Immortal Reborn - Arianna's Choice, page 17
The two strolled outside for almost thirty minutes in companionable silence. Alex was lost deep in thought, trying to process the experience of meeting so many immortal children. They were so beautiful in so many different ways, not only physically, but from within as well. There was something shining through in each one’s eyes that drew her in like a moth to a flame. Alex wondered if humans were as fascinated by them as well. Then she remembered Jack at her side.
Alex glanced up at him, and Jack caught her movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to look down at her. His hands were clasped behind his back as he walked, which she was learning was a position he seemed comfortable with. Jack had appeared impressed by the proceedings, but he had yet to look star struck by the immortals.
He raised an eyebrow at her. “You feeling okay? Want to sit a moment?”
There were gazebos and benches placed at strategic positions throughout the gardens so that a person could rest and meditate while enjoying their time communing with nature. The gardens were not heavily sculpted, though it was obvious that meticulous planning had gone into the different themes for various sections.
Instead, there were whole areas where Alex could tell wildflowers were permitted to grow of their own accord and nature was allowed to plan its own course, rather than bend to the dictates of a gardener. She imagined it would be hard to tear her away from this land in spring when the earth had come back to life and flowers were in full bloom.
Alex let Jackson lead her over to a gazebo, and she sat back, extending her long legs and reclining her head on the back of the seat. She glanced over at him and noticed Jack seemed just as lost in thought as she, while he gazed out across the grounds.
“I’m sure you have a million questions. How are you with all of this?” she asked hesitantly.
“I think I’m actually doing quite well, all things considered.” He smirked down at her.
That dimple was back in his cheek, and Alex looked down to study her fingers instead of him. She needed to ask him a question, but she did not know if he would answer her.
“Jack, if I ask you a question, would you promise me you’ll answer it truthfully?”
Now his eyebrows really did arch high on his forehead.
“Alex, I don’t have anything to hide from you. While I am with you, I am completely on your side, so I’m not going to be keeping any secrets from you. Ask away, and I’ll answer as best I can.” He nodded to add emphasis to his declaration.
“Okay. What exactly did Wallace and Conner tell you before we left?”
“Ah, they told me you would want to know as soon as we were alone, and they were right! They know you very well,” he said appraisingly.
“Better than anyone,” Alex confirmed.
“Well, they told me that you were a very gifted, bright, young lady. They told me about the visions that presented themselves when you were young, and how you could describe in detail what you were seeing in any language that you heard while witnessing the scene. They told me how you methodically shut down over the years, until, according to Wallace, you shared a vision with someone you called your Guardian Angel, and then the voices seemed to quiet themselves.”
“Conner also spoke of how you seemed to be in a race against time after that fateful night; trying to live as normal a life as you could, and trying to soak up the human experience as if you might run out of time and miss an opportunity. And even though it appeared you had indeed been granted a reprieve, you experienced constant anxiety not knowing when time would run out on the freedom you were gifted with.”
“Both of your brothers felt like the assault you experienced at Lord Lenley’s affair entailed more than you let on, but they wanted you to tell them when you were ready. Nobody’s going to force the story from you, not even me, Alex. When you were napping on the helicopter, John told me what and who the Nephilim are. He spoke of Arianna and Ganymede, and told me briefly about what might transpire here at Aeoferth Hall.”
“And yet you came,” she whispered, astonished that he had not called them all nuts and bolted for the nearest door.
“Yes,” Jack laughed, and it was a warm, genuine sound, “I came. John told me if I couldn’t handle this or if I tried to betray their confidence in any way, they would wipe any memory of this trip or of you from my mind and deposit me back in London. I’ll admit, I thought he might be joking, but he was dead serious. I didn’t want to leave you in this on your own, and I certainly didn’t want to forget you ever existed.” Jack’s ears and cheeks began to color pink at his admission, and Alex felt her cheeks warm as well.
She looked back down at her fingers, unsure of what to say. But words came unbidden from her lips. “I’m glad you came. I don’t really have any friends, you see. It’s kind of hard to explain to anyone what I have experienced or what might come crashing back in. I’ve just kept people at the surface, nothing too deep.” Alex was amazed at how her confession made her feel like a weight was being lifted. It actually was nice to talk to someone who was not judging, only listening.
Jack nodded to indicate he understood.
“Well, it seems to me that you have an entire house – if you can call that gargantuan structure a house – full of folks who want to be your friend very badly. You may end up with more friends than you ever thought you’d have out of this before it’s over, Alex. And that seems like a really good thing if you ask me.”
Jack’s quiet confidence reassured her and gave Alex strength.
“What do you say, we go back in and see what kind of spread these folks put on? I don’t know about you, but I’m just a bit hungry.”
Alex appreciated his light-hearted tone and could easily see that Jack was trying to put her at ease.
Jack stood and held out his hand, and Alex placed her palm trustingly in his. He gave her a light squeeze, and she rose to walk back into the castle with him.
When they reached the dining hall, food and fellowship were already flowing heartily. Alex and Jack were beckoned forward and placed near one another at the center of an immense mahogany table. An ornate fireplace taller than Jack anchored the wall behind them, and it was alight with a crackling fire. Alex let her eyes roam over the heavily paneled room, taking it all in. She noted three large chandeliers lighting the space, and Alex gave up counting chairs lining the table when she reached one hundred.
Alexandria and Jack remained in the expansive dining hall for over two hours, laughing and talking with some of the same immortals Alex had recognized earlier, and additional new faces whom she had not spoken to previously. They regaled her with tales of Arianna’s past, and to Alex, it seemed as if Arianna was the backbone of their congregation.
Why then had she perished, Alex began to speculate. It sounded as if Arianna knew no limits, could physically and mentally subdue any opponent, and had the foresight to avoid situations which would cause her pain or injury. What indeed had happened to Arianna? As she wondered this, Alex noticed several Nephilim had stopped talking, eating, or drinking and were staring intently at her.
“I know you can all hear me,” she thought pointedly at those who shared this ability. “I am curious how one so powerful, one so wise, could allow herself to be driven from her body and this mortal plane. Who will tell me?”
At first, no one answered, not telepathically nor aloud. They all seemed stunned that Alexandria had already reached the point where she felt ready to ask this most important of questions.
“Come now; that is why I’m here, right? Something very significant happened in Arianna’s life, something that she was unable to combat, and it cost her, her life.” Alex let that statement hang in the air, hoping one of them would break their silence and answer her.
“Alexandria, to this day we don’t know the full scope of Arianna’s last few moments, but we do know what led up to her demise. We have a core group of twelve which help lead our kind. Most are here tonight. Let
“Yes, thank you,” she mentally agreed, nodding in his direction. Alex noticed Rohan nod once in her direction as if he approved of her bold question. The other immortals sensed something was afoot and began to wind down the celebration.
Jack leaned over and whispered, “Anything I need to know about?”
“You’re very good at this, you know,” she chuckled. “We’ll be heading to the library when we leave here. I want you to come along too if you don’t mind. I’ve asked a question that needs answering before we proceed much further. They have agreed to talk, but there’ll be just a few of us.”
“Alright,” he said.
As the bulk of the gathering made their way out of the room, Alexandria counted eleven immortals left in the dining hall. She had met all of them either in the ballroom or during the meal. They stood one by one and began to head out in the direction of the castle’s library. Jackson rose, then pulled out Alex’s chair for her so she could stand as well. John waited by the doorway and walked with them down the long corridor.
Alex noted the many pieces of art which hung on the walls or stood on pedestals and niches. “You collected many of these, you know,” John remarked, gesturing to the impressive collection. “This is only a small sampling, mind you, but you always had a knack for discovering artists before the rest of the world could see their gifts manifest.”
One particular oil landscape caught Alex’s eye, and she stopped to marvel at it. “Please tell me this isn’t by the artist I think it is,” she breathed out.
John stopped and looked along with her. “Oh, you mean Monet? Indeed. He quite liked you. You were one of the few he allowed to call him Oscar, and if you hadn’t used your powers of persuasion with those who held sway over the French cavalry at the time, he might have languished and died in Algeria. And then the world would never have witnessed the genius that was just waiting to blossom.” John smiled and shook his head, then turned and continued on down the hallway.
Alex promised herself that she would make time while she was there to take in the expansive collection. If only Conner were with her to look at the historical items held within these walls, she mused.
“Perhaps someday, Alex. Perhaps,” called John over his shoulder.
They finally reached a junction in the hall and turning left, John entered the first door on the right. Alex and Jack quietly followed. Once inside, Alex stopped and gazed around in sheer admiration and wonder. Now she wished her father were there.
The library rose a full three stories in height, and books lined the walls on sturdy, dark wooden cases that soared from floor to ceiling. The right wall of the cavernous room had large, stained glass and clear paned windows interspersed amongst that wall’s cases to allow light in. Rolling track ladders made it easier to retrieve any volume from the bookcases, and Alex noted that there were scrolls, as well as books, stored on the shelves.
There were many desks scattered around the floor with chairs alongside, but some were so piled high with books and papers that the wood was completely obscured from view. Still, other chairs and sofas were positioned throughout the room with accompanying lamps so people could sit and read, study, or nap. Alex noted several game tables set up between chairs as well, holding intricately carved chess sets with games already in progress. Other tables held such games as Mancala, Mah Jongg, Draughts, Go, and an early form of chess, called Chaturanga.
Like the ballroom, the library’s ceiling was one expansive mural, displaying various images of enlightened minds bent in study, debating hypotheses with colleagues, measuring, inventing, or just pondering. The images were a collage of scientific and mathematical geniuses, with literary and artistic greats commingled in the airy exhibit. Alex spotted Isaac Newton, Plato, Socrates, da Vinci, Copernicus, Pythagoras, Euclid, Muhammad al-Khwarizmi, Ptolemy, Aristotle, Michelangelo, and to Alex’s astonishment, Archimedes.
She turned her eyes away from the ceiling, and they fell to Archimedes’ face. “Brilliant!” Alex exclaimed.
“The ceiling or the collection?” he asked, trying to play coy but failing miserably.
“Oh, you know I love it all. How do you ever get anything accomplished? I would never want to leave this room!” She gestured up at the mural. “Which master created this, Archimedes?”
“Ah, that would be Sinjon. He’s very good but often lacks the confidence to really embrace his talent. He’s coming along though, and as the years progress, he does hone his talent. One of the benefits of an extraordinarily long life, which I am sure many of the masters wish they had been given a fraction of. It gives one time enough to patiently nourish their innate abilities until they become perfected.”
“Sinjon misguidedly thinks he is far from having perfected his talents, though perhaps that drive to better himself is what keeps him interested in the work,” he mused aloud. Archimedes began to rock back and forth on his heels again as he contemplated his last statement.
The sound of Elrick clearing his throat brought Archimedes, Alexandria, and Jackson’s attention back to the smaller gathering of immortals, and they walked forward to join the group. Rohan and Benen were pulling chairs together so they could sit in a circle and see one another clearly. Jack stepped forward and helped bring two more over, causing Rohan to give him a startled look. Jack simply smiled back at him.
“Alex.” John gestured to a soft looking leather chair.
She inclined her head and took her seat, looking around the circle to see who was a part of the elite gathering. Archimedes sat immediately to Alex’s right, and from there the circle progressed. He was the first to speak to the group once they were all settled.
“Tonight we shall make an effort to speak aloud so that Mr. Campbell will not be excluded from our talks. Though it is most unusual for a human or even another immortal to be called to join us, we will honor Ganymede’s request that he be present with Alexandria.”
“I ask that each of us introduce ourselves once more for Jack’s benefit and, if we so choose, claim the land from which we hail.”
Each Nephilim gave voice to their name as if they were calling role. “John of England.” “Elrick of Scotland.” “Ahadi of the Kingdom of Kush, now Sudan.” “Tomoko of Wa, known today as Japan.” “Sabina of Rome.” “Nikolaj of Siberia.” “Benen of Ireland.” “Nassor of Arabia.” “Rohan of Germania.” “E-We of the Cherokee.” Finally, Archimedes said, “Archimedes of Greece.”
Eleven immortals faced Alexandria and Jackson, and she could feel the power and collective knowledge radiating out, touching her mind and spirit. Alex gasped, and Jackson, who was seated to her immediate left, reached out to her. Several frowns followed his arm, but he did not pull back.
“Hey, you okay there?” he asked as he searched her face.
“Yes, thank you,” Alex reassured him. There was no way to describe what she felt, so she refrained from saying anything.
Archimedes drew her attention, and Jack let his hand fall back to the arm of his chair.
“Alexandria, as you have been told, this is all new and uncharted territory for us. You are here at last, and it is our sole intent to give you whatever information you seek so that you can make an informed decision about your future. Several members of our council expected you to become acclimated to our kind at a slower pace, but others here thought that once the dam sprung a leak, the water would find a way to push forth. I think after what we’ve witnessed tonight, it is safe to assume the latter to be true.”
“To the best of our ability, we will try to explain what we know about Arianna’s demise and what led up to her last moments. But first, we need to tell you a little information about what led up to that day.” Archimedes gestured for Sabina to proceed with the account.
“Even when I met her so long ago, Arianna had already walked this earth for thousands of years, like her father. She saw the Egyptian, Mayan, and Aztec pyramids go up, she traversed the globe before others were daring to take ships across the great seas, and she was helping humans establish towns and villages that would leave their marks throughout mankind’s history. She healed and inspired many noteworthy people to strive for more information, more inspiration, and more tolerance,” Sabina said, gesturing towards the ceiling.
“But her work did not go unnoticed, and not everyone approved of her determination to help humans advance.” Sabina bowed her head for a moment, and Nassor continued for her.
His voice was rich and commanding as he began. “Often when one is doing good, those who abhor what is right take notice first. They seek to destroy that which they fear most, and for us, that means the children of the Fallen.”
Alexandria thought back to her conversation with Ganymede in her parents’ garden. He had told her that Lucifer allowed his Fallen angels to mix with humans as well. She thought of Bertrand and shivered from head to toe. Jack reached over and touched her hand again, and this time Alex noticed Rohan’s eyes tracking the movement with thinly veiled anger. She smiled her thanks at Jack and moved her arm off of the chair and into her lap to break contact. Jack might not care about Rohan’s opinion, but Alex was not looking forward to a possible feud between the two.
“There came a time when the Fallen’s children became emboldened by their successful destruction of human life, peace, and ingenuity,” Nassor continued. “They targeted us and looked for ways to undermine our efforts. When they grew bored with that game, they sought to wipe us from the earth. Arianna knew their plot before they did, and had already started to seek us out, train us, and form us into a cohesive group. Together we are much stronger and more protected than if we were out in the world alone.” Nassor looked at Archimedes after he spoke, and a silent exchange passed between the two. Both looked pensive and saddened by whatever thought they were sharing.
“Needless to say,” added Elrick, “we became very strong and determined. Arianna formed this council of twelve to monitor the whereabouts and work of all of the others, and to help mentor and guide the newest of our kind. She was always the first one a new Nephilim would work with after their angelic parent returned to the Lord, and since her passing, there has not been another new immortal child born.”
“Wait,” interrupted Alex. “Not another one born? How long ago did Arianna die?” She looked around the group expectantly, and it was Rohan who answered.
“One hundred and twenty-one years, three months and four days ago,” he said evenly.
Alexandria did the math quickly and looked back at him sharply.
“She died one hundred years ago to the day I was born?” she asked, astonished.
“Yes, Alex,” responded John. “You came to this world exactly one century after Arianna passed. We had hoped to see you sooner, but our fathers believed it would be better to let some time pass before they requested you be allowed to come back. I have often thought of how the last century’s technological advances would have excited you. Oh, I’m sorry. I misspoke,” he admonished himself. “I meant her.”
“It’s alright,” Alex reassured him and marveled at the authoritative tone she heard pass through her lips. Alex looked back at Elrick and directed her next question to him. “You said she formed a council of twelve, yet there are only eleven of you here tonight with Jack and me. Where is the twelfth member?”
This time no one seemed ready to answer her.
Finally, E-We spoke, and her voice sounded like soft rain pattering across the cool stones of her native Appalachian mountains. “There is another who could not be with us tonight. Sometimes our work keeps us from always being ready for council business, and many of us are currently tracking children of the Fallen and cannot leave their posts. Our twelfth member is tasked with such work and is not able to join us at this time.” She nodded solemnly at Alex, letting her know that she was finished speaking on the topic.
Benen spoke next, drawing Alex’s attention from E-We’s stillness and quiet reverie. “As Arianna was our first and most powerful, so too was there a counterpart amongst the Fallen’s children. A leader who tried to mimic Arianna’s organization and instruction amongst his own kind. And though he sought to collect his brethren into an elite fighting force, they rebelled even within their own ranks. They fought one another for power and control, and they pulled away, not wanting to be under anyone’s authority or command. It is their reluctance to befriend one another that has worked to our advantage time and time again.”
Alex felt the hair on the back of her arms and neck begin to rise. She felt her heart rate accelerate, and she began to draw in shallow breaths. She tried desperately to hold on, not wanting to be swept away from this most important of discussions. Alex dug her nails into the leather arms of the chair, trying to anchor herself to a tangible object. But try as she might to fight the undertow, the room in front of her darkened and disappeared from sight, and she saw that she was standing on a cliff overlooking a rocky shore below. Water foamed and cascaded over the rocks as the current pulled it to and fro.
Wind and mist whipped her hair around, and Alex reached up to brush it back behind her ears. She found herself facing a man whose back was turned towards the cliff. He was beautiful, with deep brown, wavy hair, light hazel eyes, and a thick muscular build. He stood much taller than she, and he had a look of absolute anguish on his exquisite face.
“No!” he screamed. “You cannot do this to me; you cannot take from me what is mine! What gives you the right?” he laughed bitterly, the sound landing harshly on her ears. “You cannot fix everything and everyone, Arianna. I’ll be damned if you will succeed with me!” And though he yelled and rebelled against her, she moved closer to him.
Alex could feel Arianna’s pulse quicken as she came increasingly closer to this being who was eyeing her warily and inching closer to the sheer drop behind. He held up his hands in warning for her to stop her advance, but she kept coming. Finally, she was within reach, and she lifted her hand, laying it aside his cheek. Tears began to run unchecked down his face, and he shook his head in denial at the love and forgiveness that flowed from her to him.
“I do not believe all is lost for you and your kind, Kronis. If I did, then I would be ready to give up and join my Father. God forgives all, and that includes you. Do you think yourself above His mercy? Do you think yourself so far removed from His grace? He can wipe you clean and heal you if you will only let Him! Do not turn away from this redemption. Call all of your brothers and sisters together and join us,” she pleaded, throwing all of her regret for the lost ones and affection for them into her palm. Alex felt a surge of white-hot power leave her and enter him.
Kronis’ pupils dilated, and he opened his mouth in shock and wonder. He gasped loudly as her energy spread throughout his body. And then she saw it in his eyes – his reaction to the wonder of the new feeling of enlightenment and pure, unadulterated love.
“Yes,” she whispered, nodding at him. Alex realized that she, too, had tears streaming down her face. Kronis fell to his knees, and she went with him so that they were still looking into each other’s eyes.
“I never knew,” he choked
She smiled sadly because she knew all of his transgressions. She knew of the human and Nephilim deaths Kronis had either inflicted personally or helped to orchestrate. She knew of the chaos that he had masterminded, and of his continued determination to undermine all that she worked to create and uphold.
“Because, there but for the grace of God go I, Kronis. We are all of us half human. We all feel temptation, the desire to interfere with humans’ choices and the need to alter their paths. The pull of the power within us is a heady and potent enticement, and we have to constantly will ourselves to resist. It would be so easy to give in to it and play God. But we are not Gods, nor are our fathers. They are only servants to the one, true God.”
“You were raised to believe your path lay only in one direction – one that leads to pain and suffering. I have seen humans with the same twisted message from their parents or owners too many times. The damage that such indoctrination can do to a child is so hard to surmount, but it can be if one has the will to change. You have to want it so badly that you overcome what you were raised to be. Do you want the Light enough, Kronis? Can you see now what we could accomplish together if we were no longer fighting each other?” Please, she thought to herself, please want this!
There was still such a raw look of pain and internal struggle reflected in Kronis’ eyes. Could he triumph over the parentage of a Fallen angel? She had no way of knowing, but Arianna had tired of wondering. After all the ages of war and threat, she was ready to find out. Arianna had pushed Kronis to the edge, quite literally, and there was no way out for either of them now.
Arianna had finally succeeded in trying to show one born of darkness the Light. A Light that was cleansing, but also terrifying to one such as he, for it held up a mirror to all of the sins he had committed through the ages. The weight of that alone might crush him and dash her hopes of reconciliation. She had not told the other Nephilim that she was meeting Kronis there. They had made it clear to her that they thought the plan too risky.
But Arianna had believed that the Light would always chase away the darkness, and so she had secretly arranged the meeting. She had searched deeply within herself in the days leading up to their rendezvous, and found that this core belief was what had sustained her through the thousands of years she had tread the earth. She could not abandon that truth now in the face of such insurmountable odds. What was even more surprising, was that Kronis had indeed come to the abandoned and lonely cliff top to hear her words. That was no small victory in her mind, and it gave her hope.
“I cannot give you the words, Arianna,” he breathed out. “A part of me wants to, now more than I ever thought possible, but I cannot. This is too new, too much!” Kronis clawed at his chest as if he could tear the new sensation from his breast and hide from the tidal wave of emotion threatening to engulf him. He looked around wildly for a means of escape.
“Kronis, you do not have to answer me today. You do not have to pray and be forgiven today. You have at least felt what is possible, and you know the path you have to choose to make that feeling your own. What you do now is your choice, of your own free will.” Arianna shrugged slowly. “What I want you to do… well, you understand… really understand now, too.”
“Recognize that I walk away with a heavy heart, but I am here to help you follow a different destiny if you will only take what I offer. Grace and forgiveness are freely given, yes, but you will feel the weight of that choice and have to reconcile yourself to the changes such a life will bring. No more death, no more destruction. But pain… Yes, there will be pain. No one can do what you have, for as long as you have, and not feel it. I will take my leave, but you can come to me whenever you are ready.” Arianna removed her hand and began to unfold herself so she could stand, but Kronis’ hand shot out and clasped hers, stopping her.
“No! Stay, for just a while longer, please,” he pleaded.
She was startled but nodded her agreement. Arianna sank back to her knees and squeezed Kronis’ hand, which was still grasping hers as though it were a lifeline.
“Shall we pray?” she whispered.
His wide eyes reminded her of a frightened child, one not accustomed to kindness, but hungry for it all the same.
As Arianna began to pray quietly, Alex felt the familiar tug that drew her back to her own time. Only this time, she resisted. She wanted to stay with Arianna and look out of her eyes a while longer. Actually feel what she was feeling and be her. Alexandria looked down at her fingers, and Arianna’s were hers. They were one and the same. The struggle to hold on was too much, though, and she lost her connection to her past, twisting and swirling back to the present.