Saturday, July 8, 2017

Chapter 19, Flora's Folly

***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.***

When I announced my decision to deal with Flora that very evening, there were token protests from everyone. Robin argued that I should wait until all my strength returned. Lenora asked if I was certain and said that it could surely wait for at least another day. Mother was silent but looked at each of us with her piercing eyes, Finally, she said, "It's up to you, darling. I believe wholeheartedly in your abilities."

Unabashed pleasure swelled inside me and I couldn't help grinning like a starstruck teenager. To hear Mother say those words to me was a gift of priceless value. "Thank you, Mother. I will not disappoint you." I was determined to be strong and make sure this magic did not fail me this time.

It was strange. I felt wonderful, like I'd been on a rejuvenating retreat for a month. I felt no ill effects from the potion, nor was I in the least bit fatigued. I gave everyone a reassuring smile. "Do not fret about me. I feel fine, I really do. I feel that if we do not take care of this tonight, Flora will get the hop on us and we'll have less of a chance to succeed."

"Ye mean jump, not hop, sweetheart," Liam laughed. "Perhaps ye are right. Best to derail her before she knows she's being derailed."

We had some time before going to battle, which was good because I wanted to do a few things before beginning the preparations. I owed my pen pal Jasper a letter. I smiled as I sat down at my computer. Jasper was such a lovely man, and I was touched that he was so worried for my safety. I wanted to assure him that we were safe and well. Liam was right. Jasper was a great friend and I was terribly fond of him.

I showered and changed, then went to the kitchen to see about preparing everyone a meal. I didn't want anyone being hungry while we would be trapping Flora. However, Lenora was already there taking care of that. "Great minds think alike," she grinned. "Mathilda just got in touch with Carson and Ella and they'll be here shortly." I had never seen a Fae punishment carried out, so this would certainly be an educational experience.

After we ate, I took Mother aside and asked for a private word. Now was as good a time as any to approach her about some sort of life extending spell or potion. For my Robin's sake, I needed to see to that here and now. Ariadne told me Mother was ready to help me with that anyway, so I needed to find out exactly what that meant.

I cleared my throat, feeling a little awkward. "Mother, I beseech thy benevolence. I mean--" I steeled myself and began again. Why did I always lapse into Old English, as Mother called it, when I was nervous or upset? "Mother, I wanted to speak with you about what just happened...and Robin."

"Yes, child. I thought you might," Mother said without hesitation.

"I never want to bring him that kind of pain again, Mother. He was devastated. My poor Robin!" Sudden tears welled in my eyes and I furiously blinked them back.

She nodded and patted my arm. "He adores you, Alina."

"I know, and that is why I need to ask you what I am about to ask you. I know I have no right to, but for my Robin's sake, I must. I know immortality is a most guarded secret with you and I have never had any grand illusions to ever obtain such a thing. Even now, I would never ask for such a thing because it must be earned and is such a rarity. After speaking thus, I am asking for an extension of both mine and Robin's life, for I do not wish for him to watch me die again for a long, long time. I could not bear to see him die either, so..." I shrugged and cast my eyes at my feet before looking back at her.

"Come here, child," Mother said softly, holding her arms out to me. I came into them and she enfolded me in a long, tight hug. "I suppose we should have had this out before. This has been on my mind since after your first death. The fact that we almost lost you brought me up short, Alina. After you and Robin returned, I prepared two vials of the immortality serum. One was for you and the other for Robin. Had you not been under that curse, I would have offered them to you both long before this."

I extricated myself from Mother's embrace to gape at her. "What?"

"It's true, dear. You see, if you had taken the elixir before your curse was lifted, the curse would have been with you forever and you and Robin would never be able to have biological children." She spoke these words while her gaze bored into mine. "Don't you see? You needed to die again to remove the curse as I explained earlier."

My blood ran cold and my vision grayed at the edges. My heart began to race and I was having trouble breathing. I felt sick.

Mother drew me to her again and rubbed my back. "It's all right, sweetheart. Just take slow, deep breaths. There now. There's no need to fret." She spoke softly and slowly, her voice finally chipping away at the panic. When my breathing regulated and the room came into sharper focus, Mother patted my back and continued speaking. "I suspected that something was off after you returned and Robin told us of his encounter with Flora. I didn't say anything so as not to alarm you and Robin further. Plus, due to the kind of curse it was, we needed someone like Silvan to confirm it. I decided it was best to keep all of this to myself until the right time revealed itself. I was going to speak with you and Robin before we got down to it but you beat me to it."

I looked at her again and blinked but was unable to form words.

"Anyway, you and Robin should talk this over. This kind of decision is not easy to make and there are consequences. Should you decide to become an immortal, you will lose many people you love because they will eventually die. You'll see many things you will wish not to, but there is also great joy in this kind of existence. You will forever be ageless and never again will you experience illness. There is one more thing." Once again, Mother's gaze locked with mine. "Because you and Robin would be doing this together, this will forever and irrevocably bind you to one another. This means that there is no such thing as divorce. It is the same with Lenora and Tyrone, Carson and Ella, and Liam and me. Do you understand what I am saying?"

I nodded. Thankfully, my tongue took the opportunity to dislodge itself from the roof of my mouth and I was able to speak. "There is no existence, no life without Robin. I wouldn't want to live another moment if I didn't have him." I said these words with strong conviction but hesitated over the next ones, "It's just...I mean...what did I do to earn this privilege? I know it is not something you just hand out because someone asked, not even if the someone who asked is your daughter."

"First of all, dear, you didn't ask. You asked for a life extension but it was I who offered you and Robin immortality." She smiled for the first time since our conversation began but sobered immediately after. "What did you do to earn it? Oh, Alina, do you not know?"

I shook my head, bewildered.

I was shocked to see tears swimming in Mother's eyes. For the third time, she pulled me close and held me as only she could, "My beautiful, brave girl. You earned it many times over because of the courage and bravery you've shown many times over. You were resigned to your possible death when you contracted smallpox. You accepted without question the need to travel through time to come here. You adapted remarkably well to your situation and found a wonderful husband to share your life with. Then, you chose to die a second tine so this vial curse could be lifted. Plus, you are one of the most unselfish and kindhearted people I have ever known. You didn't resent Lenora's place in my life and the two of you became like sisters. Even with this request, you asked for it to spare Robin of grief rather than asking for it for selfish reasons. Not only that, but you have gained great favor with Ariadne, Trust me, Alina, you've earned it many times over. You are an example for other, even me, to live by."

My jaw dropped and all I could do was stare at Mother like an idiot. Mother always said things that astounded me, but this was something entirely different. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect her to say the things she did just now.

"Close you mouth, Alina. You'll catch a fly." Mother tapped my jaw and chuckled. "I meant everything I said, child. Speak with Robin about it, for there isn't much time before you must prepare for your battle."

I was about to reply, but Robin appeared in the archway. "Everything okay, you two?"

"Everything is fine, but we need to talk, Robin," I said.

He surveyed me with a furrowed brow, and I guessed he was looking for signs of lingering illness. I assured him I was fine and brushed my lips against his. I repeated everything Mother told me, Mother confirming it with nods in the right places. When I was finished, Robin whistled. "I guess it never entered my mind that our lives could be extended or even frozen in time, Alina. I just never expected to see you die twice and I'll hope not to see that again until we are both very old. It's a lot to take in."

"Yes, I know." I was still reeling that Mother was willing to extend this to us. "I never told you this before but sometimes I worry about you because of your work. My blood ran cold the other day when I read in the newspaper about a constable being shot upon stopping someone for a traffic ticket. I should not like to get a phone call one day telling me you're lying in the morgue." I shuddered and buried my face in his chest.

Robin pulled me close and stroked my hair. He spoke my name on a long exhale. "Forgive me, love. I should have been sensitive to your worries. I cast a spell of protection on myself before a potentially dangerous situation, but I guess you just never know."

I made a mewling noise and tightened my arms around him. "Please...don't..."

He gently lifted my face to look into my eyes and wiped a tear from my cheek. "I think we have our answer, sweetheart. It would be foolish of us to look a gift horse in the mouth. Is this what you want, Alina? Are you certain?"

I nodded and caressed his cheek "To spend forever with you would be the greatest joy of my life."

Wordlessly, Mother handed both Robin and me a vial. We drank the contents and Mother waved a lazy hand over us. "It is done," she said simply. A weight was lifted from my heart, for neither Robin nor I would ever again have to face watching the other die.

There were magical preparations to make before all of this was to commence. As I weaved the spells, little nymphs began doing acrobatics in my stomach. I was determined to be brave and strong, but this was a major event as Robin was apt to say. If the slightest thing went wrong, it could all explode in our faces. I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders. I couldn't allow myself to entertain such thoughts. It would succeed. My magic would not fail me and I would make Robin and my mother proud.

Carson and Ella arrived as the sun was setting. Before I could even address her as "Your Majesty," Ella hugged me as though we were long lost friends. "It's so good to finally meet you, Alina, I've heard so much about you and can't thank you enough for helping us with this."

I smiled shyly and felt heat rise to my cheeks. I had always wanted to meet a queen but never expected one to be so nice and personable. "I'm so glad, Your Highness. I--"

"It's Ella," she interrupted me, smiling. "We're going to be family, after all."

I stole a peak at Carson, who was smiling despite the situation. I was so happy for him, and it was plain to see how much in love he and Ella were. He would become King of the Fae as soon as he and Ella were married. If anyone deserved it, it certainly was Carson.

"I-I'm so glad, Ella. I just don't want Flora hurting anyone else," I stammered, turning my attention back to her.

"Amen to that," Robin said. "What do you plan to do with her once we compel her to come?" he asked Ella.

Ella and Carson exchanged a look before Ella spoke. "As it was you and Alina she hurt the most, you get first crack at her. At the end, Carson and I will carry out the sentence we've decided she will face."

Ella handed me a picture and explained it was of Flora. Robin had seen her but I hadn't, and I needed to know what she looked like before I could summon her. I studied the picture from every angle while Robin, once again, told me of his encounter with her. Again, I was appalled at the levels she would sink to. If all went well, her antics would be at an end.

I studied the picture again and took a deep breath. I would have only one shot at this. I focused my mind and felt drops of perspiration erupt on my forehead. "Bring!" I said in a clear, strong voice. A bright flash of blue light nearly blinded me, and the next instant, an elderly fairy with black wings stood before us.

She looked around warily. "What is the meaning of this?" she demanded.

"What's with the wings?" Robin whispered. "They were white when I saw her."

"Disguise," Ella replied. "What you see now is her true wing color, which completely matches the black aura that surrounds her."

I saw Aurora make a disgusted face and Silvan slipped an arm around her. "That's one aura I wish I couldn't see," she said.

"What is the meaning of this? I demand to know why I am here," the old woman said icily. She looked haughtily at all of us and I began to seethe.

"You are here because I brought you." The iciness in my own voice even surprised me. "You're going to explain to me why you cursed an innocent woman and in a place where that kind of thing doesn't belong."

Flora studied me through narrowed eyes, "Oh, I am, am I? We'll just see about that." Her slippery tone added to my desire for blood.

"Yes, we certainly will." Before she could bat even one eyelash, I opened my fist and shot her full in the chest with a truth spell while Robin added his own magic to seal off any escape route Flora might try to use. I wanted answers and I was determined to get them. When the spell took full effect, I simply said, "Explain."

Flora spoke in a dazed monotone, her eyes glazing over. "It was a plot to get revenge on Mathilda because I was jealous. It wasn't right that a non-fairy should gain immortality and remain ageless. Fairies are above everyone else and should be the immortal gods and goddesses. I knew I could not take away Mathilda's powers or status but could, instead, permit her line from continuing. She has but one blood daughter, Alina, and by preventing her from bearing children, Mathilda cannot spread her contamination."

I had never heard anything so disgusting. When I stole a glance at Robin, I could see he felt much the same. His eyes flashed daggers at Flora but his next words were directed to Mother. "There's just one problem with that. You and Lian could have kids if you wanted to, right Mathilda?"

"That would be highly unlikely," Flora said flatly. "Mathilda is too vain and selfish to endure another pregnancy."

"You assume a lot, Flora, and you know what they say about assuming. It makes an ass of you and me," Mother said, looking down her aristocratic nose at Flora. She turned to Robin and smiled. "Liam and I have all the tine in all the universes to have children and perhaps we will one day."

"The bottom line as I see it is that you were too big a coward to try anything on Mathilda, so you went after Alina instead, thinking to make Mathilda suffer." The cold matter-of-fact note in Robin's voice sent shivers down my spine. I would hate to be a suspect in the interrogation room once my Robin got hold of them. "You've got no business talking about what fairies ought to be since you broke the Fae code of honor."

"There are always mitigating circumstances," Flora replied.

"Not in this instance." It was the first time Ella spoke and now, she looked every bit the part of how I imagined a queen could be. "There is no excuse for your actions, Flora. You sought power and people who do so by less than honorable means rarely receive it." She turned and cast a grim look at me. "As I said, you have first crack at her before Carson and I carry out sentence. What would you like to do?"

More than anything, I wanted to see Flora dead for what she did. As I started to think of ways to see that done, another thought came to me. Death was too good for her. Plus, if I did anything to harm her, I would be no better than she was. I sighed in resignation. "As much as I want to see her dance while being the target of an electrical charge, I cannot let myself stoop to her level. What if she was made to lose her wings and fairy powers and live the remainder of her life in a Fae prison?" I looked directly at Flora as I spoke.

Carson and Ella exchanged another look and Mother nodded and smiled. "That is very wise and noble, Alina. This happens to be the sentence Carson and I came up with for her. As much as an eye for an eye sounds appealing, it rarely brings the satisfaction one hopes to get."

As Mother locked gazes with me, the air around me stirred and the hair on the back of my neck stood up, "You have passed your test, Alina. I will talk with you directly," came the disembodied voice of Ariadne.

As quickly as the feeling came, it was gone What in the world had that been about? However, I didn't have tine to think about it further because Carson's voice brought me back to attention. "Flora Goodfellow, you have heard the sentence spoken aloud. By the power bestowed upon me by the benevolent Queen Ella of the Fae, I now will carry out said sentence." Carson waved his hand and a split second later, Flora's wings were gone.

She screamed in what sounded like both terror and disbelief, "Unfair! This is a miscarriage of justice!"

"Look who's crying unfair," Aurora said scornfully. "It's not fun having the shoe on the other foot."

"Your tine will soon be up, Missy. You won't be wearing that smug smile for long, Instead, you'll be wishing to die soon enough," Fora spat.

"That'll be the day," Aurora said, tossing her head in a lofty manner,

"Carson and I will gladly take this," Ella jabbed her thumb at Flora, "off your hands. You can relax now. It's over."

Ella and Carson disappeared before our eyes with Flora between them. I looked at Robin and fell into his arms. "It's over," I whispered. "It's finally over." A sob escaped me, and Robin held me as I wailed and blubbered for what seemed an eternity.

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.