Friday, June 19, 2015

Chapter 7, Spiritual Peril

***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

I couldn't shake the dreadful feeling that something was very wrong with Alina. It lingered all day, increasing by the hour. She hadn't been well lately due to tremendous grief. We were all suffering from the loss of Aunt Lenora. All of us were devastated, but Alina had taken it especially hard. Alina had lost so much, had traveled so far, then experienced the loss of someone she viewed as a sister. I could understand why Alina was so heartsick, but it worried me so.

I glanced at the clock seemingly every five minutes. I needed my workday to be done so I could get myself to Alina's as quickly as I could. Something awful had happened to her, I just knew it.

An eternity later, I sped to my fiance's house and was pounding on her door. "Alina! It's Robin. Darling, let me in," I called. She'd given me an extra key but I didn't just want to barge in just in case I was overreacting. I jumped when I heard a voice behind me.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you, Robin." Although Mathilda's voice was cultured and controlled, I could detect concern there. One had to know Mathilda very, very well to detect it.

"It's okay. Actually, I'm glad you're here, Mathilda. I've had this nagging feeling all day that something is wrong with Alina."

"I felt much the same. I consulted Gunther, who told me to get over here right away. I can't help but feel that time is of the essence," Mathilda said, producing her own key to Alina's door.

My heart nearly stopped at seeing my beloved Alina on the floor. How long had she been there? I'd seen a lot in my career as a police officer, but when it is one of your own, it's an entirely different matter. "Alina! Oh my God, Alina!" I barely recognized the sound of my own screams as I bent down to turn her over.

I barely registered a pulse, and Alina sounded as though she were breathing through a layer of pond water. "My God! Alina, what happened to you?" I whispered, taking her hand and bringing it to my lips. I called out to Mathilda, who came to kneel beside us. "We've got to get her some help NOW!" I said, moving so I could gather Alina in my arms.

"There is no time to get her to a hospital. Besides, they cannot help her. As you can see by the evidence here, she has been mixing potions. Now, we both know she is a whiz at it but something must have gone terribly wrong. In the state she has been in, she likely hasn't been able to concentrate normally. We will have to take care of her here. Any help traditional medical personnel gave her will certainly kill her."


"Robin, you must trust me," Mathilda said. "Seeing my daughter like this is unnerving, to put it mildly, but that does not hamper the knowledge I have about these things. It was magic that put her this way, and it's magic that we must use to counteract it."

I couldn't argue with Mathilda's statements. As Head of the Witches' Council, an immortal, and someone who has been around for centuries, a person would have to be stupid to even think about arguing with her. "Tell me what to do."

"We must counteract the poison that is flowing through her body, Robin. I will do the spell, but I need you to monitor her vital signs. You've heard the saying about the cure being worse than the disease, I'm sure. This is very apt in this case. This could kill her, but doing nothing will definitely kill her. Do you understand?"

I bit my lip and nodded. "I'll do anything you say." There was absolutely no choice. I understood the cure could be fatal, but it was much better than sitting here and watching her die if we did nothing.

"Right. Now, Robin, I need you to keep a finger on her pulse while I perform the spell. I need to know immediately if you detect any changes in her breathing and heartbeat, all right?" Mathilda said.
Again, I nodded, then complied.

Seeing Mathilda work was always awe-inspiring. Being a highly skilled and accomplished witch, she made all of this look easy. This time, however, appreciating this beauty was farthest from my mind. My full attention was on Alina and looking for any changes. I wanted to ask Mathilda how long Alina would be like this if she survived, but I didn't want to interrupt Mathilda while she worked.

My blood ran cold a few minutes later. "My God! I've lost her pulse. She's not breathing."

I got into position to begin CPR, but Mathilda stopped me. "No, Robin, you mustn't. I was able to complete the spell before we lost her vitals, but there could still be small amounts of the poison that will grow and damage her heart if CPR is used. Remember what I said. Traditional medical aid will only cause more damage. It is magic we need now."

"How do we revive her then?" I asked, panic wrapping itself around my heart like unruly vines.

"There is nothing more we can physically do for her," Mathilda said softly, putting a hand on my shoulder.

"No! I can't and won't accept that. There has to be something more we can do. Alina can't be...can't be...dead."

"There is nothing more we can do for her physically, Robin. What I am saying is that if Alina is to return to us, she must be retrieved from the spirit world. She has...passed from this life but only just. If we make haste, we can possibly bring her back. I must prepare to travel soon," Mathilda said.
Mathilda started to get to her feet, but I clamped a hand over her elbow to stop her. "Send me. Mathilda, you must send me. I'll get Alina and bring her back."

Mathilda turned her wise eyes on me, her lips thinning in a slight frown. "You are unaware of the dangers, which are many, Robin, I, myself, do not venture into the spirit world unless I absolutely have to. There is always a risk of not being able to come back. I don't have time to teach you about all the dangers."

"Then tell me what I absolutely need to know. Mathilda, please! You must send me. I love her!"

"Robin, I--"

I took Mathilda by the upper arms, my gaze boring into hers. Normally, I would not even dream of handling her this way, but this was not a normal situation. Mathilda didn't pull away, and she kept her gaze locked with mine. "Please, Mathilda. You must! I love Alina with everything that is in me. I love her more than I ever thought it was possible to love someone. Without her, there is nothing. If I have to walk through the fires of Hell to get her back, I will not hesitate to do so. You must believe me!"

"Oh, Robin, I do believe you. Your love for Alina isn't even a question." She sighed, then gently pulled away from my grasp so she could take my hands in hers. Again, her gaze locked with mine, and I felt as though she were looking into my very soul. "To get Alina back, walking through the fires of Hell is a very distinct possibility. I can see that changing your mind isn't possible, so I will send you. I will do everything I possibly can to protect you from here, but it might not be enough. You could end up stuck there, which means your physical body will die. I cannot control what happens to you once you are there. We will both need to ask the benevolent spirits to guide you and Alina back."

"I understand," I said grimly.

"I will prepare the way. As time is of the essence, we don't have the luxury of going as slowly or carefully as I'd like. When I call to you, you must quickly bring Alina to the bedroom and place her on the bed. I will then instruct you further."

All I could do was nod, for I couldn't speak around the lump that constricted my throat. Sorrow filled my very being as I lifted my Alina to cradle her close.

I was never really a crying man, but holding Alina's lifeless body was enough to send me off the edge. Great sobs wrenched themselves loose, and tears spilled down my cheeks, falling onto Alina's face and into her hair. My world was torn asunder and life ceased to have meaning the instant Alina left me.

"Oh, Alina!" I whispered, wishing I could channel my own life force into her so she would revive. "How did this happen? How could this have happened to you?" I covered her face with desperate kisses and stroked her hair. My arms rocked her and my soul longed to see her open her beautiful eyes and hear her soft voice saying my name.

My Alina was a work of art. She was beautiful in every way, and I loved how she looked at the world with such wonder. I had never met anyone as unique as Alina. Of course I knew about the mission that Grandma Holly had started as well as the one Aunt Lenora had begun. I knew time travel was possible, yet I'd never experienced it firsthand. However, meeting Alina and having her in my life made it real to me in a way that nothing else ever could. This beautiful, courageous woman had traveled many, many centuries to escape a horrible death. She'd had to adapt herself to present day customs and culture. She'd been alone in the world until we'd met and I'd helped her reunite with Mathilda. I'd rejoiced with Alina during times of great joy and cried with her while in the throes of horrible heartache. Alina was the epitome of Old World, which completely fascinated me. I loved the sense of wonder that surrounded her when she discovered something new. Alina was a rare treasure and I marveled that she was mine. I was so thankful to have her, but as I clung tightly to her, I cursed the fates for taking her from me.

I sat, lost in a world of despair as I studied Alina's beautiful face. "My Alina...oh, my beautiful Alina! How could you have left me?" My voice was ragged, even to my own ears.

Time seemed to stand still. Mathilda hadn't yet called to me, so I remained as I was for I don't know how long. My instincts kept telling me to speak aloud to Alina as if she could still hear me. Maybe, wherever she was, she still could. I just didn't know. Even so, I followed what my gut and heart told me to do. I had nothing left, after all. My instincts and Mathilda's knowledge were the only things I had to hold tightly to.

As I studied Alina's still face, the war in my heart was in total contrast with how peaceful she looked. I caressed her cheek, feeling another tidal wave of grief ascending. I sobbed her name and kissed her softly. "I love you, Alina. I can't live in this world without you. You are my love and my life. You're my world, Alina. When that time portal opened and hurled you here, my life was changed irrevocably. You're everything, Alina. Without you, there is only darkness. Come back to me, Alina. I need you. Please come back to me. I can't live without you."

I brushed her lips with the pads of my fingers, desperately wanting to feel air pass through them. "Do you remember when we first met? You remember how I hired you to cook my mother the dinner of her life? You were so willing to please, and you worked your butt off to impress my mother. You succeeded, Alina, my love, and you amazed me more that night than anyone ever has before. I knew you were meant for me the first time I saw you. You seemed to drop from the sky from some distant star. This time and place was so alien to you, but you were determined to make it work. There was never anyone like you, and oh, Alina! When you said you loved me after I told you how I felt about you, I was so happy. When you agreed to marry me, there was never anyone as overjoyed as I was. You remember all that, Alina. I know you do. I need you, Alina, my love. I need you back with me so we can have that life together that we both want."

Over and over, I spoke of my love for Alina, hoping against hope that she could somehow hear me. One thing I knew was that if I couldn't bring her back, I didn't want to come back myself. I could now understand how Uncle Tyrone felt as Aunt Lenora died in his arms. Unless a person has held the lifeless form of their soulmate, they can never possibly understand the grief and agony that I was feeling.

"Robin, it's time. You must bring her now." Mathilda's voice cut through my torment and brought me to attention.

I easily lifted Alina and walked toward her bedroom. Her frame had always been slight, but now, she was even lighter. I'd known she'd lost weight, but she'd been able to disguise it somewhat because of all the layers she wore. However, the reality of it was in my face while holding her like this. If I succeeded in getting us both back here, I wasn't going to leave her side for an instant until I got her through this. If I got her back, I was not going to lose her again.

"I will get you back, Alina. I will bring you back where you belong," I whispered into her ear as I settled her on the bed.

"Lie down next to her," Mathilda commanded. "What you must remember when you find Alina is that she must come willingly. You cannot drag her back against her will. You might have to convince her to come back with you. It is very beautiful in the spirit world and sometimes they do not want to return to this mundane existence."

"I will bring her back. I have to," I said.

"If anyone can, it's you, Robin. Once you are there, call for her. You can also call on anyone else you know who has passed from this life. I will ask benevolent spirits to guide you as you are traveling. You can also call on them once you arrive. Remember that once you pass from here, I cannot control what happens to you. All I can do is ask the spirits for your protection and keep vigil," Mathilda said.

"I understand," I replied. "I need to hold her. I need to feel her in my arms as I go. Will that impede this process?"

"No," Mathilda said. I climbed onto the bed beside my beloved and Mathilda helped position her so I was holding her comfortably.

Mathilda began to chant softly and I felt myself drifting. My eyes drifted closed and the world faded. The last thing I heard from her was her plea for the benevolent spirits of Kai, the Great Alpha; Ariadne, goddess of witches; Calista, the fairy goddess; and Serafina, the vampire goddess to lend me their protection. My last coherent thoughts were of Alina and that at least all the bases were covered with so many spirits being called on.

When next I was aware, I was in a new place surrounded by breathtaking views. I gasped as I took in the ethereal sunset and listened to the otherworldly sounds of music within a nearby ocean. Was Alina here? If she was, I knew she'd love this. I wanted to take her to a tropical locale on our honeymoon, which she'd been looking forward to.

"Alina! Alina, where are you? It's Robin. Can you hear me, darling?" I called into the distance.

Well, if this doesn't beat all! Young man, this is supposed to be a quiet and peaceful location, but your bellowing is making it anything but." I was brought up short by a cold, harsh voice. I blinked and saw what looked like an old fairy floating slowly toward me. She stopped a few feet in front of me and gave me a scathing look.

"My apologies, Ma'am, but I'm looking for--"

"I know who you are looking for, human," the winged woman said.

"M-may I ask who you are? If you know who I'm looking for, could you tell me where she is?" I asked, taken aback by the abruptness of this...was she a spirit? She had to be if I was in the world of the spirits. I had to be, for there was no way scenery like this could ever be present on Earth.

The woman sighed in an exasperated sounding way, then shrugged. "My name is Flora. I would normally require lesser forms of life to address me as 'Your Majesty' but I'm growing soft in my old age. Call me Flora."

Your Majesty? Well, that was a new one. I don't know too much about the Fae and never really asked. My mother didn't like to talk about Denny or the other Goodfellows, and I never pressed because I didn't want to upset her. I knew Crystal very well, of course, and she always satisfied whatever curiosities I'd ever had. I'd never heard of anyone named Flora being some sort of royal personage with fairies but that wasn't saying much, considering how little I actually knew.

"A pleasure to meet you, Ms. Flora." I reached for her hand but she didn't extend it. Instead, I was rewarded with a condescending stare.

"I can't say the same for you, human. Your kind bother me," Flora said on a lofty sigh. "State your business and then get out of here."

Nothing like cutting to the chase, I thought. "I'm here to collect my fiancé, Alina Blankenship. You stated that you knew of her."

"I do, human, but what comes here stays here," Flora said.

"Not always," I said. "Alina can't. She's important."

"Don't bother me with such trivialities, human. Your little earthly lives are nothing to me," Flora said.

"Then it shouldn't expend too much energy for you to tell me where I can find Alina. I'm not leaving here without her, Ms. Flora. Of that you can be sure of," I said with determination.

Her humorless laugh chilled me to my very core. "You have no control when you go. Your earthly body still has claims on your spirit, so you could be thrust out of here any second."

This was the possibility I feared most. Something told me that if I failed to get Alina this trip, she'd be forever lost to me. There was no way I could let that happen. If I had to beg, I would. Pride could never be a factor when it came to my Alina's life. I leveled a pleading look at her. "Flora, if you want me to beg you for information, I will. I'm sure you laugh in the face of finite timelines now that you exist here. As short as my life may seem to you, it will be an eternity for me if I can't share it with Alina. However finite my life may be to you, I can't live it without Alina. Please tell me where she is so I can get her. I beg you." I sank to my knees before her. "Please."

The being clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes. "Far be it for me to keep her here if she wants to go back. If it were left up to me, I'd keep her here on principal alone. I rather enjoy watching the sufferings of mere humans. Alas, there are other forces at work here. Walk about half a mile over that sand and you'll find her. Now scram."

"Thank you," I said, rising to my feet. I didn't have to be told twice. I began jogging in the direction she pointed but made the mistake of looking over my shoulder one more time. I didn't like the smug look on her face nor the evil gleam in her eye.

Alina's POV

I was unaware of where I was. I was no longer in my little house, nor was Robin or my mother anywhere in sight. My hand flew to my temple as I attempted to summon memories of how I had arrived here, wherever here was.

"I am lost. If anyone is there, I beseech thee for assistance. I am lost." I could not see anyone near me, yet I felt that someone was watching me.

"I will help you, dear." I turned in the direction of the soft voice in the distance and beheld a beautiful woman. She looked like an angel whose smile radiated kindness.

"I have lost my way," I whispered so softly that I was afraid she did not hear me.

"I know, darling. I know. Come to me and I will help you. It's all right. No harm will come to you here," she said, opening her arms to me.

Her presence was so compelling that I could not resist. As I ran toward her, I recognized her from the photographs Robin had shown me. "Mrs. Landgraab?" I said, awestruck.

She enfolded me in a warm embrace and held me to her for a long time. "You must call me Grandma Rose, Alina, dear. You are nearly family, after all."

"You know of me?" I asked, holding her and not wanting to let her go.
"Of course," she laughed. "I'm the first to know when the family gets up to dickens." Her eyes twinkled mischievously and I could not help laughing with her. She pulled back, looking at me thoroughly.

I felt heat arise to my cheeks at her scrutiny, but she was quick to put me at ease. "You're beautiful, my dear! Robin is a lucky man to have you."

"I am blessed abundantly to be loved so," I said, smiling. "I-I am vexed to say that I have lost my way. I do not know how to find him. In what place have I found myself in? What carried me here?"

Grandma Rose looked sadly at me and caressed my cheek gently. "What was your last memory before you found yourself here?"

"I..." I closed my eyes, willing the memories to come. When they surfaced, my eyes flew open and I looked at her frightfully. "I was mixing elixirs and...and...something went awry. Noxious odors...became dreadfully ill. I tried to call for help...tried to crawl toward the door, but..." I shook my head. "Then, nothing else."

Grandma Rose leaned close, her eyes looking into mine. "Alina, dear, you died. You misread your potion recipe and it went very wrong. You died from poisoned fumes, sweetheart. Had you been in full health, you would have survived, but your grief for poor Lenora has made you ill. Top that with the fallout from the potion you were attempting to brew and you have a dangerous combination there."

"Alack the day!" I exclaimed, tears welling in my eyes at the utterance of Lenora's name.

"I know, dear. It's such a sorrowful thing," Grandma Rose sighed.

"Am I in Heaven? Think you I could see Lenora? Is she here?" I asked.

The answer to your first question is yes. "You have passed from your earthly life to here, which we must talk about directly. In answer to your second question, you will see Lenora very soon, I am sure. Thirdly, no. Lenora is not here."

"I do not understand. Wouldst thou enlighten me?" I asked, realizing that I was slipping back into my customary manner of speaking.

Grandma Rose embraced me again, then said quietly. "I will tell all momentarily, but first, you must listen. The sounds are beautiful here. There is music in everything you hear in this place. But there is something else you must listen for. Listen carefully and deeply. You will hear it."
I could not fathom what I was to listen for except for what was already around me. The ocean was beautiful beneath the setting son, and there was, indeed, music in the crashing of the waves. It was the most glorious place I had ever beheld.

As I was about to question Grandma Rose about what I was to listen for, I heard what she must have meant.

I love you, Alina. I can't live in this world without you. You are my love and my life. You're my world, Alina. When that time portal opened and hurled you here, my life was changed irrevocably. You're everything, Alina. Without you, there is only darkness. Come back to me, Alina. I need you. Please come back to me. I can't live without you.

A cry of despair escaped and I called for him. "Robin! I am here." Sorrow crashed over me as though it were one of the waves on the ocean. I could sense his grief as if it were my own.

"He needs you, Alina," Grandma Rose said.

"He weeps!" I exclaimed, feeling as though my own heart were breaking. "He believes me dead. I must go to him but alack! I do not know the way."

"I know, my dear. This is why we must talk. You are here prematurely. Your time to be here is still yet to come. However, sometimes the main path branches off into other directions. Your work on Earth is not done yet, but you can remain here should you wish. You can go back should you wish. You cannot be forced to return to the physical world, for you must go willingly. I must warm you though. Should you wish not to go back, many a person's destiny will be altered and not for the better. You will play a very crucial role in many lives."

"But I am insignificant. Surely, you are speaking of someone other than me. It is Lenora who will have an impact on many lives," I said.

"Lenora is very important but so are you, Alina. You don't realize yet just how important you are, but you will. I'm not at liberty to divulge anything else in regards to this other than what I have just said. All I am allowed to say is that you must return to your earthly life but nobody can force you should you wish to remain here."

I surveyed the beautiful surroundings and then heard it again. It was Robin's voice professing love for me and speaking of our life together. I could not see him but somehow I realized he was in the physical world trying to call me back to him. "I know what I must do, but I beseech thee to tell me of Lenora, Grandma Rose. It is not right that she should be here now. The world needs her. Her husband and children need her."

"That they do, and Lenora is not here, dear. She remains in her earthly life but is in danger. Don't worry. I have it on good authority that all will be well with her soon."

"She...Lenora is alive?" I asked.

"She is. Now, put your mind at ease. It is you we must see to," Grandma Rose said. "You must go back."

"How?" I asked.

"Robin is coming for you. Look! Over there." I turned in the direction her finger was pointing in...and there he was. In all my days, I have never beheld such a beautiful sight as my Robin running to me.

"Grandma Rose, I can never thank you enough for the kindness you have bestowed upon me.," I said, turning quickly to embrace her.

"You living a happy life with Robin is all the thanks I need. Now, go to him, my dear. He has been waiting for you," she said. I turned my eyes upon Robin, who was still running toward me, then returned my glance to where Grandma Rose stood. "Go now!" she said.

I did as bidden, not stopping until Robin caught me in his strong, loving arms. I had never been held so fiercely, and I, myself, clung shamelessly to my Robin. I did not know how long I had been here, but it seemed like an eternity since I had held him last. "Robin! Oh, my Robin! You came for me!" I cradled his beloved face in my hands and smiled through my tears.

How could I have not come for you, Aliina? I love you and I would do anything to have you back. I can't be without you. That is simply not an option."

"I love you so, Robin. The words I would speak of such love are woefully inadequate. I would never want to be anywhere without you, not even in such a glorious realm as this. I belong with thee, Robin, forever and ever," I whispered.

"That's right, and don't you ever forget it. I don't ever want you to doubt how I feel about you. Class systems don't matter, only actions. I came here for you and nothing was going to stop me. I want you to come back with me and to me, my Alina. I need you," Robin said as his burning gaze bore into my soul.

"Nay, I shall not forget. You came here at great peril to your own life. If you are here, it is because Mother paved the way. She sent you to retrieve me, this I know." I brushed my fingers over his cheek. "I will come back with thee, my Robin. I will go with thee wherever thou sayest."

I had never received such a sweet yet passionate kiss as the one Robin placed upon my lips thusly. "I am so very blessed," I whispered on a sigh. I am certain not even a queen could be as blessed and happy as I am with thee, Robin. I feel like a lady of the highest nobility whilst in your embrace."

"You are the finest of ladies, Alina. No one, not even the loveliest of queens is more fair than thee. You are everything. Now, you must hold onto me very tightly. I think we're just about to be pulled out of here. I can feel it," Robin said, his arms holding me fast.

Robin's POV

I sensed the pull back to my body before actually feeling it. My body jerked and I sucked in a great gasp of air. My awareness started returning quickly. Alina's weight was still settled against me, and I found that my hold on her hadn't lessened. Memories of my time in the spirit world looking for her and finally finding her rushed back. My eyes popped open and I looked at Alina. She wasn't breathing, which made alarm bells gong ferociously inside my heart. I rubbed her back and stroked her hair, then lavished little kisses over her face. "Come back to me, Alina. I need you. You said you would return with me. I love you, Alina. Come back to me...please!"

What seemed like an eternity but was probably only seconds passed, and Alina's small frame gave a lurch. A shuddering gasp came from her, then another one came. "That's it, Alina! I'm here, sweetheart. It's Robin, and I've got you. You're safe and I'm not letting you go. That's it, Alina, Breathe for me."

Alina began to breathe normally, and her tiny hand moved over my chest where my heart lay. I had never seen such a beautiful sight as when her eyes opened. "Robin." My name whispered on her lips in that moment was more divine than the loveliest of symphonies.

"I'm here, Alina. I'm right here with you. It's all right now. Everything is going to be all right," I said, unable to take my eyes off her and unwilling to keep my hands from caressing her.

"I love you," she whispered.

"And I love you, my Alina. Rest now. You've been through a horrible ordeal," I said.

"Robin is right, child. You both need to rest. It has been quite a day," Mathilda added. I'd almost forgotten she was there, but I was so thankful for her presence.

"Mathilda...I..." I began.

"Hush now. There is no need to say anything. What's done is done and now, you both need to rest," Mathilda said. She sounded so tired, and her voice was rather raspy, as though she'd been crying.

"Robin...stay with me," Alina's soft voice whispered.

"Always, my Alina...always." As I brought my lips to hers, Mathilda spread a blanket over both of us. I heard her chanting softly and figured she was performing a sleep spell over us. I felt my eyes drift closed as Alina gave a little sigh. Alina's deep, even breathing, along with Mathilda's spell, lulled me into a deep sleep that my body apparently craved. I didn't fight it, for I knew Alina was safe. She was back with me and I wasn't going to let her out of my sight for a long time to come.

Author's Note - I'd like thank PiazzaGirl for use of Rose Landgraab in this chapter. Her stories are absolutely amazing, and I'd highly recommend them. You can find them here at her blog.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Chapter 6, Crisis

***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.***

For the first time ever in all my days, I was the one who had it all and I felt like the noblest of women. My mother was returned to me, and I had a loving sister. She was not related to me by blood, but that did not matter to either Lenora or me. My career was progressing beautifully. I was treated with respect and was nevermore looked upon as a member of the lower class, much as I was in my own time. What was most enthralling to me was that I was betrothed to the handsomest, kindest man I have ever known.

Every time Robin came over to spend time with me, I always fell into his arms, craving his caresses and kisses. Every time he expressed his love for me, my own heart swelled with adoration and devotion for him. How I longed to be his wife and begin a family with him!

"How are the wedding plans coming along?" Robin asked me one day as I relaxed in his embrace.

I smiled up at him. "Mother and Lenora are taking me for the final fitting of my gown tomorrow. Och, Robin! I can scarcely believe it. I never imagined it could be me looking forward to such an idyllic life. I am so blessed."

"It is I who am blessed, my Alina," Robin said, tilting up my chin so he could look deeply into my eyes. "Life didn't begin for me until I met you."

Robin was always a gentleman and I always attempted to conduct myself with at least a modicum of decorum. It was difficult, for I sometimes entertained carnal thoughts when it came to Robin. I needed him and wanted to love him in every way possible. However, it would be wrong to have him in that way before we were wed. Although I was grateful that Robin never pressed me, a part of me wanted him to press so I could easily give in.

A few days later, Robin was working late, so he phoned me to tell me he would be late in arriving to take dinner with me. I decided to pass some time and began a new book I had received from the book club I joined. I was lost in a world of fairies and genies when an insistent knocking on the door brought me back. "I come anon!" I shouted.

I expected to see Robin there, but instead, it was my mother. I had not seen her looking so vexed since just before sending me through the time portal. "Mother! What is amiss?" I asked, a sense of foreboding coming over me.

Mother entered, enfolding me in her arms after closing the door softly. She began to weep, and this frightened me more than anything ever had in all my life. I could number the times on one hand when I saw my mother weeping.

"Oh, Alina, child!" she said brokenly as she held me close. "I have something to tell you and it's not good. Come. Let us sit."

Wordlessly, I led Mother to a chair and sat nearby. "What has happened?"

"It's Lenora, child. She's...been hurt," Mother said.

"Hurt? But how? Will she recover?" I asked, feeling my heart arise to my throat.

"She...appears to be...gone, Alina."

"I do not understand," I said, getting up to pace the floor. "She was well when we were out the other day. Lenora was so happy! How could she be gone? How?" Tears slid down my cheeks and I wept bitterly.

Mother held me again and I clung to her for dear life. "Lenora was attacked. We don't know how, but we believe it was by magic. Liam and I had been out of town and by the time we arrived at the hospital, we were too late."

"It cannot be, Mother! It just cannot be," I said, shaking my head in denial. "Why is this the first I have heard of this? I would have come if...if..." I choked, unable to voice the remainder of what I wanted to say.

"I only heard a little while ago, darling. There was nothing...nothing at all you could have done," Mother whispered tightly.

"I could have been there for Lenora. She is my sister! I should have been there for her! Oh, Mother, what are we to do?" Grief ascended upon me like a winter storm, and I cold barely draw breath from the weight of it.

"Darling, I'm going back to the hospital to examine Lenora. Something isn't right about this entire thing and I want some answers. We must face the possibility that Lenora may be lost to us forever," Mother said.

"Are you saying she might not be dead?" I asked hopefully.

"I don't know, child. She appears to be gone. There are no vital signs, no signs of life, but yet, something is not right. I wanted to come here and tell you myself before you found out any other way, darling. I don't want you to be alone, so I think we should call Robin and ask him to come be with you while I check things out, all right?" She held me tight for another moment before reaching for her cell phone.

I was on my knees, weeping inconsolably, when Robin arrived. I was too overcome to open the door myself, but Mother had left it unlocked for him. He was instantly at my side, pulling me into his arms.

"It's all right. It's all right...all right. I'm here." Robin crooned to me in low, soothing tones as I held onto him for all I was worth.

"It cannot be, Robin! It just cannot be! Not Lenora! Oh, please tell me it is not Lenora," I said desperately.

Robin breathed out on a sob, and I knew my pleas were in vain. "I wish I could, Alina, my heart. Mom called me just a little while ago, then Mathilda's call came right after that. I can hardly believe it myself."

Despair overtook me, and I went limp in Robin's arms. I barely felt him lift me and carry me to the sofa where he sat down with me in his lap. Both Robin and I wept for what the loss of Lenora meant to both of us. Lenora had been Robin's aunt and the sister I had always longed for. My heart was broken for Tyrone and their beautiful children, who would now grow up without the loving mother they adored.

Amidst all of this, thoughts of our upcoming wedding surfaced, and I wept all the more. I had asked Lenora to be my Matron of Honor. The bottomless pit of grief loomed before me as I thought of my wedding day without Lenora to share it with.

My mother was very quiet about things after her trip to the hospital. She had a lot on her mind, and I got the impression that she knew some things she was not speaking of right now. All I wanted was for her to tell me that this had all been a mistake and that Lenora would come back. Instead, it was her burial we were planning.

I could no longer deny what was happening when we arrived at the church and saw Lenora in her finery. She looked beautiful, as if she would sit up and tell us not to worry, that it had all been a mistake. Sadly, that did not happen. I touched her hand and nearly drew back as I felt how cold it was. I had to recognize that she was lost to us forever, that Lenora had gone into that eternal sleep that all of us, except for a very blessed few, would have to face.

Tears spilled down my cheeks and I heard Robin weeping softly beside me. This was supposed to be the happiest time of our lives, but instead, we were burying one of my most precious treasures, my beloved sister.

As Lenora's service progressed, I caught my mother's eye. I saw her looking around discreetly, ever watchful of all that was happening. My mother had an eagle's eye for detail and it was working diligently this day.

I was not handling my loss very well at all. The abyss of despair swam closer and closer to me every day, and I found it nearly impossible to not fall into it. Robin stayed with me constantly, for he had told me over and over how worried he was about me. I hated myself for not feeling stronger and more courageous to battle my grief, for I hated seeing how vexed Robin looked. He, too, was hurting and I could do nothing to comfort him.

A few days after we put Lenora in the ground, Robin came over for his usual visit and the discussion of our wedding arose. "Robin, please do not be angry with me, but I feel we should postpone the wedding. it is not right for us to marry when we are all still so heartsick. Please understand."

Robin heaved a large sigh, looking so very sorrowful that it maimed my soul. "I understand, Alina. Truly, I do. The family will understand."

"It will not be forever, my Robin, for even in my grief, I long to be your wife," I said. "I am just so sick at heart right now."

We all are, Alina. We all are," Robin said.

My morale continued to decline. I had difficulty sleeping and would toss and turn most of the night. When I did sleep, it was only fitfully and I had terrible nightmares. I ate only enough to survive, and I discovered I was losing weight.

The things I once took pleasure in meant very little to me now. I could not hold concentration for very long, for my mind veered toward dark thoughts such as what it was like on the other side. Was Lenora with my father and little brother now? Were they in forever torment or was there some sort of benevolent spirit guide to help them?

I should have recognized that I was in no shape to be mixing Alchemy elixirs. As I carelessly added ingredients to the cauldron, my mind wandered. I misread the recipe and erred in my measurements of the ingredients. The potion glowed an eerie orange color and my cauldron melted before my eyes. I backed away, coughing, but was too slow to avoid the noxious fumes altogether.

In less than an hour, I was frightfully ill. I had always taken great pains to have a care while mixing elixirs, but I had made a grievous error this time. The little that was in my stomach was disgorged into the toilet and I began to experience uncontrollable chills. My teeth chattered and then, I felt unbearably hot the next instant. Minute by minute, I was finding it more and more difficult to draw breath. I reached for my cell phone, but alas, it was nowhere to be found. Vaguely, I remembered setting it on the table. I tried calling out for help, but my voice was only a weak gurgle. Stars began dancing before my vision and everything was drifting far, far away. I tried to crawl toward the door but I could not. As my remaining strength left me, everything went black.