Evening fell once more over the Black Vengeance. The lamp lights were lit on the fore and aft castles and torches were lit on the main deck. If for no other reason than to keep morale on the ship, Baltazar requested the pleasure of any crewmen not currently engaged in duty on deck for a small party. He maintained minimal crew on the masts, as well as a lookout. Gilles remained at the helm and kept the ship on course.
Once everyone was assembled, Baltazar brought a Vihuela out on deck and slowly ran his hands over the strings. His fingers formed chords on the board and thier movements generated musical notes.
Papi stood behind Baltazar and joined in on his violin while a third man drummed on one of the railings. As the music picked up, six men took the middle of the deck and their feet began to move with the music. Baltazar strummed out two Spanish folk melodies while the crew danced. Aralyn smiled and clapped along with the beat while Lailah stood off to the side and watched.
Baltazar performed a difficult solo and then ended the song. The crew applauded as Baltazar placed the guitar at his side and tapped Papi on the shoulder. Papi nodded in acknowledgement and began playing a much slower, more solemn piece. The men cleared the floor as Baltazar walked slowly walked across the deck toward his love.
Aralyn was laughing and sharing brandy and ale with some of the crew when she noticed Baltazar approach. She smiled and handed her drink to the nearest man as Baltazar bowed, took her hand, and kissed her between the pointer and index knuckles.
Without raising his head, he looked at her, “May I have the honor of a dance, milady?”
Aralyn nodded, “My pleasure, gentle sir.”
He took her hand and led her out on the floor. Her hands shook as she ran her right hand over his shoulder while he took her left one. The two closed their eyes and danced as the crew swayed side to side with the music. The two stood together and slowed little by little as the song died down.
Baltazar looked down at Aralyn. Her eyes met his and stared at him deeply. Baltazar was almost mesmerized by what he saw. In her eyes, he could see the bluest sky, the bright morning sun, and clouds pass by quickly. It was like nothing he’d ever seen in a woman’s eyes before.
The song slowly ended and they shifted from dancing position to a warm embrace. It only lasted a moment as the beat on deck suddenly changed to a much faster Spanish song and another crewman grabbed Baltazar’s Vihuela. Baltazar moved his feet quickly to the rhythm, trying to impress Aralyn. To his surprise however, she kept up with him and performed the same moves.
The two danced together while the crew clapped along with the beat. As the song picked up speed, so did their feet. Finally the song cut out and the entire crew called out, “Olay!”
Everyone broke out in cheers and applause as the young couple bowed. Another song began to play, but Baltazar and Aralyn needed to sit down. Other crew took over the dance floor as they watched the men enjoy themselves.
Lailah stood off to the side looking out to sea when a voice appeared behind her, “Pardon the intrusion lass, but would ye be so kind as to accompany this old seaman to the dance floor?”
Lailah turned to see Morgan with his hand out smiling at her. At first she looked at him oddly, but finally smiled, “Well… dancing is not something I’m really familiar with… but why not?”
She took his hand, folded her wings back as much as she could, and followed Morgan out on to the dance floor. She stumbled and almost fell as she tried to mimic the moves of the men around here, but Morgan kept her standing.
Baltazar watched from in front of the cabin as the crowd on the dance floor enjoyed themselves. When he saw Lailah being dragged out, he nudged Aralyn. She turned and started laughing when she saw what was going on. Baltazar leaned back, “You know, we never could have had a dance like this back on the old Specter.”
Aralyn shrugged, “Well the deck was too small. Your old ship wasn’t designed for long voyages or anything like that.”
“Yes I know…” Baltazar replied looking out at the crew.
Aralyn noticed the look on his face and place her hand on his cheek, “What is it, my love, what’s wrong?”
Baltazar looked back at her, “Ah, it’s nothing really. I just miss the old girl sometimes. I served on her from the first day I began my life at sea. I had a lot of history there.”
Aralyn raised her eyebrow in response, “Really?”
Baltazar nodded, “I know she was a noisy old ship that leaked a lot more than I would have liked and in every way imaginable, this ship is a massive improvement… but there are moments, I find myself wishing I was still on that ship.”
“I think I understand.” Aralyn replied.
Suddenly out of nowhere, the lamp lights on deck went out. The darkness was followed by a loud war cry from above. Lailah looked up and gasped, “Imps… we’re under attack, arm yourselves!”
Baltazar stood up and grabbed his sword. He turned to see Aralyn emerge from the cabin with her family’s swords. He looked at her oddly as she searched the sky, “What, I know they’re ancient, but they’ve protected my family for generations… I’d feel a lot better if they continued to.”
“All right,” Baltazar replied, “I just hope that they hold up.”
There was another loud war cry and suddenly, the moon was blocked out by a cloud of black creatures descending on the ship. They came down on deck and attacked with black spikes.
To everyone’s surprise, Lailah reached into her dress and pulled out a metal hilt. A second later, an imp landed in front of her. The hilt ignited and spike of flame shot from the sword as though responding to the imminent danger. Panicked, the creature tried to get away, but Lailah was too quick. There was a flash of light and the creature collapsed having been cut down the middle.
The other crewmen tried to fight back as well, but their swords would not penetrate the skin of these imps. Three of the creatures surrounded Aralyn. The creatures smiled as they closed in. One of them licked his lips, “I’m told the blood of an angel is the sweetest there is!”
Aralyn raised her swords and pointed them directly at the throats of two of the imps. The swords began to glow green as the imps stepped forward. As the swords lit up, the imps stopped in their place. The largest one spoke, “Those swords… how is it you come to own them?”
Aralyn gritted her teeth, “They belonged to my family.”
The imps looked at each other, “We weren’t told that they still existed! Those were thought to have been lost at Gavinana!”
Aralyn smiled, “How unfortunate for you!”
Without another word, she twirled the swords around in her hands. The glowing blades connecting with each of the imps; the first had its arm severed at the shoulder, a second was decapitated and the third was stabbed through the chest. All three of them disintegrated into black dust.
Aralyn snorted and moved on to the next group. She managed to free a group of crewmen who had been backed into the corner by the imps. Each one of them disappeared. Their leader, Legion’s assistant shook his head, “This isn’t good, we’re getting cut down here. Legion didn’t tell us about the swords, retreat!”
Slowly, the creatures began to withdraw from the deck of the Black Vengeance. Legion’s assistant waited until all of the rest were gone. He then jumped into the air and disappeared into the darkness.
Papi was at the railing watching them fly away. Once they had disappeared from view, he turned back to the crew, “Well… that wasn’t so bad now was it?”
Lailah suddenly heard something behind him and cried out, “Mr. Clement, watch out!”
As though responding to Papi’s question, the black spike belonging to Legions assistant penetrated his chest from behind. Papi gasped for breath as the imp lifted him from the ground.
Aralyn screamed, “Papi, no!”
The creature’s high-pitch laughter penetrated the ears of the crew and made them ache. Aralyn could feel the anger building up inside of her once again. She threw one of her swords to Baltazar, “Keep it, protect the men!”
Baltazar looked at her worried, “Aralyn…?”
“Do not interfere!” She replied as she began flapping her wings.
Without another word, Aralyn jumped off the side of the Black Vengeance and took flight. Her wings flapped continuously to help her gain altitude and speed. She could feel them begin to burn as the world turned to a blur around her. The imp could not keep up the same speeds and watched helplessly as she drew closer.
Once he was certain that she was in close enough proximity, he let go of Papi’s wounded body and watched him plunge towards the ocean. Aralyn suddenly changed her course and flew straight upward. Confused, the imp turned to see that she was gone and looked down to where she had gone. He’d expected that she’d go after her fallen comrade, but she hadn’t.
Suddenly a green and white blur shot straight down and passed within a few inches of him. The imp yelped as it felt an odd sensation. He looked down to see that his torso had been cut straight down the middle and was glowing green. The imp screamed as it quickly turned to dust.
Aralyn continued to freefall towards the water with her wings folded. She dove downward until she caught up to Papi and grabbed him by the arms. Her wings quickly reopened and bent to slow her decent and bring her around so that she was flying parallel with the water. She was still flying at impressive speeds as she approached the ship.
From the ship, she looked like a faint white and green shooting start. Baltazar watched for a few moments before he realized that she was coming in fast. He watched for a few more seconds before he realized she wasn’t slowing down, “Everyone out of the way, clear the deck!”
The men scattered and climbed either into the rigging or onto one of the ship’s castles.
Aralyn shot over the railing dropped Papi on the deck and attempted to land. She was unable to find her footing, hit the deck, rolled a few times and hit her back against the far side of the ship with a loud crash. The impact of her back against the hard wood knocked the air out of her and she lay on the deck for a few moments stunned. Her world went black as she lost consciousness.
Moments later, her eyes opened and her vision returned. She looked up to see Baltazar and Lailah standing over her. Baltazar was holding her head and ran a wet cloth over her face, “Are you okay?”
“A little sore, but otherwise I’m not injured.” She replied as what happened came back to her. “Papi, what happened to my Papi?”
Lailah looked at Baltazar sadly. Baltazar returned her momentary gaze before looked back down at Aralyn, “I’m sorry my love…”
Her eyes watered and lips trembled, “What are you talking about, what happened?
Lailah sighed, “I think you better get up, he’s on the other side of the deck.”
Without another word, Aralyn shot to her feet. Waves of pain shot through her spine, but she ignored it. She saw a group of men standing on the other side of the ship. She ran to them and pushed the group out of her way, “Let me in, please.”
The crewmen cleared a path for her. Once she was through, she dropped to her knees in front of Papi. The wound to his chest was bad and he was bleeding out. Aralyn grabbed her hand and frantically tried to get him to respond, “Papi… come on stay with me!”
There was a slight groan as Papi’s head slowly began to turn. His eyes opened weakly once his face turned to her, “Aralyn…”
She nodded, “Yes, I’m here.”
Papi raised a hand to her face, “My little Messy… you’ve grown into a beautiful woman.”
Aralyn smiled, “I had a lot of help, not the least of which came from you.”
“I never had the time for a wife.” Papi said with a frown. “There was always one more adventure… one more job to do. I never complained, but the one downside was that I never had any children of my own.”
The older man placed a hand on Aralyn’s cheek. She grabbed it and held it there as though it was somehow keeping him alive. He smiled up at her, “You were that child as far as I was concerned. I always enjoyed spending time with you.”
Aralyn nodded, “No matter how busy you were, no matter what was going on, you’d drop everything to play with me when I was a child, even if it meant that you’d get an earful from Sister Mary. You were my father as far as I was ever concerned.”
“I always cared for you… little Messy,” he replied, “and I always will.”
Papi closed his eyes as his head turned back to looking straight upward. Baltazar knelt down next to her and nodded as Papi smiled, “My old friend… good luck to you, where you are going…”
Aralyn shook her head frantically, “No, no, no, I’ve already lost enough. This isn’t happening, please…”
Suddenly her hands began to glow yellow and without even thinking, she placed them on Papi. His body jolted, but nothing happened. Aralyn held on to it as long as she could. The glow began to run up her arms and consume her whole body.
Baltazar looked over at Lailah confused, “What is she doing?”
“Using her life energy.” Lailah replied. “She’s trying to bring Papi back… Baltazar you have to stop her, it won’t work.”
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“Think of it as a life transfusion.” Lailah replied, “She is sacrificing parts of her living spirit in an attempt to save him. I’ve only ever heard of one other angel ever trying this and it didn’t work.”
“What happened to that angel?” Baltazar demanded.
“She almost died.” Lailah responded. “She continuously forced her life force energy into a lifeless body, but it had no effect, he was too far gone. She was stubborn and kept trying. The end result was that her life force was almost completely depleted. When that happened, her body withered away into almost nothing.”
A scream from Aralyn interrupted them. Baltazar turned to see her entire body begin to glow and her wings spread as far as they could. Baltazar grabbed her and pulled her away from Papi’s lifeless body, “I’m sorry, my love, it’s too late. He’s gone.”
Aralyn tried to fight against his grip, “No, it’s not too late, I can save him. Please let me try! Papi…”
Baltazar ignored her cries and restrained her as best her could. Aralyn continued to fight against him, “Let me go, please… it’s not too late.”
“It is too late.” Lailah replied. “He’s at peace now.”
Tears streamed down Aralyn’s cheeks as she buried her face in Baltazar’s chest. As he protected her, Baltazar turned to the quartermaster, “Take him, and see to it that he is prepared for burial properly.”
The quartermaster nodded, “Aye sir, no problem.”
Three men helped gather up Papi’s body and bring him below deck so the quartermaster could wrap him in cloth. Once they were off the deck, Aralyn sobbed into Baltazar’s shirt, “I could have saved him… why wouldn’t you let me?”
“It would have killed you.” Baltazar replied. “He was too far gone.”
Aralyn shook her head, “You don’t know that…”
She released a deep sigh, but said nothing else. She fought hard to control her breathing as she hid her face. When she finally calmed down, Baltazar shook his head and looked at Lailah, “How much more?”
“Beg pardon?” Lailah asked.
“How much more?” He repeated in a more aggressive tone. “She has been called upon to sacrifice so much. Any normal person would have been driven to the brink of insanity by now. So again I ask you, how much more will she be expected to lose for us to be victorious?”
Lailah shook her head, “I don’t know… I can’t answer that. Hopefully no more… though it seems that Legion is now focused on the people she cares about.”
“Where were the Choirs?” Aralyn demanded. “I understand them not wanting to interfere when we fought against the corsairs, but they were supposed to be protecting us from demonic attack!”
Lailah lowered her eyes, “I’m sorry, you’re asking me questions that I cannot answer. I know General Xaphine has the Choirs scrambling to assemble for battle, but why they didn’t interfere here is anybody’s guess.”
“I’m starting to wonder if we’re fighting for the right side.” Baltazar sneered. “This is too cruel!”
“Small words,” Lailah replied, “You don’t understand what you are talking about. One is made to suffer and that is tragic, but would you seriously hold that one’s suffering over all of existence and life?”
Baltazar stood up, letting Aralyn sort out her emotions for a few more moments while he confronted Lailah. His angry glare never left her eyes, “Now you listen to me and you listen well. I fight for her and her alone. I could care less for the rest of existence outside of this ship. These people are my family. I would gladly allow the rest to fall if it meant never seeing a tear drop from Adalyn’s cheeks again.”
Lailah nodded, “Then she is lucky to have you, but how many tears do you think she will cry if Lucifer or Legion gets their way? Do you think you can sail your ship far enough to escape them? You couldn’t even escape the french without help.”
Before Baltazar could say another word, they heard a low voice behind them, “No more…”
Suddenly, Aralyn sprang to her feet and shot straight up into the air with her sword tight in her grasp. Her wings flapped hard against the air as she climbed high above the masts of the Black Vengeance. The wind whipped across her skin as she flew higher.
Once she was above the clouds, high enough that she could not be see, she screamed out as loud as she could manage, “Legion!”
There was no response. She waited for a moment and then called out again, “Legion!”
Again, no response came. Aralyn was starting to get very angry, “I know you are listening in Legion. Show your face, you coward!”
There was a quiet breeze followed by a low moaning noise. Suddenly, two yellow eyes appeared in front of her, “Aralyn…”
Aralyn clenched her jaw as she stared the demon down, “Enough of this. I won’t let you hurt anyone else ever again. I am coming for you. I know you are hiding in Tyre. If you want to run, go for it. I will not stop until you’re dead.”
Legion chuckled as she spoke, “Run? You are truly a descendant of Adaline. Do you think it is truly wise to come after us head-on? We are Legion… We are one that is many, we have existed since the dawn of time, and will continue to exist when the rest of these pathetic creatures are dust in the ground.”
“You may continue to exist,” Aralyn agreed, “but it will be under the oppressive heel of the devil, which corrupted your world. I don’t care about the macinations of Lucifer or his ilk. As long as you get locked away, I don’t care by who.”
There was a low growl, but no other response. Aralyn’s face changed from anger to malice, “It must hard… knowing that you once ruled, but are now forced to live in hiding. It must be agonizing for you knowing that your only hope rests in someone who isn’t even a true amgel.”
The eyes narrowed, “You overestimate your importance to the situation. We are all powerful and will soon rule again. You are not a factor.”
“I see.” Aralyn replied. “Well if you don’t need my powers, then I guess my part in this has all but played out. These powers have caused me nothing but pain, so I see no reason to hold on to them.”
She held up her hand and placed the stained blade on it. She was about to pull the blade across her skin when Legion’s eyes turned red, “Stop!”
Aralyn smiled smugly, knowing that she had proved her point, “I am coming for you, and we will fight. If you want my powers, you will need to suck them from my dead body.”
“That has always been the idea.” Legion agreed.
“Yes but it won’t happen if I exorcise my powers before we arrive.” Aralyn replied. “Stay away from the Black Vengeance, do not send anything else against us.”
Legion laughed, “Little insect, you do not give us orders!”
“No?” Aralyn replied, “If I see a single imp or any other creature before we reach Tyre, with all of existence as my witness, my powers will never reach you, and all you will have to kill is a mere shell of the person you intended to harvest.”
Legion’s eyes burned darker than they had. He didn’t want to admit it, but she was right. With her powers held hostage, she could tell him anything, “Very well, no creature under our command will attack you. We anxiously await your arrival, where we shall pick the flesh from your bones!”
Without another word, Legion disappeared and Aralyn returned to the ship. When she landed, Baltazar approached her, “Aralyn, are you okay?”
“I’m fine.” Aralyn replied through clenched teeth. “Let’s just get to Tyre.”
Baltazar nodded and turned to the crew, “You heard the lady, full sail.”
The crew reported to their stations and got the ship back up to full speed. Baltazar placed his hands on Aralyn’s shoulders, “What happened.”
“Legion won’t bother us again… not until we reach Tyre.” She replied. “Until then, I’d just like to be alone if that’s okay?”
Baltazar looked at her strangely, “Are you going to be all right?”
“I think so.” She replied. “I just need some time. I know you want to help, but you can’t protect me from my emotions. I just need to sort them out.”
Baltazar nodded, “I understand completely, but would you do me a favor?”
“Anything,” she replied, “just make it quick.”
Baltazar was hesitant to respond. He didn’t want to start a fight, but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to give her the space she needed otherwise, “Can you leave your swords out here with me?”
Aralyn flashed him an annoyed look that seemed to ask him if he was being serious, “You know they can’t hurt me, right?”
Baltazar nodded, “I know… just please, for my own sanity?”
She sighed and handed him the sword. He put the two blades together and turned back to Aralyn with an outstretched hand. She looked down at it and then back up at him confused. He turned his head to the side a little signaling that he knew she still had something. Finally she rolled her eyes and reached behind her. When her hand reappeared, she was holding a knife, “I seriously don’t know if this would even hurt me now.”
She handed it to him and he placed it with the rest of her blades, “Better safe than sorry.”
Aralyn nodded and turned to the cabin. She went inside and closed the door. Baltazar made his way to the aft castle and took the helm from Gilles, “You’re relieved, go help with the sails.”
Gilles saluted and headed for the main mast. A second later, Lailah appeared next to Baltazar on the helm, “I apologize for my harsh words earlier, they weren’t fair.”
“You’ve had a lot of accusations thrown at you,” Baltazar replied, “I guess it was bound to happen at some point, so don’t worry about it.”
“Thank you,” she replied, “I know that this will sound absolutely horrible, but there is one small flicker of light on this dark day.”
“I know,” Baltazar replied, “her eyes didn’t turn red this time.”
Lailah turned her head in surprise, “You are correct, but how did you know?”
“It’s hard not to notice eyes like that.” Baltazar replied. “They are unlike any I have ever seen. I think those are what first attracted me to her.”
“Nice try,” Lailah replied, “they weren’t.”
Baltazar sighed, “Okay, okay, what do you want from me? I was a scoundrel before I met her and I’ve admitted that a few times.”
Lailah smiled, “It’s okay, I know what you were… I also know who you are and what you’ve become. I know your feelings for her are sincere, otherwise I wouldn’t let you anywhere near her.”
Baltazar nodded, “Fair enough… so what does it mean?”
“Her eyes?” Lailah asked.
When Baltazar nodded, she twisted her lips and thought about it for a moment, “An angel’s eyes are the mark of divinity, indicating that they are not mortal creatures.”
“As if the wings weren’t a dead giveaway?” Baltazar asked.
“They are the source of her power.” Lailah replied. “If one is damaged, she would be severely weakened, but she would only totally be stripped if she lost both. This was done to prevent angels from cutting off their wings and becoming human.”
“Then why wasn’t she able to cut hers off when she tried?” Baltazar asked, looking at the swords on his table.
Lailah picked one up, carefully keeping the blade away from her, “In case you haven’t noticed, these are not ordinary swords. In most circumstances, a mortal weapon can not injure a divine creature. These swords were once ordinary weapons like any other, but Aralyn’s ancestors altered them.”
“Altered them?” Baltazar asked. “How?”
Lailah shook her head, “Some things are left buried in the past. All I will say is that the stains on these swords are not tarnish or a sign of neglect. These swords have been cursed and are not to be taken lightly.”
Baltazar’s eyes narrowed as he looked at them, “Very well… but that still doesn’t tell me why they wouldn’t cut her.”
Lailah held the sword up and closed her eyes, “She’s a member of the Patrisi family… That is where the allegeance of these swords lies. They will not harm her.”
“It sounds like you’re saying that these swords are able to think like you or I.” Baltazar replied.
Lailah didn’t reply. She just returned the sword to the table and turned back, “Is there anything else you wish to know?”
“You mentioned the mark of divinity… What about an angel’s halo?” Baltazar asked “I though those were supposed to be symbols of the divine.”
Lailah turned to him with an annoyed look, “More childish nonsense. You really believe we all walk around with shiny circles around our heads? So in addition looking ridiculous, if we were attacked, we’d be easy targets.”
Baltazar shrugged, “Well I guess it does sound kind of stupid.”
“It’s not stupid.” Lailah replied. “It’s just what you’ve been taught. Allow me to clarify… Your early church leaders pushed a lot of rhetorical and symbolic energy into the idea of the Most High as a source of light. As a result, the halo was added to many works including those depicting your savior, saints, and angels. It was meant to be symbolic, nothing more.”
“That does make a lot more sense.” Baltazar replied. “So what happens to one’s divinity when something like what happened to Aralyn takes place?”
“The red eyes?” Lailah asked softly.
Baltazar nodded in response. Lailah thought for a second before replying, “I’m afraid I do not know entirely. If I were to guess, I would say that it means that she was being corrupted. The anger and hate were tainting her soul thanks to Legion. So the fact that, even after extraordinary loss, it didn’t happen this time is very much to our advantage.”
Baltazar lowered his eyes, “I just wish it didn’t come at such a high price.”
“Yes…” Lailah replied. “I know how much he meant to the both of you. I didn’t mean to downplay the significance of Mr. Clement’s death.”
Baltazar shook his head, “You didn’t. I understood what you meant, but it’s still difficult on Aralyn. He’s pretty much the only family she had left. Between her parents, that sister, and Papi…”
“You are her last hope.” Lailah replied.
Baltazar frowned, “That puts us in a pretty poor place.”
Lailah stood in front of Balktazar and looked into his eyes, “You are her last source of light. If you fall now, she could be pushed into complete darkness. When that happens, all hope for the future is gone. I hope you know what that means… especially what it means to her.”
Baltazar tightened his lips and nodded, “I do… believe me, I do.”
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