Chapter 59: Finality
ASA ran up to Abby and wrapped her in her arms. “Don’t ever do that to me again.”
Abby shot her a crooked grin. “I didn’t exactly plan to get caught.”
They both paused for a quick moment then burst out in laughter and hugged again.
Agathe lay on the stone floor, Kat brooding over her. Kat’s evil-eye stare said I dare you to move.
Even though I felt fine, I feigned anger, plodding toward Agathe. Citizens around me stumbled, the invisible force flowing from me, parting the way, pushing them to the side. The bodies of unconscious Hunters slid away from me as I approached, making a path to the one who’d killed Braden and Robert.
Agathe rose to her feet slowly, eyes darting to all of the faces looking her way. She gritted her teeth and screamed, putting all of her weight behind a hard punch. Just before her hand connected with my face, it slammed against a telekinetic barrier in front of me. Agathe cried out, holding her hand against her chest.
Kat snorted. “Nice one, Einstein.”
Agathe pulled back, shaking. I grabbed her arm, turning her around, and nodded to Joseph as I pushed her toward him.
Asa lifted her hand to coax a gun strap with metal rings at its ends to wrap tight around Agathe’s wrists. She scowled at Asa, wild rage in her eyes.
Joseph handed her to Reilly and Jesse who hauled her off to the Old City. He’d have to decide whether to dump her outside Denver with the other captured Hunters or keep her in Winter’s Edge so she couldn’t cause any more damage. It wouldn’t be fair to imprison or kill the Hunters since they were just protecting the public, which was a noble job…even if it was a little misguided. But Agathe was a serial killer. She needed to be contained. If we were lucky, the mercy we would show the Hunters would convince them we’re no threat and they’d end their service to the organization. That was unlikely, though.
I watched Agathe disappear into the South Passage wondering what would become of her.
Brother Lawrence came along side me. “If you went through what she went through as a child, you’d understand why she did what she did.”
He was right. My father had done so many things to me in love that I misinterpreted as hate. That misunderstanding had shaped the way I’d grown up, the way I’d done things, and the way I’d believed. There was no telling what Agathe had been through to shape her, but one thing was now clear—it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Her parents had probably been just as lost as her when they’d shaped her. And like my father and even me, they probably just didn’t have a way out of their mess. That was probably the problem of nearly everyone on the planet.
I nodded at the monk’s statement. “But she still has to pay for what she’s done.”
“Oh, of course. People believe forgiveness means there are no consequences, but even when we die and face the Light, we face the consequences of our actions. Not for punishment, but because it matures us. All of us will be salted with fire.”
I grimaced. “You mean hell?”
He burst out laughing. “No, no, nothing like that, brother.” He paused a long moment, looking up thoughtfully. “The Light says my usefulness here has come to an end…for now.”
“Soon, yes.” He gave a nod of respect. “It’s been a delightful time. We’ll do it again soon.”
It was statements like that one that kept me questioning the man’s sanity. Well, that and his general demeanor and his love affair with pain and…
I abandoned the thought fearing the list might go on too long.
“Thanks for your help,” I said. “We couldn’t have done it without you.”
He just smiled pleasantly, taking no credit, then turned away to wander through the grass of the town square. It was a little sad to see him go.
“Such an odd little guy,” I said, as Abby came up beside me.
She frowned at him, puzzled. “Who is that, anyway?”
“That is a very good question.” I snorted a laugh. “Ask your dad later.”
She smiled, wrapped her arms around my neck, and kissed me.
When she pulled away, Joseph was there. He shook his head, staring at that ground, then looked up at Abby and put a hand on her shoulder. “I should’ve believed Ian and your father. I’m sorry kid.”
Abby cocked her head. “Should’ve believed them about what?”
Harlan came up beside Joseph, his face scuffed up from the battle. “I was the one who was exiled thirteen years ago. Joseph thought I killed Jonathan. But I’m guessing Lena did it and framed me for it. I always feared she resented me and Jonathan for not saving her sister.”
Abby’s expression changed several times as Joseph explained what he’d done and the pieces fell into place for her. Then she looked at her father. “So…you didn’t leave us on purpose?”
Harlan shook his head.
Tears poured from Abby’s eyes and she embraced her father in a hug that lasted a very long while.
When she’d finally managed to pull herself away from her father, she turned to Joseph, wiping tears from her cheeks. “I have my dad and Ian back.” She smiled. “That’s all that matters now.”
Joseph nodded and gave a half-smile, the other half dragged down with residual guilt. I imagined it’d take him a while to get over what he’d done, even if it hadn’t entirely been his fault.
Asa pushed past Joseph and threw her arms around Harlan. “I can’t believe I thought you were a murderer all these years.” Tears streamed down her face. “I’m so sorry I doubted you.”
“It’s okay.” Harlan squeezed her tight, then she pulled back to look up at him. He stared deep into her eyes. “I’m just glad to have my family back.” He tightened his embrace, kissing her once more.
I turned away and walked across the grassy town square, stopping a little ways from where Dad’s body lay, still dressed in black Hunter’s gear. The soft voice of the waterfall serenaded the park, and a breeze from the hidden vents in the painted sky carried its mists to wash over me. A gentle melody sang out from the lazy river as it meandered its way under the bridges. It had been chaotic only moments before, but it was finally a peaceful place for my father to rest. I knew he was long gone from his body at that moment, but the calmness of the place made it better in some way.
“He was your father wasn’t he?” Harlan came alongside me, Asa and Abby not far behind.
“How’d you know?”
“I saw him save you from that Telekinetic.”
“Yeah, but I couldn’t save him.”
Harlan patted my back the way a father would. “Soldiers don’t ask the people they’re rescuing to save them. They willingly give their lives.” He nodded toward my dad. “I’m sorry you lost him. He must’ve been a good man to do what he did for you.”
“He was,” I said. “I just wish I’d seen it sooner.”
Asa came up beside Harlan and put an arm around his waist.
Abby did the same to me. “I’m sorry, Ian.”
I nodded with a bittersweet smile, remembering the peace and joy I’d experienced while I was dead. “It’s okay. He’s in a better place, now. And you and I both got our fathers back today, in a way.”
Abby’s smile was half joy and half sorrow.
We all turned and strolled back through the park. I wasn’t ready to bury my father just yet.
Frowning, I looked at Harlan. “How did you breathe fire?”
Harlan turned his gaze from Asa to me, eyebrows raised. “Oh, that? It’s a trick I picked up while doing relief work in Nigeria. A man there taught me how to store alcohol in my stomach then spray it back out. If I pull enough heat from myself or someone else, I can ignite it and spit fire.”
“So that’s what the drinking was about in the Outskirts.” I shook my head. “I thought you were a drunk there for a second.”
Harlan laughed. “No, I just figured I’d keep some in reserve in case we stumbled across the killer. Makes for a good distraction.”
“What if you hadn’t needed it once we got here?”
“I’d either have spit it out or we’d have had a really interesting night.” He smirked. But then his expression slipped into a smile of gratitude. “Thank you.”
He looked at all of us together. “For this.”
“I should be thanking you.” I shrugged. “Without you, I would’ve never made it back here.”
Harlan stopped and looked toward Brother Lawrence who crouched at the river’s edge, staring into the water intently. “I think he’s probably the one we should be thanking.”
The monk speared a hand down into the water and came up with a good-sized fish. “Oh, that’s wonderful!” His eyes brightened. “Hello, little fellow.” He admired the fish for a moment, speaking to it. Did he think the fish was speaking back to him? Part of me wondered if the fish actually was speaking back to him. I’d seen a lot of strange things recently. Talking fish probably wouldn’t surprise me.
Brother Lawrence tossed the fish back.
“Has he always been like that?” I said.
“Well…it’s a common practice for saints and mystics to act a little oblivious and odd. They do it so people don’t think too highly of them. It’s a humility thing.”
“So it’s all just an act?”
“No. That’s just who he is.” He smiled, admiring the monk. “He’s probably the wisest, most authentic person I know.”
“So he’s some kind of mystic or Catholic saint?”
He shook his head. “He would say he’s not anything. He doesn’t like labels. Says they’re judgmental and cause division.”
I could understand that. Religions fought all the time because of their labels.
Brother Lawrence turned to me from a good distance across the park and smiled a knowing smile as if he’d heard us. In that moment, I saw the man clearly for the first time. Maybe the madness hadn’t taken him at all. Maybe he was more clear-sighted than the rest of us.
Abruptly, the monk vanished into black curls of smoke, and a tinge of sadness echoed in my chest. I pulled Abby a little closer.
Harlan did the same to Asa. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’ve missed you, too.” Asa had a look I’d never seen on her face before. Her stony exterior had broken, and underneath was a softer, more compassionate woman. A woman in love.
She stole a quick kiss from Harlan then looked back at us to see Abby with a big grin on her face.
“I think that’s enough excitement for one day,” Abby said.
I raised a hand. “I second that.”
Harlan grinned. “You two look pretty cozy. How long before we have grandkids?”
Abby’s jaw dropped, eyes wide. “Dad!”
I stepped out of the way as she slapped his arm, and he started a tickling war like they were both thirteen years younger again. So that’s where she’d gotten the tickling thing from.
Asa stood next to me watching the reunited father-daughter craziness. It was like no time had passed for them. Years of pent up emotions came out in joy and laughter.
Lost in the moment, I gave Asa a playful nudge with my hip, knocking her slightly off her stance.
She shot me a scowl, and I recoiled in horror. Slowly, the scowl shifted into a sly, fond smile that drained my tension. She was messing with me.
We both snickered.
She’d hidden away part of herself for a very long time, and it was finally getting to come out and play again. For the first time, I saw genuine happiness in Asa’s eyes.