I was dreaming.
I knew I was dreaming because the place where I stood looked like no other place on earth.
It was barren, dismal, with a low fog that wrapped around trees with no leaves and drifted down empty plains. A marching woman upset the air, a woman who looked exactly like me except that she was dressed like some priestess from another time. She was headed right toward me, and before I could move, we collided…. Except that we didn’t. She walked right through me, for I dissipated like a cloud before coming back together again, reaffirming that I was in a dream and none of this was real.
Curiosity piqued, I followed her as she strode into a house that had been built inside of a monstrous-looking cave. It presented very much like a typical bachelor pad, but it was furnished with demonic-looking decor, including a giant mounted skull that looked like no animal I had ever seen before.
The shiver it caused was interrupted by the woman slamming open the bedroom door, sending a loud smack through the cave. I was surprised to see two people sitting upright in alarm, an extremely handsome looking man and a tiny blonde who looked pitiably young and naïve.
My doppelganger stared directly at the man, who seemed to be scrambling for excuses.
“I know what you did!” she roared.
The man jumped up, wrapping his sheet around a narrow waist. He looked like your typical arrogant man, tall and tan, with perfectly coiffed hair and equally perfect musculature. “Hek, you can’t just barge in here—”
“If I waited until you weren’t entertaining random nymphs, I’d never get anything accomplished.”
The girl piped up in a tiny voice. “I’m not random. I’m his girlfr—”
The woman named Hek waved her hand in the air, and the girl’s mouth disappeared from her face. Her eyes stared wide in horror as she let out a muffled scream.
“For fuck’s sake, Hek!” the man cried.
“I need to talk to you right now. Please tell your girlfriend to come back later.” Hek crossed her arms.
The man looked visibly distraught. “Vixen, I just need a few minutes. Underworld business.”
Hek rolled her eyes so hard at the moniker that I thought the sky blue irises would never return.
Thankfully, the girl nodded, and Hek waved her hand, giving the poor girl her mouth back. She didn’t utter another world and promptly ported out of the bedroom.
The man looked frustrated. “We broke up, Hekate. You literally sleep with whoever you want. Why come here and ruin things for me?”
“You put my heart back,” she hissed.
The man blanched. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Hekate moved in closer, her eyes burning. “For centuries, I have existed doing as I pleased. Entertaining whoever I wanted without a care in the world. Then you come around, and something is different. I didn’t question it at first, but soon, I knew something didn’t feel right.”
The man grinned, cocky, edging closer to her. “Oh, yeah?”
She pushed him away. “You still smell like trashy Underworld nymph.”
He growled. “Then why are you here?”
I noticed the air shift, sparks of purple and black sparkling along Hekate’s alabaster skin. She spoke between gritted teeth. “Nyx was the one who figured it out. My heart. You put my fucking heart back.”
The man looked alarmed. “I did no such thing.”
She grabbed his hand and pressed it to her chest. Her eyes were now black, her face contorted by her anger. “It’s beating, Phobetor.”
Before she could use the power she was raising, he blew what appeared to be tiny black particles into her face, catching her as she fainted. He scooped her into his arms. “Great, now I have to figure out how to make you forget again,” he muttered.
My attention was pulled away from the drama before me by the sensation of tugging at my chest.
I looked down and cried out. My chest had been cut open, and my ribs were cracked, my exposed heart pulsating.
I screamed myself awake.
It took only a few minutes to realize I was in the basement of a storefront, shelves of inventory surrounding me where I lay on an old couch. The air smelled strongly of patchouli, and soon I remembered the metaphysical shop. I blinked, sitting up to see Kieve standing nearby.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, confused. “I thought you had to get home to your girlfriend.”
“The owner said you fainted in her store. Apparently, I’m the last number you called, so she dialed me, thinking I was your emergency contact.”
I groaned as I recalled entering the shop on the way to the airport. I rubbed my head. “Ugh, I’m sorry. There is something wrong with me, I think.” I met his concerned eyes. “Don’t you have to get home?”
“I made up an excuse,” he explained with a sigh. “I think you should maybe stay in town another night.”
I remembered my flight and the important contract that I had to get signed. I bolted upright and almost fainted again.
Kieve caught me, guiding me gently back onto the couch. “Cassandra, you need to give yourself a minute to chill. I already called Ashley. She rescheduled everything and booked you another room for tonight. We both agree you’re overworking yourself again. You need to rest.”
I was annoyed to be treated like someone who couldn’t handle herself, but at the same time, I was relieved to have him there. I would never admit it to anyone, but I liked when he was around. Plus, he smelled really nice. I searched his warm brown eyes. Maybe in another lifetime we were together. It seemed likely. No matter where we were, he felt like home.
“Does this mean I get to have you for another night?” I asked him playfully.
He groaned, but I caught a smile on his lips. “I’m gonna get you checked into your hotel room, and then I have to get home.”
I rolled my eyes, but I wasn’t upset. I knew I’d talk him into staying.
“Are you feeling better?” came a quiet voice from around the corner.
I looked up to see the shopkeeper from earlier. Her skirt swept the floor as she walked, her long necklaces clinking together as she approached. She looked sweet and unassuming behind a curtain of ash blonde hair.
I flushed with embarrassment. “I am so sorry,” I told her as I grabbed my purse. “How much do I owe you? I’m sure I broke something—”
She put up a hand. “It’s no worry at all, I promise. There is no compensation needed. I have to tell you something, but I’m not sure how you will take it.”
Kieve raised an eyebrow.
The shopkeeper nodded. She turned to me, kneading her hands in apprehension. “You are…well, you are not from here. There has been some kind of mistake. A spell was cast on you.”
“A spell?” Kieve snorted.
Her expression looked severe. “You’re a goddess. You’re not supposed to be here.”
A sense of dread settled over me like a weighted blanket.
I heard my heartbeat loud in my ears. I looked up at Kieve, and suddenly it hit me. His eyes were just like the eyes of the man I’d seen in my dream. My mouth went dry.
I was Hekate, imagining my Phobetor.
None of this was real.