It occurred to him only momentarily to wonder whether she was lying, but as soon as the thought crossed his mind, he knew she had told the truth.  The Aechyed girl could have very well been his sister; there was, after all, no reason to think she was not, aside from the incredible coincidence of the matter.  Seymour had been orphaned when he was only an infant, so it was quite possible that he had a whole host of relatives that he knew nothing about.

       This quick succession of thoughts passed through his head within a fraction of a second, shortly followed with a sudden sense of injustice.  She was forcing him to make a painful decision.  Either she would prey on Seoc--of whom, he had to admit, he had grown a bit fond--probably draining him within an inch of his life, or she would feed on Marka, kill her, the sister that he had never really known, but still, she was his flesh and blood.  All of this in payment for assistance that he had never actually requested.  He opened his mouth to protest, recalled that this was a goddess--or was that the correct title?--that he was speaking to, and closed it again.
         "Well, then," she interrupted, cutting into his thoughts.  "What say you, Seymour de Winter?"
         He made as if to answer, but his breath caught suddenly in a quiet sob, and he covered his face behind his great, webbed hands.  At this, Moriba's face twisted into an expression of glee.  
        "Dessert before supper," she squealed, clapping her hands together in joy.  "What fun!"
         He couldn't stand it.  He tried to hold it back, as he had managed to do for years, but this last jab splashed into the reservoirs of emotion that had accumulated behind his eyes and caused them to overflow.  Images and thoughts began to flash before him, each stabbing into him like a short, sharp knife.  There went Lord Henry, screaming abuse at him, sword drawn.  Next came the shame he felt for spying upon Seoc this morning.  He remembered, with sudden clarity, the boat in the ocean of blood, and the skull that had bobbed to the surface beside his oar.  He remembered the plague that had swept through Brysail when he was sixteen, the disease that killed his adoptive parents and every friend he had ever had.   And he went on weeping silently, trying to hide it from this new tormenter.  His efforts were unsuccessful.
        Moriba was enjoying herself immensely.  Boring her pupil-less blue eyes deep into Seymour's consciousness, she watched as the memories burned him.  At one point, she reached down to his face once more, pulling his hands aside and touching him just below the left eye, diverting the stream of saltwater onto her pale, slender, frigid finger.  Powerless to stop her, he watched in misery as she brought her dampened digit to her mouth and tasted it.  A smile of satisfaction stole across her crimson lips, pleased to detect the flavors of agony in his tears.
         "Now," she began quietly.  "How do you decide, young one?"
        He took a deep breath, trying stem the flow of tears.  "Sh-Seoc," he choked reluctantly.  "Take Seoc."
         She grinned now, cunningly.  "Yessss.  Good.  You are not a coward, Seymour de Winter.  I don't much like cowards."
          Glad to please you, he thought to himself, but he said nothing aloud.

The End

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