Ashlin pulled the car off the main stretch down a dirt road that winded through the trees until we arrived at a small cabin. Other vehicles were parked in a dirt parking lot across from the wooden cabin as kids played on a small playground nearby. The smell of bacon scented the air as families were waking up for the morning at their campsites a little ways off from the cabin within the trees. Turning the engine off and parking the car, Ashlin sighed, the circles under her eyes as dark as the night sky.
“Stay here,” she said. “I’ll get us a campsite for the day. You should probably change your shirt.”
I looked down at all the blood that covered me. It was for the best that I stayed put to not raise suspicion around all the humans laughing with their families. Ashlin got out of the car and trudged off towards the cabin. We sat silently, waiting for her to return a few minutes later. She walked up to my window and knocked on it softly. I rolled down the window for her as she placed her elbows on the edge.
“Here’s our parking pass,” she said as she handed me a slip of paper to hang over the rearview mirror. “Our campsite is actually by the lake a little way down the road and to the left. The good news is, there are no weird monuments around, so hopefully, we won’t have to deal with anymore demon—strations.”
“Hi there,” a couple said as they passed by our car and Ashlin. Ashlin spun around, trying to block their view from seeing all the bloodstains on me. I admired her save in front of the humans.
“Hi,” Ashlin laughed nervously as she turned back towards me to finish the conversation. “Let’s go. The faster we get to our more secluded campsite and get some sleep, the better.”
I rolled the window back up as Ashlin bounded around the car and hopped back into the driver’s seat, placing it into drive. She took us further down the dirt road until it opened along the embankment of a lake. She parked off to the side into a small clearing that had a number nailed into a nearby tree and one of those metal charcoal grills that stood out of the ground.
“There are still people around here,” I commented as I watched a couple of teenage boys swing from a rope tied to the branch of a sturdy tree by the lake. “I can’t step out with all this blood on me.”
“Can you make it to the lake?” Ebony asked from behind me.
“That’s actually a good idea,” Penelope remarked from the back with the boys. “If we can jump into the lake, the water can help wash it out. People won’t know what kind of stains they are.”
“Can’t you just magically wash it out?” I sighed.
“You really think we create spells for washing clothes?” Penelope asked flatly.
“I was kind of wondering the same thing, to be honest,” Josh interjected. “We don’t know what all you witches do.”
Penelope rolled her eyes. “You all have superhuman speed and strength. I think you can make it the fifty yards to the lake without raising suspicion.”
“What about Callan and Gabriel?” I asked.
“We can make it,” Gabriel grunted from the back. “The healing Penelope did for us was enough to get us back on our feet.”
“It still hurts like hell, though,” Callan admitted. “We just have to time it right.”
I pulled the car door handle towards me as I glanced around the vehicle. A family of four was walking by our car down the dirt road back towards their campsite. Waiting for them to pass, I opened the door and rushed towards the water as the others were hot on my heels. Grabbing the rope swing, I let it carry me out over the sparkling water under the sun of the morning sky.
Letting go, I dropped towards the water and was enveloped by its cold embrace. I sank down into the dark abyss, holding my breath as I saw bubbles float up around me. The water carried me up towards its surface slowly as I swam a little outward. My friends dove in next to me, and I watched as their bodies swam through the water, washing all the filth away.
Surfacing, I took a deep breath and immediately floated on my back with the water’s ripples carrying me away from the shoreline. The others popped up around me and did the same until we were all floating or swimming around. Diving back down into the water and then coming back up, Gabriel splashed me in the face.
Laughing, I splashed him back, hitting Ashlin, who was swimming behind him. It turned into an excellent splashing fight between everyone as we screamed and laughed together. I rubbed my face with the cold water, washing away the blood from my neck and body. Gabriel swam over to me and wrapped his arms around my waist from behind. Before I knew it, he lifted me up and threw me out into the water as I giggled with joy before submerging beneath the surface once again.
Coming up, Gabriel was swimming around me as the others had paired off. I grabbed his shoulders as we kicked beneath us, keeping our heads above water.
“My God, she floats! She must be a witch!” Gabriel said in an exaggerated British accent, more so than his usual one.
I laughed. “Much worse.”
“Show me,” he smiled as he held me close, kissing me passionately as the waves lapped at us. I felt his hands grabbing my waist as he held me to him, keeping me from floating away. Letting my hands run down his chest, I felt the wounds healing across his stomach as his shirt floated up with the water.
Pulling back with a gasp, I ran my hands over the raised wounds. “This is bad, Gabriel. You have to be in pain.”
“Only when you touch them like that,” he replied with a wince. I snatched my hands away and placed them around his shoulders instead. “Penelope will need to do another healing session before they fully close. Callan’s are worse.”
“What?” I asked as I glanced over my shoulder at Callan, floating on his back with his arms outstretched.
“I found him first,” Gabriel explained. “I think they were harder on him because he’s a Paladin.”
“They? You mean Beleth, right?” I inquired.
Gabriel shook his head. “I didn’t see Beleth there. Believe me, I would recognize one of the Lesser Kings of Hell if I saw one. It was only the bounty hunters and us.”
“Maybe he was there before and wanted them to do his dirty work,” I mused. “I smelled his scent. I know he was there.”
“Maybe, but it wasn’t him, and I didn’t see him when we were being tortured,” Gabriel revealed.
“Did they want information from you?” I asked.
Gabriel nodded. “We wouldn’t tell them anything. That’s when they decided to use us as bait to lure you out into the open. They wanted to know where we were running to and how to capture you. They said something about a trial. I don’t think they knew I could speak their dialect.”
“A trial? Oh no,” I said, understanding my fate.
I swam away towards the lake’s bank and stood up, my clothes hanging on my body from the weight of the water. The others saw me and decided to head in as well. My feet squished inside my shoes as I walked up the sandy shoreline towards our campsite. Opening the car, I pulled out my duffel bag and threw it on the ground next to the makeshift firepit.
“Kas, what’s wrong?” Penelope asked as they ran up to me.
“I’m going to be put on trial,” I said as I slammed the trunk of the car after pulling everyone’s stuff out and spacing them around the firepit next to mine.
“What?” Ebony asked, slowly realizing the gravity of the situation.
“What does that mean? Us, non-demons, don’t know what that means,” Callan stated, seeing the confusion from Gabriel and Penelope.
“It means Kas is going to have to appear before the highest law of our kind, Asmodeus,” Josh answered.
“He’s the demon of judgment,” Ashlin expounded further. “She’ll have to appear before the tribunal, which consists of the other Lesser Kings of Hell to plead her case, but Asmodeus will have the final say. He’s the only one who can try and judge a member of the royal families.”
“What case? This is about—”
Gabriel silenced his sister with a look as a couple passed by. He turned around and waved at them as they waved back, continuing on their way.
“Maybe we shouldn’t speak of this so openly,” Callan suggested. “Let’s just act normal and get some sleep before any demons decide to make a bold appearance. Shall we?”
Gabriel approached me as the others dispersed, setting out towels upon the ground while using their duffel bags as pillows. Kneeling, I prepared my space as Gabriel stood over me with worry in his eyes.
“Why don’t you move your stuff over here by me?” I asked without looking him in the eye. Worrying didn’t help anyone, and we needed the rest.
Gabriel finally went over to grab his bag and lay out a blanket for both of us over my small towel. He smiled kindly at me as I touched the blanket’s softness, grateful for something plush to lay upon.
“I thought this would be more sufficient on our trip,” he said as he sat down on the blanket and maneuvered our duffel bags together by our heads.
I pulled out some clean clothes from my bag before standing up. “I’m going to the restroom to change out of these clothes. The blood may be gone, but that lake water wasn’t exactly the cleanest thing around here.”
Ashlin stood too. “Ladies, let’s move.”
I smirked as we gathered in a group to head for the bathroom and showers together, leaving the boys behind. As we made our way towards the stand-alone building, I walked into an empty shower stall and pulled the short shower curtain around myself. Ashlin took the one beside me while Penelope and Ebony took the two other stalls across from us. We could see each other from the neck down.
Ashlin was the first to turn the water on and screamed at its coldness as it hit her bare skin. “This crap is not warm in the slightest. Penelope!”
“Ugh. Must I have a spell for everything?” she groaned.
“Come on, Babe. I know for a fact you can heat up water,” Ebony giggled.
“Fine,” she sighed as she muttered an incantation under her breath.
“Ah…” Ashlin said as the water warmed against her skin. “That’s much better.”
Turning on the shower, the water splashed against my skin, washing away the scum of the lake water. Ebony passed around the small shampoo and conditioner toiletries she had taken from the motel for us to use.
“What do you think the boys are doing right now?” Ashlin asked as she conditioned her blonde hair.
“Probably waiting for us to get back,” Penelope shrugged. “They seem to be perfectly content with their baths.”
“I’m sure they’re taking turns showering,” Ebony stated. “We did kind of leave them out there to watch after the car and our stuff by themselves.”
“So? They should’ve thought of it first then,” Ashlin declared with a smile. “Honestly, they’re probably already asleep.”
“That’s what we should be doing,” I said as I turned off the warm water allowing myself to drip dry.
“I hope I can stay clean for more than a day,” Ashlin said. “I’m tired of taking a shower and then immediately getting dirty or bloody only seconds later.”
“Comes with the territory,” I stated with a wink.
The others turned their water off as we all started to change into our clothes after toweling ourselves dry.
“Ashlin, you’ve got to get some sleep,” I said, concerned for her as she toweled her hair. As a succubus, she needed her beauty rest. Literally.
She nodded without her usual witty comeback, and we all headed back towards the campsite as a group. The boys had indeed gone to shower while we were away. We found them lying on the ground around the small fire they had created. Josh and Callan were already asleep, their arms thrown across their eyes, trying to shut out the sun filtering through the leaves of the trees.
Dropping down to the blanket beside Gabriel, I leaned back on the duffel bag, immediately feeling the heaviness of my eyes. Gabriel pulled me onto his chest as he sighed deeply, his eyes closed.
“Did you enjoy your girl time?” he asked with a slight chuckle.
“It was sufficient,” I commented. “What about you?”
“It’s kind of nice not being the only guy in the group,” he remarked. “We’ll make it to your Aunt’s house right as night falls, I believe. Just depends on when we all wake up.”
“There are so many people here,” Penelope commented from nearby. “You don’t think any demons would try and attack in front of them, do you?”
“Nah,” I said. “We may be ruthless, but we’re not stupid.”
“Except the ones possessing all those poor souls all over the world,” Callan interrupted, his arm still over his eyes.
“That won’t happen under my rule,” I stated.
“I sure hope not,” he replied. “No one deserves a fate like that.”
“You’ve seen it?” Penelope asked. “What type of demon possesses someone anyway?”
“What? I’m surprised you don’t know this already,” I teased her.
“Well, I taught you mostly about witches and other creatures. I don’t know every demon there is, my Lady,” Penelope mocked.
“They’re called wraiths,” I informed her. “They kind of resemble ghosts or manifestations. They feed off people’s energy but don’t have to possess them to do so.”
“Then why do they do it?” Gabriel inquired.
“To be vile,” Callan declared. “Their goal goes beyond pure survival, it’s personal. They take pleasure out of torturing pure souls.”
“I’m sure my father gave them some sort of incentive for it,” I admitted through gritted teeth. “That will stop as soon as I take my throne.”
“We’ll see,” Callan said as he rolled over on his towel, facing away from us.
“What’s with him?” I whispered to Gabriel since he had spent the most time with him.
“Give him some time,” Gabriel whispered back. “I’m sure he’s still bitter about what happened at the motel. Just get some sleep.”
Resting against his chest, I listened to his heartbeat as his breathing slowed, indicating his descent into sleep. I closed my eyes, colors blooming behind my eyelids as I let myself slip into oblivion, images forming within my mind.
As the dream assaulted my senses, I watched as I stood from my body and looked about myself, the sun had disappeared from the sky as everything was alight with a bluish glow. The campsite was quiet as the humans had seemed to all vanish except for my body lying upon the blanket, floating over what would’ve been Gabriel’s chest.
Walking towards the edge of the water, I watched as the waves licked the sandy shore, pulling back and forth. Towards the center of the lake, I saw a man standing atop the waves. He walked towards me as I backed up from the water, ready to flee. Noticing my hesitancy, he stopped about twenty feet away. Stepping forward, I recognized the man as Baku.
“What are you doing here? Why have you summoned me?” I inquired, unsure of his intentions. While his past actions had served to aid me, I was unsure of his current position towards my ascendance.
“My apologies that I couldn’t come to you sooner, my Lady,” Baku stated with a bow in my direction. “I had to wait for you to fall asleep before I could reveal myself to you.”
“Why have you come?” I asked.
“I’ve come so that I may report your status back to Madam Lilith,” he explained. “She has paid me handsomely for my services.”
“Mom?” My disbelief brought tears to my eyes. I had no idea she was even still alive after having left her behind at Brimstone Prep.
“How have you fared?” he asked, disrupting my thoughts.
“I was attacked by bounty hunters. Beleth was their commander, but he wasn’t amongst them at the time. Do you know why he’s doing this?” I inquired, hoping for some sort of explanation.
“It is not Beleth who seeks to destroy you. Leviathan has been rallying the Lesser Kings and their armies to rise against you when you enter Hell. They’ve been stationing soldiers at the entrances to catch you off guard,” he revealed.
“All of them?” I asked.
Baku shook his head. “He doesn’t have enough forces to maintain a constant watch over all the entrances, but he monitors the most obvious ones.”
“Like the standing stones,” I mumbled.
“Precisely,” Baku added. “If the bounty hunters found you before, they would have reported your location to Leviathan.”
“They’re dead. They never had the chance,” I replied.
Baku grinned. “Good girl, but be warned. The more of our kind you kill, even in defense, the less support you will have.”
“My father killed plenty of demons in his lifetime for lesser crimes,” I pointed out.
“Your father had complete control over his domain and proved his worthiness. You have yet to do so,” Baku answered.
“Believe me, I will,” I assured.
“I have no doubt about that,” Baku said. “Mrs. Sato has told me great things about your reign. Unfortunately, not all believe in her sight.”
“Mrs. Sato? Is she safe?” I asked hurriedly.
“She is safe for now,” Baku stated. “That old woman has had many dealings with demons in the past that have prepared her for the present.”
Baku turned his head swiftly to the side, staring down towards the main road across the lake. “It’s time for you to awaken and leave this place. I will relay this information to your mother.”
“What is it? What do you see?” I inquired, but before he could answer, I gasped for air as I shot up on the blanket and out of my dream.
Standing up, I shook the others awake as they groaned.
“What’s going on, Kas?” Ashlin asked as she stretched upon the ground.
“We have to go,” I said as the sun hung low in the sky across the lake, turning the clouds a brilliant orange and pink color. Kids were still splashing around in the water as others started their campfires to roast hotdogs and marshmallows.
The others began packing up their sleeping gear and threw their duffel bags in the back of the car.
“Well, that was refreshing,” Ashlin said as Josh took over the driving. I hopped into the passenger seat as Josh took us back down the dirt path and out onto the main road. Ebony handed me a water bottle with a dark red liquid inside filled about a quarter of the way.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“What does it look like?” she countered.
“Ebony and I tried to fill it as much as we could for you, but you need to feed. We all have,” Josh replied.
“Thanks,” I mumbled as I uncapped the top of the bottle and sniffed the sweet-smelling aroma of blood. Tilting the bottle back, I guzzled the contents without giving much thought to how it looked to the others. Usually, I would be more secretive with this aspect of myself, but nothing was sacred. Not anymore.