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.