Inbetween: Chapter Thirty Six

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Willow found herself going up on the deck of the ship more and more as the landscape started to look more alive. Wind and cold could not keep her away. She loved watching the world change as it passed beneath them. She never traveled much in her own world so seeing the gradual change in the landscape of this world was a novelty for her twice over.

Alenna and the sailors were old hats at this route now. They did what they needed to do to keep them on course, but did not take time to notice the landscape changing as the ship flew over, let alone marvel at it.

Yuri and Asa were both at least mildly interested in their progress across the world, but they did not share Willow’s fascination. Having the space at the railing all to herself did not bother her. She was used to having alone time back home. Since Yuri came into her life she had been sorely missing the time she used to have to process the events of the day. The solitude and the peaceful sight of the landscape passing by beneath her were just what she needed to make her days more tolerable. She needed this time to keep herself from developing cabin fever on this ship.

She hated having no privacy around so many strangers. After a few days she started to learn the names of the members of the crew, but she still rarely had any reason or occasion to talk to them. She did not mind that fact and they seemed to prefer it this way.

Most of the time she watched the land passing by and wondered what would come next. She entertained herself by trying to guess where they would stop. Every time she spotted something new in the distance, she felt a bit of a thrill and imagined this would end up being Alenna’s land.

She hoped that they would reach their destination soon. Flying in an air ship had lost its novelty. She wanted to feel solid ground beneath her feet again, but she had some apprehensions about what would come once they landed.

Their situation had been complicated and on the verge of being dire back in the desert. She might not enjoy being cooped up on the ship, but she knew that it would be worse to be stuck in limbo out in that cave. They went there because it was not safe for Yuri to stay in the city, but once they got there, they made almost no progress in getting Yuri returned to his rightful place in his city.

Going with Alenna had seemed to be their only option. If Yuri could not talk to Nyura himself without being in grave danger, there was no point in staying so close to the city. Willow was a stranger so her sphere of influence was nonexistent and Asa admitted he was not influential enough to make a difference. That was what made Alenna’s offer of an alliance so appealing. Willow could understand that much. Alenna had the strength and power that they just did not possess right now.

That did not mean that she trusted Alenna. She wanted to believe that everything was on the up and up. It was possible that this was just a mutually beneficial arrangement for Yuri and Alenna, but from where Willow’s perspective, it seemed like it helped Yuri more than Alenna. She was not going to complain about Yuri getting assistance when they were all desperately trying to find a way to get him his place back, but she had to wonder why Alenna was supporting him when he was already out of power.

She did not get to think about Yuri’s predicament for too long before her solitude was disrupted by the arrival of Alenna. Willow could not think of a single time before now that she had been alone with Alenna and she could not think of a reason for that to change now.

“You know,” Alenna began, “I don’t think we’ve had a chance to talk, Willow.”

That innocent sounding statement put Willow on high alert. As far as she knew, Alenna had no reason to talk to her. She was just a tag along on this trip. Yuri was the one of political significance. Willow knew she had nothing to contribute when it came to being of use to anyone in this game.

“You’re right,” she agreed. “I don’t think we have talked one on one.”

“So, tell me about yourself. I want to know who you are, what your hopes and dreams are, your family, where you grew up. I want to know it all.”

“Why?”

“Well, why not? You’re the only enigma left on this ship. I can’t seem to figure you out on my own and I’m usually pretty good at figuring what makes people tick.”

“There’s really not that much to tell.” Willow shrugged and tried to play it cool while hiding how fast her heart was now racing. No one asked this sort of question unless they were looking for some very specific information. She hesitated to reveal anything when she did not know what might be used against her.

“Oh, there’s always something to tell,” Alenna insisted.

The pointed way she was looking at Willow told her that Alenna was not backing out of this anytime soon. The only option Willow had available to her was to answer. Even as she acknowledged it, she tried to come up with a way to at least delay answering. She wanted to be sure that Alenna knew that she would not be forced into doing anything that she was not ready or inclined to do.

She looked out over the side of the ship. The landscape had changed again. The ground was greener here and quite flat, although there were mountains on the horizon.

She was not too terribly impressed by this change. What caught her attention was the abundance of windmills peppering the plains. She wondered what they were for and why there were so many of them in this particular place.

With a sigh, she resigned herself to having a very awkward talk. It was not as though she had any reason to keep her history a secret. She was merely reticent about her past because Yuri seemed to avoid talking about it.

As far as she could tell, she would not be doing anything wrong by telling her the truth. She did not think that she was putting herself in danger by revealing the facts of her past to Alenna. This was just idle curiosity on her part.

“I’m not from here,” she explained as simply as possible. She swallowed hard. For some reason, revealing this was more difficult than she had any reason to think it should be. “I’m from the other world. I never thought I would be here at all. I never even knew this world existed before a month or two ago.”

“Is that so?” Alenna asked. She looked into Willow’s eyes and seemed to be genuinely interested in what she had to say.

Willow nodded.

“So who are you really?”

She shrugged. She knew she needed to say something. At this point, she had just added more questions to the massive pile at her feet already.

“Well, I’m just me. I’m mostly ordinary.”

“Only mostly?” Alenna asked teasingly.

Willow shrugged again.

Alenna jumped back in and continued her line of questioning. “Where do you fit into the puzzle though? I’m having trouble seeing it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Yuri should be the duke, but he’s lost his inheritance. Asa is the faithful soldier. Who are you?”

She brought up a good point and managed to bring a sort of soul-crushing terror to the pit of Willow’s stomach. Of course, she knew her own name, she knew her family and what she used to do, but so much had changed lately, and now that she was in a completely different world she wondered who she was in the grand scheme of things here.

She had no family here. In this place, she was not someone’s daughter or niece. She was the first and only member of her family tree. She did not even have any possession to her name that could add context to her existence. All she had in this place was her connection to Yuri and if she stretched beyond what she was comfortable even thinking about, she still had her spiritual powers. If at all possible she thought she would be better off keeping those skills as much of a secret as possible.

She felt Alenna watching her. She tried her best not to get flustered. She just kept her eyes on the windmills as they flew over them. The view was oddly soothing and boosted her confidence.

It did not change the fact that she was in a conversation that she did not know how to escape. She doubted there was a way out of it. She could not leave the ship and Alenna could follow her or find her again at any time and press her on the issue.

“I’m Yuri’s friend. I helped him get home again.”

The amused sparkle was back in Alenna’s eyes. Willow knew this was likely to happen when she gave in and played along with her game. She could feel herself getting dragged into some sort of scheme and she was helpless to stop it. She only hoped that Alenna would take as much interest in helping Yuri as she seemed to take in asking uncomfortable questions.

“It doesn’t seem to me that you’re just Yuri’s friend.”

“Okay. So maybe we’re more than friends now, but that’s a fairly new development and we’re not exactly going around and announcing it to the world.”

“Oh, that part was obvious and not at all what I’m talking about. I’m talking about your purpose. There’s a reason you’re here and getting mixed up in all of this and it’s not just because Yuri is fond of your face.”

“What is it then? You seem to know more about this than me,” Willow said sharply. She knew this was just the sort of thing that Yuri did not want her to do. He always tried to distract or console her when Alenna seemed to be getting to her. Now there was no one to intervene and Willow was on her own to face Alenna’s antics.

If Alenna noticed she was being short with her, she did not let her know. It was impossible not to find the sort of questions she asked combined with the way she always looked smug at the answers infuriating. Willow believed she was not the first person to be pushed past the limit of her patience by this woman.

Alenna was too busy being amused to give Willow any sort of answer she wanted to hear. Willow felt her temper flaring. Once it started there was little she could do to stop it until it ran its course. Fortunately, this time she was fine with letting her temper loose. It might actually teach Alenna a lesson that everyone else seemed to be afraid to teach her. She needed to know that she could not go around poking people and not expect to eventually wake a sleeping bear.

She glared daggers at Alenna and took a step forward. “Who do you think you are to be questioning my purpose? Why do I even need a purpose? I have a right to exist, you know.”

Alenna took half a step back, but bumped into the railing and could not progress any further away. Willow did not mind. She relished turning the tables on Alenna. She knew this made her at least as bad as Alenna, but at this point, she did not care.

After all, she knew she was essentially dead weight here. Alenna knew it too so she should not count anything that Willow did or said against people that actually served a purpose and could be of some use to her.

Alenna’s eyes were wide and terrified for just a second. Then she seemed to take a breath and get a hold of herself again. The sparkle in her eyes came back and the mischievous grin returned.

Of course, the return of that expression did nothing to alleviate Willow’ temper. She clenched her hands into fists at her sides and did her best to keep herself from shaking. She knew her temper was getting more out of control and she was starting to lose her grip. That would not do. She wanted to teach Alenna a lesson, not to have a complete meltdown.

“Interesting,” Alenna said in a voice that was barely audible over the sound of the wind rushing by.

That one word was enough to divert Willow’s attention slightly. She felt her grip on her own emotions start to firm up again. She had a focal point and even if she did not have any less rage and frustration pent up inside, at least she once again had a way to direct it.

“What’s interesting?” she growled through gritted teeth.

“I think I know why you’re here. I would never have guessed, but you’re definitely a piece that fits in this puzzle.”

“Why don’t you ever just come out and say what you mean? Why is everything a cryptic game with you?”

“You’re a unique power, aren’t you?” Alenna asked although she did not seem to expect an answer.

She reached out and touched Willow’s arm. Her fingers snapped back as an electric shock that reverberated through Willow’s arm as well.

“You’re strong, but it’s like no one ever taught you how to reign it in. How could you possibly build up your strength to such a point without being a danger to everyone around you?”

Willow winced. This was not what she had in mind at all. She wanted to put Alenna on edge, and while she might have succeeded for a short while, now it seemed she was back to pushing Willow’s buttons.

She hated to admit it, but she needed to back down. Going further was out of the question. Alenna would win once again.

“It was never an issue. I never knew I could hurt people. I thought I was protecting them.” Willow could not meet Alenna’s eyes as she spoke. She had avoided thinking about it as much as possible since she learned the truth, but there was no escape now. She was staring at her own mistakes and trying to come to terms with the harm she was now aware she had done. It was a lot to take in, particularly with Alenna watching her every move.

Alenna paused, Willow was grateful for that, but then she jumped back in and continued to grind her heel into an open wound. “I’m sure you realize by now that your abilities could be a powerful weapon. Perhaps that’s your place in this scheme.”

“I am not a weapon,” she insisted through gritted teeth. “I’m here because Yuri and Asa are important to me. I’m not being used by them or by anyone.”

“Okay. You sound pretty sure about that.”

“I am.” Willow managed to look up and leveled Alenna with a glare formed of a concentration of all of her pent up rage and frustration at her impotence in this situation.

Showing off her ability to keep a cool head and unnerving congeniality in any situation, Alenna smiled back at her. “I really do hope you’re right.”

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