The waves of the Mediterranean rolled over my feet, throwing sunlight in my direction with each wave as I gazed out across the great expanse of aquamarine. I might have been granted dominion over her barren parts, the night skies, the dead earth, but I still loved the sun. I wandered out to soak up its rays whenever I could, enjoying the warm sand under my bare feet and the breeze fluttering my long black hair.
One of my pups yipped at my feet, interrupting my moment of peace. I reached down to scoop him into my arms, noticing a figure approaching from a distance. As he maneuvered his way through the sand, I realized it was a mortal.
“Goddess Hekate,” he greeted me tentatively. Upon closer inspection, I saw he was quite handsome, with a strong nose and jaw, the latter dusted with scruff. He was dressed in a simple toga with his calves exposed, his hair a thick, wavy brown, and his eyes the kindest shade of royal blue I’d ever seen.
“I thought you came out at night, during the dark moon,” he remarked.
I smiled, instantly charmed. He was a worshipper. Young Cassius wiggled in my arms. “Yes, tonight is my night,” I replied. “I usually don’t come down to Earth until after the sun sets, but I am often captivated by the sea air on a warm summer day.”
“Ah.” He nodded. “May I?” he asked, motioning towards the puppy.
I obliged, watching with awe as Cassius settled immediately in the mortal’s arms, eventually nuzzling his neck and nipping playfully at his ears. Cassius, like his brothers, didn’t care much for mortals, particularly mortal men.
The mortal was pleased with the affection, which brought a light into his eyes, much like the way the sun sparkled along the sea. “I have always heard Goddess Hekate required the sacrifice of dog meat at the crossroads,” he said absently.
The moment was shattered. Alarmed, I snatched the puppy away from him.
His eyes widened with apprehension. “Oh no, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean… It’s an archaic practice, is what I meant.”
“Well, you have it wrong,” I informed him, snuggling Cassius close. “Hyenas are sacrificed to the Egyptian god, Anubis. I do not require such things. Anyone who does so does not win my favor, despite what mortals might believe. The only blood I accept is that of a wicked man.”
“I didn’t think you would condone harm to animals,” the man assured me, his voice soft. “I’ve actually argued the notion with friends. Anyone who truly worships you can see how much you love animals. Quite the opposite of the picture they like to paint of you.” His gaze pointed at Cassius, who stared curiously back at him with chocolate eyes.
I relaxed. “And what do I call you, mortal?”
I blinked in alarm. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
There was a loud clamor in the distance, jolting me. I looked down to see the puppy in my arms was gone, my arms coated instead with sticky crimson. My head shot up to the sky, watching the crystal blue and swirling white crack and crumble as the sea before me disappeared like it was being sucked down into a funnel.
Horrified, I looked back at the kind man to see he had been replaced by Nikolas’s animated corpse, dead eyes boring into mine as he reached toward me with arms rotted down to the bone.
I screamed myself into a new nightmare.
This time, I was standing in the middle of my ancient temple, the bodies of my slain priestesses strewn out around me. Their shades had long abandoned their husks. What was once a serene place of worship, brimming with fragrant lilies and fountains, was riddled with the stench of putrefaction and stagnant water trapped in moldering basins.
I refused to look down, lest I be swept away by the pain of their loss. Instead, I tried to remember the identity of the mortal man I’d met many years ago on the shores of Athens. It felt like a true memory, not some false narrative implanted in a dream, but it had been lost in my ancient mind. Why did he seem so familiar? And why was I seeing him now, in my nightmare?
I was startled by movement behind me. I turned to see that one of my poor priestesses had risen to her feet. She looked like Nikolas had, in an advanced state of decay that had taken away her lips. She spoke through moss-covered teeth. “Have you figured out why you are here, my queen?” she croaked.
“No,” I replied in frustration. “The fact that I’m dreaming of my ancient life makes no sense to me. It feels like one of Phobetor’s tricks.”
The corpse managed to look sad, although she only had one eye left in her skull. She shook her head, the act rattling her bones as a strip of skin slid gruesomely off her leg. “No, Goddess Hekate. This is your nightmare.”
“Then what is it I need to see?” I said, exasperated. “Do you know the identity of the man on the beach? Do I know him?”
She didn’t have a chance to reply, for I was standing at the crossroads in the woods, a pyre blazing before me, under the black moon. I saw my ancient self covered in blood, chanting, as dozens of priests bowed before me. Snakes slithered about them on the ground as dogs howled a symphony in the distance.
My face flashed between the three aspects the mortals used for me. A beautiful young maiden, the face I wore now, and the sharp weathered angles of a crone. My body stayed the same, dressed in light robes that swayed with the building wind, gore streaking the tops of my breasts and exposed stomach. I wore a crown of human bone, chanting as I lifted a snake into the sky.
It was a necromancy ritual, one I clearly recognized, though I couldn’t remember why my ancient self was doing it.
That was when I heard a muffled cry. I turned to see a young man tied to a post not far from the pyre. He wiggled and moaned, trying to escape the ropes binding him. I gasped, realizing what was happening.