The brightness dissipated. Monty blinked, adjusting to the darkness surrounding them. They stood on a side road that he could tell was primarily for access to the decrepit building before them; one of the nearby trees had fallen over and destroyed the roof towards the rear, and the lawn was covered in crabgrass that reached above his knees. The entrance to the building was marked by a series of slim pillars, all severely stained with dirt. An oval sign hanging above the center-most pillar once told visitors the name of the park, but sun and disregard had caused all the color to fade away. Standing within the confined area between the pillars and the entrance was a group of angels, all from their court–and patiently awaiting his arrival on the front walkway was Leah, her black eyes on him as she sat on her haunches.
Samuel and Ricardo Palladino were chatting with Natalie Hall and Connor Montgomery, their focus on the leg of the main road that stretched out toward the southeast. As the court’s best warriors, they were more concerned with strategies than Monty’s arrival–Natalie’s left hand maintained a vice grip on the hilt of her sword, still hanging by her side in its leather scabbard.
Cienna, Natalie’s older sister who was ironically shorter than her younger siblings, was gabbing with Alexa and Cassidy, Connor’s younger sister. As a distant cousin of the Hall warriors and the girlfriend of the Montgomery teleporter, their psychic bridged the gap created by the Alagona and Montgomery families. Cici and Cassie waved at their superiors, giggling amongst themselves. Alexa smiled at the advisor and porter briefly before shyly turning back to her friends.
Sal idled by Frankie, whose eyes were shut as he focused on their territory. Sal’s eyes darted between Monty and the prince; he nodded to the advisor and started to say something, only for his greeting to be cut short by the gruff voice that spoke up from behind them.
“You’re late, Montague,” barked Matteo Alagona. His dark green eyes reminded the royal advisor of seaweed, and his coal-black hair was streaked with silver.
“Technically, I got here before anyone else,” he jested, ignoring his father’s hardened expression as he held his sketchpad to his lips. “Exact location and demands.”
The fox sped off down the road the warriors were eyeing, and the royal advisor shut his book and slid it into his hoodie pocket.
Frankie’s bright green eyes refocused on him, and with a passing glance to Alexa the youthful leadership was mentally linked. I don’t even need to force Chris to spill his guts to know that you guys are hiding something from me.
Can I just say I appreciate you not forcing me? Chris began, cutting off Monty’s explanation. And I was the one who said we had to tell you about this from the beginning–
Seriously, man? Monty scoffed. What he’s neglecting to tell you is that I agreed to report to you and the council in the morning since you guys were all looking for me anyway.
So fill me in, Frankie commanded. Now.
The royal advisor recounted the events of the previous night, beginning with his nightly rounds and including every occurrence up until the fox’s findings.
Leah reported that the target is a spirit, he concluded. And considering she can differentiate between us and strangers, it’s safe to say whoever’s out there isn’t one of ours.
And you think our late-night visitor is related to the kid you found? Frankie surmised. Why? The kid comes from a bandit family–no spirits have ever used bandits as vessels.
We can’t say that definitively, countered Alexa, her attention suddenly focused on the road. The others joined her, watching as a canine creature bolted over the asphalt. It hasn’t even been a century since the plague wiped out most of humanity. Bandits haven’t been around that long, so you can’t assume none of them will ever house spirits.
Monty jogged across the street, meeting the fox at the tail-end of a weed-littered median strip. He checked her body for signs of damage, then pulled out his sketchpad to review her latest report. His eyes widened, a reaction that the other angels noticed.
“What is it?” asked Lorenzo, Monty’s uncle. “What are they asking for?”
Monty shut the notebook and slipped it back inside his pocket as he locked eyes with Frankie. “Me.”
The court members in attendance erupted in a slew of disagreement, their protests overlapping in a way that Monty could barely make out.
“What?” shouted Sam. The angels closest to him readied their abilities, prepared to defend their royal advisor. “No way, man.”
“You can’t go out there alone,” Natalie declared as she stepped forward, already unsheathing her weapon.
“Nat, you are not going out there!” ordered her Uncle Remi.
Matteo advanced on the older man, appalled. “I’m not sending my son out there without backup, Remiel.”
“We aren’t sending anyone anywhere yet!” Frankie yelled over the noise. He walked briskly over to Monty as he asked, “What do you mean, ‘you’?”
“I mean that our visitor is waiting on Savage Island,” he explained. “And they asked for me and only me to come and talk.”
Connor stepped forward as well, his voice lowered. “Don’t do this, man. We don’t know how many are out there–this could be a trap.”
“Or it could be another group reaching out in regards to the mission,” Monty proposed. “We won’t know until I go–and I can conjure up Daya to keep an eye out. If there’s even a hint of danger, she’ll signal you guys.”
When Frankie buried his face in his hands, his lieutenant offered, “If that’s alright with you.”
“Hell no it’s not alright with me!” His prince objected, dropping his hands and meeting his gaze. “I’m sorry, but I’m with Connor on this one. We don’t know how many are out there, and we can’t risk losing anyone who hasn’t sat on the throne yet. For all we know, you’re our true prince, so I can’t let you go and meet with whoever the fuck is out there–”
Monty’s attention had shifted back to the building’s entrance, his expression wary. His distraction prompted his cousin and best friend to glance back at the assembly, only to find that a member of the council had stepped out of the crowd.
She held out her left hand for balance, as her right held a thin white cane that she tapped repeatedly on the ground ahead of her. First on the far left, then on the far right. Sal rushed forward to help her down the sloping walkway, a gesture met with a whack as the cane connected with his shins.
“Ragazzone, I don’t need your help to walk fifteen feet,” Desideria Alagona nodded in Sal’s direction without turning, calling him by a pet name.
She was the younger sister to Lorenzo and Matteo, the mother of Sam and Ricky, the only aunt to the Alagona youths. Her thick hair framed her heart-shaped face, only a few white strands visible among the raven waves. Her once fern-green eyes were blanketed by a cloudy fog; when she used her telepathic abilities, her irises turned a deep indigo. The shift in eye color did not aid with the councilperson’s sight, but it did grant her visions of the future. She was the psychic before Alexa was recruited, the prophetess the elders turned to when making major decisions.
Frankie and Connor remained close, watching as her eye color shifted as she neared them. She greeted them both in her usual sweet demeanor, her left hand reaching out in the space between them.
Reaching for Monty.
“Hey, Aunt Desi,” he said with a smile, lowering his voice as he took her hand in his. Then he joked, “Thanks for coming to save me. I thought these two would never let me say hi to you.”
“Is that so?” she muttered, a gleeful grin on her lips. “Well, that’s alright. I know you’ve been distracted, so I’ll forgive you.”
He thanked her and was about to excuse himself when her grip on his hand tightened. “Oh, how’s your girl doing?”
Monty let out an embarrassed chuckle, realizing she had overheard their entire mental conversation. “She’s doing good, I think. Time will tell.”
“Mona got her to eat?” Desideria confirmed with the tone of a concerned mother. “She got a bath? Kris saw her?”
“Yeah–you know what? Why do you ask me these questions when we both know you got all the answers?” teased Monty. “She’s been washed, healed, and fed, and now she’s sleeping.”
“If you or your sister ever need anything for her, let us know,” she needled. Her cane was tucked under her left arm, allowing her a firm hold on Monty’s hand with both of hers.
“I will, Aunt Desi. Promise.”
“I guess this means you’ll be looking after her,” Desideria cautioned. “Teenagers are tough on their own–now you got a bandit living with you. You think it’ll be easy?”
Frankie and Connor tensed up at her words; the Montgomery boy had not been briefed on the lost girl, so it was his first time hearing of it. The prince and royal advisor threw apologetic glances his way before Monty leaned down to speak with his aunt.
“If I didn’t have Mona, I don’t think I’d be able to do it at all,” he admitted modestly. “She’s smarter, not as impulsive.”
“Mona isn’t as invested as you are, babe,” she revealed. “She will be, as time goes on. But you and this girl already have a bond.”
Monty ran the fingers of his free hand through his hair. He knew he wasn’t supposed to ask her too many questions, but his curiosity was piqued. He glanced over at Frankie and Connor–the prince had taken the other angel aside to explain the situation, granting him and the elder psychic some privacy. “I’m right, aren’t I? She’s special.”
The prophetess chortled. “I tell ya, when you find out who she is, it’s going to be a real kick in the teeth.”
“But if she’s meant to be one of us…” he faltered, his mind racing. “Her soul looks like a plain ol’ human soul to me, Aunt Desi. There’s no way she’s an angel–”
“Angel?” she asked. “Who said anything about her being an angel?”
“But you made it sound like she’s one of us–”
“And who are we?” Desideria challenged. “Are angels the only spirits who walk this planet? Are there not other groups here that share our mission?”
He scoffed. “What, is she a demon–?”
When her only response was a kind smile, the teenager shook his head. “No. No, no, no way–there is no way I’m going to house a demon. Are you kidding me–?”
“Montague Alagona the second!” His aunt chastised, her expression stern. “Think about what you’re saying. Are you going to send a young woman out to no man’s land alone on the off-chance that she may awaken as a demon in the future?”
Ashamed, he gave her hands a gentle squeeze. “No, but–”
“What makes demons so bad, huh?” she prodded. “What, the name? Humans gave them that name, based on the actions of a few. You can’t demean all demons over the orders carried out by Plutonian warriors.”
I hadn’t thought of that, he realized. “I guess you’re right.”
“ ‘Angels’ and ‘demons’ are just classifications, understand?” she insisted. “Other than describing the appearance of one’s soul, those words mean nothing.”
Monty let out a sigh, eager to get on with his mission. “Thank you, Aunt Desi. I needed that. Anything else you need to tell me before I go?”
The older woman gestured down the road with a nod and a melancholic visage. “Make sure he knows that his sister will be cared for.”