Chapter 14 - Alex (Part 1)

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She woke up from a flickering light above her head, its source a swaying lantern that hung from a dark ceiling that creaked and groaned. Around her were walls of soft cotton that were rocking her with the rhythm of a calm breeze. The Holy Words said that the Heavenly Halls smell of rain after a hot summer's day, but in this air hung a damp yet sweet spicy scent.

Licking her chapped and salt-crusted lips, she muttered to herself, "Gods of Virtue, I'm alive."

A wave of exhaustion washed over her, the God of Sloth pulling at her eyelids. She let Him.

When she opened them again, she was standing by the rail of the Acedia's Revenge restored in all its glory, the three deep-green sails billowing in the wind. Billy was standing by her side, and in her hand, the letter of King Thomas that had been wiped from existence.

When she dropped it a second time, the sea didn't take it. The scroll remained floating on the waves, then it bounced back up, a hundred times the size it was before, and swallowed her.

There was a moment of darkness before it spat her back out, her body rolling over frozen ground. As she pushed herself up, the huge letter dissolved into thin air. Wisps of white smoke swirled from familiar chimneys. Her stomach clenched—she had returned to a Laneby that had never been burnt down.

Here and there strolled faceless people, carrying bags of coal and stacks of freshly cut wood on their backs. The villagers went straight to her, as if she were the one who had died all those moons ago.

She followed the sandy path she had cursed so often when the rain had turned it into a second pigsty but was almost tempted to kiss now. As she approached the familiar straw house at the corner, she found herself skipping, running even.

When a lanky, cloaked figure with a longbow and quiver strapped to his back stepped through the wooden door, she halted. Her heart filled with a forlorn sadness that nailed her to the ground. Though his face too was blank, there was no doubt whose unkempt dark brown hair curled from the hood: Father.

As he turned around to close the door, a young girl with a long braid and a quiver on her back stood in the doorway. Her face wrinkled into Wrath's grimace. "I don't care what anyone says.I'm coming with you and Lord Brandon—show him girls can hunt too."

"Next time, little monkey. I promise." He pressed her to his chest, the hug she had treasured every day for the last four years. The last hug before...

Had she known what she knew now, she would have squeezed him tight instead of rolling her eyes at him. "You always say that. Your promises mean nothing."

"But my love for you is that much stronger." He grinned and departed. 

While nine-year-old Alex remained sulking, her arms crossed, Father walked right through her.

He paused, their bodies aligned for a split second. Yet as she tried to wrap her arms around him, he vanished.

Or had it been her? 

Suddenly, she was standing on a thick branch, her back against the trunk. Two cloaked figures passed below her, ploughing through the melting snow. She recognised the voices of Father and Lord Brandon. Despite the bows on their back and the swords in their hand, they were bickering louder than one would do when hunting.

"But a pirate, Vanya. How could you ever sink so low? It's like I don't know who you are anymore," Lord Brandon sneered. 

A swift gust of wind blew through the withered canopy, making Alex stumble. As she reached for a branch for support, the wood beneath her fingers cracked so loudly she missed her father's reply.

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