifted her hand to touch his feathers before suddenly jerking her head back. “I’m sorry. You didn’t have to change yourself for this.”
The eagle shook it’s head vigorously from side to side. “By changing form to one desired by the human soul, it allows the merging process to occur naturally. It is why my sister, Huginn, chose that body. Though, I assume now you are to be called Moro.”
The wolf nodded. “Yes.”
A golden light, brighter than the sun engulfed them as Diana’s hand pressed harder onto Marcia’s chest. Muninn flew into the air before diving towards her. Right as he would have hit her, he vanished. Marcia screamed as Diana’s hand continued to hold her there.
Hekate had to hold her hands up to block out the blinding light. On instinct, her wings ripped through her skin and shirt to help defend against the light, ripping her t-shirt. As it guarded her sight, she could see the feathers were darker now. They were still gray with hints of red, but the gray was slowly darkening. Lifting a finger from her face, she reached to touch them. They weren’t as soft as they originally had been. They were rough as if blood had dried on them again.
Marcia’s screams grew louder as she fell to the ground. For the first time, she felt the pain that Hekate felt each time she summoned them. Her muscles began to tear and crack, allowing for the new bone growth before ripping through the skin. Even though the broken muscles quickly repaired themselves along the new bones, it didn’t take away from the ache they brought. Useful to have, but always a painful reminder that they were human, not angel.
When the light around them began to dim and the screaming dissipated, Hekate lowered her wings. Marcia was on her knees, gasping for air with her hand on her chest. The wings behind her were spread out and flapped every few seconds. They were softer than Hekate’s and bathed in a light golden tint. They were beautiful.
“It is done,” Diana said, taking a step back.
“Thank you,” Marcia said through the gasps of air. She moved to stand, her entire body still shaking. Hekate quickly stood to help her friend stand.
Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, Marcia was gone. Hekate began to panic until she realized Diana was staring at her. She straightened her back, sensing hostility from the angel standing before her.
“What?” she asked, in a harsh tone.
Diana took a step forward before placing her hand on Hekate’s chest. “Death isn’t just any Horseman. If it was really him who branded you, then there is nothing that can be done. However, if it was someone else, then you might have a chance. You just need the will to fight.”
“I will always fight,” Hekate declared. Her voice wasn’t as sure as she intended it to be. Diana’s words were causing her to think back to every encounter she had with Death. He had practically declared himself to her, as did the brand. If it wasn’t him, then which Horseman was it?
Moro moved to stand next to Hekate. “She will. Her soul is stronger than any other we’ve used in the past. Even after absorbing tainted power, she still stands.”
Diana nodded. “Yes. She does. But that doesn’t mean her soul isn’t altered by what she has done. She will have to live with the consequences, no matter how long that might be.”
Hekate took a step forward. “I accept them. And I will still fight.”
Diana grinned before stepping back. “Of that, I have no doubt.”
And then, she was gone.