A Gift from the Goddess Chapter 86

“Aleric, ” I called out to him and carefully approached.

Immediately, I saw how he tensed up at my presence, his eyes flashing dark for just a moment. I suppose i t wasn‘t that surprising to think he‘d be furious after all this time down here.

However, his words seemed to contradict this first impression, only succeeding in confusing me.

“Aria,” he breathed, almost as if in a sigh of relief, before quickly focusing again.

My eyes narrowed as I looked at him, unsure what game he was playing at. Was this some sort of act?

“You can let her go now,” I said, jutting my chin towards Lucy. “If you kill her, you won‘t have anyone to bring you your meals every day.”

But his head moved back in confusion, taken off guard by my blunt response.

“…What?” he simply asked, perplexed by my words.

“I said… let her go or you‘ll probably end up starving,” I repeated, taking a few more steps towards him.” She isn‘t a part of this… But I get it though. You wanted to make some sort of big statement to get me down here, wanted to feel like you had a bit of control since I‘ve kept you locked up for so long. Well, Aleric, now I‘m here, just like you wanted.

So what‘s the next step of your plan? Are you going to kill her and make me watch? Are you disappointed I missed that part when you killed my parents?”

“I don‘t… what?” he asked again. “Aria… what the hell happened?”

I tried not to laugh at that. What hadn‘t happened?

Apart from learning that my existence was purely to serve the agenda of a higher power? Apart from Cai sleeping with Thea for months and possibly working with her? Apart from Aleric‘s betrayal?

…Apart from feeling so empty inside all the goddamn time?

It was a wonder that I was still bothering at all.

“Just let her go or get it over with, Aleric,” I said. “Don‘t drag this out any longer than we need to. I‘m sure there are more important things we could be discussing right now. Such as… Where Thea is and why are you working with her?”

However, he still didn‘t move, as if debating internally as to what he should do. His reluctance was only frustrating me further though. Why debate when he never gave my parents that courtesy? Did he value an attendant over them?

“Go on, do it!” | goaded and moved in so close I could have reached out to touch them. “Do it, Aleric! Kill her! Just like the murderer you are!”

Abruptly, he then let her go, finally releasing her from his grip.

“If only you‘d shown this sort of restraint earlier,” I muttered and quickly grabbed Lucy away from the bars to safety. “You‘re okay, Lucy. Get out of here. You‘re safe now.”

She didn‘t need to be told twice, scrambling to leave as soon as possible.

“So you actually believe this false story that I‘m involved with Thea then,” he said. “You know, when you didn‘t come down to see me I thought that maybe something horrible had happened to you.

But looks like I was wrong. Apparently you just decided to not even give me a chance to explain and believe wholeheartedly that I‘m the bad guy.”

| shrugged a shoulder. “Don‘t need to ‘believe‘ anything when I heard it with my own ears. Or Lucy‘s ears,

depending on how you want to look at it. I saw in a vision how you asked her if she was there because of Thea ‘as well‘. I don’t know why you continue to deny involvement with her.”

“You mean the attendant who just so happened to be at the hospital the exact moment I was there? You didn‘t think that was suspicious at all? And it was the exact moment that–,” but he stopped himself and looked at me more closely. “Nevermind.”

“…What? You‘re actually going to blame Lucy now?” I asked, half laughing over how absurd that was. “Go o n, tell me, Aleric, tell me how Lucy is actually the villain here.

In fact, I bet it‘s somehow her fault my parents are dead too and next you‘ll be telling me how she forced you to do it.”

“Aria!” he growled. “It‘s the same attendant you put in charge of my care down here all these months. Why do you think I‘ve refused to say anything? You‘ve got a goddamn spy and you don‘t even realise it. I don‘t know what the hell happened to you but if you‘re so blinded to even the possibility she‘s involved then I don‘t know what to tell you.”

“No, Aleric, I‘m not blinded to it,” I argued, walking back up close to the bars. “In fact, nothing would surprise me these days. I just can‘t believe you‘re trying to distract me with stories of Lucy though when you were clearly the one at fault, when I saw you with their blood on your hands! Do you even realise who Thea is? Who you‘re protecting?”

“Why would I need to realise anything when I have nothing to do with that girl?”

‘He‘s lying,’ the voice whispered. ‘He knows. He‘s just pretending.‘

“Girl‘,” I scoffed, ignoring the voice. “That would be a gross understatement. She is the literal Goddess of Sight; Selene‘s mother. A being created at the beginning of time that is now bound and trapped inside a mortal body. That ‘girl‘ is more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”

“What…?” was all Aleric managed to say.

“That is who you‘re choosing to protect,” I continued, grabbing the bars. “Whatever she‘s offering you, I hope it was worth it because she‘s going to kill you the second you‘re done being useful. It‘s the same strategy she did to Cai; making him think she was his mate.

She needs us to kill each other because she can‘t do the dirty work herself. That‘s all your pathetic existence is to her–” 1

“I‘m not working with her, Aria!” he finally yelled, cutting me off.

He was now right up against the bars making him only a foot away and I looked up into his eyes. His green eyes that were so familiar to me.

…And a shiver ran through me, his close proximity still having an effect I wasn‘t expecting. An odd sensation all things considered given how long it‘d been since I‘d felt anything properly.

«He looked so… genuine. Like he might really be telling the truth. And a part of me really did want to believe him. Was that naive of me? To have a part of me that still reacted this way to him?

…But those feeling were inconsequential now. Grotesque, even.

Whether or not he was working with Thea, he still killed my parents.

No amount of apologies were going to make up for that. Nothing would be enough to overcome such a thing, regardless of who‘s orders he might have been acting on.

And, apparently, he didn‘t want to wait long to prove my point either, my senses picking up on an impending movement.

“LEFT.

Aleric‘s hand came up quickly, moving through the bars… aiming for my throat…

…And I immediately jumped back to dodge it, falling into a defensive crouch as I maneuvered away.

I told you not to get close,‘ the voice scolded. ‘I told you he would try and kill you.‘

It was just as it had been in the images she’d shown me over the past few months. His hand snaking through the bars, grabbing my throat… slowly squeezing the life out of me…. She knew he would attempt this and yet I still gave him the opening.

“Really, Aleric?” I yelled, still completely flustered from having to quickly react. “Didn‘t want to miss your only chance at getting to me? Were you not listening to what I just told you?! I can‘t kill you just like you should forget about killing me. Your survival is dependent on me living, just as Cai‘s is as well. Don‘t listen to whatever she‘s told you.”

*Aria… I wasn‘t trying to kill you,” he argued and grunted out in frustration. “What is wrong with you?”

But I stood up, tired of hearing his same lies, and started to leave. I could feel already as my arm began to shake next to me, the fear she had induced inside starting to work its way back.

“Don‘t bother asking for me to come down here anymore,” I said over my shoulder. “And the next time you threaten an attendant, expect to be sharing your cell with a corpse for a few days.”

Behind me, I heard as he slammed his hands against the bars angrily.

“If you have even an ounce of sense left then you‘ll look into Lucy,” he yelled out just as I made it to the exit. “She‘s been there since the beginning, Aria. Think about it. Something doesn‘t add up.”

And it made me pause for a moment, allowing for his words to sink in… before, finally, I closed the door behind me.

He was so adamant about Lucy being the one working with Thea even though his actions screamed otherwise. How could I even possibly entertain the idea when it seemed so clear to me that he was falling back into the ways of the prior timeline?

…But what if he was right?

Suddenly, I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn‘t even sense Lucy when she threw herself at me, pulling me into a hug. Her sobs were evident as I felt her trembling against me.

“Miss,” she cried, grabbing at my shirt. “Miss, thank you for coming to save me.”

And, for a second, I felt guilty. Not because I had just been doubting her loyalty, but because I‘d been ready to let Aleric kill her if it meant proving a point. That I didn‘t see her, or any of the other non-descendants, as overly important anymore so long as it served a purpose. That they were all just more fodder for Selene‘s war.

c…Yet somehow she was thanking me?

A month ago I might have been disgusted with myself. But now…?

“How did you know he wouldn‘t call your bluff though?” she asked innocently. “I really thought for a second there that he was going to do it but your quick thinking saved me.”

I tensed up before quickly detangling myself from her, moving to be able to look at her face–on squarely.

She looked so genuinely scared, shaking where she stood, and yet held so much faith that I‘d been trying to do right by her.

How could someone with so much trust in me be a traitor working for Thea? I‘d blatantly thrown her to a meaningless death and she thought I‘d been bluffing.

“Get some rest, Lucy,” I finally said, choosing not to answer, and walked back towards my office.

…But all of it began eating away at me.

Sure, I didn‘t trust Aleric… but he wasn‘t wrong. Lucy had been there since the beginning. In fact, she had been the very first person I ever mentioned Thea to, therefore knowing since I was fourteen that I was after her. She was even privy to information regarding my whereabouts at any given time, about the pack, not to mention access to rooms where confidential documents might have been held.

Out of all the spies we‘d ever allegedly had… Lucy made the made sense.

And she had been right there in front of me the entire time.

Admittedly, it was the motive that I was struggling with the most though. What was in it for her?

She had a respectable job where I treated her fairly, making sure that she was never left wanting for anything financially. The position she held was even one that most unranked would be honoured to hold, even to the point where they would probably accept it for a fraction of the salary | offered Lucy. So what could Thea possibly offer her that I couldn‘t? More than money, status or the pack?

What was so valuable that she hadn‘t even come to me for a counteroffer just as I‘d always told her to do?

And, slowly, it started consuming my every thought more and more, driving me crazy from not being able to figure it out. Wondering whether there was even the tiniest possibility that Aleric was correct… that there was one thing he wasn‘t lying to me about

…And so I decided it was time.

With no real reason to hold me back, I decided it was time to confront her.

Truthfully, it felt as though I was giving in to Aleric by doing so, that I was indulging his stories of denial, but somehow I couldn‘t seem to get it out of my head. On even the smallest chance that it was a lead to Thea, shouldn‘t I explore it?

“Lucy,” I said a few days later, making her pause from working.

She‘d come to my office to arrange a few things for me but I‘d been staring at her the entire time as she moved around, unable to focus on anything else while questions of her loyalty swarmed me.

“Miss?”

…Was I really about to do this?

“… Take a seat for a second,” I said, gesturing towards my visitor chair.

“Oh, no that‘s okay,” she said with a smile. “Thank you though. I‘m almost done here and then I‘ll get onto my other errands.”

But I looked back at her with complete seriousness.“…I wasn‘t asking.”

This earned me an odd look as her smile faltered, moving to quietly carry out my request.

“Everything okay, Miss?” she asked when I still hadn‘t spoken for a few seconds.

I‘d been scrutinising her silently, wondering if I was mentally ready to hear yet another person admit to betraying me. After all, there‘d been a lot of that recently.

But I felt… ready. Or maybe I didn‘t care anymore.

Because there was a prominent reason I‘d never allowed myself to fully open up to Lucy, my attendant, even after everything she‘d done for me over the last few years. My personal history with the position she held had admittedly stopped me from ever closing the gap in trust.

“I guess I‘m just going to come out and say it. There isn‘t exactly a nice way to phrase it anyway, so…,” || said, and took a deep breath, “…have you been working for Thea this entire time, Lucy?”

Her body tensed up immediately and she looked away. “No, Miss. Of course not. I‘ve been working hard to manage our sources so I can find her for you.”

I bit the inside of my cheek, the reality of the situation now looking grim. She hadn‘t even been able to look at me as she answered.

“Lucy.” I said sternly, making her look back up. “You can either tell me the truth… or I can order it out of you. I promise you though that the latter will only succeed in making me infinitely more pissed off should I find out you‘re lying. So, one last chance… Are you working for Thea?”

And I could visibly see as she began to shake, tears welling in her eyes.

“… Miss, please,” she begged. “Please… please… I–I don‘t… I didn‘t want to. I‘m sorry. Please.”

Surprisingly, I felt completely calm as I watched her start to sob from admitting her treason.

“…Why?” was all I asked as she continued to stutter out apologies.

“My mother…” she cried. “I did it for my mother. I‘m so sorry, Miss.”

Family. Somehow Thea had managed to offer her the only thing more valuable than anything else I could have.

“Explain,” I instructed, doing my best to sound neutral. “I want all of the details.”

Like it or not, Lucy was now my best chance at finding Thea. Getting angry was only going to make getting those answers more difficult.

“…Miss, l-I can‘t, …,” she stuttered, continuing to cry.

It took a few minutes before she finally inhaled deeply to calm down, closing her eyes in acceptance.

And she began to tell me her story.

“…I should start off by telling you that I was born to a semi–privileged family, Miss. My father held a respectably high warrior position before he passed away fifteen years ago…. something that was extremely difficult for me to bear.

Mostly because he was a single parent for me up until that point, doing his best to raise me. My mother, who I barely knew back then, had been outcasted when I was still just a child, banished from the pack for crimes she didn‘t commit. The result was she became a rogue… and suffered every day for it.”

Tears were still falling down her face as she recounted her childhood.

“I was sent to the orphanage after my father passed, filled with promises from everyone that I would be looked after in honour of his memory. And it was true enough, I was very fortunate despite my new “environment… but I still felt sad. Like I was missing something.

Something that was only found once my mother managed to reach out to me. She explained to me about her wrongful conviction, about how she loved me and wished she could be there for me during the difficult period I was experiencing… and I felt happier than I had in a long time. Even in her absence, she still somehow managed to fill the hole that had been left by my father‘s death.”

“So how does Thea come into it?” I asked.

She rubbed at her eyes, clearing the tears there before she proceeded once more.

“I stayed in contact with my mother as I grew up in the orphanage. First, it was just letters, but, before long, we would meet secretly along the rivers that stemmed from across the borders.

We used to leave codes on the rocks to find our way and the patrols weren‘t able to track her scent because of the water. It worked perfectly. But it wasn‘t really… enough. I wanted her name to be cleared and for us to be a family without all the hiding.

It was around this time that you then came to me, Miss. This crazy, far too intelligent, fourteen-year-old who honestly scared me a little, and told me to track down a woman named Thea. But, and I mean this truthfully, I didn‘t end up finding her… she found me.”

You met with her?”

Lucy nodded. “Maybe a month after we began searching for her, my mother introduced me to a girl at one of our secret meetings. Imagine my surprise and excitement when she suddenly told me who she was. I couldn‘t wait to tell you. But… the thing about Thea is that she is very… charismatic, persuasive even. She told us how she could help clear my mother‘s name.

Not just hers either, but other wrongfully convicted rogues just like her. She had a goal of slowly integrating them into jobs as though they always belonged there, helping them restart their lives after years of suffering.

Of course, I laughed and didn‘t believe her at first… but then I met the others. The ones she’d already helped; some of who I‘d already known for years and never realised the truth. And suddenly the dream of being with my mother didn‘t seem so insane anymore.”

“Thea actually told you who the other rogue spies are?” I asked, leaning forward in my chair attentively.” She trusted you enough for that information?”

“A few, yes…,” she answered hesitantly. “She had no choice but to earn my trust because… because she needed me… for you. She told me I was crucial to her plan and promised to help my mother after I did what she wanted.”

And just like that, my world had been opened up as the most vital information became available to me.

Not only did I suddenly have access to someone who knew Thea… but they were someone who knew the identity of other spies just like her.

And now, for the first time ever, I had a real advantage in this war. I finally had a lead on Thea.

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