Aralyn took some time to get used to her new name and identity. She had been the naive little girl from France for so many years that the truth now was very daunting. Her newfound love was a major comfort to her as she sorted out her life and what she would do with it.
Two days passed while the ship returned to Ravenna. The men were given two days of shore leave while their leaders contemplated the next move. There were six of them sitting in the galley trying to decide where to go next.
Baltazar sat with Aralyn on one side of the table while the other chairs were taken by Gilles, Morgan, Papi, and Lailah. Baltazar folded his hands in front of his face, “So, obviously we can’t run forever, what is our next move?”
“Legion is one that is many.” Lailah replied. “He can be anywhere, at any time.”
“You mean he could be here right now?” Baltazar asked.
“He has been here.” Lailah said in a low voice. “I can sense it in the walls. Most likely in the former captain of this ship…”
She then looked at Aralyn, “And he attacked you. I can still feel his presence in your soul… but is he here now… no. If he were, we’d know it. Aralyn and I would sense him.”
An air of relief filled the room as they continued. Papi looked over at Lailah, “I don’t understand, Legion is one that is many, but he is still just one demon. Surely a legion of angels could stop him.”
Lailah frowned, “It’s no longer that simple. Lucifer’s hold over the underworld was significantly weakened about seventy years ago when his former general turned on him.”
“Xaphan?” Aralyn asked. “She betrayed Lucifer?”
“Yes,” Lailah replied, “I don’t know the full details because I wasn’t there personally, but from what I understand, she turned on Lucifer when he tried to kill the one she loved.”
Baltazar’s eyes narrowed, “The one she loved? Who was that?”
Lailah smiled, “All I know is that she mated with a human and that led to her falling out of favor with Lucifer. Once all was said and done, Lucifer saw him as a threat and tried to have him killed. When she realized that after years of loyalty, he saw fit to betray her, she attacked him and stripped him of most of his power… she meant well. Unfortunately, her bravery had an undesirable effect. With Lucifer weakened, Legion focused on gaining strength. Many of the souls and demonic entities in Hell have been disillusioned by Lucifer’s weakness.”
Morgan sighed, “So they cast their lots in with Legion, is that it?”
“That is correct.” Lailah replied. “His numbers have swelled in recent years, now even the Choirs may not be able to take him on alone.”
“Hold one second,” Gilles interjected, “there is one thing that be escaping my reasoning. If the Lord God is all powerful, can he not simply destroy Legion himself?”
Lailah shrugged, “Could you destroy your own dark side? Can you stop the voice in your head from tempting you to do evil?”
That stopped Gilles in his tracks, “I… suppose not.”
“No,” Lailah replied, “and neither can the Most High. All any of us can do is burry that darkness away where it won’t hurt anyone and pretend that it doesn’t exist.”
A look of hopelessness came over Baltazar’s face, “Then how do we defeat such a being?”
“A combined effort.” Aralyn responded.
Every eye in the room focused on her. Lailah smiled, “Exactly, we’ll need the Choirs of Angels… and Aralyn’s power. Hopefully that should be enough to defeat him. If not, then perhaps weaken him enough to be re-imprisoned.”
“So then we’ll need to warn the Choirs, yes?” Papi concluded.
“Correct.” Lailah nodded, “Unfortunately that may be more difficult then it seems.”
“Why?” Aralyn asked. “Can’t you go warn them?”
“Not in my present condition. As i explained to Baltazar, I’ve lost much of my power.” Lailah replied angrily as she raised her scarred wings. “Legion did this to me when I tried to defend your home. My powers are badly diminished to the point where my sisters couldn’t even detect me. I was left her to die.”
Aralyn lowered her eyes, “I’m sorry… I didn’t know that. I regret that I caused your pain.”
“You didn’t.” Lailah sighed. “I apologize for being rude. You were not responsible for this.”
Morgan looked around the room, “So then, how will we be contacting these Choirs?”
Lailah sat back with a concerned look on her face, “There is a way… but the journey is perilous and the cost may be high.”
Aralyn looked at Lailah in earnest, “What is it?”
“We would need to proceed to the Well of Souls,” Lailah replied, “located just outside of the path to Hell.”
Baltazar looked at her like she was insane, “What is the Well of Souls?”
“It’s a place where the souls of the indifferent go.” Lailah replied. “Those who saw evil, but did nothing to stop it, flow forever in the well. It is also the final resting place for angels if they get killed.”
Papi’s eyes narrowed, “How will finding such a place help us contact the Choirs?”
Lailah turned to him, “If a human were to touch the waters, they would weather him away to dust. However if an angelic spirit touches the water, they can channel the powers of their fallen comrades to temporarily give them a boost in energy. In other words, it may give me enough power to reach the Chiors.”
“Well if that is our only choice…” Baltazar replied. “The crew said they’d follow us to hell and back, perhaps it’s time to test that. How do we get there?”
“That won’t be easy.” Lailah admitted. “The best way would be to enter Charybdis… a massive whirlpool that opens up just north of Crete.”
She lowered her eyes, “However, the larger the ship, the more dangerous it is, and I’m afraid a ship of this size wouldn’t be able to withstand the intense pressure on the hull.”
Morgan’s eyes widened, “Can’t say I be enjoying the thought of us entering a maelstrom anyway.”
“There is a second way… “Lailah said hesitantly, “but it would have to be done with a longboat.”
“How?” Baltazar asked.
Lailah looked Baltazar in the eye, “Taenarum…”
Time seemed to freeze for a moment. Gilles breathed heavily, “Cape Matapan… the home of the devil himself.”
“That is the legend,” Lailah replied, “but part of the legend is true, there is a massive cave there that will lead to the underworld.”
Baltazar stood up, “That is a day’s sail south of here. It shouldn’t be difficult to get to. Give the crew a little more time, we have one night left. We’ll set sail tomorrow…. agreed?”
Everyone nodded that this was acceptable. Lailah turned to leave, “I need some time to center myself. I will take the cargo hold if no one objects.”
Baltazar bowed and stood out of the way. She left the room quietly. Aralyn also left and headed up to the deck. Baltazar turned to his men, “See to it the ship is fully stocked for the worst possible contingency… I have a feeling we may need it.”
The three men saluted as Baltazar left the room. They went to work making sure that the Black Vengeance was ready. Baltazar went up to the main deck and saw Aralyn watching the bay from the forecastle. He approached her and stood next to her. She knew he was there, but it didn’t break her gaze.
After a few moments of silence, she finally spoke, “In a matter of days, the world I’ve known for such a long time has been shattered.”
She lowered her eyes with a smile on her face, “I don’t know what I should be feeling now… joy, sorrow, or fear?”
Baltazar turned to face her, “Perhaps a combination of each?”
“Perhaps.” She replied. “I’ve found everything I’ve ever wanted; family, love, adventure, and the answers to my life’s questions. Now I’m being thrust into some celestial holy war. I could wind up losing everything. That scares me.”
“It should,” Baltazar replied, “but that is the downside to forming connections and love. You wind up gaining something you could easily lose if not careful.”
“Are you saying I was better off before I told you how I felt?” She asked with a devious look.
“You told me how much you cared about me.” He said with a smile. “I don’t see how you could be better off.”
“You’re awful!” She shouted as she punched him in the arm.
She brought her fist around for another strike, but Baltazar grabbed it and held on as she struggled against him. She sneered jokingly at him as they fought, “Unhand me you fiend!”
After a few moments of trying to wring her arm free, Aralyn decided to try a new tactic. Instead of trying to break free, she lunged at him. Unable to keep his balance with the unexpected extra force bearing down on him, Baltazar fell backwards. His back hit the deck and Aralyn landed on his chest. She pounded on it with her fist as the two of them started laughing. Aralyn stood up and brushed herself off before helping Baltazar to his feet.
Once he was standing again, she gave him a quick kiss and smiled, “Thanks for cheering me up.”
“Anytime.” Baltazar replied.
Aralyn yawned as and turned away, “I think it’s time I got some rest, with everything that’s been going on, I think I’ve been worn a little thin.”
Baltazar nodded, “Go ahead, you’ve earned it.”
“Would come with me?” she asked.
This was an offer that Baltazar normally jumped on, knowing what it normally lead to, but this time, his heart froze in his chest. Baltazar swallowed, “I… don’t know…”
“Just until I fall asleep,” she replied, “please?”
Baltazar was about to answer when Lailah appeared on deck. Judging by the look on her face, she wanted to speak to him. He nodded to Aralyn, “Okay, I’ll be along in a few minutes.”
She gave him a faint smile and disappeared into the cabin. Lailah waited until she was gone before approaching Baltazar, “She’s a fascinating woman isn’t she?”
Baltazar nodded, “She is that…”
“Yes…” Lailah replied, “and you have my thanks for looking after her for so long.”
Baltazar knew she was dying to say more, “But…?”
“But…” Lailah repeated, “I sense that she has gotten very close to you.”
“Is that a problem?” Baltazar asked.
“I don’t know yet,” Lailah replied, “she loves you, you know. You’ve become her hero.”
Baltazar nodded, “I care for her too.”
“Do you?” Lailah asked suspiciously. “Are you certain of that? You have a kind face Baltazar Del La Fuente, but you are very difficult to read.”
Baltazar felt a twitch in the back of his neck. He was getting annoyed by the accusing nature of the angel’s questioning, “Angel, if you have something you wish to say, then stop mincing words and out with it.”
Lailah nodded, “Forgive me, it’s usually not in my nature to be so indirect. I have watched you since I came onboard. I have listened to your crew speak of you and pretty much got an idea of what kind of man you are. I have to say… what I’ve discovered worries me.”
Baltazar clenched one of his fists behind his back, “Come on, let’s hear the rest of it.”
“As you wish.” She replied. “You have spent the better part of your adult life pillaging and drinking your way from wench to wench without a single care. You do have a code of honor you live by, and that is admirable… but…”
“But what?” Baltazar asked.
Lailah sighed, “I don’t think you’re right for her. Maybe you should…”
“Enough.” Baltazar blurted out, ready to explode. “I am familiar with what I am and what I have done. I don’t need you to take me on a tour.”
“Forgive me.” Lailah replied, as she lowered her eyes as she spoke. “I did not mean to insult you. You are a good person under the brash exterior. My concern is your intentions for Aralyn… I’m only concerned because she is a lot more delicate then you might think. She has a tough exterior and guards her emotions well, but once you get under all that, which you have… You could severely damage her.”
“Never.” Baltazar said as he glared at Lailah. “I do not apologize for my past and the things I have done, because they make me who I am. I am not a sociopath and most of the women I have bedded were looking for the same thing I was. Aralyn is… different. From the moment I met her, I just wanted to help her. Now… I can’t explain it… I’ve never felt this way for a woman before. She’s different from anyone I’ve ever known.”
“So what would your intentions be then?” Lailah insisted.
Baltazar sighed, “I have none… I care for her, that’s all. If she wants me there, I will be there. If she asks me to leave, it will hurt, but I will go. If she is in danger, then I will be the one to protect her, no matter what the cost.”
Lailah smiled, satisfied by his response, “That’s all I needed to know, and if your words are true… Aralyn was lucky to have found you.”
She turned and beckoned toward the cabin, “Go on, she is waiting for you.”
Baltazar nodded and began walking, “You should probably stay out of sight. If someone sees you with those wings and all, it won’t end well.”
“Understood,” Lailah replied as she headed for the ladder back to the hold.
Baltazar hesitated as he opened the door. Aralyn was on the other side wearing a lace gown that she had found amongst the women’s clothing Jaspart kept aboard for presumably dishonorable reasons. She slowly ran her arms over Baltazar’s shoulders and kissed him deeply. The two held each other for a few moments when Baltazar could feel her starting to fade, “Lay down, you must be exhausted.”
Aralyn nodded and lay on the bed, listening to the creaks of the hull and the water splashing against the dock. Baltazar opened his shirt and lay down next to her. She slowly curled up on her side and rested her head on his shoulder. Her breathing slowed and she drifted off into sleep, “Thank you for staying here with me.”
Baltazar gently stroked her hair as her eyes closed. Her breathing became more rhythmic and little more than a whisper. Eventually, Baltazar also fell asleep. The sun began to set and the lamps in the town illuminated the sky. A single shooting star could be seen in the night sky as the world slept.
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