After the night of the storm, we were all grateful to have a few days where we could relax. We knew it was only a matter of time before Leviathan came up with a new plan and used more demons to his advantage to kill me once again. For now, we were dead to the world, until Josh’s people found out we didn’t perish tragically on the high seas.
I had to hand it to them. Their use of a dead zone would’ve been wise if it wasn’t for the fact that celestial powers seemed to work everywhere. It made me curious to know if Callan had any skills like this of his own. I wasn’t sure since he was mixed with human, but then again, did anyone really know since no one had encountered a Nephilim before?
“We’re nearing Civitavecchia,” Maisie announced as she stood with us on deck.
It was apparent with each passing cruise liner that we were getting close. We could see them in the distance, smaller than we knew them to be. Maisie tried to give them enough space to pass by without sending waves over to our little boat.
“Thank the devil,” Ashlin commented as she hung off the side of the railing. “I’m dying to get back on steady land here. Maybe have some food that I can actually keep down for a change. I feel like we’ve been on this water forever.”
“Aw, I’m sorry, babe,” Josh cooed as he rubbed her upper back, trying to comfort her. “Remind me to never take you on a cruise.”
“Kas? Could I talk to you for a moment?” Callan asked, eyeing Gabriel.
I landed a soft kiss on Gabriel’s lips as he disentangled his arms from around me. Stepping off to the side with Callan, I faced him wondering what it was he wanted to say that he didn’t feel like he could say in front of the others.
“When you were with Ashlin that day, you healed people,” Callan stated.
“How do you know that?” I asked quickly, looking around to see if anyone was listening in.
“The telepathic link with the Paladins. It’s not a one-way street; I can hear them speaking as well,” he explained. “But that’s beside the point, they found out where you visited, and they went back and discovered the people you came into contact with were all healed of their various ailments. Did they ask you for help? As the devil, I mean.”
“I…uh, well, no…” I started. “It was just a feeling. I questioned it at first as well. The only real person who would know if there were contracts forged would be Mammon.”
“We should ask him when you ascend to your throne,” Callan replied.
“Why? Is that really a big deal?” I wondered.
“Yes,” he said bluntly. “The Antichrist makes deals whether people know it or not.”
“Well, I didn’t ask for a deal, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” I stated. “Where are you going with this, Callan?”
Callan sighed. “It’s just a hunch I have, but I’m not sure yet. I wanted to get a few facts straight in my head first before I spoke about it. You know, I heard those nurses talked to the local news.”
“Great…” I said.
“You don’t want the attention?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Not exactly. No,” I stated matter-of-factly.
“Hmmm, okay then,” he said and started to walk off.
“Hey!” I said while grabbing his arm. “What are you getting at here? You’re just going to ask me all these weird intrusive questions and then leave me hanging?”
“I’m simply gathering evidence that may help us with the Pope,” he answered.
“That’s not a good enough answer, Callan. If we’re going to be a team when we enter Vatican City together, then I need to be able to trust you,” I responded.
“Fine,” Callan sighed. “There may be a small chance that you’re not actually the true Antichrist.”
I laughed out loud, causing the others to come over to see what was so funny. Callan glanced around at them, a slight redness tinting his already darker complexion.
“That was a good one, Callan,” I said, wiping a small tear from my eye. “You really had me fooled there for a moment. So, you’re going to try and spin me as the Second Coming?”
“What’s going on? What did we miss?” Penelope asked.
“Callan here believes that I may not be the actual Antichrist,” I replied. “Then who else would it be?”
“Listen, the Antichrist is a false prophet who revels in the limelight, who wants to create as many blind followers as possible—”
“According to your Bible,” Josh pointed out. “We already know it’s gotten several things wrong before, so this could be another one for the list.”
“True, but Kas,” Callan pleaded, “look at the facts. You can heal people with a touch, you can dispel storms over the seas, and you don’t want people to know about you.”
“Perhaps, I am fulfilling my duty as being a false prophet,” I murmured. “I seemed to have fooled you.”
“She’s got a point there,” Gabriel muttered.
“Regardless of what I think,” Callan replied, “we can still use all those things to our advantage when speaking with the Pope. Maybe you are the Antichrist after all.”
“I don’t think the Pope will be fooled as easily,” Ebony began. “No offense, Callan.”
“Whatever,” Callan said, shaking his head. “Then we’ll maintain our honesty on your purpose for Hell. We’ll see how far that’ll get us.”
Shaking my head, I walked away from the conversation and to the stern where I could be alone with my thoughts. While Callan’s words seemed preposterous, I had my doubts as well. However, I would never voice them aloud for fear of being seen as unworthy of the throne even though what Callan had said made a lot of sense. The Antichrist’s purpose was to spread their teachings far and wide, trapping as many souls as possible, and yet, here I was, trying to do just the opposite.
I was convincing myself that the Bible had it all wrong, that this was my true purpose, to restore Hell. According to what it had to say about the Antichrist, I was an exceptionally lousy one. Could what Callan had said be true? I could find truth in not being the actual Antichrist, but I couldn’t see myself as the Second Coming. I was the spawn of Lucifer for crying out loud, not a child of God.
Looking out over the horizon, I found myself thinking about God more and more. I didn’t quite understand why, because I had never had the desire to speak to him before. After learning more about my demonic heritage, it made sense why none of us cared for him. And yet, I wanted to know more about us and why that came to be. The only person who truly knew why we were punished so severely was him, this omnipotent figure in the sky.
“You doing okay, kid?”
I turned around half expecting Misty to be standing there. It was his signature catchphrase, after all. Instead, I saw Maisie there, staring at me as she approached my side. Seeing her made me miss Misty all over again.
“Just thinking,” I answered. “You really think the sirens will attack us again? I know Josh is worried.”
I needed the subject change to veer away from my thoughts. I didn’t want Maisie to know how I really felt about all this. If anyone had the honor of knowing my thoughts, it would be Gabriel, but I needed to keep things to myself for right now.
“It’s hard to say,” Maisie began. “You didn’t show them any mercy before, and I doubt they want their numbers to dwindle for someone like Leviathan.”
“You think now they respect me? I killed two of their kind,” I pointed out.
“I think they respect the fact that Josh, who’s been regarded as their prince, killed his own kind for you. That speaks volumes on the situation,” Maisie replied. “It’s not every day you find people with that much influence laying their life on the line for someone. Hell, I even respect Josh more now, and my kind isn’t known to be friendly with sirens.”
“Really? Why?” I inquired.
“We both roam the seas,” she explained. “There was a war long ago between the sirens and rusalki that depleted both our people. Josh is too young to really know about it, but those of us who were there still remember.”
“You were in a war? So, I take it this is nothing new for you,” I said.
“It’s not something I generally talk about, but since then, our tribe only has a few hundred of us left, just like the sirens. Losing three of their people, no matter how small that may seem to us, is a huge blow for them,” she explained.
“I had no idea…” I mumbled.
“I’m surprised Josh is with Ashlin. Lorelei would’ve promised him to another siren by now to keep the line pure,” she commented.
“Josh never said anything about that,” I added.
“He wouldn’t. I can tell he loves her very much, and since he’s banished himself from his own people, it wouldn’t matter who he’s with now anyway,” Maisie remarked.
“What about you? I don’t know much about the rusalki culture, but I know you and Misty were together at some point,” I wanted to know.
“We are free to choose whomever we want,” she began, a somber look in her eyes. “But Misty and I have our own duties to carry out, as you well know.”
“That doesn’t mean you can’t be happy,” I replied.
She nodded once. “I guess you’re right, but now isn’t the right time. Besides, I’m too busy picking up his slack.
She winked at me with a broad smile on her face. Giving my shoulder a squeeze, she left me to my own thoughts as I watched her head back towards the cockpit. Gabriel passed by her on his way over to me. He leaned in, placing his hands on the rail on either side. A kiss landed on my lips, silky and sweet.
“You and Maisie having a little heart to heart?” he asked.
“You could say that. Have you seen any land yet?” I inquired.
“Why don’t you come back over with me and see for yourself?” he smiled, taking my hand in his. He guided me to the front of the ship, where everyone watched the land before us grow in size as we approached. I could see Maisie through the broken windshield of the cockpit speaking Italian into the VHF radio. Focusing on her and the language, I understood her words even though I had never learned Italian.
“Kas? Are you okay?” Gabriel asked.
“What—oh, yeah,” I replied. “I was just listening.”
“You know Italian?” Ebony inquired.
“Uh, no. Not really,” I said, not sure if I was speaking the truth or not. Callan glanced at me from over his shoulder, and I knew he was creating a mental checklist. It was hard to say because the Antichrist shared so much in common with the Second Coming regarding abilities. I dashed my thoughts. This was no time to doubt myself.
“So, what’s the plan when we dock?” I asked the others.
“Maisie said we’re to meet with her friend, Bianca. She lives in Rome, near Vatican City,” Penelope answered.
“She’s a good girl,” Maisie commented from behind us. “Don’t scare her too much, though. She’s new to all of this.”
“What do you mean?” Ebony asked.
“She only recently sold her soul and had no idea what she was doing,” Maisie explained.
“What? You’re having me meet with a terrified girl? You didn’t have anyone else with a little more experience with this?” I asked, stunned.
“She’ll be fine,” Maisie explained. “She’s lucky I’m the demon who answered her call and not a different one. Wraiths are prevalent all over that town. Besides, I think she’s starting to grow fond of our friendship. Just stay in your human forms, please. I don’t want you guys messing up the repertoire I’ve built with her.”
“What did she summon you for?” I asked.
“Oh, you know. The usual,” she dismissed, evading the question. I suppose it wasn’t my place to ask or Maisie’s story to tell. I only hoped for whatever desperate reason she had, it was worth it for her.
Maisie returned to her station as we neared the docks at the marina. Shutting off the engine, she eased the boat into one of the ports. We gently floated in while Maisie grabbed a rope thrown to her from one of the attendants, successfully tying off and docking the boat. She opened the door in the railing, allowing us to disembark the ship.
“I’ll stay here with the boat,” Maisie said from the deck. “Call me if you need any help. I’ll be here when you get your permission from the Vatican to head for Sicily.”
“It’s not like that,” I grumbled. Maisie laughed and waved to us as we set off down the pier towards the bustling city.
A woman was parked on the side of the street leaning against an SUV waiting for our arrival. She was petite with long, curly brown hair and a sun-kissed complexion. Brushing her hair out of her face, she stood up from the car and watched us, unsure if we were the people she was supposed to meet. I was the first to make contact.
“You’re Bianca?” I asked as the girl blew out a sigh of relief.
“Oh, good, it’s you,” she said elatedly. “Maisie told me to expect you, but she neglected to tell me what you all looked like, so I’ve been standing around here looking like an idiot.”
She had a thick Italian accent that made her words seem all the more humorous. Extending her hand, I shook it, her grip soft and frail. I wondered how such a kind-looking woman got mixed up with demons.
“I wasn’t expecting so many of you, to be honest. I’m glad I took this car instead of my Fiat, but I’m afraid there aren’t enough seats,” she started.
“That’s okay. Some of us can sit on each other’s laps,” Ashlin said.
“You sure? It’s a long drive and a little bumpy. That’s going to be really uncomfortable for you,” she admitted.
“We’ve been in worse situations before. Trust us,” Josh mumbled as the others slid into the backseat and positioned themselves.
“Well, I guess there’s no time to lose,” she stated and got into the driver’s seat. I stepped into the vehicle, and we set off down the old road heading out of the marina area.
Bianca wasn’t kidding when she said the drive was going to be bumpy. The roads were old, especially once we left the city area and headed out, but that didn’t deter her from slowing down.
“So, how exactly do you know Maisie?” Ashlin asked.
“Ashlin!” Ebony whispered fiercely.
“It’s alright,” Bianca replied. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be in the end. I had grown desperate to leave my abusive husband and had completely given up until I met Maisie at a bar in town after conducting a ceremony with a dark witch. At first, I didn’t believe anything had actually happened until Maisie told me she was a demon. I was scared, but when my prayers were answered, nothing else seemed to matter anymore.”
“What happened to your husband?” Ashlin asked, intrigued. She grunted as Ebony elbowed her in the ribs.
“I fed him to Maisie,” Bianca announced nonchalant, a small grin spreading across her face.
“Well, that’s quite the story,” Gabriel commented. I couldn’t help but chuckle at her brazenness.
“Have you met any other demons besides Maisie?” I inquired.
“No, just her, and now you people, I suppose,” Bianca answered. “I thought you would be a lot scarier than you are.”
“You don’t want to see our demonic forms,” Josh chimed in. “It’s not exactly a pretty sight. Not like how we look now.”
“Is that so?” Bianca asked. Her words were skeptical, but I could sense the tint of fear within them.
“Did Maisie tell you who I am?” I questioned hesitantly.
Bianca swallowed hard. “Um, not exactly…”
“You don’t have anything to worry about,” Callan answered quickly. “We’re not going to eat you or anything.”
I could feel the others burning holes into Callan as they gazed at him wide-eyed. While I knew he was trying to help, telling a human that we weren’t going to eat her, implied that we just might since demons were known to lie.
“It’s okay, I promise,” I said hurriedly. “You’re not in any danger from us. Callan is half angel, and so am I. You’ll be safe.”
Bianca’s shoulders relaxed a little as the tension melted away. Maisie wasn’t kidding when she said that Bianca was green when it came to demonic knowledge. The poor girl literally thought Maisie had sent us to devour her soul. Humans who willingly sold themselves were no longer on the table as food since their soul was contracted to me, personally. In fact, she had probably saved herself from falling prey to one of our kind, leaving them to find sustenance elsewhere with a different wicked soul.
“I’m a little new to all this,” she began. “While I’m grateful to Maisie, it goes against everything I was ever taught in Catholic School.”
“I can see that,” I answered. “We’re not exactly portrayed in a holy light, and to be honest, we are, in fact, killers. However, our purpose was not to destroy innocent souls but to punish the wicked, a job that hasn’t earned us any favors among those of the Church. But it’s a noble cause, whether or not the Vatican sees it that way. We were chosen to be the strong ones to deal with the wickedness of the world.”
“What happens to the souls in Hell?” she asked. I knew her question wasn’t so much to learn, but about herself.
I bit my bottom lip. “They’re punished for their sins. Once they’ve atoned, we carry them to the River Lethe where they forget all their memories. From there, they’re out of our hands, and I don’t know where they go.”
“There is some speculation that the corrupt souls are reborn to begin a new life on Earth to repay karmic debts, but it hasn’t exactly been proven,” Penelope chimed in.
“How long does it take for one to atone?” Bianca asked, curious.
“It was always up to Lucifer to decide, but now…I suppose that falls to Kas,” Ebony replied.
I sat silently as Bianca waited for me to answer, but I didn’t have one. Without someone to teach me these things and when to judge, I had no idea how to know when a soul had completely atoned. I was starting to see my shortcomings as the next ruler of Hell, and the seed of doubt sprouted even more.
“What happens if a soul never atones or can’t be redeemed?” Bianca inquired. It was a question I did know.
“A human soul is never to be destroyed. If they never atone, then they simply spend eternity in Hell. However, demons can be annihilated,” I replied.
“What about angels?” This girl was just full of questions.
“We don’t know,” Gabriel answered. “We don’t particularly study angels.”
Bianca quieted after his reply, satisfied with her newfound knowledge of the supernatural world. I wasn’t sure her hunger for learning would be satiated for long, but I was hoping the rest of the drive would go smoothly. The last thing I wanted to do was spook her.
“We’re nearing Rome. We’ll be there soon, and you guys can get unpacked,” she said as we passed a sign.
My heart beat faster as I thought of facing the Vatican, my sworn enemy. Not only was I to meet them, but I would only be accompanied by Callan for the others couldn’t enter the Holy City. I knew this made the others just as nervous as I was. There was no telling how my entrance would be received, but Callan was right about the Paladins. Our path needed to be clear for us to arrive, and I didn’t want my friends to be in danger. I had to try.