“Captain, wake up!” A voice called.
Baltazar quickly opened his eyes to see Gilles standing over him with a worried look. He rubbed his eyes as he spoke, “What is it?”
“It’s Aralyn,” he replied, “we can hear her screaming from the cabin, but we can’t get to her! She’s barracaded herself in.”
Baltazar shot to his feet and jumped off the aft castle. The ball of his foot hurt as he landed on the deck, but he ignored it. Morgan was prying at the door with three other men, but was unable to get it opened. Lailah was staring at the door, completely focused on it.
Baltazar walked up behind them, “What’s going on here?”
“We don’t know,” Morgan replied, “We started hearing screaming, and the door won’t open. Aralyn has been barricaded in there!”
Lailah shook her head, “She’s using some kind of mental barrier… shes so strong…”
Baltazar nodded, “Keep trying.”
Morgan looked back over at the men trying to bring the door down, “Come on boys, put your backs into it!”
Baltazar looked at Lailah, “You’re back to full power, can’t you do anything?”
“I can’t get in there.” Lailah replied. “Whatever she has done, is far stronger than anything I could have anticipated. I’m afraid that this is beyond my power. I’m sorry.”
“I need to talk to her,” he replied, “I need to get in there.”
“I don’t see how…” Lailah said in a defeated tone.
“What about the door?” Baltazar asked. “Can you at least open it?”
She looked at him and then looked at the knob, “I can try, I don’t know if it will work and you probably still won’t be able to get in.”
“I’ll take my chances.” Baltazar said adamantly.
Lailah nodded, “Give me a moment… I’ll see what I can do.”
Lailah focused her mind and began to pull at the knob. Within moments, the door flew open as though it has been pushed by a heavy breeze. The crew trying to break it down flew backwards, out of the way while Baltazar ran to the door.
The scene inside could only have been described as pure horror. Blood dripped from Aralyn’s wings as she had apparently pulled out several feathers. The ones that were still in place were stained crimson red. When she looked up, her eyes were once again glowing bright red.
Baltazar’s eyes widened as his eyes met hers, “Aralyn…”
“Go away!” She screamed in an inhuman tone.
“ No,” Baltazar fired back, “I won’t let you keep hurting yourself, stop this! Let me in!”
The look in her eyes was one of complete insanity as she glared at him with a smile, “I’m not hurting myself! I’m getting rid of these infernal wings. I don’t want them or the burden that they carry!”
“I don’t understand.” Baltazar replied. “Why?”
“They’ve been nothing but bad news since they sprouted!” She screamed. “I hate them… I hate the people at the abbey, I hate the angels, I hate everything! They all knew about this! They all knew and they kept it from me.”
“You know that isn’t true.” Baltazar replied in a calm voice. “This isn’t you talking right now.”
Baltazar pushed his way in through the door. It was hard for him to move forward. There was a force pushing against him as though someone were standing there with their arms out.
Aralyn saw him successfully fighting his way in and winced in his direction as though trying to push him back. Baltazar could feel the pressure from her push, but the strength wasn’t there, “I’m coming in, Aralyn, one way or another.”
Aralyn clenched her jaw as she struggled to push back, “No you’re not!”
She grabbed one of her family’s swords and put it over her left wing, “Come any closer, and I’ll slice it off!”
Baltazar shook his head and took another small step forward. She saw him move and raised the sword a little higher, “I mean it!”
He ignored her and kept moving. Aralyn screamed, “Fine, you pushed me to this!”
Lailah cried out from behind Baltazar, “No Aralyn, don’t!”
She raised the sword an inch higher and brought it down. Baltazar panicked, “Aralyn!”
The sword came down on her left wing, but the moment it touched her skin, it began glowing green. She looked at it oddly and tried again, but it would not cut her skin.
The shock caused her to lose focus and she lost control of the barrier. The moment that the pressure was gone, Baltazar ran over to her and swung his left hand towards her. The back of his palm impacted on the hand that held the sword and sent it flying into a wall.
Aralyn frantically tried to attack Baltazar, but he held her down on the bed. Lailah, Papi, and three other crewmen ran in behind them. Baltazar struggled to subdue Aralyn, but she refused to stop. Her arms flailed about, trying to break free of Baltazar, but he would not let go. Papi donated his heaviness to helping restrain her, but it still did not seem like enough. Lailah placed her hands on Aralyn’s chin and forehead as she whispered prayer.
Aralyn scoffed, “The word of the Most High will not save you, nor will it save me or anyone else!”
Lailah ignored her and continued her prayer. Finally, after a few moments, Aralyn stopped struggling. The red in her eyes faded, but did not vanish, instead it turned into a purple hue. She lay back and curled herself into a ball. Lailah tried to comfort her, but a swing of Aralyn’s fist told her to stay away.
Aralyn sobbed into her pillow, unwilling to look at anyone, “Don’t touch me… ever again…”
Satisfied that she once again had regained control, Papi and Baltazar released their remaining holds on her. As the men stood up, Baltazar nodded, “Thank you, Mr. Clement.”
“Anytime.” Papi replied. “She’s the closest thing I have to a daughter… I hate to see this happen.”
Baltazar sat down near her face and stroked her hair, “As do I, it pains me like nothing ever has before.”
Aralyn’s eyes popped open and looked lifelessly at Baltazar, “Don’t let it… a mechanism is not worth such loving care…”
Baltazar’s eyes narrowed, “Mechanism, what are you talking about? Why would you say something like that?”
“That’s all I am,” she replied, “a tool to be used… to serve a purpose and nothing more. Isn’t that right, Lailah?”
Every eye in the room focused on Lailah as though she had committed a terrible crime. Baltazar’s eyes were like daggers as he signaled his men, “Clear this room of anything that can be used as a weapon and put it all in the hold until further notice.”
The men saluted and got to work clearing the room while Baltazar attended to the more important matters. His accusing glare didn’t leave Lailah’s eyes as he stood up, “What is she talking about? You better not lie to me.”
Lailah shook her head nervously as she slowly backed away, “I do not know.”
“She’s lying!” Aralyn said from behind them. “She was there before I was even born. There is no way she didn’t play a part in everyone fixing my thoughts, my personality… and my soul.”
Papi looked down at her, “What are you talking about?”
“They corrupted me.” She replied. “Instead of letting me grow, learn, and become my own person, they engineered my mind so I’d be exactly what they wanted! I was shaped to become this before I was even born!”
Baltazar could not believe what he was hearing. He clenched his jaw as he turned to Lailah. Normally, he would never strike a woman, but if Lailah didn’t give him an answer that he liked, he would be very tempted, “Is this true Lailah?”
Lailah looked into Aralyn’s eyes and studied thier purple hue as she spoke, “Aralyn you are looking at this entirely the wrong way…”
At that moment, a question entered her mind. How could she have possibly found out? She had to know where Aralyn got her information, “Wait, who told you this?”
“Adaline.” She replied. “My great great grandmother appeared to me outside and told me everything.”
Lailah shook her head, “That’s not possible. Adaline died a human. She no longer had the ability to manifest herself. There is no way she could have…”
A chill suddenly ran down her spine, Lailah could sense the dark taint and knew what had happened, “Oh no… Legion… Legion is the one who appeared to you. Aralyn, he has poisoned your mind, you have to listen to me!”
“Why should I believe a word you say?” Aralyn demanded. “You’ve kept all of this from me… did you think I wouldn’t find out at some point? How do I know it was Legion and not really Adaline? She sounds like she’s resourceful.”
Baltazar stepped between them and faced Lailah, “I’d actually like to hear the answer to that as well…”
“It wasn’t my decision to keep this from you.” Lailah replied. “Nor was I involved in any reshaping. I was under orders from…”
“Get out!” Aralyn yelled. “All of you get the hell out!”
Baltazar nodded, “As long as you give me a solemn word of honor that you will not harm yourself.”
“Fine,” She replied, “You have my word, now get out!”
Baltazar reached for her swords, intent on taking them out of the room when Aralyn grabbed his hand, “I already gave you my word, and as you’ve seen, these weapons won’t harm me. Leave them.”
Baltazar sighed and nodded as he backed away, “All right.”
The three of them left her alone to sob into her pillow. As they closed the door behind themselves, Papi shook his head, “What is going on with her. I’ve known her for years and I’ve seen her get angry before, but she’s never gone quite this far. Why does this keep happening?”
“Legion.” Lailah replied. “He’s fighting to gain control…”
“Is that so?” Baltazar asked accusingly. “Because I’m not so certain he’s the one we should be worried about anymore.”
Lailah narrowed her eyes, “I’m not sure that I like what you’re insinuating.”
“I don’t give a damn if you like it or not.” Baltazar shot back. “What did you do to her, why is she saying that she’s been corrupted?”
Lailah sighed, “Okay… You have to understand the set of circumstances that we knew were going to occur surrounding her birth. The Choirs knew that she would be spending most of her life in an abbey. Such a sheltered existence would not have prepared her for the fight ahead. So it was decided that her mind would be altered to include some of Adaline’s skills.”
“Who decided?” Papi demanded. “You and Xaphine?”
“No of course not.” She replied. “Actually Xaphine opposed the whole idea. She didn’t think it was fair to tinker with someone’s thoughts. Unfortunately, back then she was still trying to acclimate to her new role. I was in favor of doing some work, but the Choirs pretty much wanted a copy of Adaline’s mind.”
“In other words, you found the perfect soldier and wanted to make a copy of her.” Baltazar sneered.
“Yes,” Lailah admitted, lowering her eyes, “I’m afraid that is what the Choirs wanted. The vote on the matter was almost an even split, but the majority was in favor of the plan. One life to save billions, it sounded like the logical choice to make.”
Papi crossed his arms, “But?”
Lailah nodded, “Some of us thought that after the long series of conflicts, the Choirs may have lost sight of things… and Adaline strongly resisted the idea. She would not allow her mind to be copied. Once the vote was counted, a few of us worked behind the scenes to sabotage the operation. Xaphine knew what we were doing and though she wouldn’t help us, she looked the other way.”
“So what happened?” Baltazar demanded.
Lailah’s lips twisted as she responded, “We reached a compromise. Aralyn only received a portion of Adaline’s abilities and her wit. She received none of her memories, none of her personality, and none of her experience. In the end, all she received was little more than a child would have received after years of nurture and influence from a parent. I swear to you that we didn’t let it go any further then that!”
“It’s still a violation!” Papi yelled. “She should have been allowed to learn and grow on her own, not be fixed the way you wanted her.”
“I don’t have to stand here and listen to this.” Lailah snorted as she turned away. “I did what I could to prevent it. I was an advocate for her family, but what’s done is done and it was done was done for the right reasons!”
“Right reason says you,” a voice appeared from behind, “but is it right for her says I?”
Lailah shook her head, “Morgan, I am in no mood to be chastised by a pirate.”
She turned to face the entire group, “Look, I can’t defend what happened… but I did everything I could to prevent it. The Choirs did it to save us all…right or wrong, what’s done is done. If you all can’t get passed that, then order me away.”
She turned to Baltazar, “Xaphine left me under your command. If you wish me gone, just say it.”
Papi was about to say something when Baltazar raised his hand to keep Papi silent. It took him a while to sort everything out, but finally he spoke up, “Just some of her abilities, are you absolutely certain? I want to hear you say it, her personality is all her own.”
Lailah sighed, “Would you honestly love her any less if it wasn’t? Would it truly matter?”
“I’m asking the questions here!” Baltazar fired back. “It matters because I want to know if the person I love is who she is or if she is someone else. Answer me, or get off my ship.”
“I swear it on my own wings,” she replied, “Aralyn’s personality stems from her experiences, her knowledge, and her interactions, nothing more. The person you love is genuinely her own person.”
Baltazar released a long breath through his nose and turned toward the cabin, “I don’t want you any where near her. Unless she asks to see you, stay away from her from now on or you’ll answer to me.”
Lailah nodded unenthusiastically, “As you wish, it’s your ship.”
Baltazar turned the knob slowly and was about to open the door when the lookout signaled, “Sail ho, five points to starboard!”
Baltazar ran to the desk by the helm and grabbed the spyglass. He opened it up and peered through. It took him a moment for the lenses to focus, but the ship eventually appeared. It resembled a small fluyte that Baltazar had seen in the Netherlands, except that it was heavily armed, had what looked like a large spike protruding from the bow, and flew red banners.
Baltazar dropped the glass, “Corsairs…”
He quickly turned around and starting ringing the ship’s bell frantically, “All hands on deck, to your stations, man the guns!”
Morgan walked up next to him, “Captain, what is it?”
“It’s a corsair.” Baltazar replied. “She’s heavily armed. They hunt the Mediterranean for white, Christian, slaves that they can hold for ransom or sell in their homelands.”
Morgan closed his eyes, “And we be a prime target for that sort of hunting. Be that the problem?”
“Aye,” Baltazar replied, “and it’s an even bigger problem if Aralyn is out of commission.”
“What about Lailah?” Morgan asked. “Surely she wouldn’t let us come to harm…”
“I am not so sure anymore.” Baltazar replied, “Especially after recent revelations… We’re most likely just a means to an end.”
Morgan shook his head, “It feels like our team be coming apart at the seams.”
“I hope not,” Baltazar said with a sigh, “but only time is going to be able to tell.”
Baltazar picked up the spyglass again and looked at the incoming corsair ship, “Give them a double charge of powder men, I don’t want this ship getting in too close.”
“I’ll take care of it sir,” Morgan replied.
Lailah took his spot on deck while Morgan went to deal with the gun crews, “What should I do?”
Baltazar did not look at her and for a moment did not respond. Lailah rolled her eyes and grabbed his shoulder, “Look, I understand you may be at odds with me and perhaps justifiably so… but I am here now, and I am here to help. I fought in the Celestial War, so I am no stranger to combat. If you want me to just go below, that is up to you…”
“There are a couple of things you could do,” Baltazar replied, “but none of them are particularly Christian. If you want to help, guard the cabin and make sure that no one gets to Aralyn.”
“Okay,” Lailah nodded as she turned and headed to her post, “that is reasonable.”
The corsair ship drew closer. Baltazar could see their crew gearing up for combat. He turned and put his hand on Gilles shoulder, “No matter what happens, keep us away from the pike on the front, and don’t let them into boarding range!”
Gilles looked at the corsair ship as it began to turn, “That may not be easy Captain, that ship has the wind on their side.”
“Aye,” Baltazar replied, “but we have the better weapons.”
Gilles nodded as Baltazar turned to the men, “Break out the pistols, those of you who are not on a cannon or the sails, grab a gun. Once they’re in range, cut down their numbers as best you can!”
The quartermaster brought crates of their pistols up to the deck and distributed them amongst the crew. He tried to give one to Lailah, but all he got was an odd look, “Give that… weapon to someone who needs it.”
The quartermaster shrugged as he continued his work, “As you wish.”
Morgan inspected the guns on deck before turning back to Baltazar, “Guns be at the ready, Captain!”
Baltazar remained silent as he peered into his spyglass. He counted down a few seconds then turned to the deck, “Fire!”
Morgan nodded, “Fire everything!”
The guns went off with a massive boom. In the cabin, Aralyn opened her eyes. She heard the crew running around and sensed that something was up, but she didn’t think it was anything serious until she heard the guns. She rolled out of bed and ran to the door. What she saw when she opened it was pure chaos. Smoke clouded her view as she tried to assess who they were fighting. Suddenly, Lailah appeared in front of her, “Back inside with you!”
Aralyn flew backwards into the room and the door slammed shut. The guns continued to fire as the corsairs’ ship turned to port. Their guns were smaller, but more numerous. Once the ship was in position, they fired back. Cannonballs ripped through the hulls of both ships as their crews tried to take cover.
As soon as the cannons from the corsair ceased their fearsome attack, crewmen from the Black Vengeance who weren’t reloading cannons, attacked with pistols. They managed to cut down a few of the corsair crewmen, but not enough to make much of a difference. The corsair ship drew closer and began to close the space between the two ships until they were right alongside one another.
Desperate, Morgan turned to his men, “Reload faster ye dogs, or by God that’s how ye’ll be treated.”
Loud grunts could be heard as the men quickly pushed their guns back into position. Each crew commander signaled to Morgan and he turned to the captain, “Guns be at the ready, at your command!”
Baltazar nodded, “Give them everything you’ve got boys, fire!”
The guns let loose with a mighty boom. The blasts ripped into the deck of the corsair ship. Splinters and debris could be seen shooting through the air as the corsair’s deck caught fire. They had taken heavy damage and were listing, but their gamble worked. The corsairs were now in close enough to board.
Baltazar saw the dark-skinned men grabbing loose rigging and grapples. He breathed heavily as he grabbed the wheel from Gilles and turned it hard to starboard. He pulled the wheel until it would not go any further and held it in position as tightly as he could.
The ship began to turn, but not quickly enough. Corsairs threw grappling hooks across while others swung over on the loose rigging. Before anyone knew what was going on, the Black Vengeance’s deck was swarming with men wearing colorful clothing, including turbans, wielding odd looking swords that were thick and curved, resembling a sickle.
The crew of the Black Vengeance fought as hard as they could, but they weren’t used to the foreign fighting style that most of these men used. At gunnery, Baltazar’s men were the best in the world, but in close quarters, they were unprepared for the speed and agility of their opponents.
In the cabin, Aralyn could hear the men she called family fighting for their lives. She tried to block it all out, but the anger was overpowering. Her eyes had remained purple since Baltazar was with her had now begun to turn crimson red. She ran to the door, and opened it. Lailah once again tried to push her back into the cabin, but this time, Aralyn could not be restrained. She saw the people she loved being cut down and it was too much for her. Lailah glared at the young angel, “Go back inside right now!”
Aralyn‘s eyes flared even brighter red and began to glow. She turned and faced Lailah as she clenched her jaw. Her fingers curled into a fist at her side as she glared at the other angel.
Suddenly, Lailah began to choke. Her hands grabbed frantically at whatever unseen force was holding her neck, but it was a futile effort. Lailah’s feet were no longer touching the ground and her whole body rose higher in response to Aralyn’s anger.
Finally, Aralyn spoke. Her voice was low and demonic, “Lailah… you would allow these people to die needlessly?”
Lailah struggled against her, “Aralyn… please…”
Aralyn shook her head and made a swinging motion with her hand. Lailah went flying through the door of the cabin and disappeared from view. There was now no one in Aralyn’s way.
Aralyn walked out through the chaos to the center of the deck. She began to breathe heavily as though charging her lungs. Finally, she unleashed a blood curding scream, “Stop!”
She raised her hands until they were parallel with her shoulders and spread her wings. In response, each of the corsairs dropped their weapons and grabbed their necks. Their bodies also elevated off the ground.
Aralyn’s body began to glow and shudder with all the built up anger. Baltazar watched from the aft castle as the man he had been fighting elevated high above the deck. He then turned to see that the corsair ship itself had also been elevated out of the water.
Aralyn winced as though struggling to command her powers, but it wasn’t working. Her eyes flickered white as she tried again, but it still didn’t work. Suddenly a pair of dark eyes appeared next to her. Their owner called to her in a voice that was little more than a growl, “It won’t work this way Aralyn…”
She gasped as she heard it, but did not respond. Instead, she tried a second time, but the corsairs still hung there struggling to breathe. She couldn’t release them.
The crew of the Black Vengeance watched in horror as events unfolded. Baltazar tried to get to Aralyn, but something had locked his feet to the deck. He found himself helpless and unable to move. The rest of his men appeared to be suffering from the same affliction.
The red eyes shook as the voice laughed, “There is a lot of anger here, and you use it well, but there is no hate. You can’t hope to finish what you started without it… let me help you…”
The red eyes were suddenly surrounded by black smog that formed into a human-like figure, “I killed your parents. They were cut down so easily… I can do the same to this crew you appear to have replaced them with. Show me your hate… now…”
Aralyn shook her head, “No… I do not hate… You may be ancient, but you have squandered that time in ignorance. I don’t do this out of anger or hate… I do it out of love. By choosing to use hate, you show your weakness!”
Her eyes flickered between blue and red again. She breathed in deeply and then unleashed a second blood curdling scream, “Be gone!”
A huge beam of light emanated from her chest and struck the black entity. It disappeared in puff of smoke as Aralyn winced again and sent the corsairs into the water. She then raised their ship even higher into the sky. Her hands curled as though holding on to a stick and made a snapping motion. In response, the corsair’s ship snapped in half like a nutshell and fell back into the water. The corsairs swam as fast as they could to the remains of their wrecked ship.
Aralyn spread her wings and flew out over them, her eyes glowed white as she looked down. Many of the men stopped thrashing about in the water and raised their arms, expecting attack. Aralyn hovered for another moment and finally spoke. To Baltazar’s surprise, she was speaking in the Arabic language that the corsairs used, “Do not be afraid, I will not kill any man here. Your vessel will remain afloat for one hour. Use this time to get your lifeboats into the water. Once you are all safe, row south and you shall reach land. Once there, the lord commands you to abandon your wicked ways! Do this or I fear you may have sealed your fate!”
Lailah watched her from the deck and smiled as a feeling of satisfaction poured over her. Aralyn ceased glowing and returned to the ship. She landed in the middle of the main deck in front of the men. A loud cheer went up from the crew as they gathered around her, hugged her, and applauded. Her eyes darted back and forth as though she were looking for someone.
Suddenly, Baltazar appeared in front of her and grabbed her. She gasped for air as he squeezed her in his arms. She smiled and closed her eyes, “I am so sorry I scared you like that… I don’t know how…”
“Hush,” he replied, “it’s in the past now.”
When he let up on her, she raised her eyes to his, “But how can you still love me? Look at me, this face, this… it’s not mine. I was engineered… just a mechanism…”
“You are not a mechanism.” Lailah interrupted as she fought through the crowd. “Yes, the Choirs meddled with your mind, but they gave you nothing that you would not have received on your own had your parents survived. They gave you the tools, you used them to become who you are and make youself better.”
Baltazar smiled, “And who you are, is what I fell in love with… if that even makes sense.”
“It makes perfect sense to me,” Aralyn replied in a joyful tone, “and that is all that matters.”
Then she remembered what she had done to the angel that had watched over her. Sheepishly, she turned to Lailah, “I am sorry…”
Lailah smiled and touched Aralyn’s wings. The feathers Aralyn had ripped out instantly grew back and the blood stains disappeared, “You are a greater being then any I have ever met and I am very proud of you. There is nothing to forgive.”
Miles away, just outside of the city of Tyre, stood a large formation of ancient ruins, unknown to the rest of the world. Once a prominent port city, war had reduced the land to rubble. The sand blew over the scarred ruins like mist. The whole area began to tremble and creek as an unseen specter screeched across the land.
Suddenly, a cloud of black smoke appeared and Legion took form. There was a dark growl as he stood alone, had any human been within miles of him, they would have been deafened by the scream. His red eyes turned out to the sea, “Oh you have grown strong, young Aralyn… you are a descendant of Adaline, no doubt about it.”
A small imp nervously peaked out from behind the rocks, “Master, is everything alright?”
“We have failed.” Legion replied. “We did not expect that such a weak-minded girl would have such strength.”
“Then our cause is lost,” the imp replied.
“Our cause is not lost,” Legion hissed in a dark voice, “She may be strong, but she has weaknesses. A chink in the armor, even a small one, can be very dangerous.”
“What would that be?” The creature asked in a hopeless voice. “If she was able to overpower you…”
“She is powerful, this is true…” Legion cut in, “but she’s only a hybrid, she still has human characteristics.”
The imp nodded as if finally understood, “So she can be tricked, hurt, or killed?”
“We have already tried tricking her.” Legion replied. “Her powers and her strength of will protect her.”
The imp looked at him confused, “Then what advantage do we have left, master?”
“The crew,” Legion replied, “specifically two of them; the cook and Baltazar.”
“What significance do they hold?” The imp asked, “They are mere humans.”
“Her family.” Legion said maliciously. “We never understood the need, but she has taken them as the people she connects with the most. Eliminate them, and she will fall.”
The imp nodded, “A sound plan, my liege, but how do you plan on carrying it out?”
“Gather your forces,” Legion replied, “that ship must not reach Tyre.”
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