When Hekate finally arrived at her window, she was exhausted. Not only physically, but mentally as well. She still felt sick to her stomach as she thought of the poor innocent woman who was killed. And then there was the fact that she had attacked Marcia, again.
But this was worse. She was so focused on her rage, she used the fire against her, even after War had left the man’s body. She knew the moment War had left Jennifer’s father’s body. She knew it. But she was so hungry for his blood, she continued to attack anyway.
Her mother wasn’t home yet, giving her the opportunity to change out of her damaged leotard, and clean the dried blood from her healed skin. Slowly, she pulled her arms out of the leotard, wincing at her bruised shoulder. Taking her hair out was difficult, as the fight has pulled pieces out, creating a rat’s nest around the hair band.
After she finished stripping, she glanced at her reflection in the mirror. She looked like a mess. Her entire shoulder was a mixture of purple and yellow. The bruise was much larger than the original bullet wound.
As the hot water washed the remnants of the night away, Hekate took a deep breath, attempting to release the tension built up.
Do you wish to discuss it?
“Discuss what? My inability to protect humanity? My inability to control myself?” Hekate spat.
There was nothing you could have done to change the outcome of the night.
Hekate jerked her head towards the mirror on the other side of the room, her hair spaying water all over the shower walls. Moro sat on the counter in the reflection, watching her.
“You know I could have. I know it. Had I not switched my routine at the last minute, I would have been the one shot, not her. And what about Marcia? I burned her, Moro. That’s twice I’ve used my powers against her now. Twice,” she said, her voice raising as she brought up Marcia. Tears had begun to fall down her cheeks but she barely noticed.
Very well. Then I’ll ask you this: What good does it do you now to dwell on it? What’s done is done. All you can do now is form a plan so it won’t happen again.
Hekate turned the water off and stood there for a moment, dripping. “I talk big, but I’m honestly not even sure how to go about it.”
I am aware.
Her eyes turned to glare at the white wolf’s reflection as she grabbed for a towel to dry herself. “Since you’re such a big shot, why don’t you come up with a plan for once?”
Moro’s eyes widened at Hekate’s accusation. You say I have been of no use to you?
Instantly, she felt guilty again. Hekate ran her fingers through her hair, pulling the remaining tangles out. “No, I’m sorry. It just feels like I’ve been pushed into a corner here. I’m losing control. We thought Marcia taking some of the taint away from me and taking that brand could make the episodes stop. But this was the worst one.”
Only because War was right there, influencing you directly.
“That,” Hekate began as she reached for her clothes, “Only makes it worse. One way or another, we’ll have to fight War directly to get him back behind that Gate. What will happen is Marcia is left to fight not just War, but me as well?”
She was quiet. It was a fear Moro had tried to keep hidden, but after tonight Hekate wondered if it had any ground to it. Their souls were connected, but Hekate still held the influence of War.
Suddenly, Moro’s head jerked towards the bathroom door. Someone is here.
Not two seconds later, the doorbell rang. Hekate quickly slipped into her gray sweatpants and an over-sized black hoodie before throwing her wet hair into a messy bun. She inched closer to the door, afraid it was the police searching for her. Or worse.
“It’s Marcus,” a voice on the other side of the door said.
She breathed a sigh of relief, before suddenly becoming overridden with confusion. Why would he be here so late?
Hekate opened the door. “Little late for a friendly call.”
Without waiting for an invitation, Marcus pushed past Hekate.
He made his way into her kitchen in the back of the house as she followed after. Pulling out a bar stool, he sat at the kitchen counter before his hazel eyes met Hekate’s. “We need to talk.”
Her eyebrow raised, immediately angry. “About?”
“What I saw tonight,” he said slowly.
“Wh-what did you see?” she asked, her voice hesitant.
For a brief moment, the studied each other, waiting to see who would speak first. Hekate began to fidget with her sleeves, pulling at them waiting for Marcus to answer. Marcus simply stared at her, waiting.
Finally, Marcus reached to drag his hand through his cinnamon hair and sighed. “You’ll probably think I’m insane. I thought I was crazy the first time I saw it, but after tonight, I know I’m not insane.”
Hekate crossed her arms, growing impatient. “Spit it out, Marcus. What do you what?”
“I want to see them. Your wings,” he said.
Hekate’s body felt like it had been dunked into ice water. Everything went numb and the world seemed to freeze all around her. Moro was right. She had been reckless.
“What? What the heck are you talking about?” She asked, trying to sound as confused as possible.
Marcus glared at her false confusion. “Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. Both you and Marcia, I saw the two of you fly off tonight when everything went insane at the gymnastics meet. I saw you at the club that one night, running into the woods. I thought I had gone insane, but I found your jacket around where you disappeared.”
Panic. Panic was all she could feel. “No one would believe you.”
“Of course,” he scoffed, “Which is why I told the police the two of you had left to go to he bathroom when everything we nuts. They judges hadn’t written your score down and it was so chaotic, they accepted it as the truth.”
Hekate blinked. Her mouth slacked a little in shock. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Not only was Marcus demanding to see something impossible, he had protected her as well.
“So, are you going to show them or not?” He asked again.
Her eyes narrowed, watching him carefully. “Why? Why did you do that?”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “I know the two of you didn’t kill that woman. I was there. I saw it happen. I don’t know who did it, but I know it wasn’t you two. But you both ran out as if you knew what did. The next thing I know, the school is being evacuated from a random earthquake and the two of you sneak outside. I followed you and saw how you left. No one else did.”
Now she truly felt trapped. Her body that was clean a few minutes ago was now covered in a layer of sweat as she considered her options. Not only would her secret be revealed, but another person could be brought into this secret war, and that was the last thing she wanted.
“Marcus,” she started, “You need to understand something. I can’t show you anything. Because if I confirmed anything, you’d become a target.”
Concern covered his face. “A target? What’s after you? The government?”
Be very careful, Hekate.
She reached to hold her arms close to her chest, attempting to comfort her anxiety. “No, not the government. Look, you just need to trust me on this. I can’t tell you anything. It’s better this way.”
“Are you going to tell Caleb?” he asked.
Hekate blinked as her head tilted back. That thought had never crossed her mind before. “Of course not.”
His lips formed a firm line before he spoke again. “But Marcia knows because she’s like you?”
She swallowed back nausea. “Marcia discovered my secret and became involved. It was an accident. She seems fine with it, but I’m not okay with drawing anyone else into this mess. It’s my…job. And I have to see it through, alone.”
His eyes suddenly became soft as he hands dropped onto the counter. “So you have a friend who could be helping you, but you’re going to push her away anyway? Hekate, that sounds selfish.”
Her mouth dropped, along with her arms. “Excuse me? How am I being selfish?”
Marcus held back a laugh as he enjoyed seeing her spark return. “Whatever your ‘job’ may be, it sounds dangerous. But you’re willing to risk everything to see it through. From the way you talk, it sounds like this could kill you. What’s so bad about having your friends help you, in the hopes that maybe if you are together, neither of you will die?”
Hekate could only stare at him. She never considered that to be an option. Although she wanted to survive this fight, there was a good chance she wouldn’t. The only thing she could think of was everyone else’s survival; mainly Marcia’s. She had done all she could to push Marcia into the background so she wouldn’t be at risk, and yet thrown herself to the wolves at the same time.
Her hand reached to touch the brand that was now more like a tattoo than a hole. Marcus noticed the motion and stood up to walk towards her. The brand began to ache, a dull burn covering her chest. He was about to reach where she was touching before he hesitated, and dropped his hand.
“Your secret, right.” His hazel eyes moved from her hand to meet her eyes again. “Can you promise me something?”
“What?” she asked in a whisper.
“Promise me that you won’t sacrifice yourself. And if anything happens, just know I’m your friend too. I’ll help anyway I can,” he said, his expression unwavering.
The tension was broken between the two of them when Hekate’s cell phone began to ring. She lifted it to see Caleb’s name flash across the screen. Marcus saw it as well before taking a step back.
“I’ll go. But remember what I said. I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said as he moved around to make his way towards her front door.
Hekate could only stand there, still frozen as she heard the door behind her close. When the phone was on the last ring, she reached to answer, “Hello?”
“I have been trying to reach you all night! Are you okay? I heard what happened at the competition!” He practically shouted into the receiver.
Taking a moment to clear her throat, she attempted to compose herself. “I’m fine. I was already on my way out when I heard the commotion. Since I didn’t seen anything, I thought it was best to leave so I wouldn’t be in the way.”
“So you’re at home?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” he said before hanging up.
Two boys in her house in one evening…even her mother wouldn’t believe her if she tried to explain later. Although she wanted to fix her hair before he arrived, Hekate was still glued to the kitchen floor from shock.
You cannot let this one know. No one else can know.
She nodded. “I know. I know. What do we do?”
Moro was silent. Hekate was beginning to panic before she finally spoke up. All we can do is hope he keeps his word. I could always erase his memory, but it is risky. Considering how much he’s seen over time, I’d be erasing a lot of memories, not just one or two.
Hekate inhaled before letting out a groan, her hand reaching for her forehead. “Then we’ll have to leave him be. I don’t want to risk that.”
I won’t erase the memories. But he will need to be watched, carefully.
“I agree,” I said.
The front door burst open, breaking her from her conversation. “Hekate!”
“In the kitchen,” she yelled.
Caleb ran towards her voice before pulling her into a fierce hug. “Thank goodness.”
As he held her, she breathed in his scent, attempting to calm herself from the night altogether. They stood there, simply holding each other, grateful the other was there. The burning on the brand finally beginning to subside. Only after her heartbeat had begun to slow did she break the silence.
“How did you know what happened?”
He leaned back to look at her. “Marcus called. We were texting before it happened, talking about the coming up basketball game when everything started happening.”
“Why was he even there?” she asked, realizing she should have asked Marcus this, not Caleb.
He shrugged. “I think he was staying late for a tutoring session.”
“Oh,” was all she could say. That didn’t explain why he was in the gym, but she didn’t want to discuss it with Caleb
Caleb’s eyes ran over her again before he moved his hand from her hips to her face. He pulled her close. She let his lips lay gently on hers before her need grew. The kiss started out sweet, but turned into something more intense.
In between breaths, Caleb asked, “When will your mom be home?”
Before Hekate could say anything, the front door opened. “Hekate! You home?”
Breaking away from each other, she leaned against the counter as Caleb winked at her causing her to blush further. “She’s in here.”
Her mother walked in, surprised to see she wasn’t alone. “Oh, hello. Are you one of Hekate’s friends?”
“I’m her boyfriend, Caleb. It’s nice to meet you,” he said, completely at ease.
Eyes widened in shock as her mother began to grin. “Her boyfriend, eh? I thought the day would never come! Nice to meet you!”
“He was just leaving,” Hekate said as she reached for his hand.
“Oh come on!” Her mother exclaimed from the kitchen.
Caleb chuckled. “Trying to get rid of me?”
“To save you from my mother, yes,” she said in a murmur.
When he was standing on her porch, he reached to pull her into one last kiss. This one didn’t grow as the anxiety in Hekate’s stomach made her feel sick. As she pulled away, he winked one more time before walking down the porch. She shut the front door only to hear her mother from the kitchen.
“Run after your true love!”
“Shut up!” she yelled, walking back into the kitchen.
Her mother grinned. “Tonight has been full of surprises. I’m glad to know you’re all right by the way.”
Confusion covered her face. “That I’m all right?”
“Do you really think I don’t know about what happened at the meet today?”
Hekate quickly caught up and reached for her phone.
“Too late now. You wouldn’t answer my calls, but thankfully your best friend did. She said she dropped you off here after the incident,” she said, slightly annoyed.
“I’m sorry,” Hekate began, “I forgot my phone was still on silent. And I just wanted to forget all about it.”
She folded her arms, completely serious now. “Hekate, when something like that happens, you call me immediately. Do you know how worried I was? I thought you were hurt, or worse, dead. That’s not fair to me.”
A sharp pain of guilt hit Hekate’s stomach as she listened to her mother’s lecture. “I’m sorry. I messed up.”
“I’ll say,” she said before grinning, “Then you bring a boy here. Playing a dangerous game. How many boyfriends does that make? I never knew my daughter would become so popular.”
Hekate groaned. “Mom! I’m not popular. I’m only dating Caleb, geez. Can I go to bed now?”
She laughed, causing Hekate’s face to redden in embarrassment again. “Go to bed. Sleep in. School is canceled tomorrow, giving you a three day weekend. The police want to investigate the school to try and find the shooter. I wouldn’t want any of you near that anyway.”
As Hekate walked away, she felt her head shake against the ridiculousness of her mother’s words. She didn’t want her daughter near anything dangerous, and yet she was the reason behind it all in the first place. She was the dangerous one.
When Hekate was finally alone in her room, Moro appeared on her bed. “Are you all right?”
“Why do you ask?” Hekate asked, refusing to meet Moro in the eye.
“It has been a rough night, and a lot has happened. I felt the guilt when your mother said those words. Do you regret your decision?”
She was silent. Moro wasn’t wrong. While her mother was lecturing her, the guilt had continued to build in her gut. Hekate could be dead before the end of the fall semester and there was nothing anyone could do about it. No one.
“I made my decision.”
Moro nodded. “You did.”
Hekate crawled onto her bed, laying her head on Moro’s stomach. “Do you think I’ve made the right decision? With anything?”
Moro was silent. Hekate simply listened to her heartbeat, waiting. Finally, she spoke up. “Yes. Though my brother my disagree, considering the situations you are put in, you’ve made the right decisions in those moments. Each time you’ve tried to consider the consequences.”
“What about the woman who was shot? Or those times I attacked my best friend?” Hekate asked.
Moro shook her head. “You were moving based on a hunch of something aiming to kill you. You weren’t sure where they were or how they were aiming. All you could do was follow your instincts. If you die, then everything will be over. Marcia could continue the fight, but she wasn’t the one initially given this task. You have to finish it. No one else can.
And speaking of Marcia, she’s done well containing your outbursts. You just have to find a way to control the rage within you. War will continue to feed off of it, pushing you to your limit so you will lose it like that. You will find a way to control yourself. You forget, I’m with you all the time. I know you very well.”
Hekate listened to Moro and tried to believe her words. She knew there could have been another way. Had she only exposed herself to the world, she could have stopped whatever it was altogether. But she was so focused on keeping her secret, she allowed someone to get killed. And now it didn’t even matter since someone had discovered her secret.
Marcus. He was never her enemy. He wasn’t really anything. But now he was one of two people who knew her secret. Or at least, part of it. She recalled the moment her chest had begun to burn when he had stepped closer towards her.
“Did you feel it, earlier tonight? When Marcus was here?” she asked.
“I did,” she confirmed.
Hekate thought back to the last few times she had encountered War, not including tonight. He had appeared in a different form each time. Different gender, different human, everything.
“Do you think that was him trying to trick me?”
Moro grew silent again. It was something to contemplate. We couldn’t always know when he would appear. “It’s possible. But I can’t know for sure. For all we know, he had possessed your friend, but didn’t linger. He never stays in one body for too long.”
“It’s interesting,” Moro murmured.
Hekate lifted herself onto her elbows to look up at her other half. “What is?”
Moro glanced down at Hekate. “Never has a Horseman taken such an interest in playing these games.”
Her eyebrows furrowed in concern. “Games?”
“Yes,” Moro said, “In the past, a Horseman who has escaped merely tried to kill the one after them so they could continue to work towards their ultimate goal. But this is the first time a Horseman has taken pleasure in summoning older gods to torture a chosen human.”
“Has War ever escaped before?” she asked.
“Yes, centuries ago,” Moro confirmed.
Hekate felt her pulse quicken. “What happened?”
Moro shifted on the bed. It looked like a shrug, but for a wolf, it was an awkward movement. “War escaped in the twelfth century, around the time of the crusades. He had felt the reverberations of the first crusades and wanted more. Back then, he believed it was his time. He and the chosen human at the time crossed swords many times in battle before – ” Her voices trailed off, not wanting to finish the story.
“Before?” Hekate pressed.
“Before,” Moro started again hesitantly, “the human used all that he had to vanish from my sight. Only later did I discover what had happened. He had sacrificed his soul’s very essence to force War back through the door. But the damage was already done. War had made an impact on the world, and my charge ceased to exist.”
Hekate could only stare as Moro told the story. Although it was fascinating to hear about another who was like her, the ending grabbed her attention. “What do you mean ‘ceased to exist?'”
Moro shook her head. “I’m not sure what happened to him. Even Selene would not tell me. She merely said it was complete.”
Hekate laid her head back down on Moro’s stomach, taking in her words. It was complete. What did that mean? Only to say that War had been put back into his cage? Or something else entirely?
Tainted Wings – Chapter Seventeen