Ashlin passed by the reception desk and handed the nurse her visitor badge with her father on her other arm. I was trailing behind them as they were chatting with one another.
“Bill! You’re looking so much better!” the nursed exclaimed, taking my dangling badge from my outstretched hand as I neared. “What’s happened to you?”
“It’s a miracle, isn’t it, Margie?” he replied as they made their way out onto the lawn. Margie and I shared a look as she took the badges to place back on a hanger on the wall.
“I haven’t seen him that way in years. When he first got here, I thought he was actually mute or deaf,” she revealed. “If I had known having you girls come to visit him would cure him of whatever demons he had, I would’ve invited you two myself.”
“You have no idea,” I muttered under my breath. While I was happy for Ashlin and her father, I was still worried that somehow I had tricked the man into delivering his soul into my hands. While I didn’t think it was possible for him to willingly give himself to me because of his incoherency, I couldn’t place any faith into the fact that maybe I did have healing abilities along with my normal demonic ones.
For a brief moment, I thought that maybe it hadn’t been me, and it had been God instead. He would be the only other being besides an actual angel who could’ve brought back his sanity like that. I wanted to tell Ashlin about my concerns, but I didn’t want to take this moment of happiness for her. She deserved so much more than a couple of hours alone with her father.
“Since you girls came in, another of our patients started to walk again, Mrs. Larson,” the nurse continued, pulling me from my thoughts. “She said she met an angel outside. And then that girl that was brought in earlier today. She miraculously became coherent again, and the scars from her self-inflictions disappeared!”
“You don’t say…” I trailed off.
“Yes,” she replied. “What was your name again, dear?”
“Kasdeya Angelov?” Margie asked as she looked at the sign-in sheet on her clipboard. “Do you think you may have enough time to visit someone?”
“I…uh…” I wasn’t exactly sure what to say, but it would give Ashlin more time with her father. Those precious moments held more value to me than whatever it was the reception nurse was getting at.
“It won’t be but a moment, dear,” she said with a smile.
“Okay,” I relented. I thought she was going to jump out of her seat with joy as she walked around the desk, giving me a hug.
“I’ll take you to him,” she declared proudly as she buzzed us back through the doors once again. She led me to an elevator up to the second floor, and we walked down the long corridors towards another room. The nurse that I had seen with Mrs. Larson came up to us.
“You’re the girl Mrs. Larson saw outside. This man has been in our care for about two years now. He has a daughter who comes to visit him every day. She’s here now, but she’s waiting outside in the hallway. I told her that maybe you could help,” the other nurse explained.
“Am I allowed to ask what’s wrong?” I asked, remembering how the other nurse had treated me when I asked about the girl in the hospital bed.
“He went blind suddenly and simply shut down. No one has been able to get through to him since, and his daughter is at her wit’s end. She’s brought in healers and priests from all over to figure out what’s wrong with him,” Margie answered.
We headed for his door as they opened it for me. The room was dark even though it mirrored the same room Ashlin’s father was in. It smelled of urine with stains all over the walls, and there, the poor man sat on a mattress staring off at his reflection in the mirror even though it was clear he couldn’t see it.
I approached him and stood in front of him a few feet away as the nurses huddled in the doorway. His eyes were cloudy, almost white in color. He was older with dark, wrinkled skin and bald on top. He had a face that drooped with age with a permanent frown etched onto it.
“Hello…” I began. “My name is Kasdeya.”
The man stared blankly at me or rather through me. Summoning my courage, I took a step closer as I glanced over at the nurses.
“I realize this may seem strange,” I continued, “but there are people here that believe I have this power to heal people.”
“Do you believe?” he asked suddenly. I jumped a little at his words as I wasn’t expecting him to speak, but his voice carried through the emptiness when he did.
“I want to,” I admitted. “It would bring me comfort in knowing that I could possibly help people rather than…”
I stopped short, remembering the audience watching me. The old man chuckled.
“Then what are you waiting for? Are you going to help me?” he asked, his words sounding entirely coherent from an individual who was said to be devoid of logic.
I swallowed as I approached him, not sure what to do. The only thing I could think of was to place my hands over his eyes. Cradling his head and placing my thumbs over his eyes, I thought about the joy that had been brought to my life from my friends and family. I thought about how Ashlin hugged her father again for the first time, about Gabriel kissing me on my bed in my room after our first real date, about Misty following me around Brimstone Prep and keeping me out of trouble. All those wonderful memories came flooding back as I closed my eyes, focusing on healing the man in front of me.
Letting go, I backed away from him as the two nurses stepped into the room. The man blinked a few times as the cloudiness dissipated from his view, and a small smile spread across his face. His daughter ran back into the room, panting as the man looked at her and held out his arms. Tears pooled in her eyes as she dropped to her knees and hugged him as he sat on the bed. The nurses behind me stared in silence at what they had witnessed.
“Thank you,” the man whispered, his voice utterly different from the low rumble that it was before. I cocked my head to the side, not trusting my own ears.
Before I could dwell on it any further, the nurses ushered me outside the room, giddy expressions on their faces.
“Who are you?” they asked in unison.
“I’m nobody,” I said as I headed back towards the elevator, realizing that I wasn’t exactly keeping a low profile anymore. I found my way back to the reception desk and exited the hospital, hoping that I hadn’t made the biggest mistake of my life, revealing powers I didn’t even know existed to humans.
I made my way towards our vehicle in the parking lot, giving Ashlin and her father space to say their goodbyes on the front lawn. With the car started, I approached them as Ashlin was giving her father one last hug.
“Dad, I’ll be okay. Kas will protect me,” she smiled as she turned to look at me.
“So you’re Kasdeya. Thanks for giving my daughter and I some time to talk. You don’t know how much that means to me. I’ll have to remain here for a few more weeks until I’m reevaluated, but what’s a few more weeks?” he replied optimistically. “As soon as I get out, I’ll come and find you again, Ashlin.”
“I know you will, Dad. I’ve got to get Kas on that boat; otherwise, I’ll never hear the end of it from the rest of our gang,” she said as she gave him a peck on the cheek. “See you later. I love you.”
“I love you too, sweetheart,” he said as he gave her one more farewell hug before heading back into the hospital.
We buckled ourselves into the car and headed off back down the highway towards Pickering Wharf.
“You know, Ash. I would’ve understood if you wanted to stay with your dad,” I declared as I focused on the road behind the steering wheel.
“I know,” she sighed. “But this is more important, and besides, Josh is waiting for me too. I couldn’t abandon all of you like that.”
I smiled as I slowed the car to stop for a red light. “Ashlin, I don’t know exactly what I did with your dad. There’s a chance that I…that he…”
“I know,” she said solemnly. “I know how contracts work by now, Kas. I know there’s a chance, but I don’t think it happened with him. I truly believe that your celestial side kicked in, and you worked a miracle. It’s hard to explain, but whatever you did to him didn’t feel demonic.”
“I really hope you’re right,” I replied as I looked out the driver’s side window at the black SUV beside us. Glancing over at my ring on my finger, resting on the steering wheel, I saw the ruby stone turn black.
“Hold on,” I said as the light turned green. Swerving to the right in front of a car that was turning, I floored the gas as the black SUV took off behind us.
“We’re being followed?” Ashlin shouted as she tightened her seatbelt.
“It’s the bounty hunters,” I replied as I drove past cars as they honked at us.
“Did they catch our scent?” she asked as I turned in front of a semi-truck heading down a side road.
“Doubt it. I need some directions, Ash!” I yelled as I turned down another road, flying through a red light. Two cars T-boned each other behind us at the intersection. I was trying to shake them as fast as I could.
“Um,” Ashlin muttered as she held the paper up and slammed it down on the dashboard of the car. “Take a left here!”
I pulled the steering wheel hard as the back tires of our car skidded around, realigning with the turn. A sedan coming from the other direction screeched to a stop as I pulled the car down the road. Glancing in my rearview mirror, I saw the SUV hit the sedan with the front of their vehicle, knocking it out of their way. Ashlin turned around in her seat after hearing the crash.
“These guys really don’t give up,” she said.
“Ashlin. Focus!” I stated as she looked over the map some more.
“Take a right here!” she instructed as I turned down the one-way street.
“Ashlin!” I shouted, frustrated. The cars jumped out of my way as I barreled down the street. Several of them crashed into the sidewalk and lampposts.
“Sorry! Once we get to the end of the street, take a left!” she bellowed.
“You better be right, Ash,” I mumbled as I turned the wheel onto a road right beside the marina. I slammed on brakes at the tourists passing over the street to the sidewalk by the oceanfront.
Glancing in the side mirror, I saw the SUV slide out of the road we had turned out of heading towards us fast. Honking the horn for the people to move out of the way, I threw my arm out in front of Ash as the SUV plowed into the back of our vehicle, pushing us forward. At this point, people started running away, screams filling the air.
I kept my foot on the brakes, so we didn’t plow into the line of cars ahead of us.
“What do we do?” Ashlin sobbed from beside me. Turning the wheel, I pulled our car onto the wide sidewalk strictly meant for people and bikers. Pressing the gas pedal, I drove down towards the pier where Maisie’s boat was. People dove out of the way while some flipped over the railings onto the rocks of the shore.
“Looks like we’re not the only ones with that idea,” Ashlin pointed out as I rechecked my mirrors.
“Damn it!” I shouted as we got closer to the pier.
“There!” Ashlin pointed out. “That’s Maisie’s tugboat!”
I turned down the pier she was pointing to as I saw the old boat and our friends waving their hands frantically as they watched us. I honked the horn, trying to signal to them to go ahead and pull out. It must’ve worked because I could see the boat start its engine and pull off from the pier’s end into the ocean.
“Ash, brace yourself!” I warned as I drifted onto the dock and gunned our car further down over the wooden boards, the SUV still fast behind us.
Our vehicle flew over the edge of the pier, and for one moment, it felt as if gravity has abandoned us. The car roared as the wheels spun helplessly in the air. I watched as the waves of the ocean grew closer and closer to the windshield. After what felt like an eternity, the front of the car slammed into the water, slinging our bodies forward in our seat as gravity returned with a vengeance.
Willing myself not to pass out as my eyesight blurred, I looked over at Ashlin as our car slowly sank into the water. I could feel blood dripping from a gash on my forehead from where I had hit the steering wheel. Unlatching my seat belt, I pushed Ashlin’s limp body back in the seat to undo hers.
“Ash? Ash, I need you to wake up,” I said, slapping the side of her face as the water completely enveloped the vehicle. The pressure caused leaks in the car all around as it started to fill up with water.
Ashlin slowly opened her eyes, blinking away her disorientation. Panicking as water spurted from the windows around us, she straightened in her chair.
“It’s okay. We just need to breathe and get out of here. I’m going to break the glass, okay, and when I do, the water is going to flood the vehicle. I need you to stay calm and push your way through your window,” I instructed.
“I can’t swim,” she cried.
“What? But you’re part succubi! They’re excellent swimmers!” I recalled.
“Not me, Kas,” she admitted. “Didn’t you ever wonder why I wouldn’t go into the swimming pool?”
“I thought that was because of Mara! Look, okay. Stay calm,” I said as I thought for a moment.
Before I could come up with another plan, I saw two blurry figures heading towards us through the water’s darkness in front of our windshield. I flipped on the headlights of the vehicle, worried they were the bounty hunters.
Josh was swimming towards us in his siren form, his greenish-blue scales glistening in the beams of the headlights. Beside him was a dolphin, who I knew had to be Ebony.
“Look!” I pointed out the windshield. “It’s Josh and Ebony. See? You’re going to be fine.”
Josh swam around to Ashlin’s side of the car and peered through the window while Ebony awaited me on my side. Josh tapped on the glass, and I nodded my head. The water was already in my lap at this point.
“I’m going to break the glass now, okay?” I tried to calm her.
“No, please don’t,” Ashlin cried through her sobs as she clung to me.”
“It’s okay. Josh is going to grab you and carry you to the surface. It’s only going to take a few seconds,” I replied.
Ashlin grabbed onto my arms, clutching me. “Please, don’t leave me, Kas!”
“I’m not. I promise, but we have to get out of here before the pressure is too much for us,” I said.
Before she could protest, I reached my arms out and used an energy pulse to break the glass, it cracked as it shattered completely, water rushing in. Taking a deep breath, I made sure Ashlin was the first to get out of the car, shoving her into Josh’s arms through the water. He pulled her through the window and swam her quickly to the surface.
I headed for the window and pulled myself threw it as Ebony swam next to me, allowing me to take hold of her fin. She pulled me out of the vehicle as it crashed to the bottom of the ocean, sand rising from all around it. As we neared the surface, I felt myself becoming dizzy, but I couldn’t let myself faint now.
We broke the water’s surface, and I gasped for air as I saw Josh holding Ashlin close to him nearby. She was shaking and crying as he tried to calm her, stroking her wet hair.
“We’re going to swim you guys back to the boat. It’s too far out for you two to make it there yourselves,” he shouted over to me as thunder rolled in the distance. I glanced back at the pier at the abandoned SUV on the docks. The hunters hadn’t wasted any time getting out of the public eye.
I held on to Ebony’s fin as she swam me towards the boat that was further off the shore than I expected. Ashlin road atop Josh’s back hanging on for dear life. As we neared the ship, Maisie threw a rope ladder off the stern as we floated in the water. Josh lifted Ashlin into the air as she grabbed the ladder and climbed up. Callan was at the top, helping lift her into the boat the rest of the way.
Ebony shifted back into her form and swam over to the ladder doing the same. Josh lifted me up, and I took hold of the ladder as well, with Callan pulling me up and over. As he did so, a rung caught my foot, causing me to fall into him as he tried to steady me.
“You’re okay,” he whispered as he helped me regain my footing.
He released me, and I walked towards Gabriel, flinging my arms around him as he grabbed me around my waist.
“You scared me half to death!” he said as he held on. “You don’t say anything about leaving and then ride in like a bat out of hell, sinking the car into the ocean?”
I laughed nervously as I took a seat on a bench by the starboard side. “I’ve had a really crazy day.”
“I’ll say,” Josh said as he stepped onto the boat, his gills and fins disappearing underneath his skin as his eyes returned to their normal golden hue from an intense icy blue.
“We told you to stay out of the water, Josh,” Ashlin declared as she wrapped a towel around herself. Gabriel wrapped one around me as well.
“Yeah, that was before you two decided to go drown yourselves,” he mocked.
“We’ll be far enough out to sea before word gets back to your mother,” Maisie chimed in. “It will take a minute for the sirens to track us down, and by then, we’ll be close to our destination.”
“I really hope we don’t have to deal with sirens,” Ashlin mumbled. “Your mother already hates my guts.”
“I’m surprised the bounty hunters chased us through busy streets like that. Anyone could’ve seen us,” I admitted, standing up to peer over the boat’s railing into the dark waters below.
“Those weren’t bounty hunters,” Callan said as all eyes turned towards him.
“Then, who were they?” Penelope asked, her hands on her hips.
“They were my brothers. They knew we were here, and they know who Kas is. Did something happen while you two were off enjoying your little rendezvous?” he asked in a snarky tone.
Ashlin and I shared a look of confusion as we tried to remember if there was anything significant we had missed. I thought we had blended in well enough as civilians, but maybe I had been wrong.
“You’re a Paladin?” Maisie interjected. “How dare you accuse them when your kind are known to have unbreakable bonds! How do we know it wasn’t you who warned them?”
“What does she mean?” Gabriel demanded as he took a threatening step closer to Callan.
Callan turned away from my gaze, shame befalling his features. “Let me explain…”