“I’ll keep the fog up until we’re safely in the harbor,” Maisie said as she steered the boat in its direction.
“I’m going to check on Seth,” I stated and headed out of the cockpit towards the cabin below. Entering, Seth was still chained to the chair with Gabriel sitting nearby on the bottom bunk.
Sliding a chair away from the table near the wall, I sat down in front of him. He was looking much better after the healing Gabriel had done for him. Seth lifted his head towards me, his light-colored eyes stunning me with their uniqueness against his dark skin. His human form was stunningly beautiful.
“Seth, are you ready to help us?” I asked.
“I don’t know what to believe anymore…” he began. “Leviathan—”
“Is a liar,” Gabriel finished, rising from the bed to stand beside me, his arms crossed over his chest. “You and the others are nothing but pawns.”
“Why are you following Leviathan when you belong to Beleth?” I inquired.
He hesitated, thinking about how he wanted to phrase his answer. “Beleth is loyal to Leviathan as he was loyal to Lucifer. The pay serves him as well.”
“Is he only loyal because he doesn’t know the full story?” I asked, wondering if I could reach out to my people. All I needed to do was plant the seeds of doubt.
“Among other things…” Seth revealed. “Leviathan is the most feared demon in all the realms and among the most powerful. As strong as Beleth is, being one of the Lesser Kings, he is still intimidated. We all are.”
“And yet, you follow him anyway? Knowing that he could end your life at any moment and still, you reject your Queen?” Gabriel spat.
I placed a hand on Gabriel’s arm to calm him. Berating Seth was going to get us nowhere, and he was finally opening up to us. I couldn’t afford to have him shut down again.
“He doesn’t reject his own kind,” Seth growled.
“Neither do I,” I replied.
“Pfft. You expect us to believe that? You roam around with a Paladin. You visited Vatican City. We can only assume that you believe demons to be your enemy,” Seth remarked.
“I’m hunted by both demons and Paladins. Neither of you wants to see me alive or on the throne. So, tell me, who rejected who?” I seethed.
Seth shook his head as he struggled against his chains. “Unchain me! I’m not an animal!”
“Not until you tell me where they took Penelope,” I said.
“Then you’ll let me go?” he asked, incredulously.
“Yes,” I answered.
“What? Kas,” Gabriel said, grabbing my arm and pulling me out of the chair to the back of the cabin towards Callan’s closet. “You can’t be serious. We’re just going to let a bounty hunter walk out of here?”
“I need him to send a message for me,” I explained. “I need him to tell them my story in Hell, to spread the word. They all think I murdered Lucifer without any provocation, that it was all a premeditated plan. I need fellow demons on our side, those who can reason.”
“What makes you think he’ll do that for you?”
“Why, Gabriel? Because he’s a demon, and that automatically makes him a liar?” I barked. “Demons may be despicable at times, but there’s still a hint of humanity left in all of us. I can see it in his eyes. He doubts, and where there is doubt, there’s hope.”
“Kas…I fear you’ve become too trusting, too—”
“Too what, Gabriel? Too reckless, too careless?” I chided.
“Too sympathetic,” he finished, cradling my face with his hands. “I love you, your drive, your willingness to see the good in everyone, but you can’t deny the nature of demons.”
“I know this is the right thing to do. I can’t explain it, and nothing I say will convince you. I just know. It’s like a voice in the back of my mind telling me this is the way. It must sound crazy to you,” I said.
Gabriel sighed, letting his hands travel to rest on my shoulders. “If this is what you believe, then I have faith in you.”
I returned to my seat in front of Seth. “Do you agree to the terms?”
“She’s being held in the Cage of Torment within the Kingdom of Hell,” Seth answered. “But you’ll never make it there.”
“Is that a threat?” I hissed, wondering if perhaps, Gabriel had been right about this one.
“No…it’s a warning. We know where you’re heading towards. Leviathan knew as soon as you set sail towards Italy, although we weren’t expecting your deviation to the Eternal City,” he continued. “There’s going to be an ambush as soon as you enter through the portal.”
“Why are you telling us this? You’ll be considered a traitor,” Gabriel asked from behind.
“Because, if there’s an ounce of truth to all of this, then I want to be on the winning side,” Seth replied. “When you pass through the portal, go straight. Don’t make way for the river banks. Continue straight towards the Kingdom. Don’t stop or rest until you make it there.”
“What about the Kingdom?” Gabriel asked. “Any tips for that one?”
“Under the moat, there’s a broken wall that floods into tunnels underneath the entire Kingdom and its inner city. That’s the only source I have to offer,” Seth explained.
“We can find Penelope from there,” I said.
“If you’re lying, I’ll kill you myself,” Gabriel said. He recited an incantation, snapping the chains that bound Seth.
Seth rubbed his wrists as he stood up from the chair. We walked up the stairs to the deck as Ebony and Ashlin turned their attention to us. Ebony was the first to step forward, being pulled back by Josh.
“How could you let him go!” she shouted at me, bucking against Josh’s hold.
“He told us where Penelope is,” I said, approaching her.
“What?” she gasped.
“We know where she is, and he gave us a tip on how to get there,” I answered.
“How do we know this isn’t a trap?” Callan inquired.
“You don’t, and I wouldn’t expect you to fully trust me, but I will spread the story of Kasdeya about the true events that occurred during her ceremony to all who will listen. We should be allowed to think for ourselves, which means hearing both versions,” Seth replied.
“As soon as Maisie docks, you can leave from there,” I said. “That should be soon.”
“I deserve it, you know,” Seth relayed to Ebony. “Your wrath. I can smell her scent on you. She means a lot to you.”
“Seth, I don’t think it’s wise for you to talk to her right now,” Josh commented.
“I know,” he replied. “I just wanted you to know that I had no idea.”
Ebony pulled her arm away from Josh and stood with Seth toe-to-toe. She glared at him, her expression one of unbridled anger. It was a feeling I knew all too well from my days at Brimstone, confined to its solitude. Turning on her heels, she walked away with Ashlin following after her.
Gabriel and Callan steered Seth towards the cockpit while Josh and I watched the thin line of land emerge from the mist. Josh sighed beside me, a sound that I knew instinctively meant I was about to have another chat with a friend.
“So, about Seth—”
“I’ve already gotten an earful from Gabriel if that’s what you mean,” I interrupted.
“Actually, I was going to say he seemed like an okay guy to me,” he finished.
“You’re kidding,” I said flatly.
“No, I’m not,” Josh stated. “We could use more demons on our side if I’m honest. I see no reason to continue to push them away. They’re our kind after all.”
“That’s what I said to Gabriel…”
“I’m sure you did,” he continued. “While everyone here loves Gabriel and Penelope, and, sure, even Callan sometimes, they’ll never understand who we are. Demons are seen as monsters, and yes, sometimes we even look like that, but they’ll never know our true struggles.”
“I’m starting to see that,” I sighed, thinking back to the recent arguments I had with Gabriel. His comments had caused me to snap several times.
“It happens, even between Ebony and Penelope,” Josh said.
“What? Really?” I questioned.
“Uh, I probably shouldn’t have said that. Ashlin kind of told me, and she’d kill me if she knew I was telling you about Ebony’s relationship problems,” he relayed quickly.
“It’s okay. Your secret is safe with me, Josh. It’s been hard, this journey. I’m discovering more about myself than I ever knew,” I admitted.
“What do you mean?” Josh asked, leaning against the railing.
“I don’t know if I can save everyone,” I replied, my eyes cast down. “I haven’t been putting my people first. It’s no wonder Leviathan can raise an army. He’s lived in Hell all his life and knows it as if it were a part of him.”
“Kas, Leviathan isn’t out here busting his ass to save Hell. You are,” he declared. “Other demons are beginning to see that. Just look at the bounty hunter you just saved—”
“After I tried to kill him,” I pointed out.
“Regardless,” Josh dismissed, “you saved him, you told your story, and now, as long as he’s not lying, he’s going to help us. He’s already given you valuable information about the Shores of Purgatory when we enter. I don’t think he would’ve been so forthcoming if he didn’t at least think that a part of your story could be true. Who better to be your Herald of Hell?”
“Kas? Come here for a second,” Maisie called from the doorway of the cockpit. Josh and I followed her inside to see what was going on. She shut the engine off, letting us drift towards the docking point of the harbor.
“You’ll need this to help you when you get to Hell,” she said, handing me a scroll. I opened it to reveal a map of the underworld.
“Since your mother kept you in Brimstone, I assumed you weren’t a frequent flyer to Hell. That map is old, so I can’t say for certain if some of the roads to get to the Kingdom are still there, but it should make things a little easier for you once you’re down there. Tell Leviathan I say hey,” she continued with a smirk.
“I know for a fact that road was torn through long ago,” Seth stated, pointing at a path through a canyon.
“Thanks,” I said, glancing at him over my shoulder. Rolling the map back up, Josh left, heading for the ship’s bow to help us dock.
“You’ll need these too,” she said, handing me a pair of tickets over her shoulder as she steered the ship into the port.
“Uh, these are tickets for a plane,” I said, confused.
“Yep,” Maisie answered. “You’ll need to find Gustus. He’ll be taking you up towards the mountain.”
“There aren’t any landing areas around there,” Gabriel pointed out.
“Nope,” Maisie confirmed, a wide grin splayed across her face.
Seth clapped my shoulder with his hand, a friendly gesture that meant he felt more comfortable with me. “Good luck, Mate.”
“Right,” I muttered as I headed out with the rest of the crew. Josh was tying the last rope securing the boat to the dock.
Seth was the first to dismount our vessel. With a short wave, he disappeared into the fog down the pier. Once we were all standing safely on the steady ground, much to Ashlin’s delight, Maisie said her goodbyes.
“This is the end of the road for me, kid,” she directed towards me. “Go on and make all of us proud.”
I smiled as she waved to us. The fog dispersed a little way from the shoreline. We could see small shops lining the road in front of us, one of them being a shack for Airplane Excursions with Gustus. It was weathered with rotting wood from the salty sea air. The sign itself looked precarious upon its perch from above the counter.
A tall man with a hanging gut line was sitting behind the counter, fiddling with what looked like a radio. He was wearing a flat cap with a button-down white collared shirt and suspenders. Even after we had approached him, settling right in front of his counter, the man continued to fiddle with the old parts without acknowledgment.
“Are you Gustus?” Josh asked, trying to get his attention.
“I’m closed,” he grunted.
“Maisie sent us,” I tried.
“Don’t know her.”
I reached over the table and grabbed his shirt, forcing him to look at us. “Take us to Mount Etna.”
“Oh! It’s you!” he said with a smile, his eyes twinkling. “All you had to do was say so.”
I released him as he straightened his shirt and headed towards the side of the shack. Opening the door, he stepped out onto the sidewalk and motioned for us to follow him down towards the beach where his light aircraft was parked. Ebony handed him our tickets as he counted them to make sure he had the necessary supplies.
“You ever jump out of an airplane before?” he asked with a chuckle at her.
“What? Oh, no. Not happening,” Ashlin said, turning to walk off. Josh caught her hand and pulled her back towards the group.
“Don’t worry, Ash. You’ll be attached to me. I’ve got you,” Josh assured.
“I can’t believe I have to go through this,” Ashlin complained, shaking her head.
“You’re human…” I said, thinking back to the last time we had worked with one. Bianca’s death still weighed heavily on my mind.
“Yeah? Is that a problem?” he asked gruffly after finishing his check of the plane.
“It’s just that—”
“It’s not a problem. We just don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Gabriel assured him as he took my hand.
“Ah, I see. You don’t think an old codger like me can take care of myself. Maisie told me all about your little dilemma here,” Gustus replied. “I know what’s at stake. You going to get on the plane or not?”
“I like this guy,” I whispered to Gabriel with a wink before boarding the ancient craft. Gustus was getting situated at the controls, placing his headphones on. The others stumbled on the steps into the tight space, sliding into a seat along the wall. Ashlin hurriedly put her seatbelt on, strapping herself to the plane’s wall while whispering demonic prayers.
“Ashlin, are you really praying right now?” I asked, opposite her. Gabriel and I decided to stay closest to the door, just in case something happened.
“I’m in a flying metal bucket,” she explained. “Of course, I’m praying.”
“You know you’re praying to me, right?” I asked.
“She’s not wrong,” Ebony said. “Kas can hear all the prayers directed towards the ruler of Hell, remember?”
“Uh, then please don’t let us all die,” Ashlin prayed.
“I’ll do my best,” I laughed.
“What kind of answer is that?” Ashlin cried.
“At least you got an answer,” Callan quipped while sending me a wink. I was glad that he was less hurt by that sort of talk now.
“Alright, stop all your yapping back there,” Gustus yelled over the rusty engine’s roar. The propellers of the plane spun as we lurched forward down the shoreline.
Gustus tapped his microphone on his headphones. “Listen up. I’m going to set you up right outside the cave entrance, but you’ll have to steer yourselves there with your parachutes. One chute for two people. I don’t care how you all want to pair off, but just remember, if the first chute doesn’t open, then pull your emergency cord. Hopefully, that one won’t be faulty too.”
“How does this guy stay in business?” Ashlin commented.
Gabriel picked up our chute and started reading the instructions. My heart raced with the sputtering engine’s sound as we lifted into the air from the runway and into the sky. I looked out the window that was between Gabriel and me. I could see the small seaside town below and the enormous face of the mountain we were heading for. It was majestic, a pure work of art.
“Kas!” Callan shouted over the noise. “The Paladins should’ve received word by now from the Vatican, but in case they haven’t, let me go first and speak with Marcus.”
“Marcus?” Gabriel asked.
“He’s in charge of the Paladins guarding Mount Etna. They’re permanently stationed here as Guardians,” Callan explained.
“Must be a lonely life,” I said back.
“All of us have lonely lives. We’re married to God,” he shouted.
“And the Church,” I corrected.
“Not me. Not anymore,” Callan recalled.
“What? Is that even possible?” Josh asked, leaning away from the wall to look at Callan.
“My actions are currently under review,” Callan answered. “Usually, when that happens, it means it’s only a matter of time before I’m excommunicated.”
“You’ve never needed the Church to tell you how or when to worship your God,” Ebony said from beside Callan. “Just goes to show you how man has been able to bend the rules to suit their needs.”
“That’s what Father Alexi was talking to you about when I left you alone with him?” I asked.
“Enough chit chat back there,” Gustus shouted. “We’re nearing ten thousand feet and the drop-off point. You all need to focus and be ready. Go ahead and get your parachutes secured.”
We undid our seatbelts and stood up in the small space. Those of us who were taller needed to bow our heads away from the ceiling. Gabriel slid the parachute around his back and fastened his belt before helping me into the harness contraption, snapping locks into place.
“I’m pretty sure we’ve already done all my date ideas,” Gabriel said into my ear. “A bed and breakfast in Salem, a romantic two-week cruise, and now skydiving over a scenic area.”
“Sounds like a blast,” I teased.
“I’m just glad I got to do it all with you,” he said, leaning down to place a passionate kiss upon my lips as I tilted my head upward.
“What about our bags?” Ashlin asked.
“We’ll have to leave them,” Callan answered. “Grab what you think is important, and we’ll have to abandon the rest.”
“Well, farewell, clean clothes. You will be sorely missed,” Josh said.
I grabbed my black dagger, placing it in a holster before strapping it to my thigh. The tarot card I put into my bra against my breast inside my tank top. I only had enough room for one blood bag in the side pocket of my cargo pants.
“Okay!” Gustus said, walking towards us from the front of the plane. “We’re over the clouds right now, but we’re right above the drop point.”
Gustus opened the door to the plane in front of Gabriel and me. We walked up to the edge and gazed out over a beautiful sun floating right above the clouds. It glowed brilliantly against the bright blue sky of the day.
“You ready?” Gabriel asked.
With a deep breath, I let my body fall from the plane into the sky.