Chapter nineteen - Goodbye is Too Final

"...Alex...wake up..."

A soft voice floated into the sweet bliss of Alex's unconscious state. She tried to concentrate on remembering how she'd ended up the way she was, wherever she was now... The girl opened her eyes slowly, fighting her headache to make her world focus in around her. A smiling face caught her attention, which appeared to be hovering above her at first glance. She took a double take and realized that the person was leaning over her from behind her head.

She moaned and closed her eyes again. "Where am I...?" She croaked. The face, which she now recognized to be Alastair's, chuckled.

"In the woods - you're safe now... that attack destroyed the castle, but we're still alive... for the most part, anyway," he finished dryly.

"But... the king; the fight; the-GYAAH!" Alex had tried to sit up, but the burns from the attack refused permission for such a movement. She lay writhing on the ground, gasping from the pain and gripping Alastair's hand.

The boy's brow creased in worry. "What's the matter? What happened, Alex?" He asked softly.

"I...I can't move," Alex whimpered. "My back hurts..."

Alastair slowly helped her to (somewhat painfully, with a great amount of vocal protests) turn over onto her stomach and winced at the condition of her back. Almost all of the back section of her tunic had been burned away, revealing black and crusty patches of skin, mainly near her spine.

The boy's silence wasn't comforting to Alex in the least. "Is it that bad?" She asked, smiling halfheartedly.

"Yes, it is," he replied gravely. "We have to get you to help... I don't know what to do for this."

"But I do," an ever-familiar voice called out. Alex and Alastair glanced up to see Ethir walking towards them, holding a few small flasks in each hand. "Greetings! I suppose you have, eh... battled the king?" He asked almost nervously, which surprised the two teens.

Alastair nodded. "We did, and the king has been destroyed, along with all of the Rauhûn. But on the last attack, Alex tried to shield me from the blast, and...her back took most of the blow."

Ethir unloaded his collection of flasks carefully onto the ground next to the two teenagers. "That's wonderful... the threat of the Rauhûn is finally over, then." He opened one flask and motioned for Alastair to move away from Alex, which he did somewhat hesitantly. "Now this will hurt for a moment, but it will heal your back."

"As if it doesn't already hurt," she muttered sourly. Ethir shook his head and poured the liquid onto her back, spreading it evenly onto the burned spots. Alex felt a sharp, strong burning sensation cut through her body, which caused her to cry out and try to move away from him. The man firmly held her still while the burning died away in a matter of seconds. She laid still on the ground for a moment, gathering the parts of her mind that seemed to have scattererd.

Alastair blinked a couple of times in awe. "Incredible..."

"It better be more than 'incredible' for all that pain! What'd it do?" Alex asked, trying to twist around to see.

The boy shook his head slowly. "It looked as if it was going to burn through your skin, but instead it healed it... completely...! That's amazing..."

Ethir suddenly glanced at Alastair, his kind smile fading to a frown. "Come, we haven't much time before the portal closes. We need to get you home, Alex," he added, turning his attention to the girl, who was now sitting up amd rubbing her forehead.

"Wha... one thing at a time," she moaned. "What portal?"

"The one that will take you back to Earth." The man replied.

It took a minute for the words to sink in, but when they had, Alex exchanged glances with Alastair. By the look he gave her, she could tell he didn't want her to leave. But if she stayed in this world with him, she'd never be able to see her friends ever again... and how would it be explained when her parents came into her room the next morning and saw an empty bed? She sighed and slowly stood, hanging her head slightly.

"Let's go," she mumbled, casting a pleading glance towards her partner, who stood as well and followed the old man into the forest.

~*~

When they reached Ethir's house, Alex noticed a strange light coming from behind the back wall. A glowing circle, reaching from the ground to the beginning of the roof, sat waiting for her. She sighed sadly and stared at the ground as she walked, trying not to look Alastair's way. This would already be hard enough without a drawn-out goodbye.

The party of three stopped three feet short of the portal. Ethir placed a hand on Alex's shoulder to urge her forward, but she hung back, afraid to step towards it before she was ready.

"What're you waiting for?" The man asked quietly. "Go ahead."

Alex felt a lump form in her throat as she turned to Alastair and tried to speak. "You know I... I really don't want to do this," she said slowly, trying to control her voice.

He seemed to have to force a smile. "I know. But there's no use trying to run away from your destiny..." The boy turned his head, averting his eyes away from hers. Alex saw a single, solitary tear form in his eye and run down his cheek before he could wipe it away. This caused tears of her own to fall, making her voice crack.

"Alastair... I don't want to leave you," she managed to say, choking on her words. "But I guess this is goodbye, then..."

Her friend finally met her tearful gaze. "No," he whispered. "Goodbye is too final. I WILL see you again, I know it... I know our paths will cross again someday."

Ethir sighed. "I'm sorry, but the portal IS closing, and it won't open for another three years," he said, scratching the back of his neck. "It's now or never, Alex."

Alex, in a final emotional action, threw herself at Alastair and embraced him tightly, sobbing into his shoulder. Alastair, though slightly alarmed, hugged her in return, running his rough cheek against hers. A brief moment of this ensued, until Alex pulled herself away and wiped the tears from her eyes.

"See you again," Alastair said quietly.

The girl smiled wearily. "I'll be waiting."

With that, Alex backed towards the portal, gripping her staff and semi-absently removing the blue baseball cap that had been with her the entire time she'd been in Adan-gwann. Glancing at it in her hand, she looked back at Alastair and tossed the hat to him, just before the portal pulled her in. The world of Adan-gwann disappeared in a blinding flash of light.

~*~

"NO!"

Alex sat bolt upright, in a cold sweat and short of breath. She glanced around wildly, trying to make sense of everything around her, which was hard considering her surroundings were dark. She was sitting in a bed, wearing a worn navy football jersey and white sweatpants. Her hair was down as well, which was slightly bizarre, since she mostly kept it back in a ponytail. But she noticed the sheets were cold, as if unslept in...

A desk sat a foot or two away on her right side, covered with papers, pens, books and other assorted junk. The room she was now in was slightly large with a vaulted ceiling and wood-panel walls (which were decorated with posters galore). A realization hit Alex as she observed the room.

She was in her own room, just the way she'd left it.

Removing the covers from her, she slid off of the bed and opened the small laptop that sat on her desk, though slightly buried under a pile of papers. She clicked on the calendar and quickly scanned for that day's date.

April 3rd, 11:58 P.M. The same exact time Alastair had come to kidnap her on the first night they'd met. But something wasn't right... the memories she'd brought from Adan-gwann were slightly vauge, almost dream-like in her mind. Had it all been a dream? Was Alastair only a figment of her imagination? The girl sighed sadly and turned to climb back into bed, but stopped as a dim glistening caught her eye.

The moonlight streaming in from the window cast shadows all around her room, but managed to land on a small pile of things tossed on the floor. A familiar staff stood, leaning against her wall, and at its base lay a green tunic, a pair of calf-high boots, a white tank top and matching leggings, all folded neatly.

Alex felt tears of joy spring to her eyes. It hadn't been a dream after all...then Alastair's promise was true, and she would see her friend-

Friend. The word stopped her where she stood, almost startling her. For months she had been denying it, but deep down she'd known for a long time that she'd felt strangely about the boy. Even though it seemed strange at first, Alex knew that she'd grown to love Alastair over her stay in Adan-gwann. Of course, the first few months she'd hated him, but then... she began to notice more and more how he tried to look out for her and take care of her.

Sighing, Alex climbed back into bed and made herself comfortable. Tomorrow, she would have to make sure not to act unusual around her friends, even if she hadn't seen them in six months. She drifted off to sleep thinking of Alastair's promise.

The wait had only just begun.

~*~
THE END