Gabriel slammed Callan against the wall of the cockpit, a dagger grazing his throat. Blood trickled down his neck from where the blade connected with his skin. Josh came forward, placing a firm hand on Gabriel’s shoulder.
“Stand down,” Josh said beside his ear, using his enchanting voice to calm the room’s tension. Gabriel eased off Callan, letting the knife drop to his side as he turned away.
Callan wiped the blood from his neck with his hand as Gabriel leaned against the control panel of the ship, his arms crossed over his chest. I took my dagger away from him and placed it on the table beside me far away to avoid another incident. Leaning back on the metal bench, I relaxed, trying to give Callan the benefit of the doubt and make him feel more comfortable with his explanations.
“I didn’t mean for this to happen—”
“But it did, Callan,” Ashlin interrupted. “You could’ve gotten us killed!”
“So, we’re just going to forget how Penelope still had a link to her ex-boyfriend?” Callan pointed out heatedly.
“It’s not the same,” I replied calmly. “Penelope didn’t have a link to demon hunters. You blatantly withheld this information from us, putting our lives in danger. What did you think was going to happen? That your brothers would understand?”
Callan blew out a quick breath, shaking his head in defeat. “Yes. I did think, for a brief moment, that they would understand. That they would know how important it is for you to make it to the throne. I needed them to know.”
“Here we go again,” Josh muttered, exasperated.
I held up my hand, silencing him. Maisie stood in the corner, flipping a knife in the air and catching it, waiting for me to give the order to kill him right then and there. She had traveled the world and had the most interaction with Paladins. It gave her an advantage, knowing some of their secrets. If it hadn’t been for her, we would’ve still been blind.
“I’m trying to get you to the gates, but the Paladins will never let us cross over, not alive. They need to trust you as I do,” he explained.
“So, you’ve been feeding them information this whole time through a telepathic link,” I said. “Why should I trust you?”
“Because,” he began, “I haven’t told them anything that could harm your precious school or the others. I have to make contact daily; otherwise, they’ll be looking for me. You can’t take them on. They’ll kill you before you even get a chance to set foot on that mountain.”
“What makes you so sure?” Gabriel hissed.
Callan eyed him, a frown etched into his face. “Because that’s what I would’ve done.”
“You’re not really pleading your case very well here,” Josh commented.
“Maybe I’m not, but I’m the only one who can talk to them for you. I may have a chance at ensuring they don’t kill you on-site,” he retorted.
“Yeah, well, you’re too late for that,” Penelope admitted. “They’ve already tried to kill Kas, so whatever information you’ve been feeding them has backfired.”
“That’s because they still don’t know you the way I do,” Callan stated, turning his gaze to me. I could see his pleading look, but at this point, I was indifferent. Ashlin could’ve drowned, and her death would’ve been on his hands.
“Lock him up,” I commanded.
“What?” he asked incredulously.
“You heard her,” Maisie replied with glee as she and Gabriel surrounded Callan.
“You can’t be serious, Kas!” Callan shouted. “I’m only trying to help you!”
I stood from my seat and walked over to Callan placing us nose to nose. “I need you away from me. When I’m ready, I’ll come find you, but until then, get out of my sight.”
Turning away from him, I heard Maisie and Gabriel pull Callan out of the cockpit to the cabin below. I wasn’t sure where Maisie could stow him on such a small boat, but as a demon, I’m sure she had found a way to make due.
“Are you sure, Kas?” Ebony asked softly.
I nodded without speaking. We couldn’t stop Callan from relaying messages to the Paladins, but we could make sure he didn’t know of our plans. If what he said was true, the Paladins would be replenishing their forces at Mount Etna, awaiting our arrival. A new plan had to be formed, making the journey more complicated than what it had been. I was unsure my powers were strong enough to take on an army of holy warriors, and there was no telling how many of them we were to encounter.
Sitting back down, we waited in silence as Gabriel and Maisie re-emerged from below deck. We were in a circle within the tiny space without a clue as to our next move.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to dock in Sicily,” Maisie said, breaking the silence. “We’ll have to go to the mainland in Italy.”
“You’re right,” Ashlin replied. “They’ll be expecting us there. No doubt Callan informed them.”
“He’s seen your powers. He should know that Kas isn’t someone to be trifled with. Does he really think the Paladins can stop her?” Penelope asked as if I wasn’t present.
“He’s a fool, a traitor,” Gabriel growled. “I can’t believe I started to let myself trust him.”
“We’re all fools,” Ebony chimed in. “I thought he was on our side as well.”
“Wait, what?” I inquired, looking up from the ground between my feet. “You’re an empath. You know what people are feeling. How could he fool you?”
“Uh…” Ebony thought for a moment. “I don’t know. Perhaps, Paladins can disguise their emotions or make us feel a certain way about them?”
“No,” Maisie spoke up. “Paladins don’t feel. That’s not what they’re designed to do. It helps them eliminate their targets easily without distractions like pity or guilt.”
“Regardless of what he felt or how he made us feel, I still think you made the right decision, Kas,” Gabriel directed.
“Of course, you do,” I muttered under my breath before storming out of the cockpit and onto the deck. Night had fallen, leaving us with only the sight of black waters and sky. I leaned over the metal rail near the bow of the ship, looking down at the waves lapping at the sides of our boat as we cut through the ocean.
It would’ve been warm if not for the ocean breeze that blew past, raising goosebumps along my skin. My hair whipped around my face, dancing to a song I couldn’t hear. Footsteps drew closer until they finally settled beside me.
“I know you want to be alone right now, but we need to talk,” Gabriel said. I could hear the sorrow in his voice as I braced myself for the conversation I knew we both needed.
I swallowed hard against the pit in my stomach. We weren’t even arguing, and I was already feeling anxious. “Maybe now isn’t the best time.”
“There’s never a best time for conversations like these,” he said, placing his hand over mine on the rail.
“When you came home the night before, I knew something was wrong,” I began, slipping my hand out from underneath his and turning to face him. “When Penelope told me about the potion and how it amplifies feelings that are already there—”
“I didn’t mean what I said,” he pleaded.
“I know,” I replied. “But there’s some part of you that thinks that about me. What did I do wrong?”
Gabriel blinked at me, surprised by my words. “What? You’ve done nothing wrong. None of this is your fault. You don’t deserve any of this. It’s my own insecurities that I let get the best of me.”
“But why, Gabriel? Why would you think I would hurt you?” I asked, my voice trembling with every word. I hated sounding weak in my resolve when it came to him. He lifted his hand, grabbing my chin so I couldn’t look away.
He placed his forehead next to mine. “It’s me. I love you, Kas, and my biggest fear is losing you. As much as I hate to admit, Callan has this connection with you, and I want to be that for you.”
I sighed. “But you already are, Gabriel. We’ve been through much more together. It may appear that way with Callan and me because we both share celestial blood, which he only told me about recently. That’s it.”
Gabriel pulled back from me. “He’s a Nephilim?”
“Apparently, the only one,” I answered.
“Then he’s not lying,” Gabriel said flatly.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Nephilim don’t have an aptitude for lying. Maybe you should go down to the brig and talk to him,” he revealed.
“This ship has a brig?” I asked, an eyebrow raised.
“That’s what you got out of that sentence? I told you that there’s a chance he is trying to help us, and you’re wondering how a tugboat owned by a demon has a brig?” he smiled.
I bit my lip to suppress a smile but failed miserably. Standing on my tiptoes, I leaned forward, planting a kiss upon his lips. His hands slid around my waist, pulling me forward as my hands found purchase within his shaggy locks. I felt his tongue glide along my lower lip before gently nipping it. I giggled against his mouth as we stood there for a few moments sharing passionate kisses followed by gentle ones.
“You’re not mad at me?” he asked, pulling away for a brief moment.
“No, I’m not mad at you,” I admitted. “I was surprised by it, but I think this makes up for it.”
He smirked at me before landing a sweet kiss on my forehead. “Take Ebony with you when you go talk to Callan.”
I reeled back. Upon noticing the sudden movement, he added, “She’s an empath, and she’ll know if he’s sincere.”
“Right,” I stated before letting him go, his warmth abandoning me. “Wait up for me, will you?”
“Of course,” he replied before walking me down into the cabin area. It was dark with lanterns sitting around sparsely. The others had already chosen their bunk beds. There wasn’t enough for everyone to have their own, so Gabriel and I chose one to share near the door.
“So, where is he?” I asked Maisie, who was reading a magazine by a lantern’s glow.
Maisie pointed towards a metal door near the back of the cabin without looking away from her article. She reminded me of Misty in that regard, always reading something.
“If you ask me, he hasn’t spent enough time down there,” Maisie declared.
“I take it, Paladins aren’t your favorite kind of people,” I replied. “There’s a chance he wasn’t lying to us.”
“You’re awfully quick to forgive. That’s a quality I wasn’t expecting of the Antichrist,” she relayed as she set her magazine down upon the small table.
“I’m not forgiving him. I’m giving him the opportunity to prove himself,” I corrected. “Ebony, I need your expertise.”
Ebony stood up, ready to serve. I opened the heavy metal door and saw an even smaller room, barely the size of a closet. Callan was sitting on the floor and only looked up as we entered. I left the door open while I took a seat in the corner opposite him. Ebony remained standing.
“What do you want?” he asked, his voice raspy.
“To talk,” I said.
“You didn’t want to talk earlier. I remember you saying you wanted me far away from you,” he mocked.
“I healed someone today,” I said, dismissing his attack. “Several people, in fact. Something that I never thought possible.”
Callan’s eyes shot up as he finally looked at me. “Why?”
“I don’t know. I wanted to help those people, I guess like I want to help you,” I admitted. “I need to know what your plan is. I’m listening.”
Ebony walked further into the space as she honed in on Callan.
“We need to go to the Vatican,” he said. “My brothers aren’t reacting the way I was hoping, but if we speak to the Pope, I think we have a fighting chance.”
“Callan, I know you’re not simply doing this for me. It’s to save your brothers, isn’t it?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Yes,” he admitted. “I can’t have their blood on my hands.”
“What makes you think I’m so callous that I would take their lives?” I asked, anger rising within me. Ebony shot a cold look at me, and I quickly tamped down my emotions so she could better feel Callan’s.
“I don’t think you’re callous, but I don’t think you know your own strength. My brothers will not stop until the fight is over or until they’re put down. While you have loyalty to your friends to protect them, I also have that same loyalty to my kind. I won’t have them destroyed because of me,” he replied.
“I see,” I said as Ebony gave me a slight nod, acknowledging his honesty. “But you do know how this looks, right?”
He nodded quickly, his eyes averting mine. “I do, and if this is my punishment, then so be it.”
I sighed heavily as I stood from my seated position. Ebony and I shuffled out of the room, locking the door behind us. The others were waiting for us in the cabin.
“So?” Josh asked. “What’s the verdict?”
“He was telling the truth,” Ebony concluded. “I think we should let him out.”
“What? Just like that? He almost got me killed!” Ashlin stated. “That should be more than enough to lock him up for life.”
“I know, Ash, but those were the actions of other Paladins. He didn’t have control over what they did. It’s not what he wanted,” Penelope added, a voice of reason.
“So, you’re defending the Paladin now?” Josh questioned.
“And you’re not? Back at the motel, you two seemed pretty chummy,” Penelope shot back.
“Guys! Stop. This isn’t going to solve anything,” I answered. “We can’t progress with this discord between us.”
“Then let’s take a vote,” Ebony suggested.
“Fine,” I stated. “All those in favor of keeping Callan caged?”
Josh, Ashlin, and Gabriel raised their hands in unison. I knew why they would. Josh and Gabriel had almost lost the two people they loved the most in this world to Callan’s recklessness. While Gabriel had been the one to convince me that Callan wasn’t lying, I didn’t expect him to be as forgiving.
“All those in favor of releasing Callan and giving him another chance?” I asked.
Penelope, Ebony, and I raised our hands together. The others sighed at the standstill since our votes were even.
“I’ll break that tie. It is my ship after all,” Maisie said as she stood from her seat. I had almost forgotten she was still there, having been quiet this whole time. I rubbed my eyes with my hands, knowing exactly which way she was going to vote.
“How do you vote?” I asked begrudgingly.
“I think he should stay down there,” she started. “At least for tonight.”
My head shot up. Taking her seat once again, she picked up her magazine and flashed a wink in my direction. A small smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I relented.
“Okay, for one night, but then tomorrow, we really need to discuss this new plan going forward,” I said.
Josh and Ashlin groaned at the loss before hopping into the top bunk bed to rest. Penelope and Ebony took the bed underneath them while Gabriel and I slid to the other upper bed. Maisie stayed up well into the night to watch the ship’s course before finally settling on the bed below us.
I turned to face the cabin’s door while Gabriel held me, his arm around my waist, pulling me close into the curves of his body. His soft breath tickled the back of my neck as he gently pushed my hair out of the way. The close quarters didn’t leave much room to move around during the night.
“Are you asleep?” he whispered near my ear. With my eyes resting, I gave him a soft grunt letting him know I was still awake.
“I know I have some things to work on, but I want you to know that I’m happy,” he whispered again.
I reached down and gave his hand a gentle squeeze around my waist as I snuggled closer into his heat. I felt his lips touch the skin of my neck, sending tingles throughout my body.
“Goodnight, my love,” he said as we both fell asleep to the motion of the waves.