Immortal Reborn - Arianna's Choice, page 24
Alex was having the most interesting dream about riding Eimhir. It was a cold, winter day and she sat atop the mare on a high hill. They were looking down over a valley which had a frigid, gray river snaking through it. The wind had sleet and ice in it, and it stung her cheeks as it whipped around her head.
She was looking for something, scanning the land for it, but could not find what she sought. Her heart constricted at the longing, and the horse stamped a hoof in agitation as well.
Alex leaned forward and stroked Eimhir’s neck to calm her, and spotted movement to her right. There! Coming across a field adjacent to the river was a man on horseback, riding as if his life depended on it.
Alexandria spurred Eimhir into motion, and the two raced down to intercept the man. It was a punishing ride for both horse and rider, but it seemed that the mare understood Alex’s panic and raced with all of her might, her great flanks heaving with the strain.
The closer Alex came to this unnamed rider, the more she felt like she had seen him before. It came to her then. With his thick chestnut hair and large build, he looked like the man from her vision who had stood with his back to her on the balcony.
Alex squinted against the sleet and now snow that was coming down in torrents, trying to make out his face and features, but she could not. She was close enough now to call out, but when Alex yelled for him, no sound came forth. She tried again in vain, and still, she could produce no words at all.
She pulled on Eimhir’s reins, but the horse lost her footing and went down hard. Alex felt herself go down as well, and she was trapped under the immense weight of the mare. She tried to use her new found strength, but she was as weak as a mortal. Alex had no power and no voice to aid her.
She heard the man’s horse braying nearby. He was looking for her, but in the torrent of snow and ice, a white horse would be nearly impossible to locate.
“Please,” Alex cried out in her mind, “I’m here! Find me and help us, please!” She heard his horse moving in now. By some grace, he had realized where she was, and he was coming.
Alex felt someone tug her arm. It must be the man getting her out from under Eimhir’s crushing weight, she thought, and sighed from the relief she felt. Alex felt him rubbing her arm, but that made no sense to her. Where was he, and why could she not see him, she wondered in irritation.
“Alex, you can’t see me because you won’t open your eyes, sleepyhead. You’re talking in your sleep, so I know that brain is working. Come on, open those eyes,” coaxed Jack, sounding very close.
She slowly left the dream world behind, feeling very frustrated that she had once again lost an opportunity to see his face. Instead, Alex looked up into Jack’s blue eyes looming over her.
He smiled. “Must have been some dream. I’ve been trying to wake you up, but you wouldn’t budge. I let you sleep in, made Rohan mad as hell, but he’s getting really impatient now. You feel like getting up?” he asked.
“You told Rohan no?” she asked, surprised that he dared to defy the largest Nephilim on the estate.
“Yeah, and I wish you could have seen the look on his face.” Jack chuckled softly. “I thought for sure he was gonna deck me, but he just said something under his breath and stalked out of the kitchen. That was an hour ago, and I think he’s run out of patience now.”
“You’ve been down to the kitchen already! Goodness, what time is it?” Alex asked, trying to focus on the clock sitting atop the mantel.
“It’s about half past nine. I brought you some breakfast up and put it on the table in the sitting room. If you’re really awake for good now, I’ll leave you to get ready and come back to check on you in about thirty minutes, okay?” Jack stood from where he was perched on the side of the bed and headed for the door. “Sabina left you thicker riding clothes in the bathroom. She said you’re going to need them. Don’t fall back asleep,” he said as he strolled out.
After Jack was gone, Alex lay in the bed mulling over her dream. She still felt irritated, as if she had unfinished business from the dream’s abrupt ending. She rolled over slowly, wallowing in the warm bed, and luxuriating in the feeling of being completely comfortable. Alex looked over at the balcony from where she lay on her stomach and imagined the man standing out there, his back to her.
She slid over to the other side of the bed and pushed the covers back, taking her time sitting up. Once her equilibrium had settled, Alex stood and went over to the balcony doors, unlatching each and swinging them wide. A blast of cold, arctic air greeted her, and Alex realized she needed her robe.
But rather than fetch it, she stepped out in her bare feet and approached the railing. Alex willed her feet to feel less susceptible to the cold and, remarkably, they complied with her silent command. She raised her head and closed her eyes, breathing in the winter breeze as she had in her dream.
He had been standing in that exact same spot, she thought, opening her eyes. Alex leaned forward and placed her hands where his had rested, brushing off the snow so that she could feel the stone below. She closed her eyes again, picturing his back. There was something about the way his shoulders flexed under the material of his shirt that looked so familiar.
With her eyes still closed, Alex imagined herself back in the vision before she had reached to pick up the parchment. He had been there, just not hearing her. Alex began to walk forward until she was standing in the doorway of the balcony, looking at his broad back. She studied his hair, thick and a rich chestnut hue, just long enough to touch the top of his collar.
She took a tentative step forward with her hand outstretched and touched his back with the tips of her fingers. Alex felt as if she had been struck by lightning. Once again, she was thrown back with a force that might have killed a mere mortal. She had trouble seeing, and she smelled singed hair all over her body. Her eyes lost focus, and she lay back on the floor of the bedroom, deciding that it was a very good time for a nap.
“Alex, what are you doing?” asked Jack incredulously. “You’ll freeze out there in your bare feet!” He moved out onto the balcony and looked at her sternly until he took in Alex’s dazed expression. He put his hands on either side of her face and searched her eyes, trying to ascertain if she was with him or off in another place in her mind.
“Alex,” he all but whispered, “can you hear me?”
Alex blinked and regained focus, staring up into his intense blue gaze. She breathed out and watched the cloud of vapor that escaped her lips in the cold.
“I’m here, Jack, and I’m fine,” she murmured.
“Come on, let’s get you inside where it’s warm.” He led her over to the sofa by the fire first, then returned to shut the balcony doors, blocking out the frigid air. He added another log to the fire, then came over to sit beside her. Jack pulled Alex’s feet up into his lap and began to rub the cold away and restore life to her toes.
“I did that, Jack. That was my fault,” Alex said hesitantly, gesturing towards the balcony.
He continued to rub her skin, but tilted his head to the side and studied her. It was the same way Jack had looked at her in her parents’ sitting room before she came to Aeoferth Hall.
“Tell me about it,” he said, sounding too calm.
Alex proceeded to tell Jack about her dream that morning and how she still could not see the man’s face. She described what she did to try and force the issue, and the electrifying result she received for her effort. She stopped talking and watched Jack slowly rubbing her feet.
“Are you mad?” Alex asked, surprised that he might actually be.
“Why would you think that?” he asked, looking back at her.
Alex pulled her feet out of Jack’s lap and sat up on her knees, facing him. “You are angry, aren’t you? Why?” she pressed.
He looked over at her and sighed. “No, Alex, I’m not mad.”
“Then what is it?”
“Ughh!” he groaned, running his hands o
Alex was so astounded by his revelation that she sat back on her heels and stared at him for a moment before she could speak. “You’re jealous?” she asked in amazement.
“Yes, I guess, I am. Though now that I really think about it, if you truly have lived for thousands of years, I guess it’s kinda naive to think you never were loved by anyone before.”
“But even if that’s true, I’m still Alexandria. I’m still single. I don’t date… I don’t anything.” She shrugged.
Jack smiled at her and chuckled at her choice of words. “You don’t anything? I think I remember you doing something and quite well if I might add,” he replied, tucking her hair behind her ear. “You had better get your shower now. Rohan’s going to come after you himself soon.”
Alex started to stand from the sofa, but Jack caught her hand and pulled her off balance, causing her to fall across his lap and right into his arms.
“Just a quick kiss,” he breathed, “so you won’t go off chasing shadows on me for a little while.” With that whispered pledge, Jack proceeded to really take the wind right out of her lungs.
Alex got ready in record time. Once Jackson released her and she released him in turn, she hurried through her shower, dried her hair, dressed, and inhaled her breakfast. Alex grabbed Jack from the sitting room after she brushed her teeth, and they headed out to the stables to see what Rohan had planned.
He was already on his horse waiting for them out in a nearby pasture. He was joined by Iain, Elrick, Nassor, and an immortal named Thomas, all on mounts so large that Alex knew they had to be destriers. Sabina waited in the stables until Alex and Jack were astride Eimhir and Aileas once more, then she, too, rode with them to the pasture.
“Have a nice lie in?” Rohan called as the three approached.
“Oh, do hush!” Alex scolded him. “I was tired. So what are we doing today?” she asked, trying to redirect his bluster.
Iain leaned forward in his saddle and laughed at her censure, shaking his head. “Just as bossy as ever,” he said, causing Alex to raise an eyebrow and turn her gaze his way. Iain only winked at her in return.
Rohan pulled her attention back to the matter of training. “We’re going to put some of your different talents together, and it won’t be easy. Sword fighting takes place while we’re on horseback quite often, and at high speeds. You’re going to have to block our attempts to figure out your game plan, too. Don’t worry about getting hurt, though. Either we’ll heal you, or you can heal yourself. Ready to begin?” Rohan stated, rather than asked for her agreement.
Nassor began to ride forward and handed Alexandria the sword she had trained with the previous day. He bowed to her in his saddle before turning his mount and trotting back to the others.
Alex looked to Sabina for her advice.
“Is this something I’m ready for?” she asked, not hiding the worry in her voice.
“Yeah, I’m not so sure about this,” added Jack, moving Aileas closer to Alex now.
Sabina tried to assuage her friends’ fears. “Alexandria, I have seen you bound off of a stallion while it was in full gallop before and use the air to cushion your fall, never once getting hurt. You’re also the reason those five brutes over there know how to do what they’re about to show you. Use your muscle and sense memory and let it all come back to you. You really can do this.”
Her words imbued Alex with the confidence she needed, and Alex inclined her head. “Okay, let’s give this a try, then.” She reached over and touched Jack’s hand. “I’ll be fine,” she told him.
“I know. Don’t think about me right now, just concentrate on them.” Jack nodded at the five.
Alex put Sabina and Jack out of her thoughts and concentrated on the five Nephilim before her. Each was incredibly muscled and much bigger than she, but Alex began to draw quiet strength from Ganymede’s Light and power within her. She thought of Tomoko’s lesson – that size advantage did not always signal victory. The field seemed to come into sharper focus as Alex concentrated on their auras now, assessing the internal strength of each man. She checked her armor plating inside and found it still intact. Finally, she spoke to Eimhir with her mind.
“They’re not going to hurt us, they just want to play a very rough game, I think. I am letting you inside, but only you, so when I think about moving, you take me in that direction. Will you stay with me through this exercise?” Alex asked, not wanting to force the animal into a frightening situation. Eimhir brayed loudly, and that was all the answer Alex required.
“Then let’s go,” she whispered, and the mare began to steadily approach their opponents.
Elrick raised his sword first and approached her at a slow gallop. “Just like yesterday, Alex,” he called. He finally met her, and she moved her sword to her left side to block Elrick’s downward stroke. Alex heard the singing sound of steel meeting steel in the otherwise silent morning.
“Very good,” he praised and turned to come at her again.
On Elrick’s second pass, Alex stood up in her saddle to initiate the strike and came down over his head. He blocked her effectively, then came over to her side.
“Watch your eyes, Alex. I can’t get a read on what you’re thinking, but your eyes gave you away. You were looking at my head before you raised your arm. I could tell what your plan was before you put it into motion.”
She nodded her thanks at his instruction, and the two came at one another again. Alex could feel the difference in her muscles from the previous day. She was barely registering the vibration that the clashing swords produced within her arms. Elrick brought his horse close and began to volley with Alex with slow, deliberate strokes to show her how to defend and also how to look for openings in which to strike.
He finally nodded his approval and spurred his steed into a gallop away from her, joining the others. Iain and Thomas approached Alex together, and they illustrated how she might have someone on either side trying to press their advantage in numbers. They worked through how Alex could use her aura as a shield against one while volleying with the other. Nephilim did not depend on conventional, man-made shields, it seemed, as their own internal armor was far superior.
Their instruction lasted for a long time, and when they broke away, Nassor and his solid black stallion moved in. His horse was a magnificent specimen that cantered and danced under his weight. Alex recognized it as a Friesian, but it was the largest of that breed she had ever beheld.
“Remember Abdalla’s lesson yesterday,” Nassor began. “There is art and finesse to swordplay. At times, some of the Fallen’s children will use that grace and movement to mesmerize you, distract you. It can be a smokescreen, so look beyond the show to the plot behind the movements. Ready?” he asked calmly.
Alex nodded her assent and moved forward to engage. Nassor fighting with a sword was, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful sights Alexandria had ever beheld. She had always admired the balance and grace with which a dancer moved, and Nassor’s body moved in such a way, full of poetry and formidable splendor. Alex released Eimhir’s reins, just as Nassor had done with his stallion’s, and used her thoughts and leg muscles to command her horse’s direction.
They were close to one another and swinging their swords with purpose and power. Alexandria felt a surge pass over her, and she saw herself in this same deadly dance with Nassor hundreds of years before, when it was she who was the instructor. Alex saw the same artful angles of their blades and the continued song of steel meeting steel. Yes, she could get lost in this ballet, she thought to herself.
Nassor’s mount stepped too closely, and she pressed her advantage. Alex raised her hand, letting her aura blind him, while she raised her sw
Nassor turned his stallion away, the two almost twirling together in the air, as they moved out of the way of Rohan approaching on his larger destrier. The ground shook as his horse thundered towards her.
“Steady” Alex whispered to Eimhir. “Steady my friend.” Alexandria began to feel the power in her legs as she pressed her feet down in the stirrups and shifted forward ever so slightly so that she was almost standing.
She twirled her sword, feeling the balance and smoothness of the grip, and then held it with both hands to her side. Alex imagined the strength of her power flowing into the sword, down to the very tip of the blade. The strange metal within the folded steel, Inonya, a gift from their fathers, began to sing as it warmed under her energy flow. Alex could hear it calling to her.
Rohan’s objective was clear. He wanted to overwhelm her with brute force, but Alex was stronger, and she knew it now. She felt it as surely as she felt the air in her lungs. He was almost upon her now, and she exhaled slowly, intoning her aura to envelope and fortify her. She willed the atmosphere around her to shroud her back and brace her for the impact.
And then Rohan’s blade met hers. In her mind, Alex imagined that this must be what it felt like for two trains to crash together on a track. Pure speed, weight, and supremacy were transferring one to another. She had tilted her blade at a slightly upturned angle just before the two collided, and in doing so achieved her desired effect. Her upward strike was propelled on by her internal power. Alex’s strength and the fortified wall of energy were too great. Her blade lifted his up, and Rohan went with his sword, up and off his mount.
He flew through the air for what seemed like too great a time and hit the ground hard enough to leave a rather large impression. Alex swung her leg up and over Eimhir’s back and jumped down to the ground, racing to her friend. She sank to her knees on the frosty, snow-covered ground beside him and looked Rohan over from head to toe.
“Where are you hurt, Rohan? Rohan, talk to me!” she implored. His eyes were closed, and he offered her no words, no indication of what might be broken or ruptured.
The others were in full gallop towards them, but Alex did not wait for them. She thought of how Ganymede had healed her after Bertrand’s attack, of the pure energy she had felt pass from him to her. She closed her eyes and leaned forward, placing her forehead to Rohan’s as Ganymede had done to her. Alex began to feel the flow of her energy sweeping down throughout first his head, over his chest, then on to his abdomen, and finally to his legs and feet.
She gasped as she realized Rohan had peeled back much of his own aura’s shield before he charged her. He had deliberately allowed himself to be injured. Alex began to coax her aura to mend broken bones – too many to count – a ruptured spleen, bruised and torn kidneys, a shattered spinal column, and to place the internally spilled blood into the arteries and veins where it belonged.
Alex stayed bent like that, her head to his, until she was satisfied Rohan was whole again. Then she willed air into his lungs as she lifted her head and opened her eyes. Rohan stared up at her with a lopsided grin on his face. He looked so young up close like that.
“You stubborn old goat,” she whispered, shaking her head slowly at him. She cupped his face and looked warmly into his eyes. Alex saw herself in much the same position on a battlefield from long ago, healing and mending him, while Rohan was still learning to fortify himself.
“Why?” she breathed.
“You know why,” he answered gruffly. “There’s so much for you to remember, and I don’t want you to forget anything before it’s too late.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Rohan. I’m here, and I’m not going to let anyone take me away again. I believe that, so you trust in it too. Okay, my friend?” She smiled reassuringly at the concern she heard in his words and voice.
He winked at her and then turned his head to the circle of Nephilim that had come to help, but who had stood by watching the exchange and healing that had taken place between the two. Rohan took in Sabina’s exasperated expression and let out a deep, hearty laugh that shook his entire large chest.
Alex stood and offered him her hand. Rohan took it, and with her still vastly fortified strength, she launched him from the ground so that he was upright before her much too quickly. Rohan placed a palm to his head and blinked his eyes a few times until the lightheadedness passed.
“Oh, you’re fine,” she admonished him.
“I am now. Thanks,” he said, clasping Alex’s forearm as she had done to his the previous afternoon. But he did not let go, only held her there and searched her eyes for a moment.
‘What is it, Rohan?” Alex wondered if she had missed something, and he was still in pain somewhere.
“Feel up to one more challenge?” he asked her quietly.
Surprisingly, Alex found that she did. She had never felt so alive and so vibrant. She nodded her agreement, and Rohan released her hand and then turned to the others. He signaled for the group to fan out away from their horses. Alex chanced a quick glance at Jack and found him watching her steadily with the trace of a smile on his lips. He looked so proud of her. She nodded in his direction before she turned back to the group and was surprised to see Sabina had joined in the circle.
More Nephilim were standing at the nearby fence and observing as they had done previously, and Alex had not even noticed them. She chastised herself for not being more aware. She scanned the group, taking note of auras first and then faces. Satisfied that she knew where all possible players in Rohan’s game might come from, Alex turned back to the immediate circle.
“Yesterday, you didn’t get a chance to practice this skill very well because someone threw a longsword at your head,” said Elrick, cutting his eyes over to Rohan, who just shrugged his shoulders in response. “Today, though, I think you’re better prepared.”
“Arianna taught us to handle more than one opponent at a time, to use our evolved senses and fathers’ abilities to think outside of three dimensions to overcome one who would try to destroy us. We want you to try to defend against all of us, together. Do you want to try?” Elrick asked, still leaving the decision in her court.
Alex thought of Rohan’s words, “I don’t want you to forget anything before it’s too late,” and knew she could not refuse their offer of training. Better to remember amongst friends than enemies, Alex decided. She raised her sword in front of her face and bowed in Nassor’s fashion, then took a step back.
Alex called on Arianna’s memories and saw herself standing in a circular formation such as that one, training her friends. The wind stilled as she drew in the memory and placed it over the canvas of the current training session. Then Alex inhaled and thought about the future and what that exact circle would be doing a scant few seconds ahead in time. Alexandria wrapped her aura around that picture of the future so that none of the others could see it or know it. The future was hers.
As Nassor stepped forward, Alex closed her eyes and looked into her vision of the future and saw what was to come. She stepped into Nassor’s strike and met his blade precisely with her own as she saw it happening in her mind’s eye. Thomas and Elrick approached, and Alex volleyed with all three, her eyes closed to the entire mock battle.
She saw Sabina and Iain coming into the group, and she began to whip her aura into the thickening cloud she had created in her mind the night before to slow their progress. Alex was altering their movements through the air and space around their bodies, catching them in a quagmire of animated energy. To Alex, they all seemed to move in slow motion as their swords rang out again and again against one another’s.
Jack had never imagined he would witness Alexandria in such a scene
He was struck by the beauty and quiet authority that was contained within her, and even seeing it unleashed, he was in awe of Alex’s command of the power that lay within. What good she could work in the world with such abilities as those he had seen over the past few days, he wondered to himself. All of the war and fighting he had witnessed. All of the suffering he had seen in his travels – Alex could ease that, he thought. She and her kind.
And for all the good they could do, all of the hope that they could inspire, Jack imagined what the antithesis of that could do to mankind. A child of the Fallen they called them, hell bent on meddling in human affairs and destroying the Nephilim gathered there.
Alexandria had yet to completely tell him of the attack that led her to finally decide to accept the Nephilim and Ganymede’s help. But, Jack thought, if she had been unprepared, and one with the kind of power he was now witnessing had gotten to her, he could only imagine the pain and terror she must have suffered. Jack had never seen one so brave in all his life.
As she had the night before, Alex finally used her aura to subdue those she was sparring with and pushed outward in a great wave of energy, landing them all on their backsides. She stood from the crouched position she was in and released her hold on the future and then their bodies, finally opening her eyes.
Her face-splitting grin told them all how she felt. Alex was so giddy from the rush of power and adrenaline that she burst out laughing and threw her head back, relishing in the sweet feeling of victory. Not over her friends, but the feeling of finally coming to grips with what and who she was. She had fought this for so long, not understanding or knowing what she railed against. Alex felt the energy surging within and stretched her arms out, letting it spread around her like a warm hug. This was her, and this was Ganymede, and if she accepted his gift, she could feel this forever. She could do so much good with what he offered her, Alex realized.
Sabina came to her and enveloped her in a true hug, breaking through Alex’s silent reverie. Elrick and Iain piled on next, then Thomas and Rohan until she was sandwiched in the middle of them, laughing and celebrating with her friends – just as they had done before, Alex was sure. They finally stepped back one from another and Rohan touched her shoulder lightly.
“It’s good to have you back, friend,” he said, his voice carrying with it his heartfelt joy from his companion’s return.
“I’m here,” Alex whispered and looked at all of them, one at a time, reaffirming her vow.
Jackson approached and shook the men’s hands, praising them for all that they had accomplished that morning and their skill in combat. Once Jack let it slip that he, too, had served as a soldier, Rohan, Iain, and Elrick took a new interest in the human within their midst.
“Good,” said Alex to Sabina. “Maybe now Rohan and Jack can play nicely with one another.”
Sabina said nothing but looked at Rohan just a little sadly. She offered Alex some lunch, so they called the men over to join them. As they were approaching, Alex looked into Eimhir and Aileas’ large, soulful eyes and asked them if they would lead the other horses back to the stables. Eimhir brayed, and the mares and stallions began to trot away.
“Did you just do that?” asked Jack, coming up behind her.
“Yes. I just asked them to please go back to the stables, and they seemed so inclined,” said Alex, smiling up at Jack. “What is it? You’ve the strangest look on your face.”
“Just mesmerized,” he whispered. “That was quite an amazing show I just witnessed, Alex. I can’t even begin to describe what I saw. It looked like something out of a martial arts film, the way you all came together. Simply amazing,” he breathed out.
She smiled shyly, unaccustomed to such praise. Jack was the first person outside of her family to really see her worth, but then again, he was the first one she had really let in. And it was all because Ganymede had insisted he come along. Alex offered up silent thanks to the angel for gifting her with this friend. In the days to come, she hoped she would always be able to talk to Jack and confide in him as she had done over the past few critical days.