Saturday, April 15, 2017

Chapter 18, Into the Afterlife

***WARNING!!! My stories often contain strong language, sensitive issues, and, at times, other content that could be construed as offensive. Beliefs and viewpoints of characters are not necessarily the beliefs and viewpoints the Author holds in true life.***

Robin's POV

There was nothing in the world like holding my Alina. She was soft and warm, melting into my arms with unquestionable trust and love. She smelled of lilacs and the spices she used to prepare the delicious dishes she so loved to cook. Her exquisite hair lay softly against my cheek and I loved caressing the silky strands. When Alina was in my arms, all was right with the world. She was a living, breathing Alina during those times. Now, however, only Aliina's body remained. In this condition she couldn't smile or whisper my name. She couldn't hold me as I was holding her now. My Alina was no longer in the world with me.

"She's gone." My voice cracked as grief held me in its monstrous grip.

"Yes," Mathilda said. Mathilda's eyes usually showed nothing but wisdom and cool observance, but now, they showed pain and deep sorrow, which she didn't seem to attempt to hide. Mathilda was a Goddess and the most powerful witch in the universe, but she was also a mother who had just watched her daughter die.

I briefly glanced at Aunt Lenora and Aurora, who were both dabbing at their eyes. With their empathic abilities, I was certain they'd felt her go. I wondered what it was like to feel someone die. All I knew was that with the death of Alina, my heart died, too.

As with her first death, the urge to speak aloud to her overwhelmed me. Alina told me she heard me last time and specifically asked me to remind her of our life together. "I heard you and that kept me close to you," she'd said. I would do what I needed to do and fulfill all the promises she asked of me. Not only that, I would bring her back or die trying.

I steeled myself, fighting for composure. "Listen to me, Alina. You can hear me. I know you can. You said so, remember?" I kissed her forehead and ran my thumb over her cheek. "Do you remember the first time we met and how I hired you to cook dinner for my mother? I thought you were the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. You were so sweet and innocent, and I lost my heart to you. I had never met anyone like you, Alina. To this day, you are, to me, the most uniquely beautiful and talented person I have ever known."

As I spoke, everything else melted into the background. I focused with all my might to make Alina hear me. "Not only are you beautiful and talented, but you are so brave. I know you don't think of yourself that way, my Alina, but it's true. Not everyone could travel to a strange time and do as well as you've done. And to want to lift this curse knowing you would die..." My arms tightened around her body and I ducked my head as more tears trickled down my cheeks. "You have so much courage, Alina."

I lavished little kisses over her face, then softly kissed her lips. "Just as I promised, Alina. I kissed you while you are sleeping. Did you feel it, love? I'm still right here but I'm coming for you. You must come back to me. We have so much more to do together. I need you, Alina, for I am incomplete without you. Come back to me, sweetheart. I love you beyond anything, and I promise I will bend over backward to show you every day." Grief and despair squeezed my heart, and I groaned from the depths of my injured soul. "I love you, Alina." I punctuated each word with more soft kisses over her still face.

I don't know how long I talked to Alina, telling her of our wedding and honeymoon. I reminded her of happy days we spent fooling around in our rumpus room. I talked of how she loved inviting our friends and family over for dinner and how she loved being the Lady of the Manor. I reminded her that she would always be my queen and how everyone else paled in comparison to her. "And you know what, Alina? I'm going to hire Aurora to paint your portrait and we'll put it anywhere you want. It'll be just like how the nobles did it in your time. It's've got to come back to me so we can do that and everything else we want to do."

I jumped when I felt a hand on my shoulder. My arms instinctively tightened around Alina, and my head snapped up to see who was near us. "It's just me, Robin. It's time, dear. Put Alina on the bed and get yourself next to her just like last time."

I did as Mathilda said, giving my Alina another loving kiss before straightening up. "I'm coming, Alina. Just hold on. I'm coming." I slid onto the bed next to my wife, and Aunt Lenora and Aurora helped to position her so she lay snuggled in my arms.

"Thank you," I whispered to them, closing my eyes in sorrow and leaning my cheek against Alina's head.

"There's no need, darling," Aunt Lenora said softly. "She will feel comforted with your arms around her as she comes back. The physical contact is important."

"I'd feel that way if it were me. I'd want Silvan to be holding me the entire time," Aurora said. "And don't worry. I'll paint that portrait for free and do a damned good job at it. All of you coming back safe and sound from this is payment enough."

I tried to muster at least a weak smile but I don't think I managed it. My heart was too broken. When they leaned over to kiss my cheek and rub my shoulder briefly, I knew they understood.

"Are you ready, Robin?" Mathilda asked.

"More than ready," I replied. "I need her back with me."

The next instant, everything went black and I felt myself float away. When next I opened my eyes, I found myself on a beautiful, familiar beach. Although it was peaceful and lovely, I'd hoped to not see it again for a very long time.

I was about to form Alina's name on my lips when I heard Silvan speak to me from behind me. "Ah, there ye are. Now then, let us lift this curse, shall we?"

"Do you just touch me? Then, I pass it on to Alina when I see her? Sounds simple enough," I said. 

"The long and short of it is yes," Silvan said. He waved a hand and spoke in some language I could not pinpoint. Then, he clapped me on the shoulder. "It is a dark curse but a subtle one. The countercurse, too, is subtle, and neither ye nor Alina will feel differently once it is removed. Once we all are back, I'll be able to see the results when I look at Alina's aura. I will leave ye now, for my work here is done. Liam and I will wait for ye and Alina in the physical world. Now, go get your lady. Ye will see her just there." Silvan pointed and I didn't have to be told twice.

"Thank you. We owe you a life," I said.

Silvan just shrugged. I saluted him and then took off up the beach.

Alina's POV

I knew where I was the instant I opened my eyes. I was back on the lovely beach I'd been to the first time I died. This time, there was nobody there to greet me, but I knew I was being watched. I felt Ariadne's presence and that of another benevolent being. "I do not know who is there, but I beseech thy benevolent grace and protection. Please help my Robin to find me and help us lift this unnatural, unholy curse that has befallen me. Please watch over us and guide us safely home."

A warm, gentle breeze lifted my hair as if in answer to my plea. Something ethereal touched my cheek and a sense of peace and well-being settled over me. As Grandma Rose had told me last time I was here, I listened for the music in the wind and the waves. I also listened for my Robin, calling out to him from my soul.

Oh, Alina...Alina...

"Och, he weeps!" I said aloud, clapping a hand over my heart. "My poor Robin."

I heard everything he said, my heart breaking the more I listened. I wished there was something I could do to comfort him, to let him know I heard and would come back to him. 

"He loves you, Alina," came Ariadne's disembodied voice. 

"I know. It just hurts me to hear him in such pain. I heartily wish to never bring him this kind of pain again," I replied.

"Your mother is ready to help you with that. Speak to her once this is all over," said Ariadne's voice. 

I had asked very little of my mother, especially in regards to the kind of magic to extend someone's life. She was very guarded, as she should be, in that area. For someone to be given even a taste of that magic, it must be earned. I am only a mere speck in the world, having done nothing to warrant such a gift. However, perhaps there might be just a little something Mother could do so Robin wouldn't have to watch me die for a very long time. For the sake of my Robin's well-being, I would brave the waters and speak with Mother about it. 

But then, I took in the full measure of Ariadne's statement. "Your mother is ready to help you with that." Could Mother be one step ahead of me already? The answer was a resounding yes, for Mother was always several steps or more ahead of everyone.

Goosebumps erupted on my arms and I hugged myself as Ariadne's voice came to me again. "You are vastly important to all the universes and all the worlds. You do not realize it yet but you are more important than you know."

"It is Lenora who is important and Aurora, too," I whispered. I'd had this sort of conversation before in the spirit world, but now, it was with Ariadne this time. 

"They are important, but so are you, Alina. You will realize this in very short order," Ariadne's voice whispered in my ear. "But now, your beloved is coming for you, so I will leave you for now. When you both are ready, I will see you safely back."

"Liam and Silvan...are they all right?" I asked.

"They are back and waiting for you and Robin to return. Now, turn around, for he is coming to you." With that, she was gone, and Robin was running toward me.

 I cried Robin's name joyously and flung myself into his arms. I kissed him long and hard with Robin returning it in full force. I clung to him and we kissed again and again for many long moments. When we came up for air, both of us were breathless.

I pulled back slightly to take his beloved face in my hands. "Oh, Robin! I heard everything...everything! I will never leave you again, never, never, never!"

"See that you don't, my Alina. I couldn't take it again," he whispered, pulling me fiercely into his arms. 

I sighed softly, completely relaxing within the circle of his arms. "It's so beautiful here, Robin. Part of me wishes we could just stay here."

"I know, love, but if we stayed, we'd die," he replied.

"I know, and it is not our time to go. We both still have work to do." I lifted my head from his shoulder, locking my gaze with his. "Robin, I need to tell you something."

"You can tell me anything, Alina. You know that."

I nodded and smiled. "I just hope we have enough time before we're pulled out of here. Remember how rushed we were last time?"

He was silent a moment and I knew he was contemplating his next words. "I think we'll be sent back at just the right moment. I think we'll have time to say what needs saying and then we'll be out of here You will come back with me, right?"

"Yes, of course!" I said without hesitation. "I promised, remember?"

"I remember. It's just that this place makes people want to stay." His arms tightened around me and he rubbed his cheek against my hair. 

Once again, I framed his face and looked into his eyes. "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried." Some time back, I'd read that quote from the Christian Bible and thought it beautiful. In the original context, it was spoken by Naomi to her mother-in-law Ruth after Ruth encouraged Naomi to return to her homeland after the death of her husband. Naomi refused, however, because she loved Ruth and was rewarded in the end. In the case of Robin and me, these words were a perfect fit.

Apparently, he thought so too, for he crushed me against him and buried his face in my hair. "Oh, my Alina! I adore you. Do you know that?"

"I think I figured that out a long time ago," I smiled. 

"Now, what did you want to tell me?" he asked.

I sobered instantly. "I had a little talk with Mother before Ariadne came. She told me that after we come back, I would have to face my greatest fear. Robin, there is a kind of magic I think I must attempt again, and I think it's needed in order to catch Flora. I-I'm just not sure where to start."

"Start from the beginning, sweetheart. That's always a good place," he said matter-of-factly.

I grinned despite the serious situation. "It's a kind of magic I have not tried since I was quite young, since before Mother sent me through time. She made me promise not to try it again, but..." I trailed off and shook my head. "Right. From the beginning."

I heaved a strengthening breath. "I don't think I need to explain the narrow mindedness and fear most people felt in the time I came from. True witches and people who were not witches were tried as witches and executed. I had to be very careful about when and where I practiced magic. Mother had since gained her immortality, but I could die."

Robin nodded and beckoned me to go on.

"I practiced in secret and was a fast learner. When Mother began teaching me more advanced magic, I discovered I had a talent for...well...bringing new things into existence. You see, it was more than simply conjuring an object I desired." 

"Mmm hmmm," Robin answered. 

"I could bring to life something from a picture and could even alter the reality around me to reflect a scene or place I saw in my mind. For example, I could paint a picture of a bird, summon that bird, and that bird would live...or was supposed to live."

"Supposed to?" he asked.

"It wasn't always successful," I sighed. "Even when it was, there were many times it was only a moderate success. Most of what I succeeded in bringing to life died shortly after. Many things I tried bringing into existence arrived...dead." I shivered and Robin's arms protectively came around me. "I had the means to make it happen but something was lacking that I needed to make it stick."

Robin whistled long and low. "I read a story once about something like that. This kid wanted a puppy he'd seen on TV and tried to 'bring' him, but he was dead when he arrived."

I nodded sadly. "Exactly. Well, the same kind of thing happened when I'd try to shift reality. One day, I was thinking about how I wanted to sit by this beautiful lake I'd dreamed about and how I wanted it to be my secret place. The next thing I knew, our back garden was transformed into that very lake, and I thought I was in Heaven. It went well for all of five minutes but then, it started to break up."

"And then, you were stuck with just your back garden again," Robin stated.

"Not exactly. It didn't just change back. When I summoned the lake, I actually summoned the lake and everything in it. When it broke up, it lost its consistency and form. The cool, clear water turned rancid and flooded our back garden. Dead fish and animals floated atop the mess, and everything stank of sewage and waste."

"Oh man!" Robin said. 

"Yes," I said, wrinkling my nose as though the stench was still in my nostrils. "I tried to repair the damage to no avail. I completely lost my head as it got worse and worse. I ran to Mother, crying and screaming, then lost the contents of my stomach right at her feet. Mother, of course, was able to put things right immediately, but I got a huge lecture about using magic I could not control."

"Not to mention, there were prying eyes, I'm sure," Robin said dryly.

"I nodded. "Mother warned me that if I got caught, there would be dire consequences. I was still rather young so I didn't fully understand just how grave things could have gotten. Anyway, I didn't try anything like that for a long, long time. About a year went by and I'd learned quite a lot during that time. I felt I could try again, so I painted a picture of a little kitten and planned to summon him to life as a present for Mother. I'd done a good job on the picture, making the kitten as lifelike as I could. You see, the more vivid a picture is whether it's on canvas, in a book, or just in my mind, the more successful the outcome should be."

"Should," Robin said. "Let me guess. You summoned the kitten but he was not all right."

I shook my head, blinking back sudden tears. "He lived for about half an hour. Something was wrong with his heart, I think. Oh, Robin, he was so soft and warm, and he purred a little when I snuggled him gently. And then, he started to have difficulty breathing and his little heart was beating harder than it was supposed to. I was still holding him when he died, and I was inconsolable. I'd failed miserably and was the cause of that poor creature's suffering."

"Oh, Alina, I'm sorry," Robin whispered. He stroked my hair and brought my fingers to his lips to kiss them softly. 

"Me, too" I squeaked. "I rocked him for a long time afterward and kept telling him how sorry I was and that I didn't mean to hurt him. His fur was wet with my tears by the time I buried him. I didn't say anything to my mother but I think she had at least some idea of what happened. The next day, there were some fresh flowers on his grave. I didn't put them there, so I gathered Mother had. She never said anything to me about it though and I never said anything to her."

"That wasn't the end of it, was it?" Robin asked.

I shook my head, shivered, and burrowed further into Robin's arms. He held me close and softly urged me to tell him the rest. "As you know, Mother married and her husband Philip became my second father. They had a son together, and I was so happy to have a little brother. Lance was all smiles and giggles, and oh, how I loved him! We were all happy, and Philip was very understanding and supportive of our magic. He was a rarity in that time. But then..."

"But then, Lance and Philip got small pox and died," Robin said.

I nodded and felt a tear roll down my cheek, which Robin brushed away. "I was devastated and I'd never seen Mother so sad. So, one day, I decided to try to bring Philip back. I thought if it worked on Philip, I could easily bring Lance back. I pictured Philip in my mind, focusing on what a kind, gentle, and happy man he was. I concentrated on the best of times with him, telling myself that he was alive and that he should be here. It went horribly wrong though. The smell..." I gulped and closed my eyes. "What I summoned was Philip's remains, having ripped his grave wide open. I screamed until my throat was raw and then screamed some more. I think I must have swooned, for the next thing I knew, Mother was shaking me roughly."

"Mother of Ariadne! What happened?" Robin asked, looking visibly shaken.

"I came to and must have looked at Mother as if she had three heads. She told me that she reburied poor Philip and that I must never, ever do that kind of magic again. First of all, this kind of magic wasn't meant to resurrect the dead. Had Philip been resurrected, there would have been talk and I would be in danger. Secondly, she'd figured out why I couldn't get this magic to work correctly. You see, Robin, there is some magic that is incompatible with certain times or worlds. I had been trying to practice a type of magic that was not yet ready to be born. Mother said that if I continued it, not only would it put me in danger of being discovered but that the magic, itself, could rebound and harm me. She made me vow never, ever to attempt it again. I kept that vow, but then, she released me from that promise shortly before I took the potion. After mulling it over, I think she released me from my promise because she must feel it would work now and that it will help us catch Flora."

"How so?" Robin asked.

"Because part of that magic is a compulsion spell. I can picture Flora and compel her to come. I could then shift reality to create a force field that she would not be able to escape from. Sure, Mother could do it herself but after what happened, she knew I was frightened of attempting that kind of magic. She told me I must conquer that fear if I am to grow as a witch."

"If you are successful this time, it will break some kind of barrier that has been stifling you?" Robin asked.

I nodded and smiled weakly. "I love how you just...have me."

For the first time since we'd been here, Robin chuckled. "I think you mean get, not have." He kissed the tip of my nose, which made me giggle. "I get you, Alina, because we are two that became one when we got married. And your mother is right. You must conquer this hurtle not only to strengthen your magic but also to give you what you need to deal with Flora. It was you she hurt and by magical law and our Code of Honor, you are entitled to get in some licks. I think the final judgment will come from Fae law but you have the rights to a proverbial pound of flesh."

"Then, Carson and Ella should be there when I compel Flora," I said firmly.

"Agreed," Robin said, then kissed me tenderly. "Are you ready to go back now, Alina? I think our time here is almost up. I can feel it."

"I'm ready, my Robin. I love you so." I held him tightly as I began to feel the pull back to the physical world.

"I love you, too, my Alina. Always know that," Robin whispered. 

The next instant, I felt Robin's lips on mine. He gave me a long, loving kiss and then called my name in a desperate voice. "Alina! Come back to me, my Alina. Please come back, love. Please, Alina, breathe!'

I took in a great lungful of air, coughing weakly as I exhaled. 

"That's it, sweetheart! I'm here. I'm here and I have you. That's it, Alina. Breathe for me."

I felt my breathing stabilize, and my eyes fluttered. "R-Robin?" I whispered as I began to see him clearly.

"Oh, Alina, I'm here and so are you." He kissed my cheeks, my forehead, my eyes, and finally my lips. "Oh, thank you, Ariadne, for sending her back to me. Oh, thank you...thank you." His voice shook with emotion and I saw the glimmer of tears in his eyes.

"Cannot rid yourself of me that easily," I said, giving his arm a weak, playful punch. 

"And I wouldn't want to," he whispered into my hair. "How do you feel, love?"

"Just a little weak...but I think I will live," I quipped.

"Very funny, Alina. You're a regular Joan Rivers," Aurora said dryly. I could see she'd been crying, her and Lenora both, but they and my mother were smiling.

"Who is Joan Rivers?" I asked.

"A comedienne, lass," Silvan grinned. 

I blinked. My lips formed a slow but wide smile as I saw Silvan and Liam standing near the bed. "You both are all right? Silvan, did it work?"

"Aye and aye, lass," Silvan said, his grin widening. "Dinnae fash now. All is well and your aura has never looked healthier. I surmise that by this time next month, ye'll be with child. That is, if ye and Robin get busy, ye ken." He waggled his eyebrows at us, Robin snorted, my face turned scarlet, and I dissolved into helpless giggles.

"Silvan, ye idiot," Aurora laughed and swatted at him. "What would your mother say?"

"She'd just roll her eyes heavenward and mutter, 'What hath I wrought?'" Silvan's blue eyes twinkled with merriment. It was nice to share a lighthearted interlude with people I loved before we got down to doing something so serious. 

I felt my strength returning quickly and sighed in relief. I hated being ill, and frankly, I didn't have time for that now. "I'm glad I'm not ill like I was last time."

"You are in much better physical, mental, and emotional shape, child," Mother said, leaning over to kiss my cheek and then Robin's. "That makes a big difference."

"Thank goodness," I said. "We have a lot we must do. Mother, I-I know what I must do." I locked gazes with her, and we shared a meaningful look. 

"Very well then. When you are ready..."

"Tonight. We do it tonight," I said with determination. "Flora's reign of terror ends this night."

Author's Note: Thank you to Blamsart for making me some special poses I requested.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Chapter 17, Kiss Me While I Sleep

***WARNING!!! My stories often contain strong language, sensitive issues, and, at times, other content that could be construed as offensive. Beliefs and viewpoints of characters are not necessarily the beliefs and viewpoints the Author holds in true life.***

Mother wasted no time in contacting Lenora, who agreed to come at once. Mother explained the situation to her over the phone and when Lenora arrived, I could see she'd been crying. I pulled her in for a tight hug, rubbing her back in a sisterly fashion. "Oh, Lenora! Don't cry. Please don't." I was what Mother called a sympathy crier, so seeing how upset Lenora was made my own eyes well up.

"Alina, ye poor dear! Ye and Robin have been through so much already. I feel partially responsible for this. It was me ye were so upset about, and that contributed to the mistake ye made with your potions. I'll do what I can to make it right." She gave me a firm squeeze, then pulled back to kiss my cheek.

We both dried our eyes at the same time, and I smiled weakly at the gesture. Lenora was the sister I had always wanted, and we were so close that our movements often mirrored the other's. My smile coaxed a small one from her and I reached out to hug her again. "You are not to blame in the slightest. You were taken against your will and had no control over what happened. I'm just so thankful I have my beautiful sister back; that was all I wanted. I'm so glad you're here now, Lenora. I know beyond anything that Robin will come for me, but I am a little frightened all the same. This is a vexing situation."

"I know sweetheart. Just think about what the end result will be and that will keep ye going. We'll fix this, Alina. We will."

I was about to reply when goosebumps arose on my skin. A breeze originating from seemingly nowhere ruffled my hair. In the spot next to my mother where nobody stood one moment ago was now occupied by an enchantingly beautiful woman I thought never to meet. Instantly, I sank to one knee and bowed my head, touching my forehead to my other knee. Hearing movements near me, I sensed the others, save Mother, were doing the same.

"May I present Ariadne Dreamweaver, Mistress of Dreams and Exultant High Goddess of All Witches," Mother said in her strong, clear voice.

"You may all rise." I had never heard Ariadne's voice before and didn't know what to expect. What came from her sounded like all the songs of Heaven combined into one exquisitely harmonious symphony that left me longing to hear more. Her voice was filled to overflowing with warmth and love that tears immediately sprang to my eyes.

"She is so beautiful," I whispered, clutching Robin's hand and climbing to my feet.

"As are you, my dear." Ariadne embraced me and then placed a motherly kiss on my forehead. "Your courage and bravery are to be commended. To undertake such a daunting task regardless of the possible dangers is admirable. You most certainly are your mother's daughter."

"Oh my gracious!" I gasped, feeling my cheeks flame. "I-I do not know what to say at such high praise. My mother is...well, there is no one like her."

"Simply say, 'Thank you, Ariadne,'" the goddess said, mirth lighting up her eyes.

"Thank you, Ariadne," I managed.

"Now that wasn't so hard, was it?" she asked, tinkling melody all but dripping from that magnificent voice.

I chuckled and grinned dazedly. ", it wasn't. I knew you would be lovely but I didn't expect you to be so...loving. I mean, I have heard stories, but..." I blushed, fearing I sounded like an utter fool.

"Wait until you see me on a bad day You might change your mind." Laughter lit up her face even more, if that were even possible. Then, she became serious and studied me. "Your mother is, indeed, an extraordinarily unique person and is my best friend in all the worlds. I value her judgement in many, many things, for she is a goddess second only to me. You have made her proud, this I know to be true. All of you have, and so, that makes me proud and very willing to assist you in this mission. What has been done here is a travesty and is certainly a blatant disregard to the code of conduct in which I have helped to lay the foundation of as soon as time began. Now, I shall greet everyone in turn and then, we will get down to business."

Everyone was treated to a warm embrace and loving words from Ariadne. When everyone got ample time with her, she turned to bestow a benevolent smile on all of us. "I have told Mathilda this many times and now, I am saying it to all of you. I genuinely have a soft spot for this family, and from here on out, you may feel free to summon me if you are in need of me. I will be visiting all of you individually, for there are a lot of things to say and rewards to reap. For now, let us cross this great hurtle that now stands in the way of Robin and Alina, yes?"

We all nodded and Ariadne continued. "I will go to the spirit world and clear the way for Liam and Silvan's arrival. Just to add some extra protection, I have called upon Kai to lend his aid. The more assistance we can take advantage of, the better off we will be."

I saw Lenora smile and I guessed she was thinking about the time Kai came to her while she was held captive. Her next words confirmed it. "Tyrone will be sorry he missed seeing Kai again."

"Kai will pay him a visit later, dear Lenora. Do not worry," Ariadne replied. "After all, you know he, too, has a soft spot for your family and for you."

She grinned and waved her hand, which signaled Ariadne to go on. "Right. Now then, Mathilda will know when it is safe to signal Liam to take Silvan."

Aurora gulped and hugged Silvan's arm. "Come back to me, Silvan. I need ye and so does Tara."

Lenora was hugging Liam as if he would disappear the next second. "Don't ye get lost, Grandda. I would not want to lose ye again."

"They will both return. I will see to it," Ariadne said. "I will leave you now and look in on you later. Mathilda will take over from here and I will see to things in the spirit realm. Blessings to you all and may the light of victory be with you this night."

With that, she was gone. Mother was all business as she began her instructions. "It is best we do this in one of the larger bedrooms so Lenora, Aurora, and I will have ample space to move as we need. Robin, it's going to be like last time. Alina will have passed by the time I ask you to place her on the bed. Alina, as soon as we're situated, I'll give you the potion to stop your life processes. It will take a few minutes to activate. I'm sorry, child, but you're going to feel rather ill as it moves through your system. Remember, we are trying to recreate the original circumstances as accurately as possible."

"I...I need to hold her. I need to hold her she won't be afraid when..." Robin swayed slightly, his complexion a sick, milky color. Now that this was upon us, the reality of our situation was settling in.

I slid my arms around his waist and lay my head against his chest, listening to the strong, steady beating of his heart. "I will come back with you. I promised, remember?" I whispered. It filled me with sorrow to see him so unnerved.

He wrapped me in a fierce embrace, his breath tickling my ear as he whispered to me. He kept saying, "I love you, Alina," repeating it again and again, and it broke my heart. It took a lot to shake my Robin, this I knew, but witnessing my death and having to do it again brought him to the very edge. Once this night was over, I hoped we would be very old before one of us would have to watch the other die again.

Solemnly and silently, we climbed the stairs and entered a large second floor bedroom. Mother fished in her beg and brought out a shimmery black potion that looked like the very death it held. Putting it on one of the bedside tables, she said, "You'll drink this five minutes after Liam leaves with Silvan."

I smiled weakly at Mother. "It will be worth it in the end. I reckon this is a good time to pluck up as much courage as I can." I sighed and situated myself in Robin's arms. "Promise me one thing, my love."

"Anything, Alina. You just name it," Robin said fervently.

I heard a soft swoosh and knew that Liam had left with Silvan. Five minutes from now, I would be at death's door. "After I am gone...after it happens, talk to me as you did last time. I heard you and that kept me close to you. Tell me of our life together and remind me of what we mean to each other."

"I promise! Oh, Alina, I promise." His voice cracked, and I knew he was fighting back a sob.

"And Robin?"

"What, love?" he whispered into my hair.

"After I've gone and before you come to me...kiss me while I sleep. Wilt thou do that for me, Milord?"

He couldn't hold back the sob this time. His chest heaved and when he replied, "I will," his voice was barely a whisper.

It was the longest five minutes I had ever experienced, and I surmised that Robin felt the same. I remained in his arms, both trying to give and receive comfort. We both jumped when Mother said softly, "It's time, sweetheart. You need to drink the potion now."

I picked up the bottle of black death, willing my hand to remain steady. "Well, down the hutch," I said, offering a tremulous smile.

Another sob seized Robin, and I saw the glimmering tracks of tears as they traced their way down his cheeks. "Oh, Alina! It's hatch...not hutch."

"Well, bugger all," I chuckled softly while brushing the tears from my Robin's cheeks. "Mayhap one day, I'll get these things correct."

I kissed Robin, looked into bis eyes, and raised the vial. "Here is hoping it tastes better than it looks." I upended it and threw back the contents like an expert whiskey drinker, wrinkling my nose as it traveled down to my stomach. "Correction. It tastes worse than it looks."

Almost immediately, I began to feel it starting to work. The room spun about me, my lungs seized up, and I grew terribly weak. My knees gave way and Robin had to support all my weight.

Robin's POV

"I've got you, Alina. I won't let you fall. I've got you." Helplessness crashed over me as I clutched my Alina close. I wanted to howl at the moon, to ask why this was happening again. My worst nightmare was coming to pass yet again right before my eyes. Alina was dying in front of me.

"I know. You have never let me fall," she whispered in between shallow breaths. She always had such unshakable faith in me. Even now as her life ebbed away, it was unwavering.

I kissed her softly and then brushed her beautiful hair from the angelic face I loved so desperately. "Do you know how much I love you?"

"Yes...but tell me...again," she rasped. "I...never tire...of hearing it."

"I love you to the farthest reaches of the universe and back again, Alina. Every beat of my heart is for you. Every breath I take is because of you, my Alina. I love you from a piece of my soul I never knew existed until the first time I laid eyes on you. You are my beautiful Alina, and no matter what happens, you always will be. If I lose you, I will lose the biggest part of myself."

"Such lovely words. How fortunate I am, for not even my wildest of imaginings could have ever dreamed up the happiness and love I feel for you." The effort it took her to voice these words so strongly taxed her. She was now gasping for every breath and fighting to remain conscious. "It' talk, Robin. i-I' tired."

"Then don't talk, love. I can gibber-jabber enough for the both of us." I caressed her cheek and kissed her eyes closed. "Hush now and rest your head."

"We will have...a good life together," she whispered. With a soft, fluttering sigh, she put her head against my chest.

"Oh, Alina! We already have a good life together," I said through a tight throat. Her life was now only the barest of a wisp.

"Then...we will have...a better one...when all of done."

"Shhh, Alina. Don't talk anymore," I pleaded. To see her struggling so just to breathe nearly undid me. I wanted to shout, to curse, to demand the sky to open and take me instead of the most beautiful, precious person who ever lived.

She didn't talk anymore. Instead, her hands twitched, and she breathed out one final sigh. Alina's life slipped away with that last expulsion of air, and I, once again, held her lifeless form. Once again, she left me and once again, my heart was torn to shreds from the unbearable grief her absence meant. Great racking sobs engulfed me, and I felt the black cloud of despair ascend heavily on me "Oh, Alina...Alina!" I cried her name in desolation and waited for the world to implode and crush me.

Author's Note: Mentioned but not pictured is Kai, the Great Alpha Wolf. Thank you to Shafer249 for allowing me to use him and his offspring as my need for them arises.

Thank you to Blamsart for making me some special poses I requested.

Just as a little side note, I'm sorry about the clipping Alina's hair was doing in some of the pictures. I couldn't do anything about that short of putting a different hairstyle on her but I didn't want to do that. I tried to hide it as best I could, but not all of it could be avoided.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Chapter 16, Mother's Plan

***WARNING!!! My stories often contain strong language, sensitive issues, and, at times, other content that could be construed as offensive. Beliefs and viewpoints of characters are not necessarily the beliefs and viewpoints the Author holds in true life.***

I was drifting in a sea of soft voices. Familiar chanting voices were above me. Soft fingers moved over my hair and caressed my cheek. I was wrapped in a cocoon of love and well-being. Even drifting near the surface of wakefulness, I sensed my being surrounded by security and safety.

"Time to wake up, love," Robin's voice whispered near my ear.

The slightly shifting waters of sleep began to recede, replaced by the solidity of returning awareness. My eyes fluttered and I found myself looking into Robin's face under half lowered lashes. "Five more minutes, Robin. Just five more minutes," I said in a slurred, sleepy voice.

I sensed, more than I saw, him grin. Then, his lips were on mine and I was treated to the kind of kiss that would make any woman rise to full alertness. I wrapped my arms around his neck and returned his kiss with passion and yearning. "I knew that would get you up." Robin's voice was husky in my ear when our kiss ended.

"Oy! Get a room," Aurora said in mock annoyance, her sparkling eyes giving her away.

I blushed scarlet and Robin and I exchange a sheepish glance. "I reckon it's back to the business at hand," I said, tearing my gaze away from Robin and sitting up.

The humor departed from everyone just as quickly as it came. Somber faces looked back at me and I felt my stomach tighten into one huge knot? "What?" My voice sounded weak and frightened. I swallowed hard, trying to quell the mounting dread.

"It's just as I thought, lass. Ye are under a dark fairy curse that can only be broken by the fairy who cast it or someone knowledgeable in curse breaking." Silvan's verdict was concise. "It is the kind of curse that must be passed from one person to another by physical contact. Robin unknowingly carried it to ye when Flora cast it in the spirit realm."

"I saw it in the visions, Robin," Aurora said, putting a gentle hand on his arm. "As ye ran up the beach toward Alina, she cast it at your back. I'm so sorry."

Robin's expression went from concern to murderous in less than a heartbeat. He paced like a caught lion, muttering darkly. I'd never seen my Robin so angry but imagined it was how he looked when discovering a new ghastly case for his work. "When I get my hands on that scrawny bitch, I'm going to throttle her till I hear something snap!" he said through gritted teeth.

All I could do was stare in bewilderment. Thank Ariadne for Liam, who seemed to know what to do. "Calm down. laddie! This can be fixed. Both Mathilda and Silvan agree; this can be fixed. Ye do neither Alina nor yourself any good if ye go off half cocked."

"I swore I would never hurt Alina. I promised to always protect her...and now this." Robin came to me, fiercely pulled me into his arms, and buried his face in my hair. "Forgive me, Alina. I'm damned sorry."

I held him close for a long, long moment then cupped his handsome face in my hands. "There is nothing to forgive. It is not your fault. Had you not come for me, I would have stayed dead. You saved me, Robin. You came for me when everything was against you succeeding and you brought me back. What happened wasn't your fault, Robin. If I hadn't been mixing potions in the state I'd been in, none of this would have happened. If anyone is to blame, it's me for not being sensible enough to heed danger when I knew better."

"It's that cow Flora's fault and nobody else's. Everyone was broken up over Ma being presumed dead and nobody was thinking straight. Flora took advantage of that," Aurora said firmly. "What's important is getting it fixed and then dealing with Flora."

"But how can we fix this without Flora? She's the one who cast the curse," I replied, trying to get my dazed brain to take everything in.

"Like I said, the curse needs to be reversed by either the fairy who cast it or by someone knowledgeable in this area. Aurora's right. We can deal with Flora later, for we dinnae need her right now. I, myself, can reverse the curse," Silvan said.

"Really? How?" I asked.

Silvan shared a grim look with Mother, speaking slowly when he turned back to us. "As it happened in the spirit world, there must it be reversed."

" mean..." Robin said after a long hesitation.

"It means Alina must die again in order for her to enter the spirit world as she came last time," Mother replied. "It is the only way."

Robin's arms tightened further around me and I felt him shudder. "This can't be happening! I lost her once. What's to say I wouldn't lose her for good this time? How can we even think of letting her die again?"

"I understand how you feel, Robin. We were extremely fortunate to get you both back. I would never even suggest putting you or Alina through this again except for the fact that this time, everything would be controlled and planned to the very last detail. You see, if you and Alina agree to have this curse removed, it must happen in the spirit world. Alina must die again and you would have to be sent there to bring her back once again. Because Flora entered the spirit world as a living being, that is how Silvan must enter in order to lift the curse. There are two principal ways into the world of the spirits. The first is for one's physical body and spirit to separate. The second way and certainly the rare one is for a living person to enter, such as how Flora did it. Ariadne can do this easily, as can Kai and any other person of that rank. Lenora and Liam can easily do this, too, because they've died and come back. For Silvan to enter the spirit world, someone must take him there, as he does not have that ability to go there in living form," Mother explained.

"Then surely Alina and I could do that if we are taken there," Robin said.

Mother shook her head sadly. "I'm afraid not, Robin. You see, when you and Alina entered the spirit world, Alina had already passed. Your spirit separated from your body and that was how you entered. The curse was cast upon your spirit, not your living body, so to reverse it, the counter-curse must be cast upon your spirit so you can carry it to Alina's spirit. What I'm saying is that the circumstances must be recreated in order for this curse to be lifted."

I turned my head slightly so I could look at Mother over Robin's shoulder. "If that is so, then I would need to recreate the error I made whilst mixing potions. I do not recall the error plainly, so I don't think I could repeat the exact motions."

"That's all right, dear. I can give you something that would accomplish it. The important thing is that you get there due to death. Now, before anyone says anything else, let me explain how we can do this and bring everyone back safely. Afterward, you and Robin can decide if you want to go through with it. Silvan has agreed to perform the counter-curse with Liam escorting him there. Now, in most cases like this, I am not allowed to interfere directly. However, all bets were off the instant Flora broke the rules of conduct both for fairies and for living entities entering the world of the spirits. This means that I can fully assist as can Ariadne. What I plan to do is ask her to come here and see that the ways into and back from the spirit world remain accessible for as long as we need them. She would provide her protection from the spirit world while Lenora and Aurora helps me with you and Robin while you are out. Liam will escort Silvan to the spirit world first. Then, I will give you the potion to put you into full arrest .Meaning, you will die, Alina. Once that is done, I will send Robin. Once there, Silvan will perform the counter-curse on Robin, who will find you and make contact with you, which will remove the curse from you permanently. Any questions?"

"Just one," Robin said. "Are you sure, absolutely sure that nobody will be lost?"

"Yes, Robin. With both Ariadne and me able to fully assist, I guarantee that everyone will return safely. You have my word as a witch and a High Goddess." Mother looked him squarely in the eye, then smoothed my hair. "I would never allow Alina or any of you to do this if I thought otherwise."

I looked up at my Robin and melted back into his arms. Then, I lay my head on his shoulder and uttered a deep, contemplative sigh. "I will always feel tainted somehow if I continue to carry this curse. I'll do what I must do to make it go away. Oh, my Robin, I hope you can understand how I feel. I know you were in deep sorrow to see me dead and I never want to see you in such a state again. But...but I feel we must do this or I will never have complete peace."

"My Alina..." He said my name with such love and passion that my knees nearly came unhinged. I clutched him tightly and he held me as if to keep me from being snatched away by a malevolent storm. "As much as I want to balk and argue, I do understand. If things remain as they are, she wins and we can't have that. I completely trust your mother's judgment and this is important to you, so that makes it important to me." He shifted slightly so he could take my face between his palms. "You just promise me you'll come back with me. I can't live without you, Alina."

"I promise with all my heart," I whispered. "I'll go anywhere thou sayest without question."

"All right then. Let's do it. I just have one other question, Mathilda. Why would Flora want to curse Alina?" Robin asked.

"She did it because of me, dear. She has a personal vendetta against me, which I will tell you all about afterward. For now. let's deal with the task at hand and save Flora and dealing with her for later. There will be time enough for that," said Mother.

"Fair enough. So, when are we to get moving on this?" Robin asked.

"Tonight, if you wish. I'll ask Lenora to come here and then I'll summon Ariadne, for I know you all are anxious to meet her in person. I'll gather some Potent Invigorating Elixirs for all of us so we're completely refreshed and ready for action. Does that suit everyone?" Mother replied

"Fine," I said, and everyone else nodded. I kissed Robin , then burrowed deeper into his arms. I feared it was going to be a long night, and I wanted to take comfort in his embrace for as long as I could.

Author's Note: Mentioned briefly but not pictured is Kai, the Great Alpha Wolf, created by Shafer249. Thank you, Shafer, for being so generous in allowing me to use him and his offspring as needed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Chapter 15, To Find Answers

***WARNING!!! My stories often contain strong language, sensitive issues, and, at times, other content that could be construed as offensive. Beliefs and viewpoints of characters are not necessarily the beliefs and viewpoints the Author holds in true life.***

Visiting with family was always a treat. My heart felt lighter as I took in how happy Aurora and Silvan were. Aurora was always such a happy, smiling person, so much like Lenora, but she was even more so now thanks to Silvan. It was such a refreshing feeling to partake in their joy rather than concentrate on the abject misery I'd been in these last few months.

"And you must be Tara," Robin said, producing his most charming smile. "I'm your cousin Robin, and this is Alina."

"Nice to meet you, Sir," Tara said. "You, too, "Ma'am."

"Oh my, so polite!" Robin replied. "Hey, we're family, so it's just Robin and Alina, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed readily, returning his smile with a friendly one of her own. "I still have to get used to having such a big family."

"You will and then, you won't know what to do with us because we'll be there at every turn," Robin grinned and waggled his brows at her, making her giggle. "Now then, I hope you're hungry."

"I could eat a horse." Tara proclaimed.

Robin chuckled and linked his arm with hers. "Well, that's not on the menu, but I think you'll like what we're having. I hope you're not a picky eater."

"Not me. I eat everything in sight. Just ask Ma." There was a gleeful bounce to Tara's step as she and Robin walked arm-in-arm to the kitchen.

"He will be such a wonderful father," I mused aloud, my gaze following his retreating back.

Dinner was a lively affair with animated chatter from Tara and with Robin and Liam bantering back and forth. I was glad of that, for I knew things would turn grim later on. Even with the lighthearted atmosphere, I caught Silvan glancing at me from time to time, a concerned, thoughtful expression furrowing his brow. Silvan and Mother whispered together for a brief moment, then he reached for Aurora's hand, clasping it tightly. They shared a look, then Aurora smiled at me and mouthed "It'll be okay." I fervently hoped it would.

When dinner was over and the kitchen set to rights, Mother beckoned to Tara. "Are you ready to go to your Uncle Jonas' and Aunt Sharon's now? They're expecting you, so I'll pop you there as soon as you're ready." Tara was a joy to have around, but she was too young to be privy to the discussion we were about to have.

"Wowwy, GG! I still can't believe you're going to teleport me. I haven't traveled that way, not ever." Tara goggled at Mother,

"There's always a first time for everything, dear," Mother said. "Now, hold onto my arm firmly and we'll be off in a flash."

After a round of hugs Tara blew kisses to all of us and then was gone. Seconds later, Mother returned, materializing out of thin air. Being a witch certainly had its perks at times.

After starting a fire in the fireplace with a wave of my hand, we settled in the living room to get down to business. My accelerating heartbeat pounded in my ears and I had to fight the urge to wipe my sweaty palms on my skirt. After all, a proper lady would never do such things.

Lowering my lashes slightly, I glanced shyly over at Silvan. Although I'd been living in this modern age for a long time now, old customs were hard to ignore. In the century I was from, it would have been taboo for a woman of my station to approach someone of Prince Silvan's lineage without first being acknowledged. Gathering myself, I took a deep breath and lifted my lashes. "I...I am unsure of how to begin, I beseech thy forgiveness should I stumble over my words, Prince Silvan," I whispered.

"Och ,Alina lass! Dinnae fash. We're friends, soon to be clan, ye ken." I was nearly unraveled by the unrestrained kindness in his expression. I shall not weep. I shall not weep. I demanded myself to keep my head but failed utterly. I was mortified when a tear trickled down my cheek. Oh, for Ariadne's sake! How many more times was I going to weep like an overly tired child? Could I not get through a day with dry eyes?

I was pulled into a tight hug by Silvan, who rubbed my back comfortingly. "There now, lassie. Aye, ye've been through a time. There now, dinnae fash." His burr was so thick that one needed a machete to cut through it. His soothing words sounded almost like an ethereal song and I felt myself begin to relax. I wondered if fairies had some sort of magic that somehow could calm the hysterical part of me that insisted on surfacing lately.

"There now," Silvan whispered a few minutes later. "Your aura is much more settled. Much better." He gently released me, guided me to the sofa, and sat down next to me..

"Did me?" I asked in bewilderment.

"Aye, just a little calming magic we fairies have to help soothe where it be needed." Well, that answered my question. I reckon I had a lot more to learn about fairies.

"I am thanking you kindly. It will not do for me to lose my head at this time." I blushed and gave him a sheepish look.

"'Tis nothing." Silvan shrugged, "Will ye allow my to start things off?"

"I suppose maybe you should," Robin said. "You look at Alina sometimes as if you see something we can't, Why?"

"It is like I told ye that first night Aurora and I came over for dinner. There is something in your aura, Alina, a sort of...blockage that is in disharmony with your aura. Do ye remember?" Silvan replied.

Both Robin and I nodded.

Silvan continued. "I didnae press the matter because I thought it might have been some debris left over from when ye passed, debris I believed would disappear over time. Ye see, one does not immediately recover from such a thing."

"I was ill for a long time after," I said in confirmation of his observation.

"I became increasingly concerned when it didnae go away and was torn about saying anything further to ye until now. I didnae wish to alarm ye, nor did I have an answer as to why that presence was there. However, when I became aware that ye are having a hard time conceiving a bairn, it began to fall into place. That information coupled with where I sense the blockage is verra telling." Silvan studied me and I blushed again at seeing his eyes fix on my lower abdomen where my womb rested,

"I don't understand. Dr. Hughes and Mother say there seems to be nothing wrong with me," I said.

"And I checked out fine, so in theory, there should have been no reason for us to have such difficulty," Robin added.

"Being witches and not fairies, Blythe Hughes and I can't see auras. It's usually fairies who notice such things but it takes someone of Silvan's skill in fairy magic and curses to deal with fixing it. Being who I am, I knew something wasn't right, but it took a conversation with both Silvan and Gunther to figure out what exactly we are dealing with," Mother added.

"And just what are we dealing with?" Robin asked.

"I believe it to be a powerful fairy curse." Silvan's blue eyes darkened with grim reality. "What we need to find out is how ye got cursed. Tell me, have ye had any unusual encounters with a fairy or even a witch ye dinnae ken?"

I shook my head and saw that Robin was about to speak. His lips started to form words but then stopped. He scratched his head and brushed absently at his right shoulder. "It...couldn't be," he whispered almost dreamily. "Not in the spirit world. It just..." Robin brushed at his shoulder again as if to rid himself of a piece of lint.

"What?" Silvan asked, leaning forward. "Did something happen in the spirit world when ye went after Alina?"

"Well, I didn't think anything of it at the time. I was focused on finding and bringing Alina back. Thinking about it now, though..." Robin trailed off, his eyes closing in what looked like deep concentration. "Not long after I found myself there, I met this old crone who was put off by something. She had beautiful white wings which, in my opinion, contrasted with her unfriendly demeanor. I asked her if she'd seen Alina but she wasn't very forthcoming at first. She said she wanted to be called 'Your Majesty' but that I could just call her Flora seeing as how she was getting soft in her old age. She took pleasure when I literally begged her to tell me where Alina was. Looking back on it, I find it odd that someone like that ended up in the Elysian Fields."

Silvan and Mother exchanged a look I could not discern and then wore identical frowns as they looked back at Robin. "If this Flora is who I think she is, ye are right to be concerned and baffled. Ye see, I've heard of a Flora who went renegade decades and decades ago. Mother told Ella and me about her, said she was verra dangerous. She's a wily, slippery old cow with magic at her disposal that doesnae belong to her. Mother believes that a former elder who turned traitor gave Flora access to the knowledge of how to disguise her wing color and to enter the spirit realm at her whim. Only a fairy or someone like Aurora who can see auras can see through the disguise. Since then, Mother has been trying to catch up with Flora and the traitor but they've always evaded capture. Ye are verra unfortunate to have encountered her, Robin. Is there anything else ye havenae told me? Did she touch ye in any way?"

Robin recounted the events of what happened in the spirit world, going over every detail piece by intricate piece. "The last I saw of her was just before I took off up the beach toward Alina. I thought I felt something touch my right shoulder but thought it was just the wind."

Mother and Silvan looked at one another again. "We don't believe it was simply the wind, Robin. Flora might not have touched you directly, but it is highly likely she planted a portable curse on you that would be transferred to Alina the instant you touched her," Mother said.

"If ye will allow me to perform some of my own magic on ye both, I can find out for sure what happened. Now that we are armed with more information, I can be sure to perform the exact magic we need. Aurora, love, we will need your visions," said Silvan. "If ye will lie back on the sofa, Alina lass, that will be most helpful. Ye will sleep through the entire thing but when ye awake, ye will feel refreshed and energized."

"Will this reverse whatever was done to me?" I asked.

"Nay, but we can discuss that once we ken for sure what we are dealing with. Let us take it step by step," Silvan said.

I arranged myself comfortably on the sofa and watched as Robin knelt by my side. "Will it impede anything if I hold her hand?" Robin asked.

"Nay. In fact, physical contact with her will be most beneficial," Silvan said as he and Aurora stood over me.

"Try not to worry. It'll be okay." Aurora squeezed my arm reassuringly and moved closer to Silvan.

I could only nod and smile weakly. My glance flickered to where Mother stood talking softly with Liam, both of them looking solemn. Robin took my hand and kissed my fingers. I reached up to smooth the grooves in his brow with my free hand and tried to grin. "It is unseemly for the Lady of the Manor to nap whilst she is entertaining guests."

My attempt at levity seemed to work, even if only for a brief time. Robin's features softened into a grin, then he snorted with amusement. "I think you will be forgiven in this case." He smoothed my hair and placed a tender kiss on my lips. "I'm not leaving your side."

This time, I was able to muster a true smile, which stayed in place as Silvan began to chant. My eyes grew heavy and the room blurred. Nevertheless, I thought I still wore the smile as I sank into oblivion.

Author's Note: Aurora, Silvan, and Tara are from my story "Forever in Time," which you can read by following the link to it located in the "Other Works By Me" section on this blog. Characters mentioned from that story but mot pictured are Lenora Landgraab, Jonas and Sharon Landgraab, and Ella Princapal, Queen of the Fae.

Bonus Picture

What is up with Sims simultaneously and constantly thinking about the pool? And, in the middle of winter, no less.