Two days passed as the Black Vengeance sailed due east. Much to the relief of the crew, there was no sign of any corsairs throughout their voyage into the region. Baltazar hadn’t spoken much to Aralyn since Xaphine left the ship. He really didn’t know what to say. On one hand, he had just pledged his love to this woman, which was something he never saw himself doing, and now that might be mired by the fact that the Choirs seemed to have other plans for her. His heart ached with the realization that he might lose her.
Baltazar’s silence was beginning to annoy Aralyn. She could tell that something was wrong, but as far as she knew, she did not possess the ability to read minds. Instead she waited for the ideal moment to confront him. Her chance didn’t come until later that evening when he was sitting against the mast in the middle of the forecastle. He appeared to be deep in thought, but was not busy.
Aralyn marched up to him and sat down with a serious expression on her face, “All right, I’m tired of this. Out with it.”
“Excuse me?” Baltazar replied.
“Have I have hurt or offended you in some way?” Aralyn asked sincerely. “If so, I can’t make amends without knowing what I did. Please, let’s talk.”
Baltazar didn’t look at her, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Liar,” Aralyn said accusingly, “you have been avoiding me as much as possible and I want to know why. Less than two days ago you asked me something very personal. All I could draw from what you said is that you want to be with me, love me, but now you’re barely even talking to me.”
Baltazar brushed his trimmed mustache with his fingers, in an attempt to straighten it, “I have a feeling our time together may be limited.”
“What do you mean?” Aralyn demanded with a worried look.
“Xaphine said you were staying here until the mission was complete,” he explained.
Aralyn shrugged, “Yes so?”
“So,” Baltazar replied, “I don’t think she intends for you to be able to live out your days here when all is said and done. Something tells me that those wings are permanant and Xaphine wants you to go with them.”
Aralyn’s eyes widened, “Lord, I hadn’t thought of that…”
She shook her head and touched Baltazar’s chin so that he was looking at her, “Look, I don’t care what Xaphine or Ariel or even Lailah says. I swore no oath to anyone and I didn’t ask for any of this.”
“I’m not sure any angel ever did.” Baltazar replied.
“No, probably not,” Aralyn admitted as she stroked the feathers on her left wing, “What I do know is that an ancestor of mine had a similar situation, and I’m sure at some point, someone tried to pull her away from the one she loved, but it obviously worked out because…”
Aralyn opened her arms to him as though presenting herself for inspection, “Well here I am. Baltazar, do you love me? Do you want me here with you?”
“Of course I do,” Baltazar replied, “I’ve spent my life as a rogue and until I met you, I was satisfied with that. I loved being the drunken rascal, infamous throughout the land… I was a regular folk hero, but when you came into my life, all that changed. We’ve only known each other a short time but… I love you, truly I do.”
Aralyn’s eyes looked like they were about to start gushing tears. She smiled as she bit her lower lip and released it, “Then I’m not going anywhere, and no one can force me.”
“I hope you’re right,” he replied, “after all of this, it just seems cruel for them to rip you away from me.”
Aralyn smiled as she relaxed next to him. Baltazar quickly fell asleep while watching the stars. Aralyn tried to do the same, but realized she couldn’t. Baltazar’s concerns were legitimate reason to worry.
Once she was certain that Baltazar was fast asleep, she stood up and went to the railing. Tears had formed in her eyes and her heart felt heavy, “Why does all of this have to happen to me? I finallly found what I’ve been searching for, and now I’m expected to give it up? What did I do to deserve this?”
“Nothing,” replied a voice from behind her.
Startled, Aralyn turned around quickly to see who had spoken, but no one was there. Aralyn was positive she’d heard someone, “Who’s there? Show yourself now!”
No response came. Aralyn turned back around and the voice appeared behind her again, “You did nothing to deserve this.”
Aralyn pulled out a small knife and turned back around, intent on stabbing whoever was taunting her. To her horror, a ghostly reflection of herself was standing there. It looked down at the knife and smiled, “What were you planning on doing exactly?”
Aralyn’s jaw hung open as she tried to find the words to respond. When none came, the ghost stepped forward into the blade, “Were you going to stab me? That’s not an easy thing to do with someone who is already dead.”
“Who are you,” Aralyn asked suspiciously, “what are you here?”
“I would think it would be obvious by now.” The ghost replied. “My name is Adaline… I am your great-great-grandmother.”
Aralyn leaned back, surprised, “You… I was told I resembled you, but I never thought we would be this close to identical.”
Adaline watched as Aralyn began to circle her, inspecting her ancestor, “It’s only natural. I am a part of you, as you are me.”
Her words stopped Aralyn in her tracks, “What does that even mean?”
“Think about it,” Adaline replied, “You spent your entire life at an abbey, yet you are a quick wit, intelligent, and act as though you’ve lived on the street or on ships all your life. Why do you think that is?”
“I… I spent a lot of time reading,” she replied, “and Sister Mary taught me how to defend myself. I may have lived behind abbey walls, but I was prepared. Sister Mary saw to that.”
“And she did a good job of it,” Adaline added, “but all the training in the world would not prepare you as well as real life experience would. When I realized that you would be locked away for most of your young life, I gave you my experiences… I gave you the defense mechanisms and smarts to survive.”
Aralyn lowered the knife, “How…?”
“It would take too long to explain.” Adaline replied. “Let’s just say it’s easy to alter the mind of a child that has not yet been born. They haven’t developed any memories or personality traits of their own yet.”
Aralyn put a hand to her head, “Why… why would you do that…?”
“What’s wrong?” Adaline asked with a worried look on her face.
“What you are telling me…” She replied softly. “It… it isn’t an easy thing to accept. You’re telling me that who I am has been… engineered in some way? That even my personality isn’t mine? You’ve robbed me of everything that makes me who I am in favor of who you were?”
Adaline shrugged, “I wouldn’t go that far…”
“But it is the truth,” Aralyn insisted in an accusing tone, “I… I’m just a construct. I am what you wanted me to be, not who I grew up to be.”
“It was necessary, Aralyn.” Adaline replied. “If we cannot defeat Legion… the price may have been all of existence. The soul of one would have been a small price to pay. At least that’s what the Choirs decided.”
Aralyn sneered, “Such is the price of victory, is it? At what price does the cost of winning become too much? My family and friends have all suffered and died because it was necessary. How long do we continue to justify our actions as the greater good?”
Aralyn turned and walked toward the cabin, “Leave me, I have nothing more to say to you. I’ve heard more than I ever wanted to.”
Adaline reached out to her, “But Aralyn…”
“Enough!” She shouted. “One more word from you and I will seriously consider taking one of our swords and cutting off these infernal wings! See what chance we have for victory then!”
Adaline took a step back, “You can’t mean that…”
“I do,” Aralyn replied, “and given what you’ve done to me, you should know how serious I am. Now leave me alone.”
Adaline nodded as she backed away. Aralyn turned away and slammed the door. Once she was out of sight, Adaline smiled and her eyes turned bright red, “Brash Aralyn… too brash…” Adaline sneered as her voice got deeper, “You impressively strong, but not nearly strong enough.”
The ghost immediately burst into a cloud of black smog and vanished with a malicious laugh. Within seconds, it was as though she’d never been there at all.
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