A Gift from the Goddess Chapter 95

Most of the preparations were made within that meeting. Or, at least, right up until I could start to feel the medication begin to wear off. After which, we all agreed I should be moved back to the packhouse until everything was arranged since that would be easier to defend.

For obvious reasons, I wasn‘t privy to any information regarding the move. It was all to be kept completely secret from myself, and even Aleric wouldn‘t know exactly where until it was time to go.

Cai took on the responsibility of choosing the location to ensure that there would be no chance of Thea finding out beforehand, preparing envelopes for us both; one for Aleric, to be opened only when we were leaving, and another for myself, for in the event of an emergency occurring.

I was nervous, to say the least. How could I not be? So much was riding on just theories. But I had to believe that it would be correct. I needed space to be able to work on fixing myself; both internally and externally.

And staying in the Winter Mist until I was ready was just going to be putting everyone in danger. Not to mention, it would be potentially lethal should I accidentally let my guard down for even a second.

I was most nervous about the ring though. I had purposely not tested it out yet, afraid of tipping Thea off too soon that something was wrong. I wanted to wait until the very last minute to do that, utilising the time she took to figure out what was happening to then leave safely.

It wasn‘t meant to keep her out of my head for good. Something like that wasn‘t possible. It was more meant to be like a Band-Aid… hopefully just strong enough to keep her from finding me immediately. I knew she could sense Selene‘s mark on me, she had told me so herself as that was how she originally found me. So, if I could dilute that in any way possible, it was worth at least trying.

Though, if there was a way to test it before we left, that might just benefit us more…

And so, before too many days had passed, finally it was time to leave.

I finished packing the last of my things into a bag and had an attendant take it outside to the car. It was mostly just clothing, necessities, and books from the vault to read through whilst I was away. With any luck, I could find something else useful in them to help form a plan against Thea.

Now, there was only one last thing I wanted to do before I left….

And I headed towards the garden, following the familiar scent I hadn‘t sought out in such a long time. But given the circumstances and what they were doing for us, I figured it was only right to at least say thank you… and attempt to try and fix things.

“Can I join you?” I asked quietly, finding Cai sitting under a tree not far from the packhouse‘s back door.

He looked up at me, his expression still reserved, but nodded after a small pause.

“I, um…,” I started, fidgeting with the hem of my dress as I sat down next to him. “I wanted to say thank you for looking after the Mist whilst we are gone. And….”

Hesitantly, I then took another breath. “And… I wanted to apologise. If you and Aleric hadn‘t figured out what was wrong, who knows where I‘d be right now?”

He frowned at me as he listened, taking in all my words. However, once I was done, he then moved abruptly, catching me off guard as he grabbed my chin to make me look him directly in the eyes.

“C–Cai, what are you–.“.

“For how long?” he asked, holding me still. “…Since the fight?”

“I don‘t know what you‘re–.”

You don‘t look completely soulless anymore,” he said. “It‘s like there is a spark again. Just a small one, Why would you hide that?”

And I finally managed to free my face as I turned away, unable to meet his gaze.

… Because it‘s better for everyone if we still treat me like a threat,” I replied softly, “Because I‘m not better. Far from it. I still struggle to stay in control and her influence can hit me quickly at any moment.”

“…I never cared about that,” he said, “I just… I just wanted to know you weren‘t completely dead inside. That you weren‘t gone forever.”

And I was silent at that, feeling a little guilty over keeping it from him.

“Does he know?” he then asked suddenly, and I knew who he was referring to.

“If he does then he hasn‘t said anything,” I answered. “But it‘s better if he doesn‘t. He‘s safer without getting further attached to me. The mate bond will make it difficult for him to make an unbiased assessment and I don‘t want to take advantage of that.”

Cai went quiet for a few seconds before saying something that then immediately made me become tense.

“… You love him,” he said, matter–of–factly.

And I looked up at him sharply to see he was being completely serious, his expression neutral.

“What?! No, I… I just don‘t want him to get hurt. I‘ve been in his exact position during my original timeline. It‘s not fair on him.”

“That‘s the same thing, Aria,” he argued. “Acting in the best interest of someone else, even if at times that means sacrificing your own happiness, is a sign that you love them. Why do you think I kept coming back

after all the shit you put me through?”

And I gave him small smile, almost laughing at how horribly true that was. He was probably crazier than even me if he still cared after everything I‘d done to him.

And so, slowly, I reached out and entwined my fingers with his. So much had happened but there was no doubt that my journey with Cai had been a long one. One that made me appreciate how lucky I was to have people in my life who still loved me even if I didn‘t deserve it.

“… I love you, too,” I said, resting my head against his shoulder.

And, though unspoken, I could tell that he reciprocated those feelings in the exact same way I did.

We had grown into two completely different people over the last few years. And now that we had treated each other in ways that were pretty damaging, becoming romantic again felt basically impossible.

Where I couldn‘t ever be certain over how much of ‘me‘ had been driving our more intimate moments, courtesy of his ability, he probably wasn’t exactly itching to get back together with the girl who‘d tried to kill him on several occasions either.

And that was also putting aside the horrible things Thea did to Cai too. I was sure that had its own deep psychological effects on him, having devoted so many months of his life to a mate who he was unable to truly feel love for.

Wondering if something was wrong with him as his body also got sicker over time too. Long gone were his playboy days, that much was for certain. I wouldn‘t be surprised if Cai suffered from some pretty deep trust issues after that. My only hope was that those issues didn‘t persist should he ever find his real mate.

But I wanted to repair what we could between us at least, to stop the bad blood and fighting before I left for who knew how long. Because, ultimately, I still did love him.

And, clearly, he was in the same boat. He was my best friend and somewhere along the line, that had gotten blurred with everything happening between us. It would be nice to go back to that simplicity. To be able to laugh and joke around again like we used to.

I didn‘t fault him for his actions recently either. He‘d been upset and angry these last few weeks because he was hurting, maybe even feeling helpless since time and time again I kept reverting to insanity despite his persistence to reach out to me. We were both victims of Thea in this.. and we needed to band together, not tear each other apart.

“Everything will be okay,” he said, resting his head on top of mine.

And my heart ached a little from hearing that reassurance from him.

“Aria,” a voice then called from the backdoor.

I quickly spun my head around to see Aleric standing there.

‘Time to go,” was all he said as he turned back around, heading towards the car.

So, this was it. It was finally happening.

This was going to be my longest time ever away from the Winter Mist. I never expected it to happen like this.

“Look after yourself,” Cai said. “Come back with a plan to defeat her.”

“I‘ll try,” I said, standing up to leave. “Look after yourself too… Oh! And start training as well while we‘re gone. Your ability… it‘s not something you should have to feel guilty about so long as you can learn how to wield it correctly. Right now, you‘re just firing it off whenever without even realising it, but it would be best to get that under control as soon as possible. Not only for you… but for others too.”

I could tell that he felt bad, understanding the undertone of my words, but I gave him a small smile nevertheless to reassure him that I wasn‘t upset about it anymore.

“I‘ll see you soon, Cai.”

And with that, I went to meet up with Aleric by the car, ready to start the journey ahead.

“Have you got everything?” he asked, to which I nodded. “Alright then. Here are your things.”

He then handed me a blindfold and some medication.

“Wait…,” I said and proceeded to slip on the silver ring instead. “Let‘s make a detour first before we go to the spot. I want to make sure Thea knows we definitely left and double–check the ring works before we commit to this.”

He didn‘t seem to have any complaints with that and soon we were on the road, driving in a direction | couldn‘t see. I‘d put on the blindfold but held off on the medicine, enduring it for the next thirty minutes that passed. I didn‘t want there to be any doubt in Thea‘s head over what was happening and, for that, I needed to retain my pain to use later.

“Pull over anywhere here. This should be far enough,” I finally said to Aleric and felt as the car began to Swerve to the side of the road.

I was immediately hit with blinding light as I uncovered my eyes and had to wait a few seconds for them to adjust. However, once I did finally look around, I was pleased to see I really didn‘t know where the hell I was.

“What are you planning?” Aleric asked but I was already stepping out of the car and taking several steps away.

…Here it goes….

One deep breath.…

And I slipped the ring off, feeling myself free of the silver once more.

“Thea? Are you there?” I asked quietly.

…But after waiting several seconds of waiting, there was only silence. Clearly, it wasn‘t sufficient. I wasn‘t worked up enough.

I groaned out a little in frustration over that, knowing what this meant I needed to do next. I hadn‘t wanted it to come to this but…-.

smack

–And I quickly hit myself in the shoulder, against my wound, making me buckle to my knees with a cry out in pain.

“Aria!” Aleric yelled from the car, taking his seatbelt off to run out, but I held up a shaky hand to indicate I was fine.

“Thea… are you there?” | asked again, now between gritted teeth.

…And I felt her presence come forward.

‘It looks as though you‘re running away to save yourself,‘ her voice whispered. All of your pack, your friends, your family, left behind to die. Do they know that you‘re still the same? That you‘d still throw them to the dogs if it meant being able to finally kill me?

To get revenge for destroying your lives? For killing your old best friend? Because that‘s what you‘re doing effectively right now. Abandoning them. Again.‘

I immediately froze up at her words, having not expected her to start up her old manipulations so quickly nor with such insane, brutal force. I had just been anticipating a conversation, not this.

And it wasn‘t as though she plucked these sorts of triggers from thin air either. They were always pre-existing fears and doubts of mine that she would turn against me, magnifying them ten–fold.

‘Even your mate is secretly afraid of you,‘ she continued. ‘What will happen when it‘s just the two of you? What if you suddenly… snap? Don‘t you remember what happens after you give in to me? There‘ll eventually be some reason to justify hurting him. Just wait.‘

And she abruptly threw an old memory in my face, one from my prior timeline as she showed me what Aleric became in the end. The painful reality I‘d lived with daily that had almost repeated itself but in reverse within this life. A reminder of what I was potentially putting Aleric through now.

“Enough,” I hissed out, but my eyes were already beginning to brim with tears.

‘Do you think running away will honestly help? I know where you are. Your little tricks don‘t work. I‘m coming for you, don‘t you work–‘

“Aria!”

And suddenly Aleric was there, trying to grab my hands.

I‘ll finish you first. Then I‘ll leave him for last. Make it slow… methodical… Savouring every scream as ! finally get my–.‘

“N–no… No,” I whimpered, pushing him back.

But he barely budged, immediately restraining me to force the silver ring back on my finger.

“Breathe,” he said sternly and grabbed my head in his hands. I had no choice but to look at him as he slowly nodded his head in time with my shaky inhale and exhale.

“…I‘m sorry,” | gasped out, a tear falling down my cheek. I wasn‘t sure for which part I was apologising for though.

“…You‘re okay,” he said. “Just… remember what she‘s saying isn‘t real. She‘s just trying to get to you.”

And I felt myself begin to relax from the reminder.

“Take the medicine now and we can wait another few minutes for you to calm down.”

I didn‘t need further encouragement to do so though as I greedily took the medicine, desperate for the pain to subside in my shoulder and for Thea‘s presence to release once more.

“She can‘t… she can‘t find me,” I said, my breathing still a bit heavy “The ring works.”

“How do you know? Did she tell you?”

I then took another few seconds to settle down further before a small, humorless laugh escaped me.” She didn‘t need to explicitly say it. The last time she attacked me with such force was after I worked out it was her in my head after all these years.

Her aggressive approach means that she‘s worried about losing the upper hand. That I‘m slipping out of her reach, and she‘ll have to figure out a new plan.”

I leaned back and slowly lowered myself flat against the ground, closing my eyes as I waited for the medication to kick in.

Already I could start to feel the numbing effect begin to spread, the drowsiness threatening right behind it. I‘d requested for this dosage to help me sleep in addition to pain relief. Blindfolds were good but unconsciousness was better.

“You should have warned me you were going to do that,” Aleric said. “That seemed stupidly reckless.”

“It was the only way to ensure we‘re making the right choice. There won‘t be any reason for her to waste resources attacking the Winter Mist now,” I said, my voice already becoming thick.

“She knows I‘m not there and she knows I’m planning to hide. She‘ll just start diverting her people to look for me instead.”

If he still disagreed with my actions after that, he didn‘t vocalise them.

“Tired?” he then asked after another minute had passed of me not moving.

And I just nodded my head sluggishly in response.

“Alright, then,” he said and then scooped me up in his arms, carrying me back to the car. “Get comfortable since it‘ll be a while before we make it there.”

And I appreciated that, tying the blindfold back around my eyes as a precaution, and drifting off quietly to sleep

“Hey… Aria. Aria.”

A gentle shake of the shoulder and my eyes opened slowly in response.

“Mmm… Are we there?” | asked sleepily.

“Yep… time to wake up.”

And I took off the blindfold, looking around to see we were in a forest. Deep in one, at that Tall trees surrounded us completely, almost enough to block the sun, and the smell of earth and foliage was overwhelming

I got out of the car, though still a little lethargic, and stretched with a wide yawn.

“Sleep well?” he asked, heading to the boot of the car.

“Mmhmm.”

It felt so peaceful here. So quiet. The perfect retreat.

But it was more than just that as something nagged inside.

And, as I looked ahead, down the small dirt driveway, I realised why.

A cottage was situated there. A small cottage in the woods.

It was the kind of place I‘d once described as being my ideal life; something I‘d only divulged to Cai in private. I‘d told him that if I could be doing anything at that moment, it would be absolutely nothing as I hid away from the pack and all my responsibilities to live a quiet life instead.

““Living in a house? Whereabouts?“‘ he‘d asked me as we‘d laid in bed together.

‘“In the woods. A small house just big enough for me that no one would find. I‘d be sure to spread rumours of a witch living there to scare off any wandering strays who might think to come looking.“‘

And, just like that day when I‘d told him, a small smile came to my l!ps.

He‘d chosen this place specifically because of that, I was sure. Even though he‘d prepared this location before we‘d made up today, he apparently hadn‘t lost all hope in me, despite how he‘d been acting. He‘d wanted me to have my happy place, even if that was just for a short time before we returned to the chaos awaiting us.

However, the words Cai had said next then popped into my head, making me become tense, and I turned around to see Aleric by the back of the car.

‘“Just big enough for you? No partner?“‘ he‘d asked,

It was just the two of us here now. Alone. In the middle of the woods.

And I could feel my cheeks begin to flush a little over realising that. How the full gravity of the situation didn‘t occur to me sooner, I didn‘t know. Now, there was no way to ignore it.

“What are you thinking about?” Aleric then suddenly asked, making me jump a little in surprise.

“N–nothing,” I replied. “Did you need a hand with the bags?”

But he just closed the boot and came back around with our things in hand, managing to juggle everything with ease.

“I‘ve got it,” he said, immediately walking past me towards the cottage.

And I cleared my throat, pushing all my thoughts from my head as I trailed behind.

Inside, it was exactly what one would expect a cottage to be decorated with. It was bare essentials with a cosy sort of vibe to the décor it did have. Just perfect for two people with the living and kitchen areas located downstairs and a couple of bedrooms upstairs.

“I‘m going to patrol the area,” Aleric then said, dropping our stuff by the door.

…And with that, he was suddenly gone.

Not even a conversation or small talk about the place. Just… leaving two minutes into arriving.

I‘d be lying if I said my heart didn‘t sink a little… but I had to remember why we were here. No, I needed to use this time to get better and focus on strengthening myself for what was ahead.

And with a sigh, I took my bag upstairs to unpack.

Somehow, I had the feeling that my time spent here was going to be far more difficult than I’d originally anticipated.

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