Candlelight flickered along aisle of the cathedral as she made her way toward the alter. The room was quiet, reverent. Empty.
She pulled the hood of her cloak back as she went to her knees, her expression troubled. Long strands of dark red hair tumbled about her shoulders and fell down her back.
She whispered a prayer absently, trying to get her thoughts centered, focused. She had too much weighing on her, too many things running through mind at once.
A shadow fell across her as a priest in long black robes neared her."My child, you seem troubled."
She lifted her gaze to him, hoping for a moment that it was Michael but knowing it wasn't.
"Isn't everyone?" She attempted humor, and failed.
"The confessional is open..."
She hesitated for a moment.
"Alright..I suppose." Standing, she followed him over to the confessional booth. After stepping inside, she closed the heavy curtain then pulled open the screen.
"I've never done this before.."
"Never?" He sounded suprised.
"No. It was considered a sign of weakness in my family."
"My family was unusual. Sure, to the outside world we were like everyone else but..." Her voice trailed off as a little girl's memories flashed through her mind, things that she tried to forget but was never really able to.
"But..." He urged her on.
"Actually Father I really don't want to speak of it, it's not why am I here."
"Then why are you here?"
"Just to...to get away. I needed somewhere to sit and think."
He remained silent, waiting for her to continue.
"I just feel like I'm drowning sometimes. Struggling to keep my head above the water but theres always someone there just below the surface, pulling me under. I guess that doesn't make any sense."
"Sure it does."
She sighed as she shifted on the bench, leaning her head against the back of the booth. Soft light bled through the filigree screen and covered her face with a shadowy design. "One of our ensigns, Aldrith, he found himself in some trouble. Big trouble. I mean, theres trouble and then theres the kind of trouble where you wake up from death with traitor branded into your skin kind-of-trouble, you know? He was in that kind. And come to find out those who were chasing him were friends of mine... the kind of friends I'm not supposed to have while in the Praetoria, but friends none the less."
"Vince is the one who told me. He thought I would hate him for...and I almost did. He put me in the position of choosing between him and a corpmate, a brother. And as he confessed the things he had done all I could think about was how I was betraying Aldrith by hearing it all. How could I sit there so calmly with a man who tortured my own brother?"
"But heres the thing, Father. Aldrith deserved it. Or, at least I thought so, in that moment. Vince with his Devil's tongue had me eating out of the palm of his hand. I was gullible and I bought it all. I even offered him comfort, this man, this dark angel. How could I have believed him?"
"Later, I had spoken with Aldrith at the Pax, the first time he walked out on me. The second...well. He explained. Everything. The part he had played in this ghastly tale of kidnapping, seduction, and deceit."
"How could I then not try to help him, Father? How could I not do everything in my power to save him? Those who were after him would stop at nothing if the slave-girl had not been returned to her pirating friends. And the one who had her, the one Aldrith had given her over to was a blooder."
The priest coughed and she imagined he was uncomfortable. "Sorry...I should go."
"No, please continue."
"Alright.... So I had imagined a way to get to the woman. I went to the Paradiso, spoke personally with the owner, Tyr, hoping to put the word out in that world that I was interested. It was easy enough. I lived that life for so long, it was easy enough to play the part. I ordered a set of private rooms to...to do the rituals in. I figured if anyone would know how to get me in touch with her, it would be Tyr. But I couldn't be suspicious about it, just couldn't bounce up in there and asked to be introduced."
"So anyhow, that was that. Spent a few nights at the Paradiso during all of that, to be seen, to be available if something should happen."
She hesitated, wondering if she was supposed to keep talking, having no idea how the confession was supposed to go. He said nothing so she continued.
"In the end, my help wasn't needed. The girl was rescued...but not by Aldrith or I. Though that should be enough reason for the others to back off of him."
"Sounds like it all ended well enough then?" he asked.
"Well...no. Here is my real confession, Father. I would have."
"Would have what?"
"Killed...maybe. I don't know. You see..." She sighed a long miserable sound. "Raphael...I was losing him. We had a fight and I...I just couldn't lose him. I lost Zenton because I wouldn't leave with him. I loved him and I lost him because I wouldn't follow him. I couldn't let this happen again. What started out as a lie with Raphael became true over time. I feel in love with him and then I had to choose. Love him for who he was, someone who wanted to murder Jhaelee, or let him go."
She nervously bit on her thumbnail. "I couldn't do it. I could't let him go, I couldn't do the right thing." Her hands trembled from nervousness. "He found me in the Lantorn hangar and I just broke down and told him I'd help him."
A look of utter misery washed across her delicate pale face "I told him I would murder her myself.
"The cold realization of what she was made her nausated.
"But did you...?"
"Because...because I opened myself up to him...I showed him who I really was...or could be... and I think it scared him. I think it frightened him so desperately that he couldn't go through with it. It became less about Jhaelee and more about what I was becoming."
"So nothing ever actually happened. You never actually committed a sin. There is no crime in thinking, only doing."
His words did not soothe her, would not ease her guilty conscience.
"But you don't understand! I would have. I would have done anything, I would have betrayed who I am...who I want to be, my very own sister." She couldn't bear the thought of it any longer. "I have to go." She quickly stood up and closed the screen, then hastily stepped out of the confessional booth.
He met her outside of it, "Please, wait. Shalee, you haven't done anything wrong. You can't torture yourself over what you might have done. Everyday we make choices. You may have had some terrible thoughts but you have not brought harm to anyone. Can't you understand that? Forgive yourself."
He said her name. She never told him who she was. She shivered, feeling as if some unseen force was dragging the tip of a dagger down her spine. Taking an uneasy step back, she looked around the cathedral. Still empty. Damn. "I didn't tell you my name..."
He approached her "I know who you are."
"You're one of them." An accusation.
"Yes...but I'm not like the rest. I want to help you."
"Fuck you. The last goddamned time your kind tried to help me I had bruises for a week. So thanks but no thanks."
She dashed along the length of the aisle, moving to the opposite side of the pew.
He made no move to chase her.
She paused by the door, looking over her shoulder, her heart racing.
"I'm not going to hurt you, I'm not going to follow you...but you'll be back. You need me....you need me to help you find Michael. He's still alive..."