Immortal Reborn - Arianna's Choice, page 18
“Alex, open your eyes if you can.” She heard Archimedes’ voice, and it sounded so far away, but her consciousness grabbed onto the sound and Alex used it to make her way back. Her eyelids fluttered open, and she saw several faces close at hand, the others standing not far away looking worried and pensive.
To Alex’s surprise, Rohan had collapsed his large frame on the floor near her and was holding her head in his lap and hands. Jack was also on the floor at her side with a wet cloth in his hand. John had moved to Alex’s former seat and was staring down at her, concern etched across his brow.
“It took you a while to return. Where were you this time, Alex?” he asked.
Her eyes widened in wonder. “I was Arianna, John. I mean, I felt at one with her. I felt her emotions, felt her anguish, and felt her desperation. She, or I, was with Kronis on a cliff overlooking the sea.”
Rohan’s hand brushed her hair back, and he looked worryingly into her eyes. Alex tried to sit up, only to realize how shaky and clammy she felt all over. Rohan moved to put his hands behind her back, and he steadied her, supporting her weight so she did not fall back and hit her head on the hardwood floor.
John and Archimedes shared a long look, then they both turned towards her.
“We knew that she met with him, but only after the meeting had taken place. It was the riskiest thing Arianna ever did, I think. But she believed that if she could bring Kronis to the table, then all the others would follow eventually,” said Archimedes.
“Some of us didn’t agree,” Rohan stated behind her.
“You’re angry with her; I understand, Rohan, I do. But if you could have seen her on the cliff, on her knees with Kronis, and felt the love emanating from every fiber of her being…” Alex’s voice trailed off as a thought suddenly occurred to her. Arianna was within her, so if she could see this, then she should be able to show all of them what she saw through her connection to them.
“What are you doing?” Rohan eyed her warily.
“Please, let me try,” Alex asked tentatively as she stretched her hand out in front of her. She concentrated on the memory she had just experienced. All of the emotion behind it began to come forth, and she used it to push the memory outward, going back through every second of it with each Nephilim in the room. Some widened their eyes, while others closed theirs and concentrated on the vision. Each, in turn, slowly released their breath as Arianna began praying with Kronis and the memory left Alex, signaling her release on those around her.
Alex noted that her hands were shaking violently and she felt cold all over. Rohan’s hands had not left her back, and though he looked stunned by what he had just witnessed, he reached around Alex and began to rub her hands, letting his chest warm her back.
“Thank you,” she said through chattering teeth.
“Hmph,” he huffed.
Alex looked up into Jack’s eyes and saw that they were shining brightly. Had he seen the vision too, she wondered? From the look in his eyes, Alex felt that he had.
No one said anything for several minutes as each tried to assimilate the new information into their established timeline of memories and history. Elrick shook his head sadly and spoke first.
“I never understood why she did it. When she came to us and told us that she had met with Kronis, I thought Arianna had finally lost her mind. I mean…” He seemed to be searching for the right words as he ran a frustrated hand through his thick hair. “I couldn’t imagine why she would want to meet with something so vile and evil. But seeing him like that, humbled and penitent. I… I just don’t know. Maybe she was right to try.” He looked around to gauge his fellow immortals’ thoughts.
“Doesn’t change a thing,” said Rohan through clenched teeth. “He still killed her.”
Alex sat up then under her own power and whirled around to look up into Rohan’s face. “What?” she mouthed.
“Yes,” he said, giving her a stern, no-nonsense glare. “Kronis waited a year after that meeting, and he killed her. When he attempted to draw in a few others to the possibility of change, they turned on him like a pack of rabid dogs. He lost his standing among them, and the only way Kronis thought he could get it back was to kill her.”
Alex reached out and squeezed Rohan’s hand. “I’m so sorry. So very sorry.” She did not know what to say that could ease his heartache. It was obvious that he was using his gruffness to hide the deep pain he was still experiencing from the loss of his friend. Alex looked around the room and saw the same haunted look on many of their faces. They were remembering her death, their mentor, their guide.
She began to think back through what had transpired in the last few days. So many changes, so much to process and digest. The words which Bertrand had threatened her with before Ganymede intervened came unbidden to her mind. “I knew that you weren’t dead. There was no way you were defeated, much less dead. No, you’re coming with me, and you can be damn sure I will be well rewarded when I produce your pretty face to the council.” Alex looked over at Jack, aware that he was about to hear a different version of her attack than the one she had recited to investigators.
She regained their attention by rising slowly and looking around at each one. “On the night of Lord Lenley’s ball, I came face to face with one of Kronis’ ilk. Bertrand threw me around like a ragdoll and would have taken me with him had Ganymede not come to save my life. He said he wanted to present me to the council to prove that I was not dead and receive a reward. What council was he referring to?” Alex’s tone left no doubt as to where her mind was running with the thought.
“Certainly not our council, Alex!” Ahadi vehemently interjected. “The Fallen’s children tried to emulate us, remember? They have a council of six, more or less, depending on how well they’re getting along at the time. If Bertrand threatened to take you before their council, he might have been trying to unseat Kronis again and claim the victory for himself in a bid for more power,” she added speculatively.
“Which means that Kronis will be coming for you,” said Rohan, standing now too and looking directly at Alexandria.
“I agree,” said Benen. “Kronis always knew what his brethren were up to, just as Arianna always knew where we were and what we were doing. It’s possible, that if Bertrand was making a power grab, he might have enlisted the help of a few others hoping for success.”
“Or, he may have kept his plan quiet, hoping the element of surprise could truly be on his side. He might have been worried that someone else would betray his confidence to Kronis,” speculated Nikolaj.
“So you think Kronis is coming to finish this once and for all?” Alexandria asked softly.
“Unfortunately, it would seem so, Alex,” Archimedes said regrettably. “He may come alone, or with help. We’ve no way of knowing. It’s possible Bertrand had allies who will want to finish what he started as well, so we may have multiple assaults from different fronts before this is over.”
She looked alarmingly at Jackson.
“What? What’s the matter?” he asked, picking up on her fear.
“Jackson, they’ll come for my family. How many people do you have watching them?” Alex asked, breathing heavily.
“We’ve got plenty guarding your family, and some will follow your brothers when they return to work,” Jack said, trying to reassure her.
Alex looked to Rohan next. “And how many do you have watching them?”
“Many,” he said, sounding sure of himself.
“We should fortify everyone for what’s to come, and prepare Alex,” Benen said, nodding in her direction.
“Yes, I concur,” replied Archimedes, walking over to stand directly in front of her. He reached out and squeezed both of Alex’s arms and smiled warmly at her. Though this was a tense moment, his unruffled reassurance helped to calm her swiftly beating heart. “Alex, I think you will agree that you need to know how to defend yourself, now more than ev
Alex had sworn to herself never to be a victim again and to protect those she loved while in her hospital room and parents’ garden before she knew the broader picture. And she had made that vow before she had so many others to care about and protect. But looking back on the assemblage of faces in the ballroom earlier that night and the core group gathered there before her, Alex could not shirk her duty and leave them to the wolves who were circling.
This was her duty, and this was her task, however daunting, to see through. She had once offered Kronis absolution, and he had taken her life in return. If her soul had been the one to call him to the table, then those she loved could not pay the price for that decision. Alex knew there had to be more to the story, and why the mental block persisted, she did not know. It was keeping all of Arianna’s memories at bay, but the ones she had experienced thus far had felt like her own, not someone else’s.
Alex was beginning to see that, in time, she might be able to completely embrace the life of the Nephilim. The less she fought the memories, the less she felt confused and torn between these two lives. They were coming together now, rather forcibly, and she would have to find a way to meld her present being with who she was before to reign victorious over Kronis and his kind. And if that were what she had to achieve so that they could all be truly safe, then she would rise to the challenge.
When Alexandria spoke, her voice reverberated with power and conviction. “I will, Archimedes. And I will protect what is mine. My family – and that includes all of you now – will not suffer because of a choice I offered a lost soul long ago. I’ll not leave; I’ll stand and fight.” She looked around and made eye contact with each one, giving them her pledge.
“Well done, Alexandria,” praised Archimedes. “Tomorrow is New Year’s. I cannot think of a better way to start fresh than to put this plan into action. Why don’t we all retire for the evening, and we’ll convene after breakfast to begin your training? What say you all?”
It was unanimous, and slowly the library emptied of the Nephilim council. Each member gave Alex a warm embrace or squeeze as they departed until it was just she, Jack, John, and Rohan.
“Alex, how do you feel after your vision?” inquired John, ever the doctor.
“I can’t honestly tell you, John. I’ve never had this many visions in one day before, although I suppose I should stop calling them visions. They’re memories, aren’t they?”
“Yes, they are, and some are directly Arianna’s. Others are tied to your ability to see into the past. But, we’ll delve into that later. You’ve had enough for one night, so off to bed with you both. We have placed some light food and refreshments in your rooms in case you grow hungry, and should you desire anything more substantial, help yourselves to whatever you want from the kitchen. What is ours is yours. Goodnight to you both,” he said gently. And with that last sentiment, John patted Alex’s arms, then turned and left the library.
“I’ll see you in the morning,” Rohan stated and turned to take his leave as well, but not before giving Jack a long, hard look.
“I’m not sure he likes me. Whatcha think?” Jack asked, smiling down at Alex.
“I think he’s just overprotective, that’s all. Nothing for us to worry about,” Alex reassured him. Or so she hoped. “Shall we?”
As they passed through different hallways and followed the main staircase’s twists and gentle turns, both were silent, thinking back on the incredible day they had just experienced. Nothing could have prepared Alex for all that had transpired since she rose from bed in her parents’ home that morning. She did not even begin to know how to process all of the information she had gleaned, and her head was now throbbing persistently.
They finally reached a door that felt like hers, and Alex paused in front of it, tracing the wood with her fingertips.
“This our stop for the night, Miss Groaban?” asked Jackson teasingly. “That must mean I’m in here.” He stepped across the hall and opened the door directly opposite the one she stood in front of. Jack found his luggage at the foot of his bed and a substantial fire burning in the fireplace. “Wow, a real fire! They sure do go all out, don’t they?”
“It would seem so,” she acknowledged quietly.
“Come on. Let’s have a look at your place.” Jack stepped back over and opened her door, walking into the room first, and then proceeded to look all around her apartment. He made no secret of his intentions as he left Alex standing just inside the doorway while he went and looked in the adjoining sitting room, watercloset, and walk-in wardrobe. He even looked under the bed and opened the double French doors, despite the cold, and looked out onto her balcony.
Alexandria stayed rooted to the spot until he was satisfied that she was alone and safe, not due to fear, but from fatigue and exhaustion. She discovered that she was actually swaying on her feet, so she did not chance any forward momentum. Jack came over and stood directly in front of her, lightly gripping her shoulders until she looked up at him.
“Hey, I know you’re running on empty. Why don’t you get a shower or hot bath, and then call it a night? If you need anything, anything at all, all you have to do is call, and I’ll hear you. I promise.” Jack nodded slowly at Alex to secure her agreement.
But she did not trust her voice, afraid if she spoke a dam would surely break inside and she would start to cry, so Alex nodded her concurrence.
Though he looked worried about her, Jack took his leave, slowly closing the door behind him. Alex took a faltering step further into the room and felt the first crack in her armor. A sob escaped her lips, and she drew the back of her hand up to try and stifle the onslaught, but it was of no use.
She began to cry in earnest then, her whole body racked with sobs stemming from the heartache she had felt for so many throughout the day. Alex cried for her family’s pain at seeing her hurt and in danger, for the Nephilim’s loss of Arianna, for Ganymede’s loss of his daughter, and for her own vulnerability and loss of safety. She could not stop the flow now if she tried.
Alex doubled over, placing her hands on her knees while trying to catch her breath, but the tears kept coming. Just when she thought she could not take any more, Alex felt strong arms lift her and cradle her. Jackson had heard her and gathered her up. He stood for several minutes just slowly rocking Alex, and then he moved over to a leather sofa by the fire and sat down with her in his strong embrace.
“It’s okay, Alex. You cry all you want,” he whispered and rocked her until her tears were finally spent.
She felt completely wrung out, and could not summon the words to thank him. She stayed there in his arms trying to regain her composure, but each time Alex tried to speak, she would feel a knot in her throat. One of Jack’s hands, she realized, was caressing her back and the slow circles were making her drowsy. Alex finally gave up the fight and dozed off, taking comfort in the steady beat of Jack’s heart close to her ear.