As they emerged from the restroom, Hekate kept her eyes firmly on the audience. Gymnastic competitions tended to have small audiences because of how long a meet could last. Not to mention each gymnast only performed a total of four routines, with at least an hour between each. Hekate and Marcia never judged their parents for rarely coming to support them. It was tedious after a while, even to them.
A few faces were familiar in the crowd, only because they were the parents of their teammates. Those they didn’t recognize were here for the other teams involved in this competition. Nothing about them seemed to stand out as odd. At least, not in the demonically possessed sort of way.
Marcia nodded towards Hekate before walking to the vault section of the gym. She was only a few gymnasts away from her turn on the vaulting horse. Hekate’s next event was the uneven bars, but she wondered if she’d be able to complete her routine without another interference.
Hekate watched all around her as she sat beside the judge’s table. Marcia was about to run towards the vault. Jennifer was swinging into her dismount from the uneven bars. Parent’s cameras were going off left and right but with the flash off. Hekate attempted to focus enough to try and sense any sort of demonic energy.
The last time she tried this, she couldn’t get it to work without Moro’s help. But now that Marcia had taken a portion of the brand’s power, she felt the weight holding her back gone. It wasn’t completely gone, but it wasn’t hindering her abilities as it was before.
Around the bleachers, there was a faint green cloud on the ground. It circled the parents, as well as the entire gymnasium. The entire room was nearly flooded with it. But the source of the aura was unknown to her. It felt old, as if the source had left already. It didn’t make any sense.
The sound of Jennifer’s feet slamming to the ground pulled Hekate from her thoughts. Jennifer’s arms lifted into the air, as if she were still reaching for the bar her ankles nearly clipped a moment ago. When she turned, her eyes met Hekate’s for a split second. It was enough for her to grin smugly before passing, shoving her shoulder into Hekate’s now bruised one.
She felt something begin to burn at the pit of her stomach. It was rage. A rage she was beginning to feel familiar with. But with the brand weakened, she was able to suppress it. The last thing she wanted to do was set Jennifer on fire…for the most part.
You’re regaining control. That is good.
Hekate ignored Moro’s compliment, walking towards the bars for her turn. Standing before the springboard, she turned and saluted the judges. Once acknowledged, her attention returned to the bars at her eye level and springboard at her feet.
As her feet slammed onto the board and her hands met the lower bar, she felt it. A shiver ran down her spine, and it took all of her focus to stay on the bar. The brand on her chest practically burst into flames. The heat spread through her body, nearly causing her to slip off of the bars. Hekate felt the energy around her shift as she attempted to concentrate on both her routine and her surroundings.
She was halfway through her routine when she felt the energy shift. It was hostile. In the portion of the routine where she should have performed a backward giant, she released. Hekate swung forward with a half turn to handstand on low bar. The move wasn’t part of her routine, and would probably deduct points from her score. But it would cost her more than points.
For just a moment, Hekate thought she was in the clear. The sudden drop to the lower bar shifted her body in an unexpected way. Whoever was aiming to attack her, had missed. But when she swung back to the high bar and into an under swing with a front tuck finish, she heard it.
Someone to the left of her began to scream. One scream turned into two, which turned into twenty. Hekate turned to see the results of what her shift in routine had caused. One of the judges, a tall woman in a blue blazer was leaning forward, holding her neck. Blood danced through her fingers and down her neck. Her mouth was open, trying to scream, but no sound was coming out.
The judge beside her reached to apply pressure onto the wound. But it was too late. Hekate watched the life leave her eyes as her mouth slackened. Her hand dropped, leaving behind the other judge to try and put pressure onto the wound. But it was too late. She was dead.
Marcia was beside Hekate in an instant, grabbing her arm and whispering into her ear, “Come on.”
Hekate held her ground, her eyes unable to leave the dead woman. Her mouth slackened slightly, with her arm reaching out towards her.
Marcia jerked harder. “Let’s go!”
When Marcia forced Hekate from her position, Hekate glanced around the room, meeting Jennifer’s eyes again. This time, she was terrified and crying. Her hands were in her hair as she continued to scream in horror. When she noticed Hekate staring at her, her fearful expression changed to confusion.
Stumbling backwards, Hekate followed Marcia as she ran out of the chaos in the gymnasium. Marcia glanced behind to make sure Hekate was following as she continued to run.
“I think I saw someone. We have to follow this trail,” she exclaimed.
Finally, Hekate’s mind had caught up with the situation. She expected to see the same green cloud of smoke as before. But this was different. This was black and heavy. And familiar.
Hekate picked up speed immediately, aiming to cut Marcia off so War wouldn’t notice her first. When they reached the basement, Hekate used the force of her entire body to slam into the door, breaking it open as she stumbled inside.
Marcia slapped a hand on Hekate’s shoulder to hold her steady as she caught up. Both of them peered down into the basement, attempting to catch their breaths as they panted. Hekate took a few steps, carefully eyeing every corner of the dark basement. To the naked eye, there was nothing. But Hekate nearly keeled over in sickness from the strength of the aura.
Without warning, Marcia suddenly flew forward, slamming into a pillar before collapsing on the ground.
“Marcia!” Hekate exclaimed.
She took one step to help her friend before a force stopped her. The brand on her chest burned with a smoldering fire, enough to burn through her leotard. She fell to her knees, holding onto her chest. Marcia screeched in pain as she felt the burn as well.
A figure shrouded in shadows hovered over Marcia, flipping her to her back with her arms sprawled out on the floor. Hands that seemed to have aged over eighty years held onto Marcia’s arms, completely restricting her movement. Gray gnarly hair fell over Marcia’s head as the figured leaned forward.
“Should I grant her my gift?” A voice from behind asked.
Turning her head, Hekate could see a man standing on the stair case behind them. The man was familiar to her. Hekate recognized the sharp blue eyes of a man dressed in an impeccable suit. It was Jennifer’s father. But the words were not his. They were War’s.
“New skin I see,” she spat.
Hekate growled to herself as she stood through the pain, forcing her wings to expand from her back at a rapid pace. The pain barely struck a cord as the pain in her chest was greater.
“Maybe I should grant it to you,” she roared with her arm outstretched.
He flicked his hand with such force, it knocked Hekate back into a pillar across from Marcia. She laid there on the ground, coughing up blood as the man approached slowly.
“I was impressed when I heard who attacked you. You were able to easily destroy him. But you didn’t think it was because of your holy power, did you? You’re becoming mine and faster than I anticipated. Your soul craves the chaos of mankind, I can feel it. I can feel the rage beneath the surface, burning to be released. We aren’t so different.”
Hekate’s mind flashed to the memory of the older man with the long beard who Moro had called her former master. It was true, she felt a sense of freedom when she unleashed her anger on him, killing him. Only later did she feel the weight of what she had done. But she wasn’t about to let War know the truth.
Hekate, you have to get up!
“No shit,” she mumbled as she spit the remaining taste of copper from her mouth. Using the little strength she had left, Hekate lifted herself to her feet, refusing to give up.
War reached and grabbed her throat. Hekate’s hands immediately reached for his, attempting to release herself. But she was no match for his strength. Moro was healing her internal organs, but not fast enough.
He grinned. “Nothing can change the fact that you’re already mine. Why continue to fight? You could join me. The weight of guilt would disappear. Chaos is built into mankind’s DNA. I just bring it to the surface. I am only the catalyst. And I need you.”
The woman holding Marcia to the ground hissed as Marcia regained consciousness. She fought the old woman’s grip, but did not release her wings to do so. She pulled at her arms, attempting to free herself, all while her eyes stared up in horror at the creature on top of her.
“Let me go!” she screamed.
War shifted his eyes to watch the struggle. “Perhaps Nicnevin should take this mortal as her own. It seems only right that I reward her. Although she missed you a second time, she create the chaos I asked for.”
“You could do that,” Hekate gasped, but the words were enough to grab his full attention again, “Your life would be easier without her. Too bad it’s impossible.”
He became curious. “How so?”
Hekate spit blood into his eyes, forcing him to take a step back, releasing her throat. “If she dies, I die. If I die, she dies. Either way, you lose. You won’t get what you want. As long as I’m standing here, so will she.”
Marcia understood Hekate’s words and at the end of her sentence, released them. Red wings shot through the darkness with such a force, the old hag was sent flying into the ceiling. Marcia hovered underneath of her.
“No!” War exclaimed.
Marcia didn’t hesitate. She immediately raised her hands and released a golden light that overtook the room. Hekate raised her own hands, and released a silver light nearly blinding them both. The energy radiated into the room, causing the school to shake as though an earthquake was occurring.
Suddenly, War grabbed onto her arm, pulling himself closer to her. His entire body was vibrating against the power Hekate was exerting into his chest. He held himself close to her and whispered, “I will get what I want. I will see my brother again. And you will be changed.”
Jerking his head forward, War smashed his lips onto Hekate, forcing a kiss before his banishment from this body. Hekate jerked against his grip, trying to release herself from his grasp. She wasn’t set free until he leaned his back, laughing as he stretched his arms out.
Hekate felt it. She felt the rage she had suppressed earlier as it rose into her hands. Sparks of flames suddenly began to fly out of her hand along with her silver light. War continued to laugh as the room filled with light and fire. Marcia quickly ran over to jerk Hekate’s arm down, preventing her from killing another innocent.
Hekate fought against Marcia’s grip that now surrounded her wings and arms. She felt like a wild animal, biting to get at the prey before her. Hekate’s hands suddenly lit on fire again, attempting to burn away the hands that held her back.
Feeling the fire beginning to singe her skin, Marcia screamed. Her hands holding Hekate back, suddenly lit up with a gold light, ricocheting off the fire, separating the two of them as they flew into opposite sides of the room. Marcia did the only thing she could think of. She attacked her best friend, effectively counteracting each other’s power.
When Hekate’s eyes opened, she had regained her senses. She reached to move the hair that had fallen from her pony tail. Marcia was beginning to sit up as well. In the center of the room, Jennifer’s father was moaning on the ground. The front of his suit now gone, as Hekate had singed it off. Thankfully, his chest seemed unharmed. Marcia had stopped her before doing permanent damage.
“Marcia? Are you okay?” Hekate asked, knowing the answer. She could feel the pain from Marcia’s burned arms on her own. Munnin was beginning to heal her, but it was taking a minute.
She sat there, staring at her arms as the skin was beginning to grow back. “I’m fine. I’ll be fine. Is your chest still burning?”
“It’s back to normal,” Hekate answered, knowing War was no longer in the room.
Once her arms were completely healed, Marcia stood and began to limp over towards Hekate. She reached a hand out, offering to help her up. Hekate hesitated.
“You’re you again. Take my hand,” she said firmly.
Obeying, Hekate took the hand offered to her and stood up. “I’m sorry.”
“Not now,” Marcia said harshly, her eyes still searching the room, “Did we win?”
Hekate shook her head, her free hand reaching to touch the now exposed brand. “No. He escaped.”
Marcia nodded, her hand copying Hekate’s in touching the brand. “Hm.”
Muninn suddenly manifested before them. “But you did injure him.”
Marcia jolted her head towards the eagle. “How?”
Moro suddenly appeared beside her brother. “I do not believe War thought you’d be able to use his own influence over him. Those fires mixed with your soul’s energy, weakening him.”
Although it would normally be a good thing to injure your mortal enemy, Hekate felt more fear than pride. She realized Moro’s meaning right away. If her soul’s energy was mixing with War’s fire so easily, something was wrong. This wasn’t good.
Marcia sucked at her teeth, aggravated by the news. “I don’t like this.”
Jennifer’s father began to groan, indicating his regaining consciousness as he shifted on the ground next to them. “Mmm.”
Both guardians quickly disappeared.
Despite the nausea and pain, Hekate tightened her grip on Marcia’s hand, leading her out of the basement. The last thing she wanted was to have to explain everything to her enemy’s father. Upstairs, the police had already arrived, along with the paramedics.
Hekate glanced down at herself and Marcia. Both of them had torn leotards, barely anything left at the chest, leaving only their sports bras. Not wanting to deal with questions from anyone, Hekate and Marcia stayed close to the walls, in the shadows and behind the crowd as they inched towards the back doors. Amongst the chaos, no one noticed as they slipped through the doors.
They weren’t clear once outside, however. Police cars and ambulances lit up the night sky with their flashing lights. The smell of death was in the air as Hekate’s eyes noticed the stretcher with the white blanket covering the body. Her stomach twisted into knots, causing her to suddenly vomit all over the sidewalk. She leaned onto the side of the building as she heaved.
Marcia rubbed her back, ushering her along the wall. “We need to keep moving.”
Marcia grabbed Hekate’s hand and squeezed before releasing her own wings and shooting into the clouds. She pulled Hekate along until her wings were finally released as well, keeping herself aloft.
They hovered in the air, catching their breath. Hekate pulled away from Marcia’s grip. Her arms wrapped around her stomach, still feeling the nausea from before. Marcia kept her back to Hekate as Muninn manifested in front of them, nearly disappearing into the clouds as a ghostly figure.
“What does all of this mean? I want the truth, now,” she demanded.
Moro manifested beside her brother, appearing to lay across the clouds. “You were able to weaken War. That should make it easier to banish back to the Gates.”
“How do we even do that? All we’ve been doing is running around in circles just trying to survive!” Hekate yelled as she turned to face their guardians.
Moro shook her head. “Any time a Horseman has escaped in the past, a blessed human would have to lure them back to the Gates before fighting them there. In a moment of weakness, Selene would usually intervene and force them back through the Gate”
Marcia glided forward. “How many humans survived this battle?”
Moro and Muninn glanced at each other, both refusing to answer.
Hekate felt the twisted feeling in her stomach tighten. “How many?”
“None,” Moro whispered.
Hekate met Marcia’s glance. Both of them were feeling the same thing: fear, sickness, and rage.
“So, you brought her into your mess without warning her so that this could kill her? Or me for that matter?” Marcia screamed.
“It is never guaranteed that a mortal would die during this process,” Muninn stated.
“But you just said -” Marcia started.
“It isn’t a guarantee,” Muninn cut her off, “but it happens. There has never been a survivor because each time, the mortal’s body gave up on them. The human body wasn’t meant to sustain the amount of damage a Horseman can cause. We, as your guardians, do our best to heal as you fight, but can’t always be quick enough.”
Hekate hovered in the air as she listened to Muninn and Marcia argue. She felt sick. Not only had she been shot at, but she had witness another innocent get killed because she was faster. Because she only thought about herself, not anyone else in the room. And she had even attacked her best friend. Again.
In that moment, a surge of energy burst through Hekate. Her body lit up as it expelled a huge amount of energy, pushing Marcia back. Moro and Muninn disappeared from sight as the evening sky lit up with her light. Marcia covered her eyes as to not be blinded by the silver light illuminating from her.
When the light dissipated, Hekate closed her eyes as she took a deep breath. Marcia moved closer to hover in front of her. Using her fingers, she lifted Hekate’s face. “What was that?”
As she exhaled, Hekate opened her eyes, causing Marcia to gasp. Hekate’s eyes were no longer the pale brown they were before. They glowed silver under the moonlight. She was exuding power mixing with her rage. But this time, she was able to resist releasing the flames of War.
“We won’t die. And we won’t let anyone else die in this stupid battle.”
Marcia glided backwards and folded her arms together. “Then what are we going to do?”
Hekate felt her lips curl into a side grin, despite the acid she felt in the back of her throat. “We’re going to take the fight to War. And this time, War will fall.”
There was one problem that neither of them knew about as they flew home. The moment their wings released and they believed they were in the clear, they weren’t. A pair of curious hazel eyes watched them as they disappeared into the night sky.
Tainted Wings – Chapter Sixteen