The words echoed in Hekate’s head, but they weren’t registering. They couldn’t. Because if she truly did understand, then that would mean two Horsemen would have escaped. Not just one. Which meant this was actually starting.
Death didn’t escape.
Hekate’s thoughts froze, Moro’s words echoing again. “But then how? I don’t understand.”
Death is unlike any other being. Although technically a Horseman, Death cannot be contained behind a Gate. There must be an end to everything. The rules of the Gates do not apply to Death. His brothers hate him for it. But he is a ghost which can come and go as he pleases. He knows the part he will need to play come the end. He is the only being in existence, other than the Creator, who knows the exact time.
Which is why we were initially shocked when we thought it was Death who marked you. The action never matched his personality. He tends to stay out of mortal affairs, only interfering during times of extreme need.
“What does it mean? Why would Death come to me in my dream?” she asked, her voice shaking at the prospect.
Do you want to speak now, or wait for Marcia?
She thought back to her dream and the lies she had told Marcia this morning. Although she felt guilty for lying, she knew it was the best thing to do. For now, at least.
“Don’t wait. Just tell me,” she said into the phone.
Hekate began to walk further into the parking lot. Moro’s words were beginning to spread anxiety through her, causing her feet to circle the parking spaces. She couldn’t keep still knowing another Horseman had their eyes on her.
Those dreams. Selene believes they were imposed on you by War through the brand on your chest.
She nodded to herself. “I figured that.”
Death entered your dream last night because he might want to change your fate.
Feeling her jaw slacken and her eyebrows drop, she raised a hand into the air. “But why? Why even bother with me? Doesn’t he want War to succeed? He? She?”
Horsemen, along with Selene and even Diana, do not have genders. My brother and I technically don’t either. We can change. Death is more fluid with his choice of appearance. He does not hold on to one form for long.
The memory of the figure walking towards her flashed through her mind. Death was ever changing. Never choosing one particular gender or age. Death was everything yet nothing; Everywhere yet nowhere.
Death is practically second to the highest Deity. Because with life, there will always be death.
Hekate gulped back her anxiety. “Did Selene know why Death appeared to me?”
We cannot know Death’s true motives. But she had a theory. Selene wondered if Death gave you your wish. You attracted Death to your side with your wish to have your curse returned to you and taken from Marcia. It was quite literally a death wish.
It made sense. Although Hekate didn’t necessarily want to die, she was willing to be the one who was killed if it meant sparing everyone else. Marcia, especially. The last thing she wanted was to be the reason her best friend was dead.
“Death – she knew. That’s why she asked if I was willing to make the sacrifice,” Hekate mumbled.
Yes. But there is something that concerns us. Death told you that he would be the gift. Death would be the gift. A gift for who?
That was the million dollar question. According to Muninn, it was impossible to kill a Horseman. So if she wasn’t going to kill War, who would she kill? With her episodes, it could have been anyone. Even Marcia was in danger. Hekate had already attacked her twice now. And the last time was almost fatal.
Glancing down at her watch, she realized she had been gone too long. Putting her phone away, she turned to walk back towards Marcia and Erik. But her footsteps were slow and deliberate. She needed time to come up with a believable lie to tell Marcia. Something that didn’t scream self-sacrifice.
“Hekate!” A voice called from behind.
She turned to see Marcus jogging towards her. “Are you following me now?”
He grinned. “Not today. I’m just grabbing some coffee before heading to the library. Day off or not, I have to get some work done. I would have gone sooner if the police didn’t drop by my house.”
“The police?” she asked.
Nodding, he stepped into pace with her. “Yeah. They were asking the same questions from last night.”
Sighing, Hekate raised her hand to rub her temples. “Do I want to know what you told them? Or should I head for the hills?”
“Don’t worry,” he said with a sly grin, “I repeated the same thing I said last night. I told you. It’s your secret and I’m not going to be the one to tell people about it. They’re still searching for a suspect but are having a hard time coming up with one.”
The horror-filled eyes from last night peeked their way into her head. She remembered the judge who was killed. She remembered the blood. She remembered how the second judge tried to stop the bleeding. She even remembered the look of fear in the woman’s eyes as she breathed her last breath.
Perhaps that was the meaning behind the message. Death was her gift to others. Where War failed to kill her, he would succeed in killing those around her. With practically every encounter, there was always some sort of body count laying waste behind. She was beginning to feel sick.
“Thanks,” was all she could say. She appreciated his help in keeping her secret but hated the necessity of it.
As his eyes shifted to glance at her again, Marcus noticed Hekate’s expression. As they walked, her eyebrows continued to fall, while her lips thinned from the pressure from sucking on her teeth. When he shifted his gaze to the coffee shop, he noticed Marcia and Erik. They were sitting on the outside patio beside the outdoor fireplace.
“I’ll let you get back. Good luck,” he said as he jogged ahead.
She watched as he opened the door to go inside. Changing directions, she walked through the gate, back onto the patio. Erik noticed her first.
“Everything good?” he asked.
She nodded. “Yeah.”
Marcia was staring at the table, her head very slightly bobbing up and down. Muninn had just told her something. As her eyes flashed up to acknowledge Hekate, they were dark. Narrowing them, her tongue pushed into her cheek. She was angry.
Immediately Hekate realized why Marcia was so upset. Moro had spoken to her brother before talking to Hekate. And Muninn had passed the information along. At this point, her only saving grace was Erik.
“We were talking about going to see a movie or something after this. Maybe bowling? Anything to not think about school,” he said as he chuckled, completely unaware of the mood.
“Bowling sounds fun,” Hekate said. Anything to stay in his company so Marcia couldn’t scream at her again.
Marcia said nothing until Erik squeezed her hand and turned. Before he could see her dark expression, something sparked and her face suddenly switched to bright eyes and a huge smile. “It sounds like fun! Why don’t you drive there and we’ll meet you in my car?”
Erik smile matched Marcia’s, except his, was genuine. “Great! I’ll meet you guys there!”
Hekate stood at the same time as Erik, following with her hot chocolate in hand. Marcia was only a step behind. But as they approached the parking lot, she gripped Hekate’s arm before waving behind her. “We’ll meet you there!”
Leaning close, she whispered into Hekate’s ear harshly, “Get in the car.”
Jerking her arm from Marcia’s grip, Hekate complied with the order. If it weren’t such a clear day, she would have made a run for it. Whether it was flying or running, she was always the fastest.
Marcia slammed the car door shut as she sat in the driver’s seat. They sat in silence as Marcia turned the car on, letting the cold air blast them until it was warm. Hekate stared at the coffee house, watching Marcus leave with his coffee. She noticed he glanced over at where they had been and seem disappointed when he realized we weren’t there anymore.
Finally, she broke the silence. “I know Muninn told you.”
“You lied to me. Again,” Marcia said, her voice low.
“I did,” Hekate confirmed.
“¿Por qué?” she hissed.
Hekate’s eyes rolled into her head as her tongue licked her teeth in frustration. “Because,” she began, “If I didn’t you would be pissed. Like you are right now.”
Marcia’s head jerked to glare at her, her eyes narrowed. “That’s not what I’m talking about. Why did you tell Death you’d make the sacrifice when you don’t even know what it is?”
Pinching her lips together, Hekate tried to take a deep breath before answering. “I didn’t know who it was at the time. I thought it was just a dream. I don’t know. All I can say is when he was standing in front of me, I never felt threatened or scared like I do with War. This was different.”
“Different?” she exclaimed, her voice rising.
“A Horseman asks you to make a sacrifice and you willingly said yes? Are you loco?” Marcia’s head fell back into her seat before she jerked the car into drive. Her foot slammed onto the gas, peeling out of the parking lot.
Hekate began to chew on her bottom lip. “I can’t explain it. But it worked out, didn’t it? I’m branded again, but something is different. Even Moro admitted to that.”
Marcia slammed her hand onto the steering wheel. “Yeah, your wings are softer. And sure, you don’t look exhausted like the past few days. But what does it mean? You accepted something to gain that kind of energy. And you don’t even know what you’re sacrificing to get it!”
“Marcia, I can’t explain it,” Hekate exclaimed, “Death is different. Nothing like War. Whatever the sacrifice is, I think it will be worth it.”
Her foot slammed onto the brake as she stopped at a red light, jerking Hekate’s body forward. Thankfully the seat belt held her back from kissing the dashboard. “What if the sacrifice is your life? Is it worth it then?”
Hekate nodded her head firmly. “Yes.”
There was no hesitation in her voice. None at all. Above all else, Hekate wanted all of this to end, even if that meant dying in the process. Everyone else would be okay, and that was what mattered most to her.
Tears began to stream down Marcia’s cheeks. “Do you have any idea how selfish you’re being?”
Blinking in surprise, Hekate’s eyebrows dropped. “What are you talking about?”
“You keep forgetting I joined this fight to protect you. I joined so you wouldn’t have to die. And now you’re telling me my sacrifice means nothing. That’s so selfish,” she said, her voice beginning to crack.
Marcia pulled into the parking lot, pulling into a space before pushing the gear into park. The two of them sat in silence, both attempting to compose themselves. Hekate spoke the final words on the subject, saying what neither of them have wanted to admit.
“We don’t get to dictate how this will all end, Marcia. One way or another, War will be returned to his cage. That could kill one or both of us. I started this, so I need to be the one to finish it.”
Without another word, Hekate climbed out of the car. Erik was standing in front of the bowling alley entrance, his arms folded as his eyes searched the parking lot. They caught me first. He waved with a large grin. “Where’s Marcia?”
Behind her, Hekate heard the car door slam shut. She pointed her thumb. “She’s coming.”
Marcia plastered the same smile on her face that she had from the coffee shop. Breezing past Hekate, she reached for Erik’s hand. Neither of them spoke to each other as they reached the counter for the shoe and lane rental.
“Three for today?”
The man behind the counter grinned as he questioned the number of bowlers. A teenager, maybe no more than a year older than them. Although he seemed friendly enough, his expression was clearly annoyed that they had interrupted whatever he was doing before. Hekate noticed as he shoved his phone into his pocket.
Erik stepped forward. “Yeah. Size ten and a half for me.”
“Seven for me,” Marcia said.
“Eight and a half,” Hekate said, her eyes searching the room.
There is nothing here.
Through her own eyes, Hekate knew Moro was right. There was nothing there. Everyone in the building was human without a hint of demonic energy. Yet she still felt something brewing in the pit of her stomach. Something that tugged at her insides, telling her to be careful.
Erik sat in front of the computer connected to the television above their lane. He glanced back, his blue eyes continually hovering over Marcia as if he were relieved she was still there. “What do you want your names to be?”
“How about our actual names?” Hekate joked.
His face pinched together before he laughed. “How about something fun?”
“How about Selfish Bitch for Hekate?” Marcia mumbled.
Erik’s eyes widened in shock, but he laughed as though she were joking. “I’m not sure we could put that. Despite it being true.”
Leaning back, Erik winked at Hekate. She grinned in return, but the moment his attention shifted back to the screen, her expression darkened. She hated this. Never had the two of them fought this bad before. She understood Marcia’s anger, but at the same time, Hekate knew she was right.
“Yes, I am,” Hekate whispered.
“You are what?” a voice from behind asked.
Hekate felt her heart leap to her throat at the familiarity of the voice behind her. Caleb leaned his head next to hers to kiss her cheek before walking around the booth to sit next to her. Marcia’s eyebrows furrowed at his approach, but she made no comment.
“Surprise,” he said, leaning towards Hekate.
Erik grinned. “Glad you could make it, dude. I figured Hekate was tired of always being our third wheel.”
Reaching his arm behind Hekate, he rested it against the booth. Feeling his warmth, Hekate leaned against his chest, enjoying his scent. She breathed him in, calming her nerves and even calming the constant burn of the brand on her chest.
Glancing through her hair, Marcia finished tying her shoes. When she sat up, Hekate realized her expression had changed. The anger was now replaced with curiosity. Her lips twitched with a slight grin before dropping again.
“It’s weird to see Hekate be intimate with anyone that’s not me. It’s shocking,” she said.
Hekate stuck her tongue out at Marcia. “I’m allowed to change.”
“You are,” she said, “You certainly are.” Her voice trailed off. An idea had settled in her head and finally solidified. The anger that had plagued her since the coffee shop had disappeared.
Caleb raised an eyebrow. “Did I miss something?”
Hekate rolled her eyes as her head tilted back, letting her lips brush his cheek. “It’s nothing. We’re just being weird, as always. It’s a gymnastics thing.”
Erik pretended to gasp. “Is Hekate being affectionate? Quick! Go check and see if the pigs are flying!”
As Hekate groaned, Caleb simply chuckled. “She can be very affectionate when she chooses to be.”
Marcia stood up, reaching for a bowling ball. “Enough with the cutesy stuff. Let’s bowl!”
With Caleb’s arrival, all of the tension that had risen only a few moments ago seemed to disappear instantly. Although Hekate was grateful for it, she was suspicious as well. Marcia wouldn’t change her mind on something so serious, not unless she thought she would win the argument.
Hekate had an idea of what Marcia’s argument would be: Caleb. It was true. Hekate felt something deep for Caleb, but she wasn’t entirely sure what it was. She was, however, certain she would still make the same decision no matter what he was to her.
Could you? It feels like you’re falling in love with the boy.
Heat rushed towards Hekate’s face as she heard Moro’s words. She had never considered that possibility. It was probably the logical next step for anyone to assume, but Hekate had never felt anything so real before. Knowing how to classify the feeling left her feeling terrified.
Lost in thought, she didn’t feel Marcia sit next to her. “Oy. Stop talking to someone else. It’s rude.”
Hekate’s eyes finally began to focus on her surroundings again. Erik and Caleb were joking by the computer, while Marcia now leaned onto her shoulder. “Sorry.”
“I do it too. I guess I can’t get too mad about it,” she said with a low voice.
Feeling her hand reach for the brand, Hekate glanced up to meet Marcia’s eyes. “You think you’ve won our argument.”
Marcia didn’t flinch. She only nodded.
“Why?” Hekate asked.
Her head tilted towards the boys, causing her black curly hair to dangle to the side. “If you won’t fight for your sake or mine, maybe you’ll fight for his. Fight for a life you could potentially have with him.”
“What makes you think he’d change my mind?” she asked.
Marcia glanced over at the boys before shifting her gaze back to Hekate. “Because this is the first time you’ve been in love. You don’t know what kind of pull it will have on you.”
As she stood to take her turn, Caleb felt Hekate’s eyes on him when he turned. His crooked grin filled his face as he moved to take Marcia’s place next to her. Leaning forward, his lips caressed her hair.
“Are you okay?” he whispered.
As his words tickled her ear, she felt a shiver run through her. On instinct, her hand reached for his. She began to play with his fingers as her head leaned against his lips, craving more of his touch. He kissed her hair again before moving to kiss her temple.
She breathed a sigh of relief. “I think so.”
His head leaned against hers. “What’s wrong?”
Hekate shrugged. “I don’t know. I think yesterday just rattled me.”
Releasing his hand from her grip, he wrapped his arm around her waist, moving his other hand around for her to play with. “Don’t let it. It was just some lunatic attacking these school. I’m just thankful you’re safe.”
She leaned into him again, pulling her feet up towards her chest to rest on the booth. “I’m glad we’re all safe.”
“What’s that?” he asked.
She leaned back to meet his gaze. “What’s what?”
His fingers moved from her hand to her chest as he pulled her shirt down very slightly to reveal the brand. “Did you burn yourself?”
Hekate scoffed, falling back into his chest. Her eyes stared ahead, glaring at nothing. “No. It’s just an old scar. I’m working on getting rid of it.”
Caleb chuckled. “You can’t get rid of a scar.”
She rolled her eyes, slightly chuckling at her own words. “Sure you can. They make an ointment for everything.”
Feeling his head move, Hekate felt the goosebumps rise as his lips brushed against her ear again. “I think it’s beautiful.”
She felt the blush caress her entire body as her free hand reached to touch the brand again. The leathery skin etched across her fingers as she traced it. The hum of heat behind it slowly began to rise. She wasn’t sure if it was from her own body temperature or not. And for right now, she didn’t care.
“You guys are gross!” Erik hooted.
Marcia’s face lit up as she laughed, her eyes never leaving Erik. “Leave them alone. It’s about time the girl found someone.”
Caleb’s chest rose and fell as he chuckled. “I think you mean, it’s about time we found each other. I’ve been searching for her for centuries.”
Erik pretended to faint as his hand reached for his forehead. “Oh my. Love has struck me with such sweet words!”
Hekate couldn’t help herself. She burst into laughter, leaning further into Caleb’s chest. “You guys are ridiculous!”
She continued to laugh as she stood up to take her turn at the lane. Marcia linked her arm with Hekate’s as she held the bowling ball. She leaned in close. “See? You have something to fight for.”
Hekate shook her head. “I’ve always had something to fight for.”
Marcia pulled her head back, eyebrow raised. “Which is why you gave up only a few minutes ago?”
She sighed. “I wasn’t giving up. I was weighing the potential endings in this battle. But no matter what, I’m not going down without a fight.”
Tainted Wings – Chapter Nineteen