It was time to say goodbye.
Rune led the way from the Tower of Roses to the portal at the Wolfcroft broch, with Alex cradling Oona against his chest. No one was certain what would happen once they reached the portal. Adamina's ring might open the way on its own, or the gem with the Violet Woman's soul trapped inside that was secured inside a bag on Saorsa's belt might generate enough magickal power to activate the door. There was also the possibility that the Tower itself might clear the way forward simply because Saorsa willed it. Exactly how the Tower worked was still very much a mystery.
"And as a last resort, we can just sexually frustrate you and Alex to open the portal," Vika laughed.
"You are never, ever going to get over the Hedgehog Incident, are you?" said Saorsa, blushing.
"Nope," said Vika. "One of the funniest things I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot."
The day was clear and cold, and everyone was bundled up against the chill. Saorsa noticed as they walked that Adamina looked especially pale. She caught Laoise's eye and nodded in Adamina's direction, and Saorsa and the half-Fae healer each sped up their pace to walk alongside Lady Scott.
"Adamina, are you all right?" Saorsa asked softly.
"I'm…I've just never been to Faerie before," Adamina said. "It never seemed…quite real. And I always assumed that the first time I went, it would be with Thomas." She lifted the hem of her skirts a bit higher as they moved over rocky ground. "I'm supposed to be a queen there now. But…I've heard many Fae detest Humans, and might be especially unhappy that Thomas married one. I thought that when I went the first time that his authority would be there to protect me. But it isn't."
"He may be there when we arrive," Saorsa suggested. "Or he might arrive soon. We are headed to his castle."
Adamina gave her a weak smile. "I imagine Thomas is at the front. When I last saw him, he only had a brief time before heading back to war. And I don't know any of his children among the Fae." She paused. "And I'm terrified for Alex. His Human aspect isn't allowed in Faerie, and everyone there is looking out for him. What if…what if they hurt him? Or imprison him? Or…" Adamina swallowed hard.
"Adamina," said Laoise, "Alex will be in Faerie for just a short time. We just need to focus on that. And I do know the grounds of the castle and the public areas of the Castle of Crows fairly well. I think we can keep Alex hidden until we find the way into the Arcanum."
"But Saorsa, you said that when you spoke to his Fae aspect here he described feeling sick because he was in the wrong world," Adamina protested. "What if going to Faerie causes Alex to fall ill as well?"
Saorsa was quiet for a moment. "Mother Agnes always says," she offered gently, "that no matter how much we worry, things never happen the way we anticipate."
Adamina sighed. "You're right. You're right."
Saorsa took Adamina's hand. "Keep breathing. Sometimes, it's all you can do."
The woods suddenly faded, and the ruined broch stood before them, silent and strong in the afternoon light. Macha loped towards the rope doorway Willow and Svend had marked, and Saorsa felt a pang of loneliness for her friends.
"Alex," said Vika gently but firmly, "it's time to give me Oona now."
Alex nodded, and Saorsa hurried to stand next to him. She knew him well enough to know that he wasn't going to say much between now and entering the portal. His heart was too full for words to come easily.
"We'll be back soon, Oona," Saorsa said, taking the child's hand as Oona rested against Alex's shoulder, "we just have to…"
She had to stop and gather her words. It felt as though her insides were falling to the floor.
In the time she'd had with Oona, she'd never referred to herself as Oona's mother in the little girl's presence. She called Alex Alex to Oona, and Alex referred to her as Saorsa when speaking of her to the baby.
But now Alex and I are getting married. And Oona is ours. Really ours. Our daughter.
It's time to act like it. Saorsa took a deep breath.
"Oona," she said softly, "your… Mum and Da have to go away for a bit. To do something to help keep us all safe. Nana Maria, Auntie Vika, and Uncle Duncan will watch over you. And Mamó Adamina will be back soon as well." She kissed the child's tiny hand. "I know you'll be a good girl. Macha will stay with you at the Tower, too."
And suddenly, the air was filled with tiny glittering mirrors. For a moment Saorsa thought she was seeing snow. But then the portal roared to life, swirling in the air approximately three feet closer than where Willow and Svend had marked it.
"Oh my God!" Adamina's eyes widened.
"We need to go!" Laoise cried. "It might not stay open for very long! Come on!" She grabbed Admina's hand and motioned to Alex and Saorsa to join her. "Be prepared!" she shouted to Rune, Edan, Vika, and Duncan. "Something might come through from the other side!"
"Go! Go!" Vika commanded, as Alex planted a hasty kiss on the top of Oona's head and handed her the child. "We'll be waiting!"
"I love you!" Saorsa cried back towards the group watching them go. "I love you, Oona! I love you, Mama!"
Alex's black-gloved hand found her arm, and now he was pulling her forward, reaching for Laoise's outstretched hand.
And Saorsa thought she heard Oona wail.
And then Saorsa was falling.
And there was no more Wolfcroft, and no more broch. No more winter, and no more trees. No more Vika, or Duncan, or Rune, or Maria. No Tower. No Macha. No Oona. Nothing but a gale force wind filling her ears, and the solidness of Alexander Scott in his black wool coat. He held her tightly against him as her mind unraveled and spun out of control.
And Earth was left behind.