Immortal reborn ariann.., p.23

Immortal Reborn - Arianna's Choice, page 23


Immortal Reborn - Arianna's Choice

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They entered the library to find Archimedes, Benen, John, Nikolaj, Sabina, and E-We all talking quietly among themselves waiting for Alex and Jack. Eight leather chairs had been pulled together in a circle under the large windows of the library, and lamps both tall and short had also been placed on the floor and nearby antique wooden tables to soften the space nearest them. Benen gestured for Alex and Jack to come forward and take a chair in the circle.

  “Alexandria,” Archimedes began, “tonight will be an exercise in restraint and control, as well as power. Your mind, like ours, is tapped into a completely different level of thought and consciousness. Humans on this earth are three-dimensional beings who can perceive their own dimension and those of lesser dimensions.”

  “As the children of angels, we can see things from our fathers’ perspective occasionally when we concentrate and focus. Our Lord and His hosts are beings far greater than just three-dimensional souls, so they can see more, observe more, and impact timelines in ways humans never could.”

  He leaned forward and began to spread out a few napkins that were sitting on a side table between his chair and Alex’s. “Observe. If we lay two or three napkins out on a table, we can see each one from above, and we can observe all of its features and measurements. It appears as a two-dimensional object, so as we are more than two-dimensional creatures, we can see all of it and perceive all of it.”

  “Now, think of this paper napkin,” he said, pointing to the one closest to him, “as our past. Think of this one,” he gestured to the one in the middle, “as our present. And think of this last one as our…”

  “Future,” Alex said, along with Archimedes.

  He tapped the side of his nose and winked at her. “Yes, our future, Alexandria.” He produced a pen from inside his dinner jacket and drew a square on the first napkin, a circle on the second, and a triangle on the third. He gestured to the shapes and looked back up at Alex, watching her reaction to his words.

  “Now, if I asked you what shape occurs in the past, you would say a square. If I asked what shape occurs in the present, you would say…” He paused, waiting for Alex to complete his statement.

  “A circle,” she responded, “and in the future, there will be a triangle.”

  “Not exactly, will be, Alex. There is a triangle in the future. As time exists now,” Archimedes gestured to all three napkins, “the triangle is there and clearly visible to our eyes. Now if I did not want that triangle there,” he reached forward and swept the napkin away, replacing it with a new, clean one, “I could wipe the old away and replace it with a new one that is basically a clean slate.”

  “But couldn’t you just erase it if you had used a pencil, and not have wiped the whole napkin away?” Alex asked. She noticed the group’s smiles and their nods at her observation.

  “Ah, my smart girl,” praised Archimedes. “You could try, but not effectively. You see while that triangle was on that napkin, it was part of a much larger landscape.” He bent and picked up the original napkin with the triangle drawn on it, and laid it beside the new blank one. He began to draw multiple triangles all over the napkin, crowding all around the original shape, some touching its edges while others completely overlapped it.

  “If I were to decide to erase one, the others would perceive that something had been removed or altered in their reality as they know it. If the other triangles’ lines were intersecting with or interacting with the first triangle’s space, it could cause the others to lose their placement on the napkin as well, causing a shift.”

  “Ah, like Jenga,” said Alexandria. “It’s an old game that my brothers and I would play from time to time when I was younger. The object was to build a tall wooden tower with small building blocks and then take turns removing one piece at a time, trying to keep the tower structurally sound so that it did not fall. If you removed the wrong piece, it all came crashing down. But sometimes, you couldn’t tell which piece was the right one and which piece was the wrong one to take away.”

  “Very good!” praised Archimedes. “You are taking the leap from a two-dimensional demonstration to a three-dimensional example. And your observation is spot on, too. Although we can see all three perspectives, we have to be very careful not to look too closely at the future and alter what exists there. The repercussions of such interference are far reaching, even more than we can perceive at times.”

  “And though all of the Nephilim can see into the future to some degree, none of us can to the degree which you can, Alexandria.” Archimedes stood and picked up the napkin with the triangles and walked away from them until he was standing a good three meters away. He angled the sheet under a lamp and turned back to look at Alex.

  “To most of us, this is what the future looks like. We can see it, kind of make out what the shapes are. And if we employ our keen eyesight, we might start to discern the placement of some of the shapes here. But for you, Alexandria,” and he paused, then walked back over to her and held the napkin directly under her nose, “this is what the future looks like for you.”

  Alex’s eyes grew large, and she lifted them up in surprise to gaze at Archimedes. He moved back to his seat and looked at her gravely. He was deadly serious, the most serious she had yet seen him.

  “If the future is that close to my vision, what power must that kind of knowledge entail? And what restraint it must take to refrain from using it?” mused Alex aloud. She reflected back to her earlier thoughts in the bathtub regarding how one might stop humans who would harm or decimate their fellow man.

  “Precisely,” said E-We in response to her. “You are the most powerful of us all, as your father was the most powerful in the great host of angels who was allowed to marry a human. Your foresight knows no bounds, and there are many among the Fallen’s children who would like to steal a glimpse into what you can see. They would love to find those humans that they could nurture and add to the chaos and destruction of the Lord’s people.”

  “And they would love to use it to bring about our destruction as well,” said Nikolaj. “Imagine if you knew where every one of us was, and when we would be in that location. It would give the Fallen’s children the biggest checkmate they could ever have. Alex, all of us can see into the past and observe the present quite well. Most of us can see a little into the future, but it’s a brief glimpse of the most immediate future usually. Because many of us can also view the minds of others, we have to constantly shield from eavesdroppers.”

  “You have to stop someone else from looking in and discovering battle plans and strategies. Stop them from knowing what only you can perceive. When we have to battle another, we all throw up this mental barrier so that we cannot be taken unawares or our comrades besieged because our knowledge of their whereabouts has given them away. It could be as simple as what angle you plan to swing your sword next, or as complex as where we are all positioned. No one can know what you know,” Nikolaj concluded.

  “There is one more part to this, Alex, before we allow you to try to block us,” said Benen. “You are also the only immortal child who can see past all of our barriers, no matter how strong they are. We cannot defeat you, but you could crush us.”

  She gazed at him in wonder. “But, Benen, I love all of you. I mean, I know according to my timeline we’ve all just met, but I’ve known all of you, all your lives. I’ve only to concentrate, and I can recall your lives in vivid detail. I feel that love and that connection, and I would never in all my days harm any of you, ever.” Alex reached a hand out to touch him, trying to make Benen understand what she was feeling towards the Nephilim. It felt like the love she had shown Kronis on the cliff, as well.

  He leaned forward and smiled at her warmly, taking her outstretched hand in between his. “No, I didn’t mean to imply that you would ever hurt any of us. I was trying to explain how very instrumental your ability has always been in keeping our group safe and whole. You know what we cannot, you see what we cannot, and thou
gh we don’t always comply, you’ve loved us regardless.”

  “You know what we’re planning, either by looking directly into our minds or by chancing a glance into the future. I have never seen you abuse your power, and I’ve never seen you look in on us unless we needed your guidance. You mostly let us be and trusted us to make the right choices. Free will was one of your top priorities,” Benen said, then squeezed her hand to reassure her and sat back again.

  “So,” smiled Sabina, “what we propose is for us to start with the here and now. Let’s have you think of something mundane along with a few of us as well. We won’t tell you who is thinking of something and who is trying to look in on your thoughts. We’ll allow you to experience what the intrusion feels like, and we’ll mentally converse as we instruct you and help you build stronger barriers if needed.”

  “But, Alex,” Sabina added, “remember that you have done all of this before. You taught us, so the more we do, the easier it will become. Think back to that armor plating you said Ganymede told you about this morning. You have it metaphysically, as well as physically.”

  “Okay,” breathed Alexandria, “here goes nothing.”

  She looked over at Jack and saw him point to his eyes. Alex nodded her understanding and looked at the six before her. She took slow, calming breaths and began to think of Dudley, curled up on the bed by her side. She was slowly petting him and rubbing his shiny, clean coat.

  “Hmmm, so you have a yellow lab named Dudley,” mused John aloud. “I saw him at your parents’ home, but I did not know his name.”

  Alex looked up at John’s bland expression and stopped thinking about Dudley. She looked straight into John’s eyes instead and thought back to her ribbon. Perhaps that was not the right name for the extraordinary ability, but Alex thought the analogy fit the feeling. She allowed it to unfurl.

  At first, she thought about the Roman shields again and heard Nikolaj say, “Roman shields, hmmm,” and then Alex began wrapping her mind’s ribbon in that same shield formation. She imagined the plating wrapping around her mind, too. Not her actual brain – that was already protected from her concentrated effort in the bathtub earlier – but her mind. All of her thoughts, expressions, and emotions could be shielded with Ganymede’s power.

  Again, she heard Nikolaj speak. “Alex, don’t think of yourself in the bathtub.” He chuckled under his breath.

  Alex heard Sabina censure him, and she smiled back. Their voices were becoming fainter as Alex began to hear their internal voices becoming louder and overtaking what her ears were picking up on.

  Alexandria stared into Sabina’s eyes and saw that she was thinking of a vineyard just north of Rome. She was walking among the rows of grapevines, talking with an older man who was in charge of the other laborers who tended the vines throughout the year. Sabina was congratulating the man on his attentiveness and dedication. Alex began to tell Sabina’s thoughts aloud and received an approving nod from her friend.

  Next, she turned her thoughts to Nikolaj. His thoughts were sad and pensive. He was aboard a very old ship, sailing out to intercept a whaling vessel in an effort to negotiate restraint on their part. Too many whales were being taken for profit, not for actual need, and he hoped to put a stop to it. The air was so cold that she felt the skin on his face chapping and cracking in places. She spoke his thoughts aloud, and Nikolaj praised her.

  Alex concentrated on John. She could feel that his mental defenses were better, stronger than the previous two. His plating felt more like scales on a fish. Alex was able to hook her ribbon on the edge of one specific component and peel it back. She pried and pulled until she had opened a large enough hole for her ribbon to enter through.

  Alex saw that he was thinking of a very pretty young lady who wore a nurse’s uniform. She was in an army hospital helping to treat those who were brought in from the front lines. Many were burned and battered beyond recognition, but she was gentle in her care. John walked over to her and chatted with her about one particular young man’s bandages. The way she looked up at John, Alex knew they were more than just colleagues. They were friends, perhaps even lovers, and then his memory shifted to one where he was holding her and kissing her. Alex felt that she was intruding where she had no right to be.

  “John, I’m sorry,” Alex said, regret sounding thick in her voice. “I shouldn’t have seen that.”

  “No,” he shook his head, “I wanted you to see that. That was Marie. I loved her so much, and she was my wife until she died. I wanted you to see what it feels like to witness such a personal memory. There will be times when you see far more explicit thoughts than that, and I don’t want you to hesitate or pull back. Knowing and seeing it all can mean the difference between life and death, so don’t hold back even if you feel shocked or embarrassed. If one of us was being held or a human was being hurt, you would need all the information you could gather to help. Do you understand, Alex?”

  “Yes, John, I understand. Did I just hurt you? I couldn’t detect pain, but I was working my way in there,” she inquired, hoping that the peeling back of his defenses had not caused him discomfort.

  “No,” he said, shaking his head, “you were not doing so with any malicious intent, Alex. If someone wants information and they do not do so with care and love, it can hurt dreadfully, though. Think of it as an intense migraine that attempts to cleave your mind in two.”

  “Yes,” interjected Archimedes, “let’s move on to that now, shall we? Now, Alex, I was trying to get at your mind the entire time you were connecting with Sabina, Nikolaj, and John, and I was unsuccessful. I think you have figured out how to lock us out quite effectively. Can anyone else tell what she’s thinking right now?” he asked, looking at the small group.

  They all looked pointedly at Alexandria but shook their heads one after the other in denial. No one could get a reading on her thoughts it seemed, and Alex smiled victoriously at them. She was proud that she had figured out this most critical of defenses. It would hopefully help to keep her family, the Nephilim, and Jack safe in the future.

  Archimedes took a deep breath as if preparing to impart a bit of unpleasant news, and he moved forward in his seat until his knees were almost touching hers.

  “Alex, look at me, dear,” he said softly. “What we are about to do will not seem kind or loving at all, I know. Please understand that you cannot really be completely prepared unless you experience the reality of what it feels like to have a Nephilim from the Fallen try to tear into your defenses. They are not gentle, so we must not be now.”

  “Arianna was always able to shut them out. So, too, can you. I am going to ask Benen to begin first. He will try to worm his way in with illusions, which as you saw during your sword training, he is particularly skilled at. Try to hold to what is real and true, and ground yourself. I’m sorry it has to be this way, but we must. Are you ready?” he asked, regret sounding in his words.

  Alexandria reached out and squeezed Archimedes’ hand. “I understand, my friend, and I’m ready.”

  “Mr. Campbell, be ready to grab hold of her if you have to.”

  Archimedes nodded at Benen, and Alex turned her attention to his face. His eyes looked sad and filled with regret, and then he closed them. So, too, did she, preparing for the coming onslaught.

  “Give me strength, Ganymede,” she beseeched him.

  Alex concentrated on the feeling she had experienced while in the tub earlier in the evening, and again as she secured her ribbon and mind. She was sure that she was protected and imagined herself standing in the library, looking out at the moonlit night. Alex imagined that her body was her mind and the library was the armored walls surrounding her, keeping the demons out.

  That is when she saw the first one. A large, rabid-looking version of a wolf stood outside the window. He was so much larger than any wolf she had ever seen, and he began charging the glass, trying to shatter it and gain entrance.
Alex held up her hands and allowed her aura to stream forth in cascading waves, coating the glass. The glass shimmered in a rainbow of colors now; colors and Light that she knew came from Ganymede. The wolf was not coming in, even though he continued to try.

  The whole room suddenly felt as if it were shaken by a mighty earthquake. Alexandria heard footsteps walking across the roof, and then she saw a crack appear in the ceiling’s mural, as whatever was above began forcibly jumping up and down with its heavy weight.

  “No!” she screamed in her mind. She did not want to see such beauty destroyed. Alex raised her hands now to the painting and began to use her aura to mend the cracks. She blanketed the artwork with her colors as well, feeling the power within her holding up the great expanse overhead.

  She breathed in slowly, looking around for the next assault. Alex thought she heard a slight rattle and then turned quickly, realizing it was the doorknob turning and twisting.

  “Oh, very clever,” she said.

  How like someone to just try the door. It was probably John, Alex mused, being very logical about the whole process. She went over, thinking to use her aura there as well when the door bulged in toward her.

  Alex slammed her shoulder against the door and tried to brace herself, locking her feet in place. It felt like someone had a battering ram with a full legion behind them. The jarring was so intense that she felt her teeth chatter, and her bones screamed at her.

  She looked about, trying to see if there was anything she could wedge against the door in place of her body, but Alex saw nothing. She saw her Light flowing from her fingertips, and she wondered if she could change the consistency of her aura, make it thicker.

  Alexandria turned back around and began to let her energy flow in huge waves now, willing it to thicken and harden around the door. She was essentially building a wall, but one stronger than any man-made material. It was impervious and more substantial than the walls of a military bunker, but creating it made her feel weaker.

  The battering at the door continued, but Alex knew now that no one was coming in through there. Three down, three more to go, she thought to herself. Alex heard a hissing next, and she looked for the origin of the noise. She saw a fine mist rise up from one of the vents in the room, and panic swept through her body like a wave.

  “They cannot mess with my air, can they?” she asked herself.

  Alex knew that she would not be able to run from one vent to another fast enough, so she imagined them all closing and threw her hands out, willing them to do so. They all closed abruptly, and she allowed her aura to flow like a mist and blanket the floor of her imaginary library to stamp out the enemy vapor that was pooling there. There was enough in the room, though, to make her nostrils burn and her eyes water.

  Alex was panting now and shaking from fatigue. She wondered just how much energy flow she could produce and how much she had already expended. She began to take stock of the artificial library, thinking to play more on the offensive now. The windows, roof, and door were secure. No tainted air could come in. What could be left, she wondered?

  “Think!” Alex admonished herself, trying to plan ahead.

  She looked over at the large fireplace, thinking that the chimney was most certainly an opening into the room. Alex walked over and began building the same thick wall from her aura around the fireplace, which she had created at the door, when she heard a whooshing sound. Fire was beginning to rain down the chimney chute at an alarming speed. Alex hurried to secure the opening, but the flames were lapping up and over her wall faster than she could complete it. Alex knew she was getting burned, but she kept her hands up until she had completely fortified the entrance.

  When she had contained the fire, Alex looked at her hands and arms and saw the severe damage the flames had inflicted. She was badly burned and in terrible pain. She walked over to the sofa in the room and sat down gingerly. Alex held her arms in front of her face and thought about the healing power Ganymede had said she possessed. Though he had said she would begin to heal herself each moment of each day if she accepted the gift of immortality, Alex knew she had to end the acute discomfort she was currently enduring.

  “I’ve not promised to be an immortal yet, but I have to end this pain. Please, Ganymede,” she pleaded.

  Her thoughts turned inward, and Alex began inspecting the skin and tissue that was blistered or melting away. She channeled her aura into the blood vessels and breathed deep, cleansing breaths as a cooling sensation began to creep into the mutilated membranes. Her skin was slowly replaced by new, pink skin and she no longer was in agony. When Alex looked up, she saw that the room still looked heavily coated in her essence, and she was still safe.

  She was so glad to see that diverting her attention long enough to heal herself had not given the last of the six time to get to her. Alex got up off of her imaginary sofa and began walking around the room, looking for signs of the last assault. For what seemed like the longest time, she could find no new attack. She checked each of her barriers and waited.

  Just when Alex thought she might stay there all night, she heard a sound that she could not believe. Pure dread settled in her heart as she took in the sounds of Wallace and Conner calling out to her. But no, Alex told herself, they were not there at Aeoferth Hall. They had stayed behind in Oxford. Where were their voices coming from, she wondered, and she began to search for them in earnest. Alex stopped in front of the large windows and beheld a sight that made her heart stop.

  Wallace and Conner appeared to be outside, both tied to stakes and badly beaten. Bertrand stood between them smiling at her.

  “No!” Alex shouted. “Not them! Anything but them!” She screamed and cried, wanting to go outside and rescue the two.

  Conner looked up at her, begging Alex to stay inside and not come out. But Bertrand moved forward, hitting him so hard that Alex could hear his ribs shattering. Conner tried desperately to breathe, but something had punctured a lung, and now he was drowning in his own body.

  Wallace was taunting Bertrand, calling him every vile name in the book. Bertrand sneered at her eldest brother as he grabbed Wallace’s arm from his binding and snapped it like a twig. Wallace screamed in pain, sobbing out incoherently. Alex knew she had to get to them, and there was not a second more to waste.

  Alex was raising her hand to remove part of her shielding from the window when she heard Ganymede behind her.

  “Alexandria, be careful. Are those really your brothers out there?” he gently inquired.

  “Oh, Ganymede! It looks and sounds like them, and they’re being tortured. We have to do something. Please!” she begged.

  “Think, my daughter. Is this the real library in Aeoferth Hall, or a construct of your mind?” he pressed her.

  Alex heard Conner scream out again, and she looked from the window to Ganymede. She was so torn, and she did not know what to do. The room was beginning to shake again, and her aura on the ceiling flexed, trying to hold the mural and roof up.

  “You do know what to do, Alex. Assaults come in many forms and in many disguises. Look closely, and you will see that those are not your brothers out there, but someone trying to tempt you into letting down your guard. Wallace does not have that scar on his left cheek, and Conner’s hair is not that dark. Look into their eyes. Look and think, Alexandria,” he compelled her.

  She took a step closer to the window and really examined the two men she loved so. Through all of the blood and the abuse, Alex could see what Ganymede had pointed out. He was right – those were not her brothers. Their eyes were dark and twisted, haunted even. Not the carefree men she knew.

  Alex turned back to him, shaking her head. “No, they are not Wallace and Conner.” A small sob escaped her mouth, and Alex covered it with her hand, trying to quell the emotion.

  “It is alright, my child. You are handling this very well. I know you do not like to witness suffering, but there
are no people out there right now being harmed. It is only an illusion.” Ganymede looked overhead and around the room at all she had created to keep the evil away.

  “Most impressive, my dear. You wondered to yourself a little while ago how much aura you could produce. There is no limit to your stores, Alexandria, for it is, in a way, coming from me. I serve The Great I Am, who has no beginning and no end. Therefore, as long as it shall please Him for me to be in His service, my powers and thereby yours, shall have no end either. Now, expel these demons and be free of this place,” he said with fierce pride shining in his translucent blue eyes.

  “Ganymede, thank you for stopping me,” Alex said sadly, shaking her head at her near folly. “I was heading straight out of that door there. But I see your meaning, now. I’ll try to stay focused and let logic prevail. And you’re right,” she sighed heavily, “I’m ready to end this.”

  “Very good. Until I see you again, Alexandria,” he said, moving forward to hug her goodbye, and then he was gone.

  Alex stood in the center of the library and lifted her arms. She wanted to return to the present, and she needed all barriers removed that were in her way. Alex took one last look at her brothers’ and Bertrand’s imposters and threw a burst of energy out of herself so great that it obliterated everything she had created around her for the training scenario. It blew back the imaginary demons and the suffocating mist. Her aura wave rolled the fire back, and the image of her brothers melted away like a mirage in the desert.

  She slowly opened her eyes to see her friends in their leather chairs looking amazed and in awe of her. Alex did not know what to say, so she sat there numbly, trying to process what she had just experienced.

  “Alex? Hey, look at me,” said Jack, taking a handkerchief out of his pocket. He was standing next to her chair, and when she looked up, he clamped down hard on her nose. She winced, then noticed that she was soaking his cloth through with blood.

  “Sorry. I’m not trying to hurt you, but you’re bleeding pretty steadily here,” he said regrettably.

  Alex noticed that little crease back on his forehead, but she could not smooth it away while he was trying to stem the flow of her bleeding.

  “Here, let me do that,” offered Sabina. She moved forward next to Jack, using her aura to stop the flow.

  “Sorry, Alexandria,” she whispered. “Are you alright?” As she asked, Sabina smoothed Alex’s hair off of her face.

  “Yes, I’m good. Which one of you tortured Wallace and Conner?” Alex asked, still congested and sounding far less severe than she hoped to.

  Jack’s eyes hardened at her question, and he turned to look at the group.

  “I did,” said Archimedes. “I am sorry I had to do that. But the Nephilim of the Fallen will use the ones you love against you, and they have no care whatsoever for whom they hurt.” He reached over and patted her hand as a means of apology.

  They each explained their tactics and means of assault, trying to get through her barriers. Benen had fabricated the wolf. Nikolaj had tried to bring the ceiling crashing down on Alex to crush her. John had indeed tried the door before he sought to ram it in. It was E-We who used the poisonous mist. Sabina created the fire, and Archimedes had conjured Bertrand to torture her brothers in front of her.

  They further discussed Alex’s response to them, and all were very satisfied that she had been triumphant in her approach to the mental warfare in which they had just engaged her. It appeared that they were about to adjourn for the evening, when Jack asked if he could bring up a topic of discussion. All sat back in their seats and waited to see what was on his mind.

  He recounted Alexandria’s earlier vision in the afternoon and how it might tie into the one she suffered through after their horseback ride. Jack posed the question of Alex’s safety and physical well-being while in the throes of a memory, dream, vision, or whatever they wanted to call it. Watching from the sidelines was one thing in his book, but being thrown about, burned, and nearly choked on poisonous gas was quite another.

  They all had opinions about Alex’s safety while her mind or soul was out traveling, and the more they discussed and debated, the more frustrated Jackson became. John admitted that they had no good answer. What Alex had just experienced had not really harmed her, though he could not account for the nosebleed or tremors she had experienced earlier in the day.

  Finally, it was Alex herself who called a halt to the discussion. She quietly held up a hand and looked at everyone as she sighed from her weariness.

  “When I was small,” she began, “I was constantly in danger of slipping back in time by touching things. The slightest little thing – a mirror, an antique pillbox, a jar – would send me back in time. And it didn’t happen with every object, so I had no way to control it, and I had no way to stop it. Not until Ganymede helped me to prevent it by halting my ability to see into the past altogether.”

  “After tonight’s lesson, I see now that that was what I was doing – constantly connecting with the past. And let me tell you, for a child with no frame of reference, you can only imagine what it was like when I touched something like an old knife or ax at a museum. I saw some pretty frightening scenes.”

  “Wallace and Conner were always there, making sure I didn’t fall over and hurt myself while my mind took a trip. And now I have all of you here, so I know I’m safe,” Alex added and smiled briefly at the memory of her brothers’ constant guard.

  “But I seriously doubt that when Arianna looked backwards or forwards in time, she lost consciousness with each mental trip. Ganymede told me to start meditating on the power within and to fortify myself from the inside out. I got a good taste of that tonight, but I think the more I try my hand at this the easier it will be in time. Not necessarily pleasant, but controllable and bearable. And maybe, now that I understand what is transpiring each time my mind travels, I can work on staying more grounded in the present to protect myself.”

  “Why don’t we leave it there for tonight, and we’ll talk about it later? I’m really, really tired,” Alex suggested, though it was less of a request, so much as it was a statement regarding her intentions.

  They all agreed and then stood to hug Alexandria goodnight. Alex and Jack made their way back upstairs, walking slowly because she found she was exceptionally fatigued. When they reached their doors, Alex hugged Jack goodnight as well and made her way into her room. She changed into soft, warm pajamas and brushed her teeth.

  Finally, she climbed into the bed and texted her brothers, parents, and Jameason. She told them she had experienced a very purposeful day and was grateful to be there. Alex said that she missed them all, and conveyed her love before turning the phone on silent so that she could sleep.

  She snuggled down and was almost adrift when she heard her door open. Alex could not imagine who was coming in, so she reached over and turned on the bedside lamp.

  “What are you doing?” She chuckled at the sight before her.

  “What does it look like?” asked Jack, heading for the sofa again, this time with a pillow and blanket from his bed. He had on pajama pants and a t-shirt, with a gun holster strapped across his chest.

  Alexandria rolled over to face him and propped her head up on one hand so she could watch him.

  “You’re not really going to sleep with that thing strapped across you, are you? It can’t be comfortable,” Alex admonished, shaking her head.

  “Do it all the time.” Jack grinned back at her. “Turn off the lamp, Alex, and go to sleep. I hear Rohan has plans for you in the morning. Trust me, if it involves him, you’re going to need your rest.”

  Alex flopped back onto the bed. “He better not throw that sword at my head again,” she groaned.

  They both laughed aloud at her statement. Finally, Alex turned off the lamp so that only the crackling fireplace lit the room. Jack was settled and already looking peaceful.

  “Jack,” s
he whispered, hoping he was not one of those who could doze off in an instant.

  “Alex,” he drawled back at her.

  “Thank you,” she said.

  “You’re most welcome, Miss Groaban. Now go to sleep,” he commanded in mock seriousness.

  And she did just that.

  Chapter 19


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