Throughout the walk Aidan’s thoughts were focused on Alexa instead of his surroundings. Somehow the strange connection between them was getting stronger. His control was slipping with the growing feelings Alexa was bringing out of him. He recalled the panic that overtook him when she disappeared. The warlock, Myrick, had touched her. The feeling of wanting to murder the man almost blinded him with its intensity. Unbidden, the thought that no one but him could touch her paralyzed him for a few seconds. Only the expression of shock on Myrick’s face let Aidan know somehow she escaped. It took him longer than he wanted it to, to make sure the warlock and his men could not follow before he left to search for her.
When he found her, the relief that went through him almost brought him to his knees. The feeling of her in his arms, the perfect way she fit against him, amazed him. It took all the strength he possessed to let her go. Her nearness almost made him forget where they were and that they needed to get to safety. It was only the arrival of Elron that helped him gain back some control.
Even now, her nearness was affecting him. Her face radiated with pleasure as she took in her surroundings. Every now and then a soft sigh escaped her. He clenched his teeth, fighting the urge to take the few steps that separated them to take her hand. His whole body was tense with his fight to stay away from her. How was he going to get through this?
It was obvious her opinion of him was not changed. He felt her stiffen in his arms. Was it possible she was immune to him? This never happened to him. She was right; he was used to having any woman in his bed. There were many who would be willing to take anything he offered. It was not his fault he was sought after. If nothing else, his title alone attracted available women to him. Alexa’s feelings were the opposite. He felt her disapproval every time they were together. How could they be so in tune, but so far apart?
He wondered if his mother knew what was happening to him. Would she tell him even if she did know? He needed something else to focus on, something to take his mind off of the woman walking in front of him. He forced his mind to the attack instead.
Who had betrayed them? There was no way Myrick and his followers would know where they were, unless someone gave them away. They had only been on the estate for a day. It was too little time for them to be discovered. Aidan made sure their whereabouts was protected. He listed the people who knew their location in his mind. Besides himself and Alexa, only seven people were at the house. He could not see Alexa’s parents betraying her. Bet and Elron were also not suspect. That left only three people. Would his mother betray them? She was ruthless and cold, but would she jeopardize their plans. His father was another unknown. The man changed through the years.
When he was younger, his father had been closest to him. Somehow, in the last couple centuries, they had grown apart. The man he knew would never have deceived them. He was not so sure now. Then there was Vanya, his mother’s confidant. He did not know much about her. She always stayed away from him. His mother trusted her implicitly.
He wondered if they found them some other way he could not see. Was he focusing too much at those closest to them? There were other ways, other people who could have been used. He would keep an open mind, as well as a keen eye.
Where was I? I turned in every direction trying to get my bearings. I knew this place. It was where I came across Aidan and Elron earlier. I was back in the place they called Deis-dé. Would I be safe here? I sat down heavily on the tall grass. Should I wait or try to explore? Where was everyone? How did I get here, again, on my own? The questions were endless as they ran through me. I decided to sit and wait, hoping someone would find me. It was peaceful, with the warm breeze and the sound of chirping birds. I slowly relaxed, realizing I was safe. Sliding closer to a tree, I leaned against its trunk, pulling my legs towards me. I wrapped my arms around my knees, silently pleading for someone I trusted to come find me.
Time dragged on. A few times I thought I heard my name being called. Feeling it was better to stay put, I waited listening to the sounds around me. I must have fallen asleep for a while. The sound of someone calling my name woke me. Rising to my feet, I readied to run at the first sign of trouble.
“Alexa?” I heard my name just as Aidan appeared from under the covering of the trees. He ran towards me, pulling me into his arms. I stood wooden in his embrace, not sure how to react. Realizing I was not hurt, I felt him sigh against my cheek.
“I couldn’t feel you. I thought I, um, we had lost you.” He said, stepping back from me. His arms dropped to his sides while he looked me over.
“I’m sorry.” I said. “I don’t know what happened.”
He took another step back, putting some distance between us physically and emotionally. I could tell he was just as confused as I was by his reaction. I was relieved to be found, even if it was by him.
“It’s all right.” He breathed unsteadily. “It took me longer than it should have to realize this is where you might be.”
We turned as we heard someone else coming. From the opposite direction Aidan had appeared from we both saw Elron come to a stop as he saw us. Seeing we were both safe, he strolled casually towards us.
“This is amazing.” He chuckled, as he approached. “This is the safest spot for us after all.”
Seeing no one else arrive, I started to worry about my mom. I did not know how I ended up there, but from what Eliana said, my mother would not be able to get here. Were they safe?
“Where’s everyone else?” I turned looking around. “What happened?”
Aidan took a step closer to me; some impulse seemed to drive him to touch me again. He visibly shook himself; aware he had revealed more than he should have. I was curious about what he was feeling. A wall seemed to separate us suddenly. It was as if he was blocking his thoughts from me. His display confused me. Whatever he was feeling, I was not ready to examine it. We were still strangers. I knew nothing about him. The only feeling he seemed to draw from me was annoyance. I was still staring at him when Elron spoke to break the silence.
“We were attacked.” Elron stated the obvious. “They had a warlock with them. He was the one who caused the explosions. After you disappeared we all split up. Aidan and I were sent to find you.”
“What about my mom? Is she safe?” I was worried about her.
“Rider stayed behind to get your mother to safety. We don’t know where they are. We should head to the safe house for now. When it’s safe for the others they will meet us there.”
Elron pointed in a direction to our right. Aidan placed his hand on the small of my back, gently pushing me to walk in the direction Elron pointed at. Just that small touch brought heat to my face. I avoided his eyes and lowered my head to look at the ground. A small growl escaped him as I walked faster to put more distance between us. My steps faltered as I bumped into Elron who stopped and turned back to look at us. His expression was comical as he stared at us. Aidan and I carefully avoided looking at each other. Shaking his head, Elron resumed his trek through the forest. I followed him, keeping a good distance between Aidan and me.
Able to finally appreciate my surroundings, I let myself take it all in. The place was magical. The sun shone through the opening of the tree line above us. Many varieties of flowers bloomed, types I had never seen before. They colored the world around me. My head swiveled while my eyes captured the splendor. I felt amazed by the serene landscape, the way nature magnified the colors around me. The green leaves on the trees gave a glow of emerald prisms. Everything seemed to have an aura around it. I looked down at my hands and saw they had a slight shine emanating from them. Smiling, I continued watching the world through new eyes.
We walked for what seemed like hours before Elron stopped and held up his hand for us to stop. I could see a clearing before me. Listening for any sounds, satisfied that it was clear, he waved us forward. We stepped out from under the cover of the trees into an even more astounding sight.
My eyes latched onto Aidan’s when we entered the room. He nodded slightly to me, his presence somehow reassuring me. Odd he suddenly made me feel this way. Up till now, he was nothing but aggravating. Instead of sitting, I stood next to my mother who took a seat next to Bet.
“Is there anything else?” I forced myself to look at Eliana, not wanting her to see how she unnerved me.
“I think that will be all for now. We should be ready to leave at first light.” Her words were more like an order.
“I’m not going anywhere unless I know where I’m going.” She would not rule over me. Her eyes blazed briefly in anger before she answered me.
“We have a place in mind, although there may be a problem. It doesn’t matter, you will be safe there.”
“What problem?” I insisted.
Her silence spoke volumes. She did not want to answer me. Anger like I had never known before grew in me. I was ready to explode at her. Calm down. Aidan was looking at me, worried. I told you to stop that. I pushed back at him.
“We have a place in mind. I’d prefer to keep everyone together.” Aidan answered for her, his last thought to me had me counting to ten, trying to control my anger.
“Where is this place? Why wouldn’t we be together?” The rest of them could come, but if Eliana wanted to leave she was welcome to do it. Aidan smiled slightly, hearing my last thought.
“It is the place where you found me and Elron this morning. We are not sure if only you will be able to enter with us. Our side can go there easily. I’m not sure about your mother.” Aidan explained.
“Oh. I don’t know how I ended up there either.” Still surprised I somehow breached into that world.
“Yes, that is a mystery.” Asher spoke under his breath. The man realized he spoke aloud, and quickly glanced at his wife before falling silent again. She did not even notice as she continued unrelentingly staring at me.
“Can’t we find somewhere else? I need my mother with me. We can’t leave her unprotected.”
“Don’t worry about me.” My mom reassured me.
“Whoever planted the explosion at your apartment thought you were inside at the time. It was luck you weren’t there. Bet was sent to keep you safe. She should have known what was going to happen. Her feelings for you caused her to lose focus of her assignment.” Eliana harshly admonished her daughter.
Bet’s face showed shock at her mother’s cruel words. I walked behind the sofa Bet was sitting on and placed my hand on her shoulder, squeezing it. This woman needed to be put in her place. What was the matter with her?
“Your mother was already intercepted by Vanya to keep her safe. We were not in time though to save my other son. He was caught in the explosion. Now you see how easy it is to lose sight of what must be done.” She finished her sentence; her eyes accusingly looked at me.
Stunned, I realized that was why Bet was upset yesterday. I looked at Aidan, his anguish at the mention of his brother tore at me. I saw in his mind how he stood in front of the building when the explosion ripped it apart. What could I do to ease their pain? Was this my fault?
No Alexa, never your fault. Don’t blame yourself. He shouldn’t have gone in alone.
Aidan tried to ease my guilt.
“None of this is your fault.” He reassured me. “They would have found you.” He stopped mid-sentence, something catching his attention outside.
Noticing his gaze focusing on something outside the window, Asher quickly stood, walking towards it. He pulled the curtain aside and we all saw what Aidan had. Four lights were meandering down the road towards our location. Before Asher could turn to warn us, the ground shook beneath my feet. An explosion rocked the house’s foundation. Everyone was thrown off their feet as another shock wave hit us. Aidan and Asher were thrown away from the window as I stumbled and fell to my knees. I heard my name being called, but I could not find my voice. Black smoke filled my lungs. Panic rose in me. Bet ran towards me when another blast threw her aside. I saw Aidan getting up from where he had fallen not far away from me, trying to reach me before another explosion threw him back.
Asher grabbed onto Eliana, vanishing with her before my eyes. I saw Elron lift Bet to her feet while she frantically tried to find me in the destroyed room. I searched for my mother, but could not see her. Finding my voice, I yelled for her, my throat growing hoarse from the smoke. Where was she? Where was Rider? My father. Would I lose him before I got to know him? Tears from the smoke blinded me. I crawled towards the broken window, the fresh air coming in from it drawing me to it. Aidan was somewhere close to the window. Maybe I could find him. I lost all sense of him in the attack. Who was out there? I neared the window, gulping in the clean air. Aidan lay close by, his body under parts of a sofa and a table. The steady rise and fall of his chest let me know he was alive.
In the silence that descended inside the house, I heard Bet’s voice cry out for me. I could barely make her out from across the room. The woman, Vanya, was standing next to her, with Elron on the other side. She said something to them I could not hear. Elron nodded, touched Bet’s arm, vanishing before my eyes. Vanya started walking slowly towards me. I felt a hand on my arm, nearly screaming at its contact. Vanya’s eyes followed to where Aidan was standing next to me. She nodded at him before also disappearing.
Voices outside had me looking to see who was out there. Whoever they were, they were coming closer. Aidan pulled me up beside him, supporting me when I stumbled. He was about to speak when I saw a face in the window staring back at me. A face out of a nightmare, hideous and twisted, filled the space. The man scowling at me had an ugly red scar running from his right eyebrow, down across the bridge of his nose and his lips, to his left cheek. I screamed as he broke the remaining parts of the window and tried to reach me with his hands. Aidan pulled me back, placing himself in front of me. The look of menace on the man’s face held me riveted in place. I held on to Aidan’s arm trying to pull him away. He was ripped from my side by some unseen force. Thrown clear across the room, like some rag doll, I saw Aidan quickly get to his feet, running back towards me. I faced the window again, seeing the hideous creature trying to enter the room. His wrinkled hands, long bony fingers with sharp razor-like fingernails reached towards me. I was mesmerized by the chilling look he gave me. Turning towards Aidan, I reached out for him. He was still too far away. I closed my eyes just before the nightmare behind me touched me. I felt like I was floating for a second, like I was not part of the world around me. Silence filled my ears; a blinding light lit my still-closed eyes. Landing softly on what felt like a soft carpet, I slowly opened my eyes. I landed on my knees, my arms still stretched out reaching for Aidan. Above me the sun blazed strongly. I found myself in a forest, the towering trees surrounding me.
Aidan listened in sporadically on Alexa’s conversation with her mother. It amazed him how he was able to hear her, feel her. Her dislike of him was amusing. In all his six-hundred-and-forty-three years, it was not an emotion he ever evoked from a female. Whatever was happening to them, he was not going to share with his mother either. He felt his own anger at the way she spoke to Alexa rising again. For now, he needed to concentrate on what she was saying. He would deal with things as they came.
“The girl needs to accept to do things as I say.” Her words heated his already unstable emotions.
“My dear, maybe we need to be a little more understanding.” Asher interrupted her.
“Now is not the time for understanding. She must follow my instructions. Asher, you know what we have to lose.” Eliana’s own anger was rising. It was unacceptable that this girl would question her on what must be done.
“Mother.” Aidan said forcefully. “Alexa will do what must be done. You need to stop trying to order her around. It won’t work.”
Eliana stared at her son, seeing more than he knew. Around him, cords of multi-colored lights flickered, wrapping themselves around him. They stretched out of the room, towards the garden where Alexa was sitting with her mother. They wrapped around Alexa, returning to Aidan, completing a circle around them. Already the strings binding them were expanding, growing in strength. It was only a matter of time. She steeled herself not to feel remorse. This was something foreseen, that would take him away from her. They all had their own obstacles to face. For the first time she felt a sadness looking at him. If only he knew the sacrifices he would have to make. She had already borne so much. Forcing herself to feel nothing, she let her gaze fall away from him.
“Make sure she does.” Was all she said.
What was that look that flitted across her face for a moment? Aidan wondered. It made him want to reach out to her, to ease a burden he did not understand. The mental blocks she held against her thoughts made it impossible for him to delve deeper. Whatever it was, she was back to her usual self.
“I will do as I have to. We all have our parts to play.” Aidan reassured her.
Rider stood suddenly. He looked at Aidan before leaving the room. Rider’s stiff posture let him know he was not all right with how Alexa was being treated. For his part, Aidan understood that although Rider was one of them, his loyalties lay with Alexa and his wife. He could not fault him for that. Aidan felt trapped in a set of circumstances beyond his control. His feet wanted to leave as well, to join Alexa outside.
Dragging his hand through his hair in frustration, he noticed Bet staring at him, her expression puzzled at his emotions. Shaking his head at her, he returned to paying attention to what his mother was saying.
“There is still much that can go wrong. We need to keep her safe until the change.” Eliana worried aloud.
“Mother, we will keep her safe.” Bet reassured her.
“I wish it was that simple.” Eliana closed her eyes, trying to see into the future.
Aidan shook his head at her and walked over to join Elron by the fireplace. His friend was concerned for him, but knew now was not the time to discuss things. Even so, he still needed assurance that Aidan was fine.
“How are you holding up?” Elron asked him.
“I could be better.” Aidan answered back.
Bet had come up to them, wanting to know the answer as well. She was searching his face to understand what she was feeling from him. He shook his head to stop her from asking any questions.
“I’m going to need you both if things go sideways.” Aidan spoke to them quietly.
“You know we will support you in anything you decide.” Bet whispered back.
“I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but things are already sideways. I feel we are not being told critical information for this mission.” Elron voiced their reservations.
Aidan could only agree with Elron’s comment. He was fast approaching a decision to take matters into his own hands. The first thing they needed was the full story. There was only one place they could find that. The choice to go there was one he would have to make soon. Things were spiraling out of control. He had a nagging feeling they were being manipulated into this course. If that was the case, then they would have to chart their own course, away from his mother and her court.
“Be ready to leave if needed. I don’t think we will be here for long.” Aidan let them know.
“What about Alexa?” Bet asked, while searching his face for any reaction.
“Alexa is critical to this. She has to come with us. Bet, I need you to convince her. She will listen to you more than us.” Aidan kept his face neutral.
Bet accepted his answer by nodding at him. She looked at Elron, touched his arm lightly and moved away to return to her seat. Elron watched her as she walked away, making Aidan smile slightly at his friend.
“Stop grinning.” Elron admonished him.
“They’re coming back.” Aidan smiled and left Elron to take his position back where he had been.
That would make Aidan a prince, I almost laughed out loud. No wonder he was so arrogant, so full of himself. He had a lifetime of being a royal. People must fall all over themselves to please him. I wished I was anywhere but here. I did not belong with these people. The last thing I wanted was to be involved in any of this. I wanted out. With every last bit of strength I possessed, I avoided looking at him. It did little to calm my growing panic. I could still feel him staring at me. This must be a dream, a nightmare. I would wake up soon.
She is going to lose it. The thought stopped me cold. Who said that? My eyes darted across the faces of the people around me, landing finally on Aidan’s. Shock showed on his face, mirroring mine. It was him. How was that possible? I don’t know. I heard in my head. Get out. I screamed back at him in my head.
“Alexa, I need to explain some things to you.” My mother’s voice cut into my fraught emotions. My heart was racing. The urge to flee, to escape was building. Just a little longer. I heard his voice in my head again. I glared at him for ignoring me and continuing to communicate with me in my head. Turning my attention to my mother, she reached across the space that separated us, taking my hand in hers.
“I know this is a lot to take in. We need to speak privately.” She spoke softly, trying to reassure me. Continuing this conversation was not what I wanted to do at the moment. I needed some time to myself. I was not ready for more.
“Let’s take a break. I’m sure Alexa needs some time to absorb what she has learned so far.” Aidan offered me a small respite. Grateful he spoke out loud this time, I rose from my seat. Bet stood up to follow me. I put my hand on her arm, stopping her. I needed time alone.
The garden, you can be alone there. My feet froze as the thought intruded into my brain. My back was to him, but I accepted the offer without comment. He knew I had no idea where I could go. I continued to the patio doors, pulling them open, stepping out into the fading light of the sun. It was early evening. The cool breeze was welcome as it brushed my face. The path led out into a small garden lined with different colored rose bushes. In the middle, I found a bench and sat down to think.
I was lost where to begin. Eliana’s tale was astonishing, but I did not trust her. Her attitude towards me left me baffled. Why did I feel resentment from her? An overwhelming certitude flooded me that she was hiding something. If I were to believe her, I was to be some catalyst to fixing their world. How was I supposed to do that? I did not remember half of what she said; my mind could not absorb her words fully.
I breathed in slowly, the roses infusing me with their rich scent. Should I go along with this? I must pay attention, see what else they have to say and then decide what to do. Would it be possible to escape this? Aidan’s mother was what was worrying me most. She had an agenda. I was sure of it. There was coldness in her, leaving me to wonder about her reaction to me.
“Alexa.” My mother cut into my thoughts. I turned to look at her. I had no clue what to say to her.
“I know this is a lot to take in. This isn’t how I wanted you to find out. I wish you never had to know, but it’s too late now.” She took a seat beside me.
“You were always the best part of me and your father. I wanted to protect you from all of this. Maybe I should have spoken sooner. I can’t undo any of it.” I knew she felt pain from her decisions. Her words were laced with it. What I needed now was the truth, all of it.
“Mom, I think it’s time I knew about us.” Her response to my statement was a long sigh.
“Yes, it is. What Eliana said about Meredith is true. She is our ancestor. Not much is known about her, other than she was a powerful seer. A witch, sorceress. Those are the names others use for what we are. Her history is strange in that we don’t know where she came from. There are no records of where she was born or where she grew up. She appeared in Alba, what is now Scotland, in the year 823. There was a man claiming her as his daughter, but no other relatives. It is doubtful this man was really her father. She was taken in as an apprentice by another witch who was named Sara. Sara and Eliana were friends for many years. It was Sara who warned her of Meredith’s captivity by Elsam. He tortured and forced Meredith to do his bidding. What we are living through today is because Meredith set us on this course. I want to caution you. I don’t know exactly what Meredith did. Eliana knows, but she has altered the spell somehow. Alexa, I need you to be careful. I feel there is more going on that I don’t know about.”
“I don’t trust her, Mom.” I voiced my opinion.
“I know. There is more she will not share. Tread carefully. You have within you more power than I thought possible. I think you already started to feel some of it. Somehow it has awakened early.” Her statement was the perfect opportunity to tell her about Aidan. How we were able to speak telepathically. How I could feel what he was feeling.
Not yet. Wait until we have spoken. Unbidden, his words filled my head. I swore inside at his intrusion. Leave me alone! I was incensed at his listening in.
“Mom, what is going to happen on my birthday?” I asked her instead, wondering if he was listening in on our whole conversation.
“At the moment of your birth, all the powers you hold within you will come alive. I can’t say for certain what they will be. It’s different for all of us. My talents are manifestation, reading the near future and protection spells. I also have the ability to heal. You, I believe, will have many more, and need help learning to control them.”
My birthday was less than two months away. I realized my senses were heightened recently. This strange link to Aidan was somehow part of it.
“What will happen now?” The unknown had me worried.
“Let’s go see what they have been discussing.” My mom pulled me up.