Sitting cross-legged on the bed, I leaned over and opened the drawer to the bedside table. I pulled out a dusty old bible, placed it in front of me on the bed, and was not particularly surprised that a motel like this actually had one.
“You owe me five dollars, Penelope. I told you not all motels have taken this book out of their rooms,” I said with a smile.
“I’m surprised no one has sued them for only representing that religion here,” Penelope mumbled as she sat with Ebony at the small table by the window.
“There was a Quran in there with it if that’s any consolation,” I replied, pulling that book out as well.
“Even better,” Penelope muttered.
I watched as she took an empty water bottle and set it on the table in between them. Opening the bottle, she waved her hands through the air over it and recited a short incantation that created golden flecks within the air around them. Standing from the bed, I approached them cautiously, not wanting to interrupt her focus and break whatever spell she was performing.
“These flecks in the air around us,” Penelope began, “are particles of energy in the atmosphere. Generally, they’re invisible to the eye, but with the incantation, they begin to vibrate quickly, which reflects this light all the way down to their subatomic levels.”
“There’s so much of it…” Ebony said in awe of the beautiful sight.
“Once I fill this bottle with the energy around us, you’ll be able to drink it like any other beverage,” Penelope explained.
“What will happen to the environment around us?” I asked, intrigued by how powerful Penelope was.
“It’ll feel like a vacuum effect for a few seconds, but more energy will eventually fill the space. I’m essentially shuffling energy around. It’s a matter of transference, really,” she answered.
Penelope whispered another spell as the golden particles were sucked into the bottle in a vortex-like fashion. For a moment, I felt my breath leave me as the room seemed cold and void. Even the light from the lamp dimmed for a brief moment before flickering back on. I gasped as I sucked in a breath of air, the energy rotating within the bottle between them.
She picked it up and extended it to Ebony. “This should keep you satisfied for a while. I’ll create more for Josh and Ashlin and a few extra. The good thing is that everything has energy, so no matter where we are, I can siphon it. It’s not as potent as the energy that would come from a human, but it’ll do for the purposes we need it for at this time.”
“At least until all this is over…” I sighed.
“It’s not your fault, Kas,” Ebony said as she took the bottle from Penelope. “This will be enough for us until we figure out how to schedule some hunting time in. Not every demon is on a mission as important as ours. Besides, I’m more worried about you.”
Ebony lifted the container to her lips and drank the glowing liquid within. Color started to return to her cheeks as soon as the first drop of energy touched her tongue. It was amazing how such a small amount could make all the difference to a demon. At that moment, I wondered how long it would be until my own hunger returned with a vengeance.
“I’ll be fine,” I rushed to say. “You need your strength.”
“We all do,” Penelope corrected. “I’m worried about you too. Those voices did a number on you.”
“Maybe I need to stop fighting them. Now that I know what they are and why I can hear them, I’ll be better prepared next time,” I commented. “Gabriel and Callan have been gone for an awfully long time.”
“I’ve been trying not to think about it,” Penelope mumbled.
“It’s getting really late. I think I’m going to go out and look for them,” I said as I sat on the edge of the bed, pulling on my tennis shoes.
“Should we get Josh and Ashlin?” Ebony asked.
“Let them sleep,” I replied. “Someone needs to get the rest for the drive tomorrow.”
“I’m coming with you,” Penelope said as she stood up from the table. “He’s my brother.”
“Penelope, someone should stay here with Ebony in case something happens. I’ve got this. I’ll bring them both back. Besides, I’m sure everything is fine,” I stated.
“Famous last words,” Penelope mumbled under her breath as she slowly sat back down. “If you’re not back in twenty minutes, I’m coming to find you.”
I nodded. “That’s agreeable. Just stay together. I don’t want anyone not having a buddy around. Not during a time like this.”
“We can do that,” Ebony said as she grabbed Penelope’s hand. “It’ll be okay.”
With that, I strode out of the door and onto the porch of the motel. I heard the door open beside ours before I could even make it a few feet away.
“Kas?” Ashlin whispered from the doorway to her room. “What are you doing out here by yourself?”
She stepped out of the room in a pair of bed shorts and a tank top with bare feet. I scrambled back on to the porch, hoping that she wasn’t insistent upon following me.
“I’m going to look for Gabriel and Callan,” I whispered back.
“We’ve been up waiting for Callan too,” she revealed. “We weren’t sure if we should go looking for them ourselves. Josh fell asleep a little bit ago, but I couldn’t, not while knowing they’re still out there.”
“You get some rest. I’ve got this for now,” I said as I turned to walk away.
Ashlin grabbed my hand, pulling me back to her. “It’s dangerous to do this alone.”
“I already told Penelope and Ebony to stay put. It’s no big deal. I’ll be right back,” I assured her.
“Why is it that you want everyone else to stay together, but you won’t even heed your own advice?” she asked, frustrated.
I bit my bottom lip as I thought about her words. “I can’t lose you. I can’t lose any of you.”
“So you’d rather get yourself killed instead?” she questioned.
“I’m trying to avoid that too,” I replied, flashing a smile her way. “Look, we can argue about this later, but I need to find our boys. Just stay with Josh, and if I’m not back in twenty minutes, you all can come look for me. I’ll be back before then, though.”
Ashlin let my hand drop back to my side before she nodded, heading back into her room. I could hear the soft sound of snoring coming from their suite before she closed the door, giving me one last sullen glance.
After almost losing both Gabriel and Penelope during the ceremony between Lucifer and me, it placed several things into perspective. Without a shadow of a doubt, I knew that I wanted to protect every last one of my friends. Dying didn’t scare me. It was their death that seized my heart with its icy grip whenever the thought crossed my mind. I never wanted to see any of my friends in that much pain and anguish again.
Jumping off the porch, the gravel created noises much louder than I would’ve liked. Sniffing the air, I caught a whiff of Callan’s and Gabriel’s scent. Heading to the edge of the parking lot and into the soft grass, my footsteps quieted significantly, making me feel more comfortable in the humid night air.
I stopped outside the tree line wondering why Callan and Gabriel would wander so far away from the motel. We weren’t actively hunting demons and Paladins. We were trying to make sure the perimeter was safe, or so I thought. Peering into the dark forest that surrounded the motel, my senses started to alert me to another presence, one that I knew.
Rushing back towards the motel room, I burst through the door as Penelope and Ebony stood quickly from the table.
“Get everything into the car!” I shouted. “We have a problem.”
“What’s going on?” Penelope asked frantically.
“No time to explain,” I said as I picked up my duffel bag and some of their stuff as well. “Get Josh and Ashlin. We have to get out of here.”
Ebony exited the room to inform the others.
“But, where’s Gabriel and Callan?” Penelope pleaded as we headed out to the car as I threw my stuff into the trunk.
“What’s happening?” Josh asked as he came out to the vehicle with Ashlin.
“Bounty hunters,” I replied as I closed the trunk. “It’s Beleth. I know his scent anywhere. He’s been hired.”
“By who?” Ashlin asked.
“I don’t know! Stay with the car,” I yelled as I dashed off following the scent of Callan and Gabriel through the woods.
I could hear the others shouting my name as I took off, but there was no time to lose when it came to Beleth and his demons. I wasn’t even sure how many there were prowling the forest at this time of night. My only hope was that Gabriel and Callan had found a way to stay alive.
It was clear to me that they had been tracing us through our scent all along. Beleth’s hunters had such a keen sense of smell that they didn’t even need to use their other ones. I pushed past the evergreen trees, pine straw and fallen branches cracking underneath my weight. The moon was my only source of light in the forest, and it guided me to where I needed to go.
As the scent strengthened, I slowed my speed, trying not to arouse any suspicion. Pivoting around, I heard a movement from behind me as I saw Josh push through some brambles to get to me. Rushing towards him, I cupped my hand over his mouth and shook my head, begging him to keep quiet. If he wanted to help me, I would need to focus on my senses to get all of us out alive.
With a quick nod of understanding, I took my hand away from his mouth as we crept along the forest floor toward another tree line that opened into a clearing. As my eyes flickered over another set of standing stones, my heart dropped. Our motel was only half a mile away from a demonic portal, and we had set up camp right there. We were so careless.
Josh and I shared the same expression as we glanced at each other. If we had thoroughly vetted the area, we would’ve realized sooner how close we were to danger, but we were too tired to consider the possibility of a portal so close to our location.
Pushing a limb back to get a better view, I saw two bodies slumped against the base of two of the stones. I could smell blood, and our friends’ scents grew stronger as the wind carried it to us. My instincts alerted me to the impending trap I knew this situation to be. Callan and Gabriel were still alive by the sound of their heartbeats, but it wouldn’t be for long. There was no telling how much blood they both had lost, but my guess was plenty by the intoxicating aroma in the air.
Placing my arm in front of Josh’s chest to hold him back, I signaled to him to stand down until needed. He yielded and backed away slowly as I stepped out into the tall grass of the clearing. The boys were in the heart of the portal, and I wasn’t sure that walking through it was the best tactic, so I chose the higher route.
Swiftly running up the side of one of the stones, I perched at the top of it and scanned the area around them. Hopping from one stone top to the other, I made my way to the stone Callan was under. He wasn’t even tied down, which worried me because he must’ve been so weak that the hunters decided it wasn’t worth the effort.
As I was about to descend from the stone, I heard a whir of air as an arrow embedded into my shoulder. Falling from the rock to the ground, I groaned as I broke the end of the shaft off and ducked behind another stone. Arrows flew silently through the night air, and I could only assume the bounty hunters were hiding within the trees.
Josh screeched into the trees where the arrows were being fired from, sending a piercing sound into the night sky. I plugged my ears as the noise continued, and two bounty hunters crashed through the branches to the ground in agony. The sound stopped, and I spun around towards Callan’s body, helping him to his feet.
“Josh, we have to get them out of here!” I shouted as he sprinted across the clearing towards Gabriel.
We ran with the boys as fast as we could, Gabriel and Callan trying their best to keep up the pace as I heard the hunters behind us. I could tell they weren’t on the ground but leaping through the air overhead.
Setting Callan down near a tree, I readied myself for the attack, knowing that we couldn’t carry the boys fast enough to escape the hunters.
“What are you doing?” Josh said breathlessly.
“Get behind me!” I instructed as I felt my power bloom within me, locking my stance into the Earth.
The hunters launched themselves from the trees and landed on the ground without a scratch. Staring them down, they pointed their arrows at me. Drawing back on their bows, they released their arrows as I caught both of them with my hands. Turning their points around, I threw both of them with incredible strength and speed back at their owners, lodging them deep into their chests.
While their faces were hidden behind hoods, I could tell they were surprised as they gripped the shaft of the arrows sticking out from their chests. Falling to their knees, their bodies disintegrated under their clothes, leaving them behind on the forest floor.
“We have to hurry,” I said as I bent down to help Callan to his feet once again. “Ugh, you’re heavy.”
Callan tried to laugh but grabbed his side as we hobbled out of the tree line and towards the waiting vehicle. Ashlin had pulled the car up to the edge of the parking lot to aid us. Opening the car door, Penelope and Ebony pulled the boys inside as Josh leaped in behind them. Opening the passenger side door, I got into the car as another arrow flew out of the darkness of the forest, embedding itself into the side of the vehicle.
“Drive!” I shouted as Ashlin gunned the acceleration, causing gravel to fly all over the place behind us.
Bouncing over the threshold from the parking lot onto the road, she didn’t let up her foot even on the dark winding road. Twisting around in my seat, panic flooded my being.
“Are they alright?” I inquired as fear tightened its hold around me.
“I’ve placed them under a sleeping spell,” Penelope replied. “It helps that they don’t try to move while I heal them. We’re lucky to have found them when we did. They’ve lost a lot of blood from their wounds.”
“Arrows?” I asked.
“No, these look like slashes probably from a blade,” she commented. “From the looks of it, they wanted them hurt but not exactly dead.”
“Beleth,” I muttered under my breath. “He’s the only demon I know with a penchant for blades. Those were his bounty hunters after all.”
“Did you see him out there?” Ebony asked.
I shook my head. “No, but I caught his scent.”
“Let me help you get that arrow out of your shoulder, Kas, so you can start healing,” Ebony said from behind my seat. “Lean forward.”
I did as I was told and placed my hands on the car’s dash as I braced myself for the pain. I felt Ebony place her hands gently upon my shoulder as she assessed the wound. Her light probing didn’t help the bruising occurring around the hole.
“It’s a through and through, so this should be simple. Just breathe,” she said as I felt her grab the tip of the arrow and pull it through my shoulder. I grunted in pain as fresh blood spilled from the wound down my shirt and onto the seat. Feeling the wound start to seal itself, I leaned back in the seat and sighed. The whole car smelled like blood, and it was starting to trigger my hunger even though it wasn’t precisely the blood I craved.
“I shouldn’t have let those demons get off so easily. I should’ve ripped their throats out,” I remarked.
“You had to do what you had to. We didn’t have time to stop; otherwise, we would’ve been dead. They had already called for backup, and there was no telling how many demons came out of that portal ready to hunt you down,” Josh replied.
“Why didn’t they attack us at the motel?” Ebony asked.
“Because they’re not trying to hunt you,” I answered. “Bounty hunters only go after their targets. Besides, I doubt any of your parents would be pleased knowing that a bounty hunter killed their child in the crossfire. Especially yours, Josh.”
“Mine?” he asked, surprised.
“Lorelei is a very influential demon in our culture. There’s no way she would let anything happen to her beloved son,” Ashlin interjected.
“That’s only if she even knows about what’s going on,” Josh said. “She doesn’t particularly keep up with me or my endeavors.”
“Really?” Ashlin and I asked in unison.
“She only cares about herself and how I make her look in society. I’m pretty sure right now I’m not doing her reputation any favors by being a fugitive with Kas, even if it’s the right thing to do,” he revealed.
“I always knew your mother was a heinous sea hag,” Ashlin replied, inciting giggles from the rest of the car.
I watched in the rearview mirror at the slight glow from Penelope’s hands on Callan and Gabriel in the very back of the car. It amazed me at her power to recite a simple incantation and do the most incredible things. My abilities were always that of destruction and chaos but hers? She had the power to save lives, something I felt like I would never be able to do.
I felt that my celestial half was inevitably dimmed by my demonic half, my darkness being the more powerful of the two. I had only tapped into my angelic powers during times of extreme duress, and even then, they had been used to kill. Sometimes I felt like that was the only thing I was capable of.
“Ashlin,” Penelope called from the backseat. “Are you okay to drive through the rest of the night?”
“I think I’m okay, but I’m going to have to stop when the sun comes up and rest,” she admitted. “I barely slept at the motel, but the adrenaline is helping to keep me awake.”
“Maybe that’s a safer option,” I said. “Sleep during the day and drive through the night. It should only take us another day to get to Aunt Helen’s home.”
“As long as we’re not attacked again,” Ebony pointed out.
“Bounty hunters usually hunt by scent,” Penelope began. “I could cast a circle around our campsite to disguise our smell. It may throw them off the trail. We should probably look into resting at an actual campsite. The more people around, the harder it’ll be for them to smell us.”
“Whatever,” Josh mumbled. “As long as I can get some decent sleep, I don’t care.”
“It’s settled. We’ll stay up to make sure Ashlin can drive without falling asleep at the wheel, and then we’ll set up camp for a bit,” I confirmed.
Rubbing my eyes with my hands, I thought about how this journey would’ve gone if I had tried to do it independently. I don’t think I would’ve made it this far without the help from my allies. Listening to the flapping of the arrow outside my car door, I rolled down the window and plucked it from the metal, letting it drop to the pavement on the road. Once the window was back up, I sat tall in my chair, trying to keep myself awake with Ashlin as the night turned into a blur.