By Amber Andersen
Disclaimers: see part one.
Notes: Thanks so much to Don Woo and Christi for your kind words. Sorry about the wait!
A slightly lumpy cushion pressed into the small of my back. My head lay against something soft and warm. I felt up my arms, involuntarily checking for injuries. I had good reason. Lately, I didn't know where I'd awaken or in what condition. I found my wrists chafed and stinging. Satisfied that I was in one piece, I opened my eyes.
The source of the warmth turned out to be Rickie's leg. I lay in the far back seat of an SUV, my legs tucked beneath me. I sat up slowly, rubbing my head.
"What . . ." I whispered, but I heard nothing. I can't speak, I thought, panicking. I'm mute, somehow. How can this -
I froze, all thoughts forgotten, when I saw the reflection in the front mirror. Raven. I knew it could only be her, despite the row of seats separating us. She looked exactly as I remembered, her light brown hair plastered to her head in a severe bun. Her blue eyes were narrowed to slits, and her lips were drawn tightly. She didn't see me yet; too busy concentrating on the road to notice me. I looked more closely into the mirror, into the reflection of her eyes, and swallowed in disbelief.
Long ago, I had made myself forget the details of that last night, my last night as a normal person. I made myself forget the grief I'd seen in Raven's orbs, reflecting back at me.
Now I remembered.
I lay back down quietly, haunted by her eyes, which were shattered by glass and distorted by pain.
Stop thinking. I thought. Stop thinking. Stop -
She's hurting too, the words came unbidden.
Rickie's hand touched my shoulder, and I jerked away, a little surprised.
"How are you?" Rickie whispered.
I turned away from the mirror and looked up at Rickie. I licked my lips and willed myself to speak.
"I know you can't say anything," Rickie continued, not even waiting for me to open my mouth. "She's cast some kind of spell on you."
Yet another spell, I thought dryly. My sarcasm must have showed on my face, because Rickie asked, "What's so funny? Sorry," she said quickly. "I forgot."
It's all right. I thought to her, helplessly. Think, Alianna. You have to communicate with her somehow.
I had about given up hope when I noticed the small bulge in the front pocket of her T-shirt. I was glad to see it that I reached over and patted and pulled at it without giving her any indication why.
“Hey!” she said indignantly. “What do you think you’re –“ She made no protest as my fingers brushed her breast though, but watched me with a mixture of curiosity and puzzlement.
I flashed her a huge grin and waved a notepad at her triumphantly.
“Oh, brilliant Ali!” she exclaimed eagerly. “I have a pen in my back pocket!” She pulled it out while she said, “Next time gimme some kind of warning before you do that.”
I nodded and took the pen from her outstretched hand.
What’s going on? I wrote. How did we get here and . . . can I borrow your sweater? This hospital gown isn’t a good substitute for clothes.
Rickie read it, and replied, “You went into some kind of coma. I came to see you before you . . . “ she trailed off, somber. “But Raven came in and made you float out of the room somehow. She knocked me to the ground, then floated me up too. She put us in this car, and now she’s driving us to ‘Hell.’
“I’m sorry,” she said sheepishly. “I know this isn’t the best news you’ve ever heard. Oh, my sweater! Here.” Rickie picked it up from where it had fallen onto the floor and gave it me.
I put it on, then wrote on the notepad, Why doesn’t Raven notice us back here? They had to tie me down on the bed, didn’t they?
Rickie sat silently for a moment. “I kind of pissed her off,” she said. “I told her it wasn’t your fault her daughter died, and it wasn’t her fault your wife died. She got mad, and has been avoiding looking back here for the last hour.”
I nodded, remembering the blankness in her gaze.
“They . . . did have to tie you to the bed. I guess you were struggling pretty hard.” Rickie said softly. “Ali, do you remember anything before Raven came? What set you off like that?”
I did some exercises with a nurse in the gym, I wrote slowly. But I got tired quickly and she wanted me to stop. I kept going though, onto some leg exercises. But I couldn’t do them after all, and I almost fainted. When I could see clearly, Raven stood over me. I went back to bed, and thought about you and what hap – I paused in my writing. No way was I going to tell Rickie that our kiss had been foremost in my thoughts for hours afterward. I crossed out "thought about you and what hap-" and replaced it with, I went back to bed and went to sleep. But my dreams were disturbing, and I remembered Kendra’s death. My hand shook as I wrote the last two words, and I gave the pad back to Rickie without finishing what I was going to say.
She finished it for me.
“And then you started convulsing,” Rickie murmured, her eyes focused on something far away. I squeezed her hand reassuringly.
I’m sorry, I wrote. I know that was hard for you.
Rickie read it, shaking her head. “I didn’t actually see you. But when I found you lying there . . . That was hard.” She said, so softly I strained to hear.
I didn’t know what to say, let alone write, to that. I released her hand and stared down at the blank piece of paper for several moments.
Rickie, I started, hesitant and shy, though I knew she had no idea what I was thinking and couldn’t see the paper because I hunched over it protectively. I love . . .
The car stopped with a sudden squeal. I was knocked off the seat and the pen and notepad flew out of my hands. Up in the front, I heard Raven breathing heavily.
"You know what it is, don't you?" she muttered. Rickie helped me up and together we stared at Raven with growing alarm.
"You know why you did it?" she asked, twisting in her chair to glare at me with startlingly lucid eyes.
I bit my lip, shaking my head.
She ignored me for a moment, staring at Rickie.
"If I killed her, would you care?" Raven said softly. "Would you weep over her body? Would you tear her skin, saying over and over, 'Come back to me. Come back to me, and everything will be alright again.' Well?!" she screamed the last word. "Would you?"
Rickie glanced at me out of the corner of her eye, and licked her lips. "Yes," she whispered. "Yes, I would."
Raven laughed and shook her head.
"No, I think you're lying." She sat silent for an instant, then said abruptly, "Get out, both of you. Go into the field on the side of the road."
I spared a glance at the window and saw that we were indeed a few feet away from a grassy meadow. Heavily populated by trees, an open grove lay some distance away.
Cautiously I sat up and followed Rickie as she got out of the car. She landed on the ground and wobbled a little bit. Her breath was warm on my face.
"Run," Raven said shortly. "Run, like you're about to die. I want to see you hurt."
Rickie and I stared at Raven for a moment in silence. I don't know what Rickie was thinking, but I was wondering how in the holy fuck were we going to get out of this.
"Run, damn you!" Raven exploded. "Run, or die!"
I shook myself out of my trance, and ran away from Raven, towards the grove. Rickie kept up with me easily, far too easily. I began to stumble after only a few minutes, the effects of being bed-ridden for days hitting me like sledgehammer. Rickie clasped my hand, forcing me forward. We fell together, into the moist grass that caressed me like a lover's kiss.
I rolled over and stared at Raven, who walked calmly several feet away from us.
"She's crazy, Rickie," I panted, sitting up, not even realizing I'd been able to speak aloud. "She's gonna kill us; we have to get away."
Rickie looked at me with a sudden sadness, completely unsurprised that I could now speak. "She's not crazy, Ali." she said softly. She gazed at the figure striding towards us, staring down at the ground with a meticulous concentration.
The way you touch me,
The way that you ache for my skin,
This exquisite agony,
Lingering forever within,
Two long gone, dead and buried,
One, my daughter, skin of a dove
Two, my husband, struck by mischance,
These two I love
And hold to my breast
Of my existence,
For all these days have been wasted,
Something shall happen; I feel it's soon
Spinning away from the hatred that threatens to destroy me,
This ice cold room
Wavering in my consciousness
Where am I? What am I thinking of? I can't quite recall, though I've tried my best. Ah, I remember now. I'm driving the slayer of my daughter to her death.
Driving . . .
I closed my eyes, and let the stillness flood my sense. Quiet in all the corners of space.
Through my banned sight, I heard clearly Alianna's rapid breathing, her hands as they quiver over something. I opened my eyes, amazed to find that my little doze hadn't killed us all.
It'd be quicker if I had, I thought, irritably. I wouldn't have to bother driving them 300 miles to some place I'm not even sure still exists. I drove on in silent contemplation, sorrowful. I didn't really want to kill anyone, even Alianna. But her cashier-lover certainly didn't deserve to die the painful death I had planned them. Several decades ago, I'd found a hot spring, made naturally hot by underwater currents. It lay hidden in a forest in the middle of nowhere, and with a simple fire spell, I could turn up the heat to boiling, excruciating temperatures.
I don't even know if I have the power for that anymore, I chided myself, letting a single tear roll down my cheek. Centuries of untamed magic had taken their toll on my body and my spirit. I barely had the energy to maintain the mute charm on Alianna, let alone levitation.
I can't do this for much longer, I thought. I have to end it. Cruel irony, that. By casting such a powerful spell on Alianna, I'd bound myself to her. We would not be free of the guilt, the pain, the terrible nightmares, until one of us died. By cursing Alianna to eternal life, I had cursed myself. By casting the most powerful curse I'd ever learned, my power had slowly dwindled over time, leaving me with a perpetual exhaustion and fading body.
I was dying.
But not quickly enough.
I broke away from my thoughts, and gazed out at the window at a grassy glade a few miles off the road.
"It ends," I whispered. "One way or another, it ends."
I stopped the car.
* * *
I stumbled through moist grass, and loose roots, staring down at the ground. Though I'd told the women I wanted to see their pain, it was the farthest thing from my mind. All I wanted was to sleep.
I tripped on something, and didn't bother getting up. It didn't matter anyway. No one came. No one cared.