It was an hour before the police and paramedics allowed her to leave. Moro had left a few scrapes and cuts unhealed to explain the blood on her face and shirt, but the paramedics were still insistent something else had to be wrong to have this much blood on her clothes.
They also said the woman who was driving the car that had hit me was dead. From what they could determine, it looked as though she had a heart attack while driving, and that’s why she hit me. They also wondered if she had hit someone else, as there were large dents on the back of the car.
Hekate made no effort to change their mind. The last thing she wanted to tell them was that her body was what caused those dents. She merely nodded and went along with getting a tow truck to take her car away. It was totaled, which meant she would need to either bother Marcia for a ride everywhere or use her wings to take her places.
My mother practically lost it when she saw the police car driving into the driveway with Hekate in the back seat. It took a few minutes for her to calm down after the cop told her Hekate had been in a terrible accident. The blood all over her clothes did not help. Thankfully, she calmed down once Hekate assured her she was checked out by the paramedics.
When they left, her mother grabbed her by the shoulders. “Are you sure you’re okay? Really?”
Hekate nodded firmly. “It’s just some scrapes and bruises. My car took the majority of the damage, I promise.”
Glancing down at Hekate’s torn shirt, she pointed at the brand. “What is that? Is that from the car accident?”
Reaching her hand to cover it, Hekate blocked the brand from her mother’s view. “I think so. I pulled a jagged piece of glass out. The paramedic said I would be okay.”
That was a quick lie. Impressive.
She reached to move Hekate’s hand, taking a closer look. “Are you sure? It looks really deep. You might need stitches.”
“It’s fine,” Hekate suddenly yelled, her eyes unmoving.
Her mother jolted backward, shocked at her daughter’s yelling. She took her hands off Hekate’s shoulders. “Do not yell at me, young lady. You could have died tonight. I have a right to take care of you.”
Shaking her head, Hekate pulled herself together. The last thing she wanted was her personality flip to affect her own mother. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I think I’m just a little overwhelmed.”
She nodded. “I understand that but watch your tone. Go upstairs and shower. I’ll throw away your tattered clothes. How were they so badly torn?”
Hekate felt her mother picking at the pieces on her back that had been destroyed from her wings. “I’m not sure. Might have been from when I tried to crawl out of the car.”
“Well,” she said, “Let’s pray this is a once in a lifetime kind of thing. Go shower and get some sleep.”
It wasn’t until after Hekate showered and washed all of the dried blood off did Moro appear. Hekate walked into her room to find Moro lying across her bed, licking the wounds she had sustained during the fight with the stranger in the swamp.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
Moro took a moment to finish licking her back paw before looking up. “Yes. Are you?”
Hekate nodded, nearly knocking the towel off her head. “Are you going to tell me what that was all about?”
“It’s rather complicated and a story that is centuries old,” Moro started.
Hekate moved to sit in her computer chair, still squeezing the water from her hair. “We’re past the being evasive part. I’m listening.”
As Moro was about to begin, she paused and perked her ears forward. “You have a guest.”
“What -” Before she could even ask, someone was knocking at her window, causing her to jump.
Marcia hovered at her window and waved, pointing at the latch to be let in. Hekate rolled her eyes and moved to open the window. “I would have told you tomorrow, you know.”
Marcia practically leaped into the room and gave her friend a fierce hug as her wings retracted. “Do you have any idea how freaked out I was when Muninn told me what was happening? By the time we got there, the cops were everywhere. We hovered over the trees to make sure you weren’t still here before flying here.”
Peeling out of her arms, Hekate quietly walked out of the room to grab another towel for Marcia. She was still dripping wet from the rain earlier in the evening. The flight to Hekate’s house hadn’t dried her out completely.
“I’m fine, practically healed already. But Moro was about to explain what the hell that was. I assume Muninn knows what it was all about too.”
As if to respond to her accusation, Muninn appeared, perched on Moro’s back. “Unfortunately, I do know what that was about. I was hoping this would be avoided.”
Marcia took the towel and began to dry her hair. “How would this have been avoided?”
“Moro should have kept a barrier around Hekate to keep her hidden from them, the same as I do for you.” Muninn’s voice was dark as he glared at his sister.
Moro snapped her jaws at her brother, causing him to hop to her tail. “You try putting a barrier around her. It’s practically impossible with that brand. We keep getting disconnected. We’re running out of time.”
Hekate held her hand in the air to silence everyone. “Stop it. Just tell us what the hell is going on.”
Moro growled at her brother a moment longer before finally turning to meet Hekate’s eyes again. “My brother and I weren’t always guardians. Before, we served others. Those who were able to attain a god-hood among the humans centuries ago.”
Marcia’s head cocked sideways as she tried to absorb this information. “You’re telling me that was possible?”
Muninn shrugged or shrugged as best as a golden eagle could. “Anything is possible. And technically, it is still possible. But the secrets to attaining such a state has been lost over the centuries. We made certain of that. The chaos that was wrought all over the world was not worth it. What you see now in books and legends are all falsehoods created to hide the truth.”
Hekate could only blink as she listened. She felt a little disheartened that everything she had read growing up was a lie to cover something even bigger. “So, what you’re telling me, is that I fought an ancient god tonight?”
Moro nodded. “Yes. Our former master.”
The news caused Hekate to stand and begin to pace the room, nearly walking into Marcia. “This is ridiculous.”
“Are more going to come out of the woodwork to attack us?” Marcia asked rather forcefully.
Moro and Muninn glanced at each other before Moro chose to respond. “We’re unsure. It’s a big risk to try and steal from a Horseman, no matter which. He took a huge risk tonight by attacking and paid the price. Since Hekate was able to destroy him, it’s possible that will send a message to stay away.”
“What made them go after her in the first place?” Marcia asked.
Muninn hopped back onto Moro’s back. “Hekate is a unique soul. She has lived for many lifetimes. Not only that, but her soul has been touched by not only an angel but by a Horseman as well. That is something that hasn’t happened in centuries.”
“I’m not some prize pig,” Hekate shouted.
Marcia quickly ran over and covered her friend’s mouth with her hand. “Would you keep your voice down? After what happened tonight, I wouldn’t be surprised if your mom camped out beside your door all night to make sure you were okay.”
We waited in silence for a few minutes to make sure Marcia wasn’t right and her mother wouldn’t barge in. Thankfully, she was still watching TV downstairs and hadn’t heard Hekate’s outburst.
Muninn flew to perch on Marcia’s shoulder while Moro jumped down from the best to stand in front of Hekate. “We know that. But to them, you are. Even to War. You’re the prize because you are power. A power that is becoming a ticking time bomb. We have to find a way to either get rid of the brand or suppress its power over you. Otherwise, you’ll be gone before winter arrives. The flames were enough proof of that.”
Hekate’s hand reached to touch the leathery skin that was the brand. It was so far ingrained into her skin, it almost felt like it was about to touch bone. Her expression darkened the longer she held it.
Marcia felt the shift of energy in the room and immediately slapped Hekate’s hand away from her chest. “Stop that.”
As if broken from a trance, Hekate shook her head before running a hand through her hair. “What do we do? How can we slow it down?”
Muninn moved to sit atop Moro’s shoulders. “We need to go and talk to the Selene and Diana. They may have a suggestion.”
“Wait,” Marcia held up her hand to stop them from vanishing, “Considering what you’ve just told us, are you saying that Selene and Diana were one of those god-hood people? I mean, their names raise that question in my mind.”
Hekate’s eyes widened as she shifted her gaze between Marcia and Moro, looking for an answer.
Moro rolled her eyes in response. “Technically, yes. But they’ve proven themselves in other ways, which is why they attained their duties, now blessed by the One.”
Hekate pinched her lips as she nodded. “Fair enough.”
Before either of them could stop the wolf and eagle, they disappeared. Hekate fell back into her chair, while Marcia moved to her bed to sit. She watched Hekate as she struggled to keep her hand away from the brand. Every few seconds, a hand would lift and almost reach her chest before she realized what she was doing and would drop it.
“Are you going to be okay?” Marcia asked.
Hekate only scoffed.
Marcia’s lips pressed tightly together, unsure of what to say next. “You know, I can help you. This is why I was given my powers. To help you. Maybe it’s time we took the fight to War and force that asshole back where he came from.”
Shaking her head, Hekate only stared at the floor. “I wish it were that simple. You’ve never fought him directly before. Not really. You never know who he will possess next. And when he does come after you, it’s almost impossible to win. I’ve only survived this long because of circumstance and luck. And I didn’t escape unscathed.”
She pointed to the brand to make her point. Marcia crawled down from her bed to kneel in front of Hekate. Pulling her shirt down a little, she took a closer look at it. “It’s going to get harder to explain your outbursts if this thing gets any deeper.”
Hekate rolled her eyes. “Tell me about it.”
Neither of them were ready for what happened next. Marcia only wanted to see what the brand felt like. But she had never fully touched it with her bare hand before. When her finger touched the leathery skin, her head exploded with the sound of voices. Both pairs of wings sprang from their backs, violently jerking them both backward. Hekate slammed into her dresser, while Marcia flew back into the wall and fell onto Hekate’s bed.
Both girls grabbed their heads with eyes shut, attempted to hold it together as the voices screamed and the pressure built. Neither of them saw what was happening around them. The ashes that had been tainting Hekate’s wings began to fly around the room before landing on Marcia’s golden wings. Hekate could smell the burning sulfur as the ash floated in the air, and it felt like a weight was being lifted from her shoulders. But it wasn’t a weight she had been willing to share.
When Hekate was finally able to open her eyes, she was in horror as she realized the ash was beginning to taint Marcia’s wings. In an effort to stop it from completely transferring over, she held her hand in the air, releasing a bright light of power, summoning the energy back. The ash that had been transferring suddenly froze before flying back to her.
To her dismay, she wasn’t able to claim the demonic energy completely. Most of the darkness returned to her wings, but they were now an ashed gray, while Marcia’s had changed to a dark ruby color. She ran to her friend and force her to lift her face. “What did you do?”
Marci had tears running down her cheeks as she opened her eyes. “I’m not sure. What was that?”
Hekate reached for one of Marcia’s wings and pulled it in front of her, almost causing Marcia to fall on her face. “You’re tainted. You’ve tainted your wings with the ash.”
Marcia stared at her wings, glancing back at Hekate’s as well. “But what were those voices?”
Hekate took a step back, her hands pulling her hair back. “They were from the journal War tried to steal. I destroyed it. But when I did that, I absorb all of its energy. And you’ve taken it. Marcia, what have you done?”
As she began to take in what had happened, Marcia moved to fully sit up. Slowly, she reached for her shirt and began to pull it down. On her chest was now a black brand, in the same shape as Hekate’s. But this wasn’t as deep.
Hekate jerked forward, nearly ripping the shirt entirely off of Marcia. Tears began to spill over her cheeks and her eyes widened at the sight. “Marcia. Oh my God.”
Taking a deep breath, Marcia peeled Hekate’s fingers from her shirt before reaching to move Hekate’s. Beneath her shirt, the brand was no longer as deep as it was. It was the same as Marcia’s. It was as though it was brand new again, and not minutes from killing her.
“I think I just gave you a few more months,” she said.
Hekate was angry and she could only speak in a harsh whisper. Any louder and her mother would have run up by now. She was surprised she hadn’t run up to check on her with all of the noise, honestly. “I never asked you to take that. I never asked you to curse yourself. It’s bad enough that you’re a target for War, but now -” she trailed off.
Tired of her whining, Marcia slapped Hekate across the face. “Pull yourself together.”
Hekate was stunned. Marcia had never hit her before, at least, not without provocation. As if to counteract it, Marcia pulled her into an embrace. “You’re my best friend, mi hermana. I didn’t know that was going to happen, but I’m glad it did. Until they figure out a way to get rid of the brand, your lifespan was extended. I accidentally gave us more time to figure it out, and I won’t apologize for it.”
Her words made sense. Marcia had given them more time. But all Hekate could think of was the cost. At what cost were they given more time. Now Marcia would become a target. Not just to War, but others like the man from tonight. Muninn wouldn’t be able to protect her the way he had been before. She was tainted now. Branded. It was the one thing Hekate had been trying to protect her from.
“You’ll start having outbursts as well,” Hekate murmured.
When Marcia released her, she held onto her chin. “I don’t regret anything.”
Hekate shook her head. “I never meant to put you in danger like this.”
“You can’t protect me forever. And I’m just as strong as you. You’re not the only one allowed to take on a Horseman. It’s my turn to help you, as an equal.”
Hekate gulped hard as she heard the words. “You were always my equal, Marcia.”
Marcia smirked before lightly pushing Hekate’s shoulder. “Maybe so, but now we have proof. Our wings are both tainted now. And we’re both branded. Let’s use it to our advantage.”
“I wonder,” Hekate began, “Do you think he knows you’re branded now?”
“You mean War?” she asked.
Marcia shrugged. “I’m not sure. Why?”
Hekate felt her lips curve into a smirk that matched Marcia’s. “Maybe we will be able to use this to our advantage.”
“How so?” Marcia asked as her eyes narrowed.
“Even I’m not entirely sure yet,” she said as she shook her head, “But there has to be some sort of tactical advantage here.”
Marcia nodded. “It’s possible. But we need to talk to the other two first before making any plans. The last thing we need to do is make this problem worse if we haven’t already.”
Hekate took a deep breath, her eyes unable to leave Marcia’s now ruby red wings. “You’re right. But you’ve never been branded be before. You’ll have to be careful. If you start to feel something take over, find me. Don’t hide anything.”
“Oh, you mean like how you hide things?”
Hekate flinched. “Yes, that.”
Marcia smirked. “Unlike you, I’m an open book. You’ll be the first to know.”
“We need to finish this. I don’t want War to get a chance to gain the advantage. We need to send him back and soon,” Hekate declared.
“Preferably before final exams,” Marcia jested as she began to walk to Hekate’s window.
“I’ll meet you at school tomorrow,” Hekate said.
Marcia nodded. “Do you want me to pick you up?”
Hekate shook her head. “No. I’ll meet you there.”
Marcia stared at her for a moment. When she realized what Hekate had meant, she chuckled. “Don’t get caught, bird-girl.”
As Marcia flew from Hekate’s window, she thought about the brand on her chest. She hadn’t intended to take on the brand, nor did she know it was possible. But if Hekate was right, this may have been the chance they were waiting for. A chance to trick War. A chance for both of them to survive.
Moro and Muninn were going to be so pissed.
Tainted Wings – Chapter Fourteen