A/N: Sorry for the wait, but I'm back. Thanks for the great responses!
Pixie Tip: Pixies are like superman in that they can do that whole 'leap tall buildings in a single bound' thing. Seriously ,they can leap very far. However, kryptonite is not their weakness. That's still iron.
"Don't give up."
Something was buzzing in my head. It was a voice. Definitely a voice. Astley?
As I thought it I felt a little bit of strength flow into me from somewhere.
Fight….Valhalla. I was in Valhalla. I needed to stay alive. They weren't going to take me without a fight. I let the strength flow into me, tapping into my memory supply to help me along.
"Baby….open your eyes…"
And then suddenly it was like a light bulb went off because this was a different voice. A voice I had been longing to hear for what seemed like forever since the last time I heard it.
As quick as I could manage I opened my eyes. "Nick?"
Suddenly things came into focus. The walls around the room looked rustic and earthy; brown like dirt but with hints of stone and mortar. Even the bed looked old, yet familiar since I'd seen Cass show me it in the image with Nick. The room itself wasn't really overwhelming. What took my breath away was Nick sitting perched on the rather large bed and he looked worried.
"Zara," he murmured, seeing me awake.
A million things were flying through my mind of what I wanted to say, how I felt. But instead I spit out the first thing that came to mind.
"Do you hate me?" I blurted out, slowly sitting up so that I was eye level with him.
"What?" he said, caught off guard.
I gazed into those deep brown eyes, memorizing them again, appreciating his jawline that was freckled with the most intense 5 o'clock shadow I've ever seen. I was looking for signs of some sort of emotion. I sat up straighter, attempting to dangle my legs off the side of the bed.
"You've been through a lot to come here, you need your rest," he replied wearily and debating whether to push me back.
"You didn't answer my question," I whispered.
A frown line quickly made its way across his forehead and he raised his hand and brought it toward me. I held my breath, anxious as to what he was going to do. He brought his finger to my cheek and wiped away tears I didn't even realize had found their way out. He surprised me even more when he took the same hand and cupped my cheek in his own.
"Right now, I hate myself for letting you down," he said, looking me deep in the eyes. "And even though it's very selfish of me to even say this…I couldn't be happier to see you right now."
Before I could react, he leaned in and his lips met mine. It was the moment I'd been waiting for ever since I found out I could save him. I gripped him close to me as our mouths explored each other's like old lovers that had parted for eternity. My hands found his hair and I gripped it gently. His familiar smell of woods and wolf filled my nostrils as I breathed him in.
It was over too soon when he suddenly pulled away and got off the bed.
"Nick," I called out, jumping down off the bed myself.
It wasn't a good idea. I felt a sharp pain in my stomach and felt the world start to spin. I almost forgot how I'd gotten here; why I was here.
Before I could even hit the ground Nick had me in his arms, sweeping me up and laying me back down.
"You can't…." he began.
"No. You can't….You can't just say all that and kiss me and then leave me….You're not allowed to leave me…not again…Everyone always leaves me," I rambled off, trying to ignore the pain. When I thought of the pain, another idea hit me. Astley. Our connection. I slowly probed out, sending my power out and hoping that Astley had a little beacon to help him find me.
"I didn't mean to…"
"No, I'm going to talk, Nick Colt, and you're going to let me finish and then we can go from there," I said in my firm voice.
"Ok, Amnesty," he said with a smile that didn't quite reach his eyes.
"First off, you don't get to feel guilty about letting me down because that was all me…shut up..." I warned as he looked like he was going to butt in. "And even though you were so not cool with that whole pixie hate speech you gave me a few days ago, not to mention that cut…you don't get to feel guilty there either. I don't want you to feel anything negative. Right now I want you to answer my question. Did you mean any of what you said? Cause I read your note and I don't know what to think…"
Suddenly I felt stupid and afraid. I didn't know if I wanted to know the answer. I didn't think I could look him in the eyes. So instead I looked at the floor and started my little chant as I awaited the silence.
Cacophobia, fear of ugliness
Chlorophobia, fear of the color green
Monophobia, fear of loneliness.
"Do you hate me?" I whispered, still avoiding eye contact.
Soon I felt movement on the bed and he was there with me. His hands found my face and he tilted my chin so that I had to look him in the eyes.
"Zara White…you are impossible, you know that?" He said, searching my eyes. "When I first came here I thought it was all over. I'd failed you and I'd never see your face again; hear your laughter, touch your face, kiss your lips," he said, stroking my hair. "All I knew was that I was to be a warrior for Odin, ready to fight in some upcoming war that I knew nothing about. When I found out I could visit home, I couldn't believe it. The only catch was that I was not to make contact or show that I cared about anyone again…To care is a weakness."
His tone turned harsh at that and a piece of me wanted to break for him, but I listened, stroking his face with my hands as if to assure he was real.
"So I left you that note in vain hope I would see you again. And to my surprise the first time I saw your face again, you were a pixie. I was so angry and confused. I thought maybe the pixie who had killed me had gotten you…or that other pixie I almost killed. I was mad at myself, Zara, not at you."
My heart lightened at those words and I almost wanted to do a happy dance, but I restrained myself.
"And since the Valkyrie was there, I had to show nothing but warrior emotions, Zara. And I'm so sorry for treating you like that. And I'm sorry that you were forced into being a pixie. I love you so much," he said and this time, he actually had tears in his eyes.
"Hey," I said in surprise, taking my turn to wipe his tears away. "Stop with the pity party, ok? I love you too, ok. And you have nothing to feel guilty about because I wasn't forced. I gave myself willingly to become a pixie."
His hands suddenly left my hair and I felt very alone.
"It was the only way I could come here and save you. Nick, I'm here on a rescue mission. I didn't die some tragic warrior death. I came with help; I came for you," I said with a smile.
"You shouldn't have done that," he said angrily. "You doomed yourself because of me…"
"Doom? Who uses doom?" I said trying to lighten the mood. It didn't work.
"Do you think I'm a monster? That I'm soulless now?" I said with a mixture of anger and sadness.
I didn't mean that," he said quickly. I could tell by the set of his shoulders that he was agitated.
"You're not a human anymore, Zara. You sacrificed your humanity for nothing…"
"For you, Nick. I did it for you… to save you. Let me save you," I pled. "Please. We just need to find my people."
"What people?" he said after some silence had passed.
"Astley, my father, Devyn…."
"What, Devyn's here too!" he said in surprise and worry.
"We're busting you out," I said with a smile, hopping off the bed. "Let's go now and sort out everything else when we get back."
"I can't believe…"
But suddenly I wasn't hearing his voice anymore. My energy was focusing on Astley because I could sense something was wrong. I gasped as I felt it out; he was in pain.
"Are you alright?" Nick asked, coming to my side.
"It's Astley…he's hurt….We need to find them. We need to leave, now."
"How do you know he's….never mind. Let's find them. We're going to need to be prepared, though. You can't just walk out the door."
"I did have a weapon…" I mumbled, looking around.
"I wish you didn't have to fight…I wish a lot of things," Nick said, grabbing my arms lightly. "Now I just wish I can get you out safe."
"Us out, Nick. Us. Now get a freakin weapon, would you?"
He shook his head slowly, but leaned in to give me another kiss. It was urgent and passionate…and over too soon. In a flash he went over to a cabinet in the corner that I hadn't noticed. In it was a variety of long swords, daggers, crossbows, and that round sword thing. I used to know the name for it because I watched some old episodes of Xena, but the name was lost on me.
"We need to make a pit stop in one more place before we leave," he mumbled. "Grab some medicine."
"How could I forget?" I exclaimed. "Nick, my mom needs it."
I quickly explained what had happened from her apparent death to me dropping the bag on the way here. His face was grim and sad the whole time I went through it.
"Well assuming it's there safely, it should help your mom. It will reverse the process, but I'm not sure if it will help because she's been out for so long, Zara," he said sadly.
"No…it will work, Nick. I have to believe it. It's all the more reason that we leave here as soon as possible. I think I can help her heal with my touch power thing….which I'll explain later," I said, waving my hand.
"Well let's grab extra just in case the other one isn't there when you get back," he said solemnly.
With that, he grabbed two long swords for himself and strapped a crossbow on his back. He reached in again and grabbed another sword and handed it to me.
"Can you use this?" he asked.
"Yeah…I've actually been in training…well three days' worth at least," I said with a smile. "But it's enough. Why is there a cabinet full of weapons in the bedroom anyway?"
"You're supposed to wake up ready to fight at a moment's notice. It's more important than grabbing clothes, actually, hence why it's in a bureau" Nick said with a wicked grin.
I blushed and shook my head. I couldn't think about naked Nick right now and be expected to concentrate. "Well good thing you're clothed at the moment… Too bad they don't have a compartment for your snausages."
At that Nick actually laughed and it was music to my ears. I never thought I'd hear it again. I couldn't help but to throw my arms around him and hug him close. He smiled back and gave me one more peck on the lips.
We headed toward the door, then, all weapons ready. For some added strength I thought of Devyn's happy memories combined with some of Betty's. It warmed me up and my strength increased and my senses sharpened. At the same time, I still had that nagging feeling from Astley. I was so stupid. Why wasn't I sending healing strength his way! Focusing, I took a deep breath and went through the steps he practiced with me.
"What are you doing?" Nick said as I finished.
"Helping Astley,"I whispered, trying to keep my concentration.
"So what, you're connected to him now?" he said with an edge in his voice.
"Yes, and right now he needs saving as much as you do. He came here to help me get you. He's our friend," I said defensively.
"And is that all?" he said, his voice going quiet.
"Nick, this is no time for jealous boyfriend stuff. We kind of have a fight going on and my mom's dying. Please," I said, gripping the door.
He set his face and nodded his head. "Alright. Follow me and let me do any talking if necessary."
My eyes shot up in surprise as I took in the vast hallway in front of me. The corridor seemed to stretch on for miles. And there were about a million doors to match up with it.
"How do you even find a bathroom in this place" I murmured.
He let out a little chuckle as he grabbed my hand. "It's got a picture of a little Viking man or woman on it."
"No, but that would help," he said with a smile.
After that we stopped our talking and hurried our pace to whatever room he said the medicine would be in. It was actually pretty exhausting to be walking around, but I wasn't going to let him onto that fact. We needed to be fast. I could only hope people weren't dying out there. Well my people at least; Garin's was another story. Wow. Those were two firsts. I actually called them my people and I wished ill will on others. I made a quick note to double my urgent action letters when I got back and hurried on with Nick.
"Here it is," he said, stopping in front of a door that had a slight green tint to it; like moss was growing over it.
"This is the apothecary," he said as he pushed open the door.
"Big word. Devyn would appreciate that," I responded.
"Is he alright?" Nick asked, pausing as he shut the door.
"Yes. He's about ready to kick your butt for your last brief encounter and your "don't save me" letter, but he's here to help."
Nick looked only a tiny bit relieved at that fact. Soon he turned his attention to the random bottles that were on the shelves.
"Not to jinx anything, but why is it so quiet here? Why aren't there like, big burly bearded warriors patrolling the hallways," I said, glancing wearily at the door. I was almost afraid that my worry would automatically send someone bounding in.
"Everyone's actually in the great hall eating and drinking right now. That, or well, if the Valkyries rang an alarm about everyone that barged in, they could be dispatched to handle the situation," he said sadly, his eyes still probing the shelves looking for a second bottle. He'd already grabbed the one I recognized.
"Well let's hope they're all just really hungry….what are you looking for anyway?" I said. I was actually getting antsy, now. Not knowing what was going on was tearing me up.
"Got it," he said quickly.
He held a small blue bottle in his hand and looked at it carefully. "Here, don't lose this. You're going to need it later. I'll take one for myself as well."
"Need it for what?"
"I'll tell you when the time comes," he said, looking at me with renewed passion in his eyes. "Let's get out of here."
"That's what I want to hear," I said, reaching in for another kiss.
The sad thing that came to my mind, though, was how I was now comparing his kiss to Astley's. Before it was the other way around. I should be melting in his arms and wanting to kiss him till like, the cows came home or something. But even now in the midst of everything I was still making comparisons and trying to come up with a decision. It's a stupid thing to do, too since we're kind of in the middle of a battle.
"Zara? You there?"
Seconds later we were racing down the hallway, this time the opposite way from where we came.
"Where are we headed?" I asked.
"I can only assume your group is outside because there is no way they would get in here and not raise an alarm. So we are headed to the main gates.
"It would probably help if we knew for sure though, huh," I said, trailing off. "Hold on."
I held my hand out to stop his pace and closed my eyes. I opened up my mind completely and reached out to find Astley. I warmed up at the idea that his life force was still registering strong. I knew he wasn't dead. I felt deep down that I would know if something like that would happen. With that thought in mind I mentally followed the trail to him and it did indeed seem to follow the way we were headed.
"He's outside the hall and to the left. I feel like it's an open space….like a meadow…"
"They are near the tree, then. Maybe there's still hope for peace," Nick said, grabbing my arm and rushing us off again.
"Not like I'm not happy at that idea, but how can you be sure?" I asked, taking deep breaths as we continued our pace.
"If they were to pass further than the tree, the Valkyries are sure to call in help. That or just smite them…Or call in Odin to do that for them," Nick said, listing the possibilities off like they were nothing.
"Hopefully none of those then," I gasped out as we reached the front door.
"Are you alright?" he asked, concern now lining his face.
"I'm still trying to get over the whole stabbed in the stomach thing….sorry," I said, taking breaths in like an old smoker.
"I'm so stupid. Here… take a swig of this," he said, unscrewing the lid to the medicine he had grabbed.
"That's for my mom. No!" I said, shoving his hand gently away.
"You only need a sip to heal up more. That won't take away from what your mom needs; I promise," he said, offering me the bottle.
"Alright." I quickly took a swig. I was expecting maybe something herbal and pleasant. It was herbal…and it tasted like feet.
"Yuck…what is this? Odin's bath water?" I said with a grimace.
"I don't even want to know," Nick said with a frown of his own. "Ready?"
I stared at his hands that were poised on the big bronze handles of the oak door. Then, I placed my own over his and looked in his eyes.
Together we pulled the door open and stepped out into the bright sun that awaited us. As my eyes adjusted to the change, I gasped at the beauty that surrounded the place. There was a large pasture with random animals grazing around and in the center was a large golden tree, just as Devyn said there would be.
But the beauty of the place quickly wore off as I took in the sight that was going on before it.
"We need to run, now," I said in a panic to Nick.
And without another word I sprinted as fast as I could toward the chaos that could only be caused by one evil spawn: Garin.