Chapter 43: The World

"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me'." - Erma Bombeck

Three months after that battle, Alex was in Natasha's dining room, sitting across from the High Commander with a cranberry-and-white chocolate scone and cup of black tea with honey in front of her. Her wrist was fully healed along with all of her other injuries, and she had been staying with her parents in a house not far from the main training facilities and school. Justin and Max were determined to become great Purity agents (Max a scout and Justin in technology), and Juliette was training as well to be either a warrior or scout.

She had visited Cindy and Alucard in Scotland once, but the older Nottes had decided that they would stay on Earth, knowing that their bio-engineered lives would soon be coming to an end. In tears, Juliette had reported that Cindy had estimated Alucard to have about a decade left at most and her about twelve or thirteen.

Cerrulean had decided to stay on Earth as well, saying that with Boudicca deceased and Mathias a traitor, he was needed at his post more than ever. While Krystle had been in the basement, she had transported the Artifact to her dorm room at Cardiff for extra protection. Right after the battle, someone had been sent there to retrieve it and bring it to Celetsiakami. It was currently under protection that would make Fort Knox look vulnerable (as said by Natasha), and a couple of scouts had been sent to watch over Krystle as well as her family.

There had been mourning, Caleb dying when he'd been brought back for surgery and Sakura still in ICU. Three spies had been found and imprisoned, and Natasha liked Alex's idea about grinding up ten of the shards. She liked it even more that she had no idea who "Alec" (both Alex and Natasha had decided it was better to call the ghost by the name Krystle called him) had given the jar to.

Even if it wasn't the same as before with the Gem of Thought, Alex's and Idolon's minds were still linked due to the obvious reason. If Alex had no idea where to find that jar, then neither would Idolon.

Also on topic of the demoness, she and her followers had been lying low ever since the battle. Still, no one was really sure just what she was up to, but there were many theories. Alex's favorite one was that Idolon no longer had a plan and had simply been acting in desperation.

Pulling the braid her curls were tied into over her right shoulder, Natasha took a sip of her tea as Alex picked apart her scone.

Boudicca and Caleb shouldn't have died. Sakura shouldn't be in ICU. Idolon and her cronies were supposed to have been defeated once and for all with Alex transcending to Avalon to be with her birth parents. That's what would have happened at the end of one of H. J. Darling's books or in a movie Alex and Harper would have snuck into the cinema to watch.

"Stop that," Natasha ordered after swallowing a bite of her scone.

Looking up and blinking at the sudden sound, Alex questioned, "Stop what?"

"Feeling sorry for yourself. Stop it. It's annoying." The woman's tone was nonchalant, and she took a long sip of tea.

"Yeah, and you being a bitch is annoying too," Alex grumbled into her cup, accidentally swallowing one of the leaves that had been floating on top. She really wished the woman would start straining the leaves. Did Alex really need a reading?

Almond-shaped eyes only half-opened, Natasha glared for a moment as she set her cup down. "How are your parents and brothers doing? Still good? How about Juliette?"

It sounded like the woman had briefly debated about saying something about that comment but had decided against it.

"Yeah." Alex allowed a smile to kiss her lips. "Juliette still doesn't talk to me a whole lot, but we're getting along a little better."

"Has she slapped you for me yet?"

There was a sparkle in those green-blue eyes, and it was Alex's turn to glare.

Theresa still felt wary about magic, but she had agreed to allowing Jerry to teach her some things. She was also in training to become a teacher, which was a career the Latina had always wanted ever since she was a little girl (well, that or being a model). Unfortunately, when her family had hit hard times, she'd been forced to drop out of college. When Grandpa had died, he had left many debts, so Theresa had been unable to take out a loan.

She and Alex had talked often throughout the past month, the awkwardness Alex remembered from that night when Jerry took them all into the Lair to read them some pages from Elliahn Durjaya's diary quickly fading. Theresa had spent most of those first days apologizing over and over for never telling the truth about the cab, but Alex had already forgiven her. Long ago.

She pretty much understood, Theresa still distressed about the miscarriage at that time, anxious about what to tell her husband, and suddenly finding a baby girl in the cab, the driver insisting that Theresa had brought her. That she had called her "Alexandra". That the files containing all of Alex's birth and medical information had fallen out of her purse. What police officer would have listened to that story when all of the evidence had pointed towards Alex being Theresa's child?

Jerry and Theresa had been working past that lie, but they seemed to be doing well. If there were still any problems, they weren't going to let Alex or her brothers know.

They were a family. They had been for all of Alex's life.

Alex's, not Seraphina's.

It was still so weird, admitting that the two lives were the same person, when they felt so different.

Alex had been a rebel, but Seraphina had been a demon.

Alex had stolen food, but Seraphina had stolen souls.

Alex had led a turn-around in Happy Helper's Club, but Seraphina had led a revolt in Tartarus.

Alex had been transparent, but Seraphina had been too complex for Alex to even follow even though they were the same person!

"I told you to stop feeling sorry for yourself," Natasha growled. She stirred the leaves at the bottom of her cup with her right index finger. "Okay, want to talk through it again?" She set the cup upsidedown on to the saucer.

When Alex wasn't at lessons, training, speaking with spies and scouts, or spending time with her family, Alex was with Natasha, trying to talk through everything that had been going on. Nirabella hadn't visited Alex again, and the girl still longed to meet Terrask one day, but she knew they would all get to meet again one day, if not already. That was something else Alex couldn't wrap her mind around.

Time was not linear. Alex had found that out already. Nirabella had said all Einharuns lived many mortal lives before transcending, but Einharuns were always there. As far as any mortal knew, Mzrisknu had always had two Einharuns, when Terrask had left to join forces with the Evils for a time before turning back to repent and guard Mzrisknu alongside his love.

How did all of that work? Had Nirabella only lived mortal lives until it was time for her to transcend, or was she still living mortal lives now, the her in Avalon a collective of all she had learned, all who she had been throughout the past, present, and future?

Could the same be said about Seraphina? Was there a Seraphina now, and Alex was just a mortal life? She had no idea what to think about it, or even how she could.

Alex shook her head and then took a sip of tea. "Any more talking about all this and my head might explode." She stirred the leaves gathered at the bottom of the cup before setting it upsidedown onto the saucer.

Nibbling on her scone, Natasha nodded. "I know that feeling very well. I still remember the other reality, remember?"

Moving the crumbs around the plate, Alex never actually ate any of the scone. "But if reality and fantasy blend, like you've said before, then wouldn't realities mix too?"

"Makes sense."

"Yeah, not really…"

Natasha sighed. "It makes sense, considering."

"Considering that the cosmos laughed in sense's face, beat it up, stole its lunch money, and threw it into a gym locker." Alex popped a piece of the scone into her mouth. "And then once sense managed to get free, the cosmos hung it up the flagpole by its underwear."

"Why do I get the feeling that happened to Justin?"

Swallowing more of the scone, Alex responded, "The teachers caught those jocks before his underwear became permanently wedged in his crack, and Max locked himself in a gym locker. He was trying to skip out on his math test and ended up falling asleep in there, and the janitor found him later that night. Mom and Dad were at the police station arguing with the police while Justin called everyone we knew and I searched around Tribeca with Harper."

Eyes on the table, Alex chuckled at the memories. It all seemed so long ago: hiding Justin's lightsaber and baby blanket; tricking Max into doing all of her work; getting nagged by her parents as well as Harper about college; Mr. Laritate being the last teacher at Tribeca Prep that still had hope in her; and going to "wizard lessons" in the Lair.

Even if those lessons had been lies because Jerry had been terrified of the Council of Magick separating them for the truth being known, Alex still had fond memories of teasing her brothers, annoying her father, and even having her schemes backfire.

Maybe it was the romanticizing of the past, like how she'd heard Mrs. Cannon mention in class from time to time during her lectures. Even though Alex knew there had been many times in her life that had made her scoff or scowl,or even wishing she could be transported away to where she could do everything the way she wanted and not follow anyone else's rules, she now decided that she did not want to trade that life on Waverly Place for anything.

"Ah," said Natasha, the corners of her mouth moving upwards, "I like that smile. You should wear it more often."

The smile grew, and Alex moved the crumbs around on her plate before taking another bite of the pastry.

"Now, I've been thinking more about what you told me about what Idolon did before disappearing from the bungalow."

For a woman that liked seeing smiles, she sure knew how to wipe one away quickly.

The woman picked up a wooden chalice that had been sitting between her and Alex. She stirred the wooden tablets inside with one finger as she spoke: "It's already obvious she knew that there was a house nearby for you to go to, and it's likely she could have known the exact location or had had you all followed. However, I think any souls she might have gotten would have only been a plus for her. We both already figured that her disappearing after seeing you conjure blackfire on your sword is significant."

Natasha picked up a tablet at random, setting it onto the table. The character carved into it looked like an R.

Going back to stirring the rune tablets as Alex nodded, Natasha continued: "Realities and fantasies blend, and she is you. All you are is what she could have been, and all she is is what you could have been."

That was far from a plesant thought, but Alex knew that it made sense—well, as much sense as anything in her life could make.

"As long as there is a chance of you turning back, her plan can still come into being." Natasha placed another round, thin piece of wood onto the table, this one having what looked almost like an S. "When you conjured that blackfire, it showed that that chance was still there—strong, too."

Alex choked on the bite of scone.

"Oh, relax." The third rune was placed onto the table. This one looked like an arrow. "The chance is in all of us. You're not special in that department, and I'm not a fan of narcissists." She took a deep breath. The air smelled of jasmine, thanks to the incense cone in the corner of the room. "This fight is never-ending for everyone. It's just a little… different for you."

She looked up as she smirked, setting down a fourth rune:It looked like an H, though the line in the middle was angled, not horizontal.

Exhaling sharply, Alex remarked, "Yeah… little different. Like how the Blood War was a little disagreement." She glanced at the High Commander's overturned cup. "Back in Boston, your tea leaves were in the shape of a question mark. What does that mean? I mean, I guess it's pretty obvious, but…"

Setting down the wooden chalice and going over to Alex's side to pick up her teacup, Natasha replied, "Nothing really obvious about divination unless you make it that way. Seeing pictures in blobs of tea leaves or coffee grounds, looking at rune stones, interpreting what the lines on someone's palm mean, what stars or clouds or saying, or reading cards… It's actually kind of like trying to make anything out of what happens in our lives. It's all about perception. Now, as for the question mark, it typically speaks of hesitancy or caution. Ever since becoming High Commander, I've been second-guessing myself, trying to be decisive when all I feel is doubt."

Alex nodded, able to understand that.

"As for what's in your cup, I see what looks like an hourglass on top of a gun pointed at what looks to be a candle. You need to make quick and important decisions in the face of troubles that will threaten any help you could be getting, or maybe knowledge you could be gaining." Natasha set down the cup before going back to her chair and picking up the chalice. "So stop trying to worry about the secrets behind how time, reality, and life operate. You're crazy enough as is, and all you need to know is that it's all just about learning. I've long-accepted that life isn't a test; it's never-ending lessons. Many of them, and sometimes we fail and have to take the courses over again."

"Everything is just part of a cycle," Alex whispered, watching as Natasha took out a fifth rune. "You going to look at your tea leaves?"

"Nope." She pointed at the runes in order she put them in. "Raidho, Sowilo, Tiwaz, Hagalz, and Laguz. One path is always met with and intersected by many, many others. The Fates weave a web that is much to intricate for any of us to even hope to perceive any further than the thread we're on, and there is no true ending, but when we begin again, it's on a higher level than we were before—as long as we were willing to learn and work for that higher level, but sometimes an F can teach us more than an A."

"Can you tell my parents that? Eventually, they're going to remember I was supposed to be grounded for that F on my last science test."

Natasha ignored that quip and continued: "The first part of your journey has reached an end, but it is a brief pause where you have discovered much, and nothing sharp better come out of that mouth unless you want something else sharp shoved in."

Alex closed her mouth.

"It's time for you to look over this new knowledge and use it for the next journey, and this is good, seeing as the first step of your next journey looks to be a loss." Her eyes flickered up at Alex's shocked, fearful look. "Don't let that make you paranoid."

"How—?!"

"All about perception, remember?" Natasha's tone stayed serene. "Now, this isn't just a loss, it's some sort of sacrifice, made by one that knows just exactly what is being done, why, and for whom. Now, there will be destruction, but such a thing is necessary for change. Sometimes, the Holies set things in motion to give us kicks in the ass for the better of all as well as our own well-being. We don't always see it in this life, but that's where trust and faith come in. Also, this darkness is all about confronting fears, finding what is hidden, and using self-examination to prepare yourself for the future. Oh, look, you'll be fighting yourself again."

Crossing her arms, Alex gave the woman an "I am not amused" scowl.

"As I've said, we all go through the same thing, more or less. Right now, though, Idolon's presence is causing an upset in Tartarus—in Akanolatah in general, really. Now, the Evils' hold on Niolak and Throth is lessening. Balance is slowly being restored. Her plans have backfired on her, and even though she's still out there, you're destroying her at her very core little by little, moment by moment, just by making the choices you're making now."

"Yeah, yeah." Alex looked down at her tea cup. Nothing ever truly ended. It still confused her, but she was learning to live with that. Slowly, but she was learning. Over and over, she just told herself to go moment by moment. That was all her mind could handle. "Going to look at your tea leaves?"

"Nah." Standing up, Natasha took her plate and saucer (with still-overturned cup) into the kitchen.

"Think it's still a question mark?"

Natasha came back into the dining room, taking Alex's dishes. "Eh, maybe, maybe not."

"So you're not going to even look?"

"Nope."

"Why?!"

"Because there are always unknowns in the cosmos, and it's annoying the hell out of you."

Alex only glared as Natasha flashed her a smirk and wink.

xxx

The Russos stayed in a nearby Tudor-style home shared with the Solovyov family. Toris and Liliana were on duty while their eldest daughter, Viktoriya, was at weapons class. The academic courses had already let out, so Theresa would likely be home in a couple of hours or so, but Jerry would remain for an extra hour, training to be an instructor in defensive magic. Apparently, one of the instructors was getting ready to retire (many Purities retired between the age of fifty-fife and sixty before returning to their home worlds to live out the remainder of their lives there), and he saw Jerry as a promising replacement.

Max would probably be home from his courses at the same time as Theresa would be finished with today's training courses, and Justin was currently in the living room, playing with Isabella. The six-year-old girl had her father's green eyes and her mother's white-blonde hair, which was currently pulled back into intricate braids forming a bun on the back of her head. By how her small hands pressed down on Justin's shoulders, one of her bony knees just below his chest, and Justin looking like he wasn't sure whether to say "Ow" or chortle, it looked like Justin had agreed to be Isabella's dummy to practice the martial arts her sister and father had been teaching her.

"Hi, Seraphina!" the little girl chimed, thin lips pulled into a large smile that showed her pearly teeth and fangs, which were beginning to come in.

More and more people were calling Alex by that name, and she was surprisingly growing used to it. She hadn't thought she would, but it fit. She may not have transcended yet, but—

Stop thinking about that, Alex told herself. Stop confusing yourself. Moment to moment. Moment to moment.

Even with the memories still spinning, Alex knew she was alright. She had started a journal, kept in her desk upstairs. She had once heard that the past was a key to the future; she'd also heard that those who forgot the past were doomed to repeat it. Alex was learning just how true that was with how circular time tended to be. Also, the present was drastically underrated. It had nothing to do with forgetting about the future or past and "living in the now" as Alex had always insisted she preferred back in Manhattan.

Living moment to moment had to do with gaining the perception that was needed to either examine the past or think of what to do towards the future. As Natasha had said, it was all about perspective.

Alex smiled at the little girl and Justin. "Hey, Isabella. Justin, just give up now, she's totally got you beat."

Isabella beamed, and Justin gave a laugh. "Yeah, looks like it. Isabella, want me to make you a snack, now?"

"Later!" The tiny Vampire jumped back up to her stocking-clad feet. "More! More! Snack later!"

Chuckling, Justing pushed himself up to his feet. "Alright, alright."

"You two have fun!" Alex waved as she walked passed the living room and to the wooden spiral staircase next to the entranceway leading to the kitchen. "Make sure to beat him up good, Isabella!"

"I will!" Isabella chimed with a tinkling giggle.

"Thanks!" Justin called sarcastically, making his sister laugh.

Upstairs, Alex shared a room with Juliette. Neither had been happy with this fact at first, but just about everyone in Celetsiakami doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled up in their rooms. Natasha shared her large house with all the other Commanders as well as the spouses of the married Commanders.

With both Juliette and Alex attending classes and training sessions most of the time anyway, it wasn't like they had to spend ever waking moment together.

The Notte was at her desk, using the laptop she'd kept from Wiztech. Her fingers moved along the pink light making up the keyboard more quickly than at the school, and it looked like she was typing up a new entry for her diary. Like Atol, she'd said that after living for so long, she'd learned that keeping a journal helped keep her mind from being so cluttered from all the years she'd been around.

Atol… Alex took a breath before pulling a five-subject notebook out of the bottom drawer of her desk as she sat down.

The two sat in silence for several minutes before Juliette decided she wanted to say something:

"I forgive you."

The ballpoint pen fell out of Alex's hand. "Wh-what?" She had to shift to turn around so as to not bend her wings against the back of her chair.

Fingertips poised over the keyboard and eyes still on the screen, Juliette murmured, "I've been holding in all this hate for so long, and… it really hurts. It probably sounds like a selfish reason to forgive someone, but forgiveness is really just for the person doing the forgiving, right?"

"Yeah." Alex gave a nod, wringing her hands. She could see all of those people again, all of those pained expressions, all of the blood she had spilt. "But it can be for the person receiving it too."

That little boy Alex saw after getting her soul back… Dark eyes and skin, hair cropped close to his head… He'd had a shard of the planta jewel orbiting around the core of his Soulstone. He'd been a Magician in Niolak—five. Five.

And there he was again in Alex's mind, holding out a hand towards her. His eyes didn't hold anger, hate, or even pity. They held the gentle gleam of that gift Juliette was now offering. One of Alex's hands grasped at her heart, shoulders and wings trembling.

"You… honestly don't know how much it means to me." Alex's voice was small and soft, barely audible.

Slowly, Juliette turned to look at Alex as the girl withdrew deeper into her mind, seeing her other hand reach forward to take the boy's. Tears sprang to Alex's eyes, and she felt the weight that had been wedged deep into her chest ever since finding her soul finally begin to break up and evaporate.

Juliette went over to Alex's side of the room, sitting down on the foot of her bed. "I know you're not the same person you were back then, and… I just can't stay angry anymore. I feel like I'll end up destroying myself if I do, and it's been putting a strain on my relationship with Justin, too."

Alex nodded, opening her eyes. "If you can forgive me, then… I guess I have no excuse to not forgive myself, huh?" She triedfor a chuckle, but it fell flat.

Juliette smiled anyway, her tawny-brown eyes edged in crimson. "You know what's going to happen now?"

Getting herself under control, Alex managed a shrug. "I want to help Atol. Last I saw him, he was even emptier than before." The hand she had in front of her heart squeezed more tightly to where her nails dug into the skin. "He needs his soul, and I think I can help him."

Taking a breath, Juliette nodded. "Tell me the where and when, and I'll be there to help."

The red in her eyes grew, showing her determination.

Alex was able to smile now. "Thanks. That means a lot. I'm not sure about the when, where, or how right now, though."

"Yeah, we still have a lot of training to do."

"Yep, but we'll be ready. We have to."

"Over and over again." By Juliette's smile as she went back to her desk, it sounded like she'd gotten the same talk about cycles and nothing ever truly coming to an end that Alex had. "But I'm fine with that. While on the one hand, it sounds hopeless if none of this ever really ends."

Alex's smile grew as she picked up her pen. "But on the other, it gives us all the hope in the cosmos."

As one of my friends told me (with a groan, I might add, haha), I am one of "those writers". I don't like writing endings that have neat little bows tying everything together. Just like the cosmos, there are tendrils everywhere, nothing tying up in a neat little ending, because there is no true ending. :3 I hope everyone enjoyed reading "Memories", and those that have been reading since I first posted the first chapter, I am very sorry you've had to put up with my horrible, lengthy writer's block. Hopefully what I've written (finally, huh?) up has made up for the wait. :)