Considering Hekate and Marcia hadn’t had their powers for very long, the fact that two days went by with no issue made them nervous. Although Marcia wanted to take time to practice with her new powers, Erik continually monopolized her time. Whereas Caleb and Hekate continued their flirtatious dance.
By the time it was Friday, Hekate was already beginning to feel anxious. She wasn’t sure if it was from the anxiety of awaiting the next attack, or the next time she would see Caleb. Either way, Marcia was having fun teasing her over lunch.
“If you’re looking for your boyfriend, he had to leave early,” Marcia said as she sat down next to Hekate in the lunchroom.
Erik moved to sit across from them. “He got sick during class, so they sent him home.”
Marcia leaned into her arm. “Looks like you’ll have to be our third wheel again.”
“He’s too sick to go to the club tonight?” she asked, immediately regretting the question.
“I think puking your brains out counts as too sick. I could text him to ask,” Erik said with a slick smile.
Even though it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of her shoulders, Hekate was still feeling disappointed. Anxiety or not, she still wanted to hang out with him tonight. Her hand reached up to touch the brand on her chest as it continually ached. Her fingers traced the brand even though her black polo shirt blocked it from her touch. They still followed the lines of the brand, searching for comfort.
Marcia was quick notice and reached to grab her hand. She held it to her own chest and grinned. “Don’t worry, we won’t be gross. And you won’t feel like a third wheel. I promise!” She pulled Hekate’s hand to her lips to kiss her knuckles before looking up to smile.
Hekate quickly glanced at her hand before turning towards Erik, laughing. “You had better not be gross. I don’t want to have to ditch you guys again.”
“I’ll do my best,” he chuckled, winking at Marcia.
Though school and Caleb were nice distractions, it was never enough. Hekate was able to fake normal while in front of the other students, but the moment she was alone or only with Marcia, her expression would fall. Not only had something made her snap at Diana, but she had even snapped at Moro in the same way the night before.
She didn’t tell Marcia. Neither did Moro. They both agreed to only tell her if it was beginning to become a problem or she couldn’t be brought out of it. The nightmares were helping either. Every night, she’d watch as her arm dropped, sword in hand, to decapitate someone different. The faces ranged from people she knew, to herself again and Marcia. But only with the two of them did wings erupt from the body as it slumped to the ground. If it was a normal human, they simply fell. And each time the same words were whispered into her ear.
“Death is a gift,” she murmured.
After school, Hekate received a text from Caleb, apologizing for not being able to go on their date tonight. She told him to feel better and that it was all right. But once again, her hand reached for the brand.
“Sorry,” she whispered before letting her hand drop.*
On the refrigerator was a note from her mother telling her she would be late getting home from work. However, she still expected Hekate to be home before one in the morning. Hekate placed the note back onto the counter before climbing the stairs to her bedroom.
Although she had intended to go all out tonight, the idea gave her a headache. Caleb wasn’t there, so there was no point in dressing up like she planned. Instead, she reached for something comfortable. She pulled out a plain white t-shirt and threw a worn gray leather jacket over it with a pair of jeans. To make sure she didn’t annoy Marcia too much, she spent some time making sure her hair was free of crimps and frizz with the hair straightener.
I would suggest wearing your black combat boots.
“Why?” she asked.
Just in case. It’s been too quiet. I don’t trust it. And neither does my brother.
Hekate grinned. “How is your brother handling Marcia?”
He has to put himself into a dormant mode far more than I do. But to be fair, he is trying to respect her privacy.
“And you don’t respect mine?” she asked sarcastically.
Hekate could practically feel the eye roll. It isn’t necessary. Not as much as it is with Marcia. Especially when she is with that boy, Erik.
“Gee, thanks,” Hekate murmured.
Don’t worry. When you are with Caleb or wish to speak with him, I try and make my consciousness scarce. But I cannot leave you completely undefended. Especially, not now.
Moro was right. With Hekate randomly becoming hostile from the brand, it wasn’t safe for anyone. She would rather have Moro take over than risk someone getting hurt. Whether it be from her hands or words.
Hekate teeth pressed into her lip as she bit down, another question rising to the surface.
“Is it possible for me to use my wings to travel long distances?” Hekate asked.
For a moment, there was only silence. Once a few seconds had passed, Moro materialized next to her. “Why would you ask that?”
Hekate bent down to sit on the floor while she slid her boots on. “Well, I have wings. You would think they would be good for travel. I think it could be cool. And most cost efficient. My car is low on gas.”
Moro’s eyes narrowed. “How would you hide yourself from other humans seeing you?”
She shrugged. “Fly high enough, no one can see me? In the clouds or something? And only at night?”
Sensing she was going to do it anyway, Moro sighed in defeat. “Very well. But you must be very aware of your surroundings and must not be seen. It will not only make you vulnerable to other humans but demons as well. They’ll be able to sense you from a wider range.”
Hekate grinned. She quickly pulled her jacket off and turned around. “Can you pull the back of my shirt down? I’d rather not keep destroying all of my clothes.”
She felt a cold nose touch her spine as Moro pulled the t-shirt down with her teeth. Praying it would be less painful than the last few times, Hekate closed and eyes and focused. Her wish wasn’t granted. As the bones began to grow and split through the skin and muscles, she tried to focus and make sure they wouldn’t hit Moro in the face when they had fully grown.
The moment they fully emerged, she felt Moro take a step back, releasing the shirt. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Hekate turned. The collar of her shirt was against her throat as her wings pressed the back of it down. “Yes. I think it will do me some good. Help me clear my head.”
Moro began to dissipate. “Very well.”
Leaving her room, Hekate barreled down the stairs and ran for the back door, nearly knocking pictures off the wall from the brush of her wings. As she stepped onto her back porch, she took a deep breath to take in the night air. Glancing towards her neighbors, there were no lights on, indicating they weren’t home yet.
For the first time, Hekate stretched her wings, feeling the stiff, new muscles pull across her shoulder blades. A light breeze fluttered through the feathers. It felt really good. She could feel the wind through each one, despite the red veins that pulsate like blood. Before, they were only a color, tainted the gray of the feathers and dust. But now, it was like raw veins going through each of the feathers. Even when the breeze hit those, it still felt good.
She reached back to pull her hair back, tying it into a tall ponytail. Taking a deep breath, she started to run. The moment she leaped from her porch, her wings spread out and began to pick up air beneath them, slowly lifting her.
As her wings beat down, she could feel each feather individually again as they moved through the strong wind. In one hard flap, she soared up, shooting for the clouds. When she reached the high altitude, she began to laugh. She felt free. Free from life and all of its anxieties. Free from her fate. It was the first and probably the only time she would ever feel this way. Only in the clouds could she truly breathe.
Hovering above them, her breath hitched as the sight of the stars. Raw. And unfiltered by the false light of the city below. There were so many, she couldn’t even begin to start counting.
You enjoy this.
“Yes,” Hekate sighed.
You mustn’t let your guard down.
“I know,” she said, annoyed Moro almost ruined her mood.
Although she was enjoying this new found feeling, she dipped a little lower in the clouds to see where she was. The brand on her chest continued to hum with heat and she could sense something every now and then, but nothing too close. There was evidence of demons all over the city, but most of it was faint. She couldn’t see their essence as strongly as she did the day in the park.
As she approached The Crescent, she began to descend. Her eyes scanned the parking lot for any sign of human activity. The small grouping of trees beside the lot appeared deserted. Her wings pulled in tight as she dived towards the ground. It was at that moment she was grateful her wings were tainted. They blended with the darkness of the night within the trees. If Marcia had been with her, those wings would have been a beacon.
When her feet hit the ground, her entire body crouched down, allowing her wings to stretch one last time. Taking a deep breath, she focused on hiding them again. The appendages disappeared first before she felt her muscles shift back into place, allowing the new ones to simply disappear. It wasn’t as painful as making them appear, but it still ached.
You chose a good place to land.
“Thankfully, not many people wander into the woods late at night,” she chuckled.
Standing, she pulled her jacket straight onto her back before walking towards the club. The music was blaring as the line by the door was already dancing. Through the crowd, she could see Marcia standing next to Erik in the middle of the line. Without any reason to, Marcia quickly turned to see Hekate approaching. She quickly jumped, waving her arm in the air, making sure Hekate saw her.
“How did she know I was here?” Hekate said when she raised her arm to reflect Marcia’s.
My brother informed her we were close. He could sense me approaching.
“That’s convenient,” she said before grinning at Marcia and Erik.
Marcia grabbed her arm and pulled her forward. “She’s with us! She’s just late!”
The teens behind them groaned but made no effort challenge her. Marcia wrapped her arm around Hekate’s before frowning. She reached around behind her to pull the hair bound out, letting Hekate’s hair fall. “I want to complain about your outfit, but since your boy isn’t coming, I guess I can let it pass.”
Hekate’s arm stiffened against Marcia’s as she remembered her previous anxieties. “Unlike you, I don’t have club ready clothes. I’d rather be ready for anything,” she said, pointing down to her shoes. She was hoping Marcia would read between the lines.
It was only a moment. Not even long enough for Erik to feel the shift in the air, but Marcia’s face darkened before she nodded. Her head leaned back to laugh, the dark mood completely gone. “I guess we can’t all be ready. I couldn’t resist wearing something cute.”
She was right. Her outfit was cute. In a simple green dress with some sandals, she looked beautiful. The color complimented not only her skin but her black curly hair as well. There were even hints of glitter over her chest and arms. Not to mention some beside her eyes. She was radiant. And Hekate felt like a frump.
Erik lightly elbowed her arm. “You look great! Don’t worry about it!”
The bass of the music vibrated through her bones as she shook her hair out, waiting to get inside. Hekate held her hand out for the bouncer to mark it with a large black X before letting her inside. Teens flooded into the room, dancing to the booming music with no care in the world. Above, the strobe lights flashed, giving Hekate a moment of nausea as she followed Marcia to the bar.
Marcia grabbed Erik’s hand to pull him towards the dance floor, giving Hekate quick wink. As they went off to dance, Hekate chose to sit at the bar and take in the room. Although she wanted to enjoy the night and dance with her friends, Moro’s words from before still sat at the forefront of her mind.
They hadn’t been attacked in a few days. That alone left them uneasy, just waiting for the next assault. Not only that, but the brand on her chest was continually humming with heat, reminding her of her fate. It was so deep into her skin, that the scythe they had seen before was slowly beginning to become distorted. She couldn’t tell what it was anymore. Just a nasty scar she didn’t want to have to explain.
Another wave of nausea hit Hekate as she looked up, glaring at the lights. As she closed her eyes to try and suppress the feeling, the room suddenly became silent. When she blinked, she realized the club was now empty. The crowded room that had been filled with her classmates and friends were gone. Everything was silent and empty.
In the back of the room, the shadows began to shift, slowing forming into the body of a woman. Her jeans were ripped along the thighs, with a tight red tank top tucked into them. She flicked her long blonde hair from her face before grinning. Her smile felt venomous as she lifted her finger to encourage Hekate to join her. She felt her feet hit the ground in a slow fall from the bar stool.
But before she could take one step forward, everything reappeared in a blink. The crowd, the lights, and the noise were all back as if nothing had occurred. Her feet felt frozen to the ground as she evaluated the crowd again, searching for the woman. She didn’t even realize Branden and Marcus had been standing next to her.
“Hekate! Did you even hear me?”
She blinked and shook her head before turning. “No, I’m sorry. What did you say?”
Branden rolled his eyes, annoyed. “I asked if you wanted to dance? Marcia has been waving at you, trying to get you onto the floor!”
Hekate’s eyes scanned the crowd again, finding Marcia waving her arm towards her. “No, but I do need to talk to her. Sorry, Branden!”
“No problem,” he shrugged, turning back to Marcus.
What happened to you? We were disconnected for a split second.
Without answering Moro, Hekate quickly made her way through the crowd of people to grab Marcia’s arm. She pulled her close so her words couldn’t be overheard by Erik. “We need to talk. Now.”
Marcia’s expression quickly dropped before she nodded. She turned to Erik and whispered into his ear. He only smiled and nodded as he released her hips. Hekate grabbed her hand and led her out the side doors of the building, where the smokers usually gathered before returning to the party.
“Something happened,” she started.
Marcia eyed the few people surrounding the door, along with another bouncer before pulling Hekate farther away. “What is it?”
Hekate began to shake her head as she attempted to explain. “I’m not sure. One minute everyone was in there dancing, and the next they were all gone. You were gone. Moro, too. Even the music had stopped. And then this woman suddenly appeared. It looked like she was beckoning me or something.”
I’ve never heard of such a thing. One minute you were there, the next you weren’t.
Marcia bit her bottom lip as she listened. “Did she look familiar to you?”
“No, I don’t think so,” she said, shaking her head.
Suddenly, Marcia’s body stiffened. “Something’s here.”
“What?” Hekate asked as she scanned the small crowd outside for the woman again.
Marcia’s expression suddenly twisted into anger. “I think it’s inside. Come on!”
Hekate followed as the made their way back into the chaos. She followed Marcia as she scanned through the crowd for the demon. The strange part was, Hekate couldn’t feel it. She couldn’t sense whatever it was that Marcia was sensing. It frightened her.
In the shadows of the room.
Hekate closed her eyes and attempted to pull energy from Moro to see what she was seeing. Her body broke out into a sweat as the brand on her chest became to light up in a searing pain. Peering to the side, Erik was standing in the back, but he wasn’t alone. He was leaning over a woman who was shorter than him. Someone Hekate instantly recognized. It was the blonde woman from earlier.
“Oh hell no,” Marcia yelled.
Quickly grasping Hekate’s hand, she pulled her towards the corner to confront them. As they approached, Hekate could suddenly feel the intensity of this demon’s power. Before Marcia could pull the woman’s hair, Hekate jerked her back.
“Hey!” Hekate yelled.
Erik didn’t move his lips from hers. But she did. As she leaned back, Erik just stood there, as if in a daze. The woman grinned as she turned to see us. “It took you long enough.”
Before anyone could react, Marcia jerked from Hekate’s grip and lunged forward. Her hand was balled into a fist as if to punch her. But the second before making contact, her hand opened with a golden light that burned into the woman’s face, while the other hand covered her mouth. It was a smart move. No one could hear the demon’s screams or see the power Marcia had just released.
The woman’s eyes were filled with rage as she glared, wide-eyed at Marcia. Her arm reached to remove the hand on her mouth. When she moved, Marcia jerked back, revealing a large burn on the woman’s face. It looked as though someone had placed a soldering iron on her cheek.
“That’s cheating, Moro. You can’t bring your brother in on this fight. But this makes it better for me. Now I’ll have two souls to collect!” she screamed.
In a flash, the woman jerked forward to grab onto Marcia’s chest. Before she could, Hekate’s body moved on its own. She pushed Marcia back and stood between them. The moment the woman’s hand touched her chest, Hekate could feel the brand light on fire. She gasped at the searing pain as her shirt began to smolder away, leaving her chest revealed.
Quickly jerking her hand back, the woman screeched in frustration before backing into the shadows to disappear. Hekate fell to her knees, partially in shock and partially in pain. Above her, Erik shook his head, releasing him from the daze he had been in.
Marcia quickly moved to crouch in front of Hekate. “What did you just do?”
She could hear Erik suddenly leaning down with her. “What happened? Is she okay?”
Tears had begun to fall down Hekate’s cheeks as the brand burned. She could smell the burning flesh as the smoldering flames began to dissipate. As fast as she could, Hekate pushed past Marcia and anyone else who would get in her way so she could be outside again.
She burst through the door, immediately running towards the forest behind the parking lot. She didn’t even hesitate to rip her jacket off before her wings burst from her back. The pain rippled through her body, but she kept running. She ran until she had enough momentum to leap into the air and shoot towards the clouds.
Her body shot through the sky at a speed she didn’t think possible, only slowing when the air was beginning to thin. Leaning her head back, she took a few deep breaths before allowing her hand to release the brand. She hovered, attempting to catch her breath as she watched the clouds break apart from the force of her wings. She was so focused on the pain, she didn’t realize Marcia had followed her.
“What the hell did you do?” Marcia screamed.
Beating her wings, Hekate turned awkwardly to see Marcia hovering behind her. The golden wings reflected the moonlight as they flapped to keep her aloft. Her sandals were now gone, as she had ditched them to run after her friend.
“I probably made it worse,” Hekate said through a dry laugh.
Marcia moved to hover closer. “Your shirt was on fire. That thing lit you on fire.”
As she hovered closer to get a better look, her eyes widened. “Oh, God.”
“What?” Hekate asked.
Carefully, she tugged the shirt to down from the collar to get a better look. “The brand is different and extremely deep.”
We have a problem.
“You think?” Hekate asked, sarcastically.
Marcia grabbed Hekate’s chin to force her to meet her eyes. “This is serious. Muninn is freaking out right now. And I can bet Moro is doing the same if you feel her.”
She had been so focused on getting away from the pain, Hekate hadn’t even considered what Moro was sensing. Now, as she concentrated, she could feel the dread that was spreading from Moro to herself.
“What’s happening?” she asked through a gulp.
Moro suddenly began to materialize beside them, though not fully. Her body was still translucent as it hovered next to them. “That wasn’t a demon. That was the Horseman, and he never meant to touch you again.”
“He wanted me,” Marcia scowled.
“I think he meant to entice Hekate into another fight, but when you showed up, his plans changed. He wanted your soul as well. But when he touched Hekate, he revealed who he truly was,” Moro explained, her voice growing darker.
Muninn suddenly materialized, perched on Moro’s back. His voice was angry when he spoke. “Everything has changed.”
Hekate felt rage take over all of a sudden as her wings flapped hard, pulling her back. “Nothing has changed! I’m still going to kill him, and all of his demons. All of them!”
Marcia grabbed her leg and pulled her down to eye level again. “Hekate! Calm down!”
Suddenly, Hekate felt nothing but anger. With no control, Hekate’s arm pulled back before thrusting forward to punch Marcia in the face. But Marcia was quicker. She flapped backwards, avoiding the punch. Her wings were not so lucky. The punch Hekate had attempted was fueled with her power. The silver light flew from her fist, landing on Marcia’s wing, causing her to cry out in pain.
The cry snapped Hekate back to reality. The rage that had been there a moment ago was now gone and replaced with panic. Marcia’s left wing was now stained with blood that traced along the edges of her golden feathers. Before she could fall, Muninn vanished. The moment he disappeared, her wings suddenly began to heal but retained the red taint of her own blood. They quickly began to flap again, keeping her aloft.
Hekate’s hand covered her mouth as she hovered back. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I don’t – I don’t know what happened. I can’t – ”
“You’re under the influence of the Horseman. You carry his brand and therefore his influence,” Moro explained calmly.
Marcia took a few deep breaths before looking at Hekate again. “What kind of influence would do something like that?”
They both shifted their gaze towards Moro. She merely shook her head. “I knew this was strange from the moment you were branded. That’s not Death’s method. Nor these bursts of rage.”
“Then what is it?” Hekate demanded.
Moro sighed before allowing her head to drop. “Death wasn’t the Horseman who escaped. It was War.”
Hekate looked down at her chest, trying to take in what Moro was saying. It had stopped smoldering. But the scythe that had been there before was now gone. It was now replaced with the image of a sword. A sword that was dripping blood.