WHO: Hecate WHEN: All week, finishing on Friday, after dark WHERE: All the way from New York to Manitoba WHAT: Finding the body WARNINGS: Grizzliness
Hecate covered more ground at night, she always had.
At the beginning of her search, she made a choice. She had a network of law enforcement scattered across the country that she could draw on, a collection of people that knew her work as a PI who specialised in finding missing people. Kaden Murphy was missing in the wake of the gang related murder of his brother, after all, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say he was a case Darcy picked up. If she got access to the CCTV cameras outside Melpomene’s apartment from around the time of Tragos’ death, she may be able to spot him, and find how he was traveling. With that, it was a case of getting records from the likes of toll booths across the country to figure out where he was going.
The biggest problem with this was that it would create an official trail, and the second that the police caught wind that Kaden was traveling with a baby, all sorts of red flags would be raised. There’d be no coming back from that.
So Hecate had not taken that choice, not when she had other resources open to her.
Ares might be traveling in a car that outperformed all others on the road, but Hecate did not have to travel by human roads. The dead made their own paths, and the dead saw things the living did not.
With Hecuba at her side, Hecate drew on the spell she’d crafted of ash and blood and bone (and hat) and, with a stronger surge of magic than she’d used in a long, long time, Hecate called on the ghosts of the country.
All the ghosts of the country.
This land was full of the war-torn dead. Some were new, some were very old. Hecate’s voice cracked through the night, a thunderous sound that shook all souls from their rest. Victims of Ares, of slaughter, of war, lend me your eyes. This land was full of motherless children, of childless mothers. Watch for this child, for these children. This land was covered in generations of lost souls who ran out of choices and chances before they ran out of hope, and she called on them all, show me the way.
And through the night, she ran cross country, almost a spectre herself.
As dawn broke each day, her magic faded, and the ghosts – most of them – burned away like morning mist. One remained nearby, the young ghost boy Vincent, held not by her magic but by his own will to follow. He did not speak to her much at all, and Hecate got the impression that he was here to keep an eye on her as much as any other reason.
Hecate did not discourage him, and every morning, near dawn, she messaged Qebhet to let her know he was still with her. And every morning, near dawn, she messaged Athena to let her know she was still on the trail.
I’m in Ohio, Kaden passed through here two nights ago.
I’m in Chicago, and so is Ares.
I’ve had no sign of Apollo since I left New York, I worry he’s prophesied Kaden’s destination and will get on a plane at the last. Do not let him. He also has a helicopter. Find a way to ground him.
As the sun moved across the sky, she found a place to sleep, curled up around Hecuba, and together they recovered their strength for the next night’s hunt.
And then, at twilight on Friday, cutting through all other thoughts: a desperate cry for help.
Marcie’s prayer was an injection of both power and desperation, and the wild, liminal space of the border itself was another. Borders were her thing… but Kaden and Telos were not along the border, they was across it.
Hecate raced toward the edge of her country and could feel the border getting closer. She was still not following a road, and the last she had seen of people was a farm, some miles back. Trees grew on either side of the border but the boundary itself was cleared of all growth, and stretched, wide and grassy, from east to west.
Mentally, it was like preparing herself to run straight over a waterfall.
Physically… it felt a little like running straight over a waterfall.
The entire magical topography of the ground changed the moment the border passed beneath her. Hecate made it through into the trees on the other side of the cleared area from sheer momentum alone – and beside her, Hecuba wuffed a great offended sound of protest like all her fur had been rubbed backwards.
The re-calibration of magic was dizzying. It was still inside her, but it did not sing in tune with this land. Hecate stumbled and for a few dozen feet it was all she could do to stay on hers.
Don’t stop moving she told herself, running still, without looking back. Ares will not stop moving.
She did not stop running, but the ghosts that ran at her side were stripped away like streamers in a harsh wind. She could not hold them to her, not if she wanted to move as swift as a shadow, and though she believed she could extend her hand toward Vincent and he would cross the border and run with her once more... Ares lay ahead. What magic remained must be reserved for what she had yet to do.
She had no magic to spare to help keep Hecuba at her side, either, and slowly the distance between them grew, and grew, till Hecuba’s voice was no more than a howl at the edge of her hearing.
It was an extraordinary feat – this cross country, cross border, ghost led, magic fueled wild hunt. And extraordinary use of power, but…
Words fell short, sometimes.
There was no word to describe such an act, such power driven by desperation and hope, such a unity of the living and the dead, even to find Kaden was remarkable – to do all of this, to pour all of herself into this quest… and to arrive too late, by moments…
There were no words. Or if there was one, it was, perhaps, tragedy.
The marks in the earth where he dragged his body were clear in the moonlight, little scars he'd carved in the land. When Ares turned his back, he left the boy alive. Hecate did not know why. A long, drawn out death alone in the woods did not seem like Ares style, though perhaps it was meant as a punishment from Melpomene - so the boy keenly felt his aloneness and abandonment as he died.
The reason did not matter. Only the act.
Kaden was not moving.
Hecate dropped to her knees beside Kaden’s body, bloodstained and bonecrushed, and her face crumbled in tears. Beneath her hands he was warm, and if she’d shaved just moments off her time, just moments!
She bowed her head, eyes half closed, half seeing, half in this world and half sliding to the next, searching -
Not everyone became a ghost. Not everyone could.
What did Kaden believe? He’d made her a shrine, yes, but was it enough to believe in an afterlife, as Marcie had? Did he, could he, believe there was any existence at all, after death?
Hecate could find no trace of a ghost.
“Kaden,” she called pleadingly. “Kaden please, where are you?”
There was no reply.
Heartbroken, she searched harder, slipping further away from life and onto the path to the underworld. In her physical body she could feel the cold earth beneath her knees, damp soaking through her clothes. She could sense the distant magic of the moon.
But physicality faded, as she left the world of the living behind.
Hecate had never tried this before, across the border, where the anchors of her own land were not there to bring her back. But she had to, after everything she’d done, and with the potent force of Marcie’s prayers… she had to find him.
KADEN her voice echoed back at her across the Styx, unanswered.
No she said. Hades, give him back. He’s mine, I can’t lose him. I won't let Melpomene have him! This plea would have been in vain to so many, but Hecate, goddess of necromancy, had pulled people back from the underworld before.
Only, this time, there was no one to pull. He wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere.
And then -
As Hecate turned back toward life -
The faintest flicker, the faintest last glimmer of his soul, still clinging, with a desperation greater than her own, to life. How?
Buried deep in a pocket, a wedjat eye had caught a trace of his soul. Around it, a blessing of protection sheltering it like two hands cupped over a spark. Qebhet’s only a small magic and Aphrodite’s you're under my protection now.
Hecate snapped back into her own body, breathing fast and shallow and frantic, calling his name as she grasped that spark of life and tried to blow on it, as you do with the dying embers of a fire. Blow life back into it, pull it back from the dark. “Kaden,” she whispered, “Kaden, Kaden, Kaden, come on,” but the spark did not grow under her ministrations. “Kaden,” she kept putting a name to it, to remind it who he’d been, who he could still be – maybe – if she wasn’t so worn - “Kaden please.”
There was a thunder of heavy footsteps through the leaf litter, a snapping of twigs crashing toward Hecate, as Hecuba finally caught up with her. She pressed her muzzle against Hecate’s curved spine. Hecate did not reach for her – both her hands were still on Kaden, and after a moment Hecuba’s nose pressed against his ribs, and she licked his shirt on a spot that bore little blood, only cooling sweat from his last, terrified moments.
The spark was too small, to weak to bring back and fill such a large and lively human body -
Just as Hecuba’s had been, after she’d thrown herself into the Hellespont after the fall of Troy.
Hecate did not know if she had the strength left for this, but she gasped in a sharp breath and tried anyway. His body was too large, too broken and cavernous, too crushed and drained to support that spark of life, so she made it smaller, and smaller, to fit.
That spark couldn’t survive in a human body -
But it might have a chance inside a puppy.
Hecate poured everything she had into this task. There was no ground and centre here, there were no limits. She would do this or she would work herself to death failing.
The whole world was dark. There was no up, no down. No warmth, no light.
Hecate could not open her eyes. Hecate was barely aware she had eyes. But from the furthest reaches of her senses, she heard a snuffle. Just a snuffle, and a moment later something cool and wet and undeniable doggy pressed itself into her palm, lying outstretched in the leaf litter.