Aless went out the back door to find Seph still cleaning the dishes. "Are you still out here working?" she teased, stepping down to meet him.
Seph smiled back. "I told you I would save something for you." Aless rolled up her sleeves and plunged her hands into the cold water. As she began helping, Seph asked, "What did the Seer want to talk to you about?"
"Your loving mother was worried about letting a stranger like me stay here, so she called the Seer to check up on me." Seph rolled his eyes. "She asked me some more questions about my life, and I answered honestly. She just left."
Seph sighed in annoyance. "I apologize about my mother," he said, "I kept telling her she had nothing to worry about, but that is practically the only thing she does."
"It's fine," Aless brushed it off. "If having me meet with the Seer helps your mother relax, I'll be happy to do it."
The two worked in silence, washing the remaining dishes. They finished quickly, then made fast work drying them and taking them back into the kitchen. Aless looked around. "It's so quiet," she said.
"Everyone has gone to bed," Seph explained, adding a yawn in of his own. "I think I shall retire as well." Aless walked with him down the hall to their rooms. Each stopped outside their doors. "Well, good night, Aless," Seph said. "It was a pleasure to meet you today." He smiled tiredly at her.
"Good night Seph," Aless responded, smiling as well. "I will see you in the morning." They opened their doors and went into their rooms at the same time. Aless closed hers a bit slower that Seph did, wanting to hear his shut first.
Aless looked around her dark room. Even at night, it was still brighter than hers at the castle. She sat on the bed and looked out the window. The moon beamed down, filling her room like she had never seen. She smiled. She took off her shoes, and her cloak––she hadn't realized she had left it on all day––and placed her bag on the floor. Then she crawled into bed.
Sleep didn't come as easily this time, as she had napped just hours before. Aless rolled over, trying to find a comfortable position. Her mind was occupied with all the events. Meeting Seph, meeting the Seer... part of her wondered what Krystel was doing right now. Was she trying to find Aless, or was she just sitting around the castle like she normally does?
"I miss you," Aless whispered to the ceiling. "Good night Krystel." She rolled over one more time, then, feeling a bit more like she was at home, fell soundly asleep.
* * *
Krystel was sitting around the castle avoiding Rose and missing Alessandra. The two had come to no certain way to find her without simply going out and finding her, and even that could take a very long time. She could be anywhere by this point, and if Krystel went in a different direction than Alessandra had, the chances of them finding her shrunk even more.
Krystel wasn't sure what she was feeling. Part of her, a very large part, was happy that Alessandra had gotten away. Maybe now she could live a normal life. Not the life that was originally destined for her, but that would be okay. She could go and explore the world the way she had always wanted to. That was a good thing about all this. Alessandra was truly free.
And then there was the part the Rose resided in, the part that wanted to get out of Krystel. They had been together longer than any other host Rose had had throughout all her years, and she was more than ready to move on. Alessandra wasn't the best choice, but she was the one Krystel had forced so much care and attention onto. Rose wanted all this time spent waiting to pay off, and that meant hunting her down.
Then there was the part of Krystel that still wanted to use Alessandra to destroy the Black Soul once and for all. She had raised Alessandra just so to make her the perfect weapon, and she was upset that the girl had escaped. She was needed here at the castle to finally end this curse.
Krystel sighed. Everything had been so complicated since she first became the Witch, infused with the Black Soul that had ruined her life. She wished she could turn back time, go back to her first life before the stupid Soul had ever laid eyes on her. But the powers of the Soul had to end somewhere.
She had currently convinced Rose to let her think things through, try to figure out a way to find Alessandra and get her back peacefully, as that was the best way for her plan to be enacted. Rose agreed, begrudgingly. Krystel had been thinking for a few days now, and still had no compromise between her different parts.
She looked around, thinking she heard Alessandra's voice. "Good night Krystel."
"Alessandra?" she stood up and walked around, looking for the source. Finally she realized it was just a trick. Her mind had made it up. She shook her head. "Really now, Krystel," she said to herself, "how much worse can you get?"
* * *
Aless spent much of her time helping Seph do things around the house he would normally do alone. As the two worked, they learned more about each other.
"How old are you Aless?" he asked their first day working. They were out picking apples for an elderly couple who lived a few cottages away.
"Seventeen," she answered, pulling another from the tree. "And yourself?"
"Seventeen. What is your favorite color?"
"Ooh, that is a hard one," she thought out loud. She leaned against the trunk of the tree. Seph had helped her climb up into the tall branches, "where the best apples are" he told her. She hadn't seen many colors in her life, before leaving the castle. Everything there was dark, and a bit dreary, with colors that matched. "Blue," she finally answered, "but not light blue, like the noontime sky. A much darker blue, like the sky after the sun fully sets." She thought of blue as a more deep color, rather than dark.
"That is a very specific answer," Seph noted. He dropped some more apples into Aless's basket. Aless shrugged. Even with all the darkness in her world and all the dreams of seeing lighter and brighter things, dark blues had grown on her. "I would say that my favorite color is blue as well, but not dark blue, like the sky after the sun fully sets. A much lighter blue, like the noontime sky." He smirked at her and threw another apple.
Aless caught the apple and shook her head, faking offense. "No, you don't get to steal my words."
"I can if I wish," he retorted, shrugging. He reached up to a higher branch and pulled himself up further.
"You can come up with your own description for your favorite shade of blue!" Aless called up to him.
"But I liked yours more, so I used it."
"Stole it, you mean!"
"But I gave you credit for it!"
The two were smiling widely now at their banter. Aless took a deep breath, getting ready to retort back, but instead let it out in a huff and turned away from him. She tried pursing her lips together to get rid of the smile on her face.
"There, you see?" Seph said triumphantly. "I win."
"Oh, you do not!"
"Yes I do!"
This continued on for several more minutes, before Aless thought of a new question. "What have you done throughout your life?" she asked earnestly.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you've been asking me questions about me and my life until now since we met," Aless explained. "But I don't know anything about your life prior to meeting me. So tell me about it."
Seph swung down to sit next to her. "Like you, I have not really done much. I am the oldest, as I am sure you have figured out. Really, I just help Mother and Father when they need it, do random chores around here."
Aless shook her head. "No, there must be something more than just that. You said yesterday you liked watching sporting matches. What are those like?"
Seph smiled. "Well, depending on your kind of sport, they can get rather exciting. My favorite is the wrestling." He looked out at the horizon. "Just two men together beating each other up. Oh, it is great."
Aless looked at him. "That sounds disgusting."
Seph nodded. "Most girls say that."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the birds fly across the sky. Aless smiled. It was very calming to her.
"You know," Seph said, "you still have not shared any of your poems with me."
Aless rolled her eyes. "Not this again."
"Come on!" Seph begged. "I really want to hear one."
"I haven't written any about you, if that's what you're looking for."
"And that is just fine, but I still want to hear one. Come on, please? Just one?"
Aless looked at him for a very long time. He was trying too hard to look like a child pleading for something they want. They stared at each other for a long time like that, then Aless gave in. "Fine!" she yelled.
"Yes!" Seph excitedly jumped out of the tree. "Here, hand me the basket." Aless leaned over, holding onto a branch for support, and lowered the basket full of apples to him. He took it and placed it on the ground next to them. "Okay, now jump."
Aless looked at him. "You want me to jump out of the tree." She meant it as a question, but it came out as a statement.
Seph nodded once. "Yes. Just like I did."
"Your legs are a lot closer to the ground than mine will ever be."
"Come on," Seph said, a smirk on his face, "you are not getting scared on me now, are you?"
Aless half glared at him. She shook her head, then took a deep breath. She didn't expect to go out very far, but she fell faster than she thought she would. She landed on her feet, then fell backwards. Seph managed to catch her, stopping her from falling. He lifted her upright, then picked up the basket of apples. They started walking to the couple's cottage.
"So do you have any that are memorized, or are they all written in your book?" he asked.
Aless sighed. "I have a few that I can recall from memory, but you'll want one that's been written down."
Seph nodded. "Alright then." They continued in silence. Aless knocked on the door and Seph left the basket on their doorstep, then they hurried home to get her book. They both sat on the bed, Aless slowly turning the pages, reading over what she had once written.
Aless had had this journal since she was ten. It was a gift from Krystel, and she cherished it very deeply. The page edges were silver lined, and it had leather ties to close it. It was even the blue color she loved so much.
In its early days it served as simply holding the days mundane tasks, but as Aless grew she became more interested in making something beautiful. Her words became more fluent and elegant, she began writing abstractly and deeply. It turned into her book of poems, and she was almost never seen without it, just in case some spark of creation hit her.
Seph was growing impatient. "Are you going to read one to me?" he finally asked.
Aless looked up at him and smiled. "Yes. I'm just... looking for the right one." Reading back, she learned how depressing most of her poems were. She must have been more effected by the darkness at the castle more than she originally thought she had. Finally she found a decent one to share. "Are you ready?" she asked, knowing full well that he was. He simple nodded, all his attention on her. Aless took a deep breath, then began:
So many people
Every which way you turn
So many voices
All trying to be heard
So many directions
So many ways to go
So many choices
So many things to know
You’re only one
One body among so many
You’re only alone
Though surrounded by people plenty
Your voice is tiny
It gets drowned by the rest
How you’re wishing
To let go of your stress
All around, looking
For just one face to hear
Someone will pull you near
How do you speak to just one?
Lost in the crowds
Why can’t there just be none?”
Seph sat there, looking at her, taking in what she had written. Even Aless was a little surprised. She didn't think she needed to hear this until she had heard it. She looked up at Seph. "Well?" she asked carefully. "What do you think?"
Seph took a deep breath, then let it out slowly before answering. Aless feared the worst. "I think it is very deep and thought–provoking," he said. Aless breathed a sigh of relief. "I liked it a lot." He smiled.
"That's good. For a second there I was worried you thought otherwise."
"So what else is written in that book?" Seph asked, reaching for it. Aless pulled it away, holding it against her chest.
She shook her head. "No, you've had your poem for the day."
Seph smirked. "Does that mean I get another one tomorrow?"
"Possibly, if you behave yourself," Aless said. And if I can find more that are okay to share.
"Very well," Seph agreed with a sigh. He climbed off the bed and left the room. Aless continued looking through her book.
Days went on with this sort of pattern: helping Seph complete some odd job, helping Sera around the cottage, then reading Seph a different poem. Sometimes they led into long discussions about life and beyond, others were just as simple as the first one had been. Aless began taking a few minutes each night in hopes of writing a new one, a happier one about her happier life, but she found herself missing Krystel and her black and green castle walls more.
Then one day Seph asked if Aless had any about her old life, her old home. Aless smiled sadly. "Yes. I do." She sighed. "I've been trying to write one about living here, but I miss being there too much, so I wrote about that instead."
Seph was quiet for a moment. "Would you like to read it?" he asked quietly. Aless thought for a moment, looking at Seph. Finally, she nodded. She took a deep breath, and began:
is like a masquerade ball,
everyone dressed up and posed
with a mask upon their
face so you can never
tell who someone truly is
until they remove the mask
to reveal the person behind
who may be as pretty
as the mask or may
be quite the opposite from
their portrayed persona for you
can’t tell as long as
the mask exists
and then there are those of us
who have cracks in our
masks and you can see through
to our true faces because
we aren’t hiding like
everyone else seems to be
and we are free”
Aless didn't look at him when she finished. She stared at the book in her hands, the words blurring together. Seph stayed quiet for a long time, letting Aless think in peace. They weren't sure how long they stayed like that before Aless looked up at Seph.
"Wow," was all he said. Aless gave a small smile.
"Is that all?" she asked.
"Aless, that was amazing," he told her. "I did not know you could put feelings into emotions like that. Truly, it was... amazing." He chuckled.
"You already said that," Aless said.
Seph shrugged. "It is the only word I can think of right now."
They fell into silence, and soon Seph left her room. Aless appreciated the time alone to think. She loved it here, with Seph and his family, but she missed her large room and her large bed, and Krystel.
"Why did you have to wear a mask?" she asked her book. "Why couldn't you have just told me this in the first place?" Because you still would have run away, she answered herself. You still would have left.
Aless sighed and fell back onto the bed, clutching the book to her chest. "Maybe I should go back," she whispered. "I could give Krystel the chance to explain herself, to truly understand what was going on." She closed her eyes, remembering that night.
Tell her. Tell Alessandra what we've always planned on doing with her. It'll break her.
It had been a very long time since Aless had heard her full name, even if it was just a memory of it. She smiled a sad smile. Alessandra was the girl that Krystel and her friend to planned to use. Aless was living with Seph and was free from it all. She would never guess what a simple name change, even if it was just her shortening her name, would do to her outlook.
* * *
Krystel hadn't seen or heard Alessandra in over a month. She had reverted to her old ways of acting before she had a child to look after. Much of her time was spent daydreaming in the library, far away from anything reflective that might cause Rose to appear and yell at her.
A new perception had come to her. Mabella killed Krystel's love in order to break Krystel's heart. The only reason it happened so rashly was because Mabella was weak. Her body had born the burden of the Black Soul as long as it could, and it needed a new host to continue on. Rose had explained that Mabella was one of the shortest girls to carry her.
"She was so easy to manipulate," Rose had said. "It's like she's never had an original thought in her life. I would say, 'hey, let's do this', and she just went right along with it. She was nothing like what you are."
Krystel had more stability that most of Rose's other lives, and more dexterity than any of them. They never would have survived two thousand years. "But here you are," Rose said. "Kicking and swinging like it's still our first week together."
Krystel didn't need a soul as pure as birth to get rid of Rose. She just needed to wait until her body could no longer keep up with the Soul. Then she would just refuse to go and find another host, and they would both be gone.
The only problem was how Rose described her: Krystel still acting as if it was her first week. She had more than enough strength to go another two thousand years, maybe even three. And she was just as tired of Rose as Rose was of her. Waiting around that long was going to be more than just 'annoying'. It was going to take everything Krystel had.
Some days were really good. Krystel stayed in her library, trying to finish the organizing that Alessandra had started. Her problem was that she didn't know what Alessandra had already done; she felt like she was making it worse than better.
Other days she lounged around in the chairs, creating stories Alessandra would have loved when she was little. Sometimes she would pretend that she was telling them to Alessandra, trying to get her to go to sleep.
And then there were the days like today, days where she just missed the company and light Alessandra had always brought to her. It was these days she felt like she was losing her mind the most. She would often hear Alessandra's voice. After the first few times Krystel stopped trying to chase it down. Instead she would answer back, as if they were having a conversation.
"Why did you have to wear a mask?" she heard Alessandra ask. "Why couldn't you have just told me this in the first place?"
Krystel had often wondered the same thing, but she knew the answer. "Because you still would have run away," she said sadly. "You still would have left."
It was the sad truth. Krystel had accepted it. Now she simply wondered if Alessandra was doing okay in her new life. She was still alive; Rose had yet to come and tell her otherwise. Despite her hatred for everything, Krystel knew Rose had grown a bit fond of Alessandra, and while she wouldn't announce her concern any time soon, she was worried about her.
"Or she just really wants to get out of me," Krystel laughed. "That would be another really good reason."