“That’s Macha. The cries of the dying have reached their pinnacle, and she will reap their souls and send them on to Arawn.”
Hel frowned, her gaze touching on the dozen bodies scattered around the castle lawn. “Shouldn’t he be here too?”
“Only if the battle increases, which it doesn’t look like it will—” Morrigan’s voice faded as she focused on the far edge of the castle wall. Hel followed her gaze, her brows rising as massive black creatures poured around the corner, looking refreshed and ready to fight.
“It seems I spoke too soon,” the goddess said with a disgusted grimace. “Time to participate.” Her black dress disappeared, and she now wore a black peasant shirt and tight pants. With her raised sword, she looked more like a pirate than a goddess. Morrigan glanced at Hel, a thoughtful look on her face as she stared at Hel’s black pants and fitted, black silk shirt. “Seems you’re already dressed for the occasion, although I wouldn’t have chosen silk for a battle.”
Hel grinned and raised her eyebrows. “You might be surprised. There’s less material to get in the way. This is a blending of silk and cotton, and my own special creation, so it’s the best of both worlds.”
A quick flash of silver drew her attention as Marcel broke free from the goddess’s hold and darted back into the thick of the battle. Hel shook her head. The pup seemed to live a charmed life. To keep him alive, she sent a small protection spell, encasing his soul.
Satisfied he would survive, she turned to the newcomers. Calling on her ability to see the truth hidden in souls, her vision shifted from real world to black-and-white, showing her the souls in front of her and turning the battlefield into a field of glowing orbs, much like giant fireflies.
There was a mixture of opalescent colors from the purest white, which surprisingly came from Marcel, to shades of pinks, yellows, and light blues. Surrounding those were hazier shades with a blending of varying hues of gray swirling through the orbs to the opaque blackness of the damned.
Like a wraith, she walked through the spaces between combatants, touching the creatures whose souls were so black, they were beyond redemption. With each featherlike contact, the monster fell, his body nothing more than a shell as his soul evaporated, never to be reborn to a second life.
With so many new werewolves pouring in, it gave those already fighting a second wind, and her job multiplied. From the corner of her eye, she caught a quick glimpse of Morrigan and Macha, their swords slashing in front of them, taking out enemy after enemy. Hel could only hope they were able to tell the good from the bad.
A high-keening cry infiltrated her focus, and the waves of pain and sorrow drew her toward the sound. Next to the castle wall, near the corner where the new soldiers had come from, she found Marcel with his back to the wall, holding and rocking a werewolf in his arms. Tears streamed from his blue eyes as sobs wracked his thin body.
She knelt in front of him and cupped his cheek with her hand and whispered a spell to calm him. Never had she seen such sorrow in one so young and glanced at the wolf gripped tightly in his embrace. Immediately, she noticed the resemblance and knew they were somehow related. Looking deeper, she saw the thin stream of gray, like a winding ribbon, as it coalesced with the purer colors of his soul.
“Marcel?” She held her breath, waiting for the young pup to stop crying. It took a few seconds, but finally the youth sucked in air, then exhaled a shaky breath. “Who is your friend?”
“My...my cousin.” Marcel raised grief-stricken eyes to hers, his black lips shaking. “He disappeared a few weeks after Papa and I were captured. He was supposed to be home watching over our family, my grand-père, Claude’s mother and sister, Chantal. Claude was born with a bad leg and couldn’t walk, so when Hitler began invading, Papa trained with him, helping him learn how to defend them.” He stroked the fur on his cousin’s cheek, the tears once more filling his eyes. “Why is he here?”
Hel shook her head and, without thought, laid her hand on Claude’s chest, over his heart, which was something she rarely did. Few people were ever worth saving, and she had given up hope on humanity many centuries ago, as their behaviors turned more depraved and without morals.
Closing her eyes, she pushed the ongoing battle behind them from her mind and listened to the far-off sound of Claude’s soul. Would she hear it begging to be reborn? Asking for a chance to relive a better life? Instead, she heard the soft whispering of a youthful voice, trying to calm his younger cousin with words filled with love and concern for Marcel’s and his father’s welfare, without thought of his own fate. She let the love of his young wolf wash over her, its purity refreshing as it filled her with such hope and life.
“Live again,” she whispered. “Love again.”
For the first time, Claude’s spirit became aware of her and turned, as if facing her. “Who are you?”
“My name is Hel.”
“Am I dead?”
“You are between life and death. Would you like to live again and go back to your previous life?” The soul lightly bounced in front of her, the gray ribbons lightening until the color completely disappeared, leaving the soul a brilliant white opalescent glow. Slowly, the boy’s form returned, showing himself as a wolf, not much bigger than Marcel, but with light brown fur, not silvery gray.
“Will I still be a monster?”
“You were never a monster. Magic made you do things you didn’t like, but that wasn’t you, Claude. Like your cousin, you are goodness and filled with love for others. If you weren’t, I couldn’t give you this choice. Even if you remain as a creature, like little Marcel, would you choose to return to the land of the living or move on to a second life elsewhere?”
“I love my family and want to be with them. Marcel needs me to watch out for him. Even without the total use of my leg, I tried to take care of him. He gets into trouble a lot. Laurent is always telling him he’s too curious.”
“So, you choose life, even though you may return as a wolf or still lame?”
“Yes, please. I didn’t mind being lame and got to do other things. I love carving wood and miss creating little animals.”
Hel smiled. Leaning forward, she kissed the wolf’s forehead. “Life is yours once more, sweet child.”
Hearing a squeak, Hel returned to the earthen plane to see Marcel’s wide eyes, filled with amazement. She also detected a hint of fear as the young wolf stared at his cousin, who was sitting up and looking around. Marcel turned to her and launched himself at her, throwing his arms around her neck and squeezing. She felt the happiness bubbling inside of him, erasing the sorrow.
“Thank you, Hel. Thank you for bringing Claude back. Thank you,” he whispered in her ear. She stiffened slightly, shocked at the child’s awareness. Few people knew she could bring back the dead, so how did this innocent figure it out so easily?