Chapter Nineteen: Surprises
I can’t seem to stop smiling.
Everything about tonight has been perfect.
I still can’t get over the fact that Luna had that ring. I wouldn’t have even known about it if I hadn’t mentioned getting something for Saf’s birthday in passing.
I could see in her eyes just how much that meant to her; seeing her so happy made me just want to give her everything.
I wish I could give her the entire world.
I think I love her.
Maybe I always have in some way or another.
I can’t bring myself to say the words as we walk back to HQ on a lit-up pathway. Maybe it’s nerves – I’m not totally sure – but this just doesn’t feel like the right time to say it.
Soft orbs of light line the narrow path, providing a peaceful sense of directionality. The path is smooth beneath our footsteps, grass lining the concrete in line with the lights. The sky is completely dark now, like ink, the stars hiding away for today behind the clouds, though I can make out the light of the moon high above.
The sight brings me back down to reality, just a bit.
I almost want the eclipse to happen sooner rather than later, then it would be out of the way. The ticking clock almost makes it worse. It causes my imagination to run loose, thinking about the myriad of possibilities that could occur when the eclipse finally shows itself.
Don’t worry about that. Just be here for now.
I bring my attention back to Saf, who is admiring her ring in the dim light with a soft smile. A few strands of her hair have come loose, framing her face down to her jawline.
I don’t think that smile has left her face all night.
She glances at me a second later, curious look in her green eyes. I can make out specks of a dark blue on the outer rim of her iris, a vibrant energy coursing through the colour.
“What is it?” She giggles.
“Nothing. You’re just cute,” I tease.
She sticks her tongue out at me before playfully taking my hand, lightly swinging her arm dramatically before settling into a rhythm as we walk.
My other hand rests in my pocket, running my fingers over the grooves of the snowflake pendant from Saf.
Everything about it reminds me of her. The dark red colour of the gemstone reminds me of her hair and the time she jokingly asked me what my favourite colour was. The snowflake itself couldn’t be a more perfect representation of how cold she always is. Or the fact that winter is her favourite season, despite falling in a snowbank once.
I know I’ll cherish it for a long time.
She’s so humble, whether she realizes it or not. That she wanted to give me something in return for the ring. I don’t see it as a transaction, though. I think because the ring is so special for her, she wanted me to have something like that from her. Not because she felt obligated to, but because she wanted to.
I think it speaks volumes to who she is.
We’re nearly at HQ a few minutes later, when Saf suddenly tenses and stops, quickly turning her head with a gasp.
I quickly put an arm around her shoulder, “what is it?”
She gives me a quick glance before looking behind her again, a flash of fear enveloping her eyes as a weary look takes over her features. It’s a look I haven’t seen on her since we first ran into Nox at the Manor.
The thought makes my nerves ignite.
“I – no, it’s nothing,” she mumbles, facing me again. Her face is void of it’s usual rosy glow, as though all the colour has been taken out of her skin.
A wave of chills passes over me.
Something isn’t right.
I frown, “that didn’t seem like nothing. What’s going on?”
She lets out a light sigh, tilting her head back for a moment, “do you feel any dark energy right now?”
If Saf were an Earth Wielder, I wouldn’t be surprised that she’s picking up on something I’m blind to. But she’s not – obviously. It makes me wonder why she’d be sensing something in the first place.
Now that she mentions it, I can sense something.
It makes my stomach twist into knots, my heart beating a faster than before.
It’s something that resembles Nox and Midnight – a little – but there’s something different about it. I’m not sure what. But it’s so faint I have to really focus on it to even detect it.
It couldn’t be them. It couldn’t even be possession. It’s not strong enough.
What could it be?
I take a deep breath as the dark energy weakens.
“A little,” I start, “but it’s not very strong. Why?”
She contorts her face, “it’s been following me around for the last month and a half. Not constantly, but every once in a while,” she frowns, “I don’t know, it’s weird.”
My eyes widen for a split second.
She’s been sensing this for the last month and a half?
I bite my lip, “I don’t think it’s weird,” I support, “maybe ask Luna when we get back. I can’t quite pinpoint what it is, but there’s something there.”
She sighs, “I can’t pinpoint it either,” her expression lightens in the next moments, “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about right now. I don’t want to let it put a damper on the evening,” she smiles at me, the rosy tinge returning to her cheeks.
I nod with a grin as my nervousness slowly melts away, putting my arm around her waist as we continue our walk.
The presence doesn’t make itself known for the rest of the walk back to HQ, and it seems like no time has passed at all before we reach the steps, quickly heading inside.
The foyer is eerily quiet; we weren’t out that late, were we?
Maybe we lost track of time.
Almost on cue, Ehren comes around the corner from the kitchen as we take our jackets off, cutting off any thoughts I had about running late.
“Hey you two,” he says impishly, “how was it?”
Saf gives me a warm smile, “really fun.”
“Hmm,” Ehren flashes us a silly grin, “well, now that you’re back, we’re all in the living room if you want to join.”
“What’s going on the living room?” Saf asks in a similar playful tone.
Ehren shrugs, and I notice he’s changed into more casual clothes, “nothing crazy, unless you count Luna staying up past 8pm,” he jokes, garnering a chuckle from us, “just hanging out.”
I glance at Saf, who looks at me with a grin.
“Sure,” I answer before we head across HQ to the living room where we usually have our big meetings. Though, the air is noticeably lighter than usual, as though the energy from before has transferred to this area.
Luna is standing in the centre of the room, looking as though she is about to do something as we come into the space.
She glances at us with a light smirk before creating a cloud of dark mist, watching as is glitters dangerously in front of her. I can’t seem to take my eyes off it, something about how the light hits it, how mystical it looks, it pulls me in. Before I can get too attached, Luna brings her hands together and the mist compresses into a small ball before she quickly brings her hands out. A small explosion comes from the small ball as a loud bang echoes through the space, making me jump.
“What was that?” Saf asks, bewildered.
“Party trick,” Luna shrugs with a wink as she sits down on the couch.
“We’re trying to see the most fun things our abilities can do,” Ehren explains.
Saf’s eyes light up, “oh, I’ve got one!”
She takes the spot where Luna was previously standing, focusing for a moment before sending a flare high up into the air, watching as it turns into a small firework moments later. The sparks that emerge from it fly in all directions, the warm light flickering around the room. The sparks aren’t quite big enough to set anything on fire; they dissolve before they can hit the floor.
“Ha, good thing this place has high ceilings,” Saf laughs shyly, “I’ve only ever done that outside.”
“That’s a fun one though,” Ehren adds.
“Did your mother teach you that?” Luna asks suddenly, giving her a curious glance.
Saf looks to the side, then back to Luna, “yes, she did. I’ve been perfecting it over the years,” she lets out a weak chuckle, fidgeting with her hands.
I notice Luna’s eyes move to Saf’s ring, smiling to herself for a moment. She lightly shakes her head before continuing the conversation.
“Sorry. Just brings back memories,” Luna explains, “she used to make fireworks all the time, so I’m not surprised she taught it to you.”
“Hmm,” Saf relaxes, her shoulders dropping slightly, “that’s cool,” a smile appears on her face as she stands back next to me.
“Coburn, what about you? Any fun tricks?” Ana pipes up moments later.
I bite my lip, “ha, I have a few.”
I focus and create a transparent watery snake that floats in midair, and send it circling around the room in loops and various patterns. I send it by Saf as the tip lightly taps her nose before going on its way, causing her to laugh. Eventually, I send it in a spiral that heads upwards, sending the pattern high into the air before it evaporates into a light mist as I take my focus away.
“I could make it rain in here too, but I decided that wasn’t the best idea right now,” I laugh as Saf raises her eyebrows at me.
“If you did, I don’t think I could forgive you,” Saf chimes in with a silly grin, “Ana, do you have anything fun?”
She shakes her head, “not really.”
Saf gives Ana a look, “what about making hurricanes in the living room with your brother?”
Ana chuckles, “oh he told you about that?” She looks at me, “I guess you and I will have to practice that.”
“Maybe,” I laugh.
“So, how does it feel to be twenty?” Ehren glances at Saf.
She chuckles, “I’m not twenty yet, well, I will be in about three hours,” she fidgets with her hands again, “Luna, can I talk to you for a moment?”
She nods, and Saf beckons me to come with her as we exit the room.
“Is something wrong?” Luna asks as we turn the corner.
“I – er – I’m not sure, that’s why I wanted to ask you,” she starts, taking a deep breath, “this is going to sound crazy, but I – I’ve been sensing this dark energy follow me around off and on for the last month or so. I was wondering if you knew anything about what that could mean.”
Luna frowns, “that certainly is news. When did you last come across it?”
“Tonight, actually. As we were coming back, Coburn felt it too.”
Luna looks between the two of us before fixing her gaze on me, “has it been following you around too?”
I shake my head, “no, tonight was the only time I felt it. But there was definitely something there.”
“It’s not like the twins,” Saf continues, “it’s similar, but different. And not nearly as strong. Do you know what it could be?”
Luna averts her gaze for a moment, thinking.
“I can’t be sure. I think that it could be due to the pending eclipse, just given that it’s so weak and off and on,” she pauses, “that would be my best guess.”
Saf frowns, “Hmm.”
Luna’s usual kind smile returns as she places a hand on Saf’s shoulder, “I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about for right now. But if it persists past the eclipse, let me know, okay?”
Saf looks down with a small nod.
Luna chuckles, “but enough about all that. I see you have your mother’s ring now.”
Saf looks up at me with a bright smile and I put my arm around her waist, holding her close as she looks down at her hand.
“Thank you for hanging onto it, you don’t know what it means to me,” she breathes.
Luna grins, “it was no trouble, really,” she pauses, “when they passed away all those years ago, neither of your parents had relatives nearby, since they were part of the first generation who came to this island. So, given your mother’s past role with me and the fact that their sudden passing, when the ring was found, I hung onto it, with every intention to pass it onto you one day.”
Saf looks down with a smile as she brings one hand along the back of her neck, “I just, I can’t say thank you enough.”
Luna gives her a small smile, reminiscence in her eyes, “I see so much of Blaire in you, even in your smallest mannerisms. And your father too. I didn’t know him as well, but I can see him in you too, all the way down to your freckles.”
“I wish I remembered more of them,” Saf admits, “I can only recall bits and pieces.”
“I know they would be happy to see who you are now,” Luna reassures, giving Saf a light hug.
A pang of sadness hits my heart.
I wish I could have known her parents sometimes. Just from the way everyone describes them, they sound like they were such a light to everyone they interacted with in their lives.
They were taken from this world too soon.
But they continue to live on in Saf.
“You’ll see them again one day,” I add as she stands next to me again, giving her a light kiss on the forehead.
“Exactly,” Luna looks between Saf and I with a warm grin, pausing for a moment, “well, it sounds like you had a pleasant evening all things considered. I’m going to head to bed, but I’ll see you in the morning.”
She heads up the stairs a few moments later, before I turn back to Saf.
“Come on, do you want to see if we can find a cord or something for the pendant?” Saf takes both my hands in hers.
I nod, “I have one, I think.”
We quickly make our way upstairs, heading into my room a few minutes later.
She takes a seat on my bed as I rummage around one of my dresser drawers for several moments, coming across a thin brown leather cord.
I hold it up in the air dramatically, garnering a laugh out of Saf, “found it!”
“So proud,” she laughs.
I take the pendant out of my pocket, looping the cord around it and handing it to her, “can you tie it for me?” I ask shyly.
She sticks her tongue out at me before nodding. I sit in front of her as she brings the necklace above my head, working on the knot.
“I had a lot of fun tonight,” she starts.
I run my fingers over the surface of the snowflake with a grin, “I did too.”
She finishes up the knot and wraps her arms around me, my back pressed against her chest. She gives me a light kiss on the side of my neck, giggling.
“What’s so funny?” I ask mischievously, lacing her hands in mine as butterflies form in my stomach.
“Nothing,” she chuckles, “I’m just happy.”
I feel heat rise to my cheeks as she hugs me tighter, continuing to leave gentle kisses on my neck and behind my ear. Her touch makes my skin feel warm as my heartbeat echoes through my chest.
I bite my lip, “I know what you’re doing.”
“What am I doing?” She answers innocently.
Oh, she knows.
“You’re trying to seduce me,” I give her hands a squeeze, a smirk tugging at my lips, “and it’s working.”
I turn and lightly lift her up, repositioning her so she’s straddling my lap, my hands on her waist. She giggles as her lips meet mine, her hands lacing through my hair and across my shoulders. I kiss her harder, pulling her against me as she hums softly. Her hands move to my chest and she begins undoing the buttons of my shirt, her touch feeling cool against my skin.
I leave a trail of kisses along her neck, gently kissing along her exposed collarbone.
Her skin is so soft.
She undoes the last button of my shirt as I lightly caress her chest, a small whimper escaping her.
She pulls away in the next moment and I wrap my arms back around her waist, the feeling of holding her enchanting me.
Her cheeks are nearly the same colour as her hair, desire flickering in her bright eyes as an elated smile crosses her face.
“Do you want to?” She whispers.
I freeze as I realize what she’s talking about.
My heart beats in my throat.
Nervousness bubbles within me.
My breathing quickens and I let out a shaky exhale, anger and guilt taking over my thoughts.
I should want this; I do want this.
I want her.
But I can’t.
Not right now.
I don’t feel ready for this.
And I hate that.
I know she wants this.
I know she wants me.
I hate that I can't be what she wants right now.
My panic intensifies.
Ugh, why can't I do this?
Saf gently runs her thumb back and forth along my cheekbone, bringing me back to reality, my eyes meeting hers. I feel myself relax, but I can still feel remnants of my emotions linger in the back of my mind.
“Hey, it’s okay,” she starts, “we don’t have to.”
I shake my head before looking at her again.
“I’m sorry. I want to, God I want to,” I breathe, “I just don’t totally feel ready for sex yet.”
“Don’t you dare apologize, it’s okay,” her tone evokes a gentle finality.
She must be able to read my mind. Somehow.
I place my hand on top of hers, grinning as her fingers lace in mine again, “thank you, I just,” I sigh, trailing off.
An expression I can’t quite pinpoint envelops her, a seemingly endless empathy in her features.
“You don’t have to explain,” she kisses my cheek.
Not knowing what else to do, I hold her tight, resting my head against her chest. Her heartbeat echoes through me. It’s fast, beating in time as her body rises and falls with her breath. The fabric of her dress feels soft against my cheek, a sweet smell – vanilla, I think – just barely present on her. She laces her fingers through my hair, holding me against her.
It doesn’t have anything to do with her. Not really. She’s everything I could ever want. If there were no other factors present, I would say yes in a heartbeat. But I just don’t feel like I’m in a place where I’m ready to take that next step with her. Not yet at least.
I know the residual fear may never go away. And I won’t let it have that power over me. But I also know that pushing myself before I’m ready won’t help; if anything, it could have the opposite effect. And that scares me.
“There’s no rush, you know,” her tone is soft, “your feelings are just as valid as mine.”
Butterflies form in my stomach again.
No one has ever said that to me before.
“Saf, I . . .” I breathe, “I don’t even know what to say.” I hold her closer.
“Well, it’s true,” she giggles, “it’d feel wrong to me if my feelings were more important than yours or something. I’m not about that.”
I’ve never felt like any part of me is invalid with Saf. I’ve always gotten that sense from her, but just hearing her say those words means more to me than she could possibly know. That we’re both equally important to one another, that neither one of us would force the other to push their feelings or comfort zones to the side for any reason.
I chuckle, meeting her gaze, the last of my nervousness fading away, “I know. And same goes to you.”
She bites her lip with a wide grin, and I’m overcome by elation as I reach for her, tucking a stray red curl behind her ear. She seems to be glowing, her freckles standing out on her rosy face, her eyes as deep as a bright forest on a summer’s day. Her smile is so infectious, radiant, like it could push away all the darkness of the world. Her dress perfectly emphasizes her tiny waist, accentuating her bare shoulders, the green colour highlighting her scarlet hair.
I cup her face in my hand, skimming along her cheekbone with my thumb, “God, you’re beautiful.”
She looks down shyly for a moment before I bring her lips to mine again, something reigniting within me as I hold her close, a light smirk crossing my face.
“You know,” I start, “we can still continue this for a bit, if you want,” I kiss her neck, “and you’re always welcome to sleep here.”
She gently hums with a giggle, “that sounds perfect.”
How did I get lucky enough to be with her?
About a week passes after that night, with all of us going back to our fairly uneventful training schedules. Or, I suppose, uneventful in the grand scheme of things.
Everyone seems to be more and more on edge the closer the eclipse gets; not that I blame them. I can feel myself getting nervous too.
But we have a solid plan.
When the eclipse starts, we head to the Shadow Realm and stop whatever they try to do.
They can’t leave the Shadow Realm, so it’s our best bet at stopping their plans.
But even with all the preparation in the world, it never feels like we’ll be totally ready.
I sigh, building up a beam of water between my hands and throwing it particularly hard at the target across the room.
“Everything okay, buddy?” I hear Ehren’s voice behind me and I turn, giving him a grin.
“I’m fine. Just thinking,” I shrug, “how are things going for you?”
“Okay, I guess. I just want to get it over with, the dread is almost worse,” he looks to the side for a moment.
“Then let’s not talk about it,” I encourage, “how’s Raphael?”
His face immediately relaxes, his eyes lighting up, “he’s great! We’ve been trying to keep in touch more often, but I’m sure we’ll have more time together once all this is over. Not everyone can live in the same complex as their significant other,” he teases.
“Ha, maybe not. I’m sure you’ll have more time with him soon,” I laugh before changing the subject, “I think I need to get out of here for a little bit, honestly, just to clear my head.”
He nods, “I know what you mean. Though it has been fun to watch you an Ana practice the hurricane thing.”
I laugh, “yah, I think we’ve finally started to nail it,” I say sheepishly.
“So where are you going to go to get some air? I’m just curious.”
I shrug, “the waterfront, maybe.”
“You’re going to the waterfront?” Saf suddenly bounds into the conversation from around the corner. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail, the curly strands falling just past her shoulders.
“Want to come?” I ask with a silly grin.
She beams at me, “yah. I could use a break.”
Ehren looks between us, “I’ll leave you to it then. I was half expecting you to say the garden,” he laughs, “I know you two were in there at some point.”
Saf blinks at him, “how did you know that?”
Ehren looks at her dubiously, “you guys left the door open.”
A small chuckle escapes me, “ha, oops. Sorry about that.”
He shrugs with a light grin.
“Can you tell Luna we’ll be back in an hour or so?” Saf nudges him.
He nods with a smirk, “of course.”
Saf lets her hair out of her ponytail as we make our way up the stairs, grabbing some jackets before heading outside.
Saf and I quickly make our way to the waterfront, the overcast sky hanging above us. I can feel some pressure in the air that could suggest an impending storm, but I don’t think it will rain for a while. I hope.
The sky seems darker than usual, but I think that’s just because of the clouds not letting much sunlight through their barrier.
The salty air seems to rejuvenate me as we walk by the waters edge, a light chilly breeze coasting through the area. The waters seem calm today, the small waves gently lapping up on the shore, in no rush to get anywhere fast, as though they are gently reminding us that they are still here.
I glance at Saf as I run my fingers along the snowflake pendant, feeling the ridges of the centre gemstone in the grooves of my fingers.
I’m really glad she decided to come with me.
She lets out a loud sigh, adjusting the collar of her black jacket, “holy, I didn’t know how badly I needed this.”
I nod, her voice pulling me out of my thoughts, “yah, me too.”
I look out to the ocean, thinking of the amount of time we’ve spent here growing up. This is such a special place for both of us; it’s where I first met her, it’s where I told her Luna chose her to be Spirit of Fire, and it’s where a lot of laughter has been shared between us. It’s always been an important place for me just because of my abilities. The ocean has always had good energy for me, something about it helping me feel calm, at ease. But it’s cool that her and I have so many good memories here.
As I reminisce, an idea pops into my head and I look at her with a mischievous smirk.
“Want to go out there? Just for a little bit.”
She bites her lip with a grin, “you won’t throw me into the ocean this time?” she laughs.
I smirk, “not this time, I wouldn’t do that to you in the middle of winter. I’ll carry you, just like old times.”
She giggles, “okay. Just for a little bit.”
I roll up the cuffs of my pants and take off my socks and shoes, the water gently lapping next to me. Water Wielders generally aren’t affected by the temperature of water, so I should be fine wading through the shore, despite it likely being very cold to any other elemental skillset.
It would affect Saf much more though, so there’s no way I’m throwing her over my shoulder this time, all joking aside.
She moves behind me to jump on my back before I stop her, swiftly picking her up and carrying her in my arms bridal style.
The action seems to catch her off-guard and she lets out a light squeal mixed with a laugh. She quickly wraps her arms around my shoulders, hanging on tight.
“What are you doing?” She giggles.
“Carrying you out there,” I tease, kissing her forehead.
I walk out until the water is just to the bottom of my knees. I can feel the cold a little bit, but it’s as though there’s a barrier around me to keep the temperature manageable for me. Saf and I look out to the horizon, to where the line of the blue ocean meets the gray overcast skies. Even if it’s not the nicest day, something about the way the clouds greet the ocean is beautiful to me. Something about how they mix on the horizon, how they’re similar yet different, how the waves reach for the sky.
It’s nice to connect with the ocean like this every once in a while. It does strengthen my abilities to a certain extent, but there’s something about it that just makes me feel connected to the Earth. Connected to myself. The best way I can describe it is like a sense of peace.
I glance down at Saf, who is transfixed by the waves before turning her head to me, giving me a curious look, “what is it?”
“Nothing,” I grin, “just you.”
She raises her eyebrows with a smile, “what about me?”
I’m suddenly overcome by the feelings I was experiencing on the night we went to the Winter Festival. How happy I feel with her. At ease. As though nothing else matters in the world when we’re together. How I wish I could give her the entire world.
She makes me feel strong, capable of anything.
This is the moment, Coburn, just tell her you love her.
I meet her gaze again, her emerald eyes sparkling as the clouds move above us.
“Everything about you,” I say softly before taking a deep breath, “Saf, I, I just wanted to tell you that I –”
She gasps, cutting me off as she points up at the sky.
“We have to get back,” nervousness creeps into her voice.
A pit instantly forms in my stomach as I look up.
In a break of the clouds stands the sun, partially covered by the moon, a crescent of light peeking through.
The eclipse, it’s starting.
No wonder it was darker than usual.
I briskly walk back to the sand, I don’t remember putting my socks and shoes back on. All I can think about is getting back to HQ as soon as possible.
The sky feels as though it’s getting darker by the second, the light diminishing, making it harder to see, but my eyes adjust after a few moments.
“What is it you wanted to tell me?” Saf asks as I stand, pulling her hair into a low bun.
I quickly glance up at the sky before looking back at her, the moon now covering most of the sun, with a small sliver of light peaking through.
I give her a weak smile, “I’ll tell you after.”
She blinks at me before nodding.
I get ready to create a portal back to HQ when . . .
. . .a dark shiver crawls up my spine, nearly paralyzing me in its grasp.
My whole body tenses as I glance at Saf, “can you feel that too?”
She exhales shakily, “you don’t think they’ve started to compel people in the city already? Are we too late?”
I can almost see the myriad of thoughts pass through her eyes as they widen, her hands beginning to shake.
I take her hands in mine, ignoring my own nervousness, “it’ll be okay, I promise.”
I notice the dark energy around us growing with each passing second, causing the knots in my stomach to tighten, putting me on edge.
I think back to when Jaxson and Ana were possessed.
This doesn’t feel like that. This is something else.
“Wait a second,” I start, my body suddenly feeling cold, “the dark energy feels stronger than it did when people were being compelled. Something isn’t right.”
It feels like we’re back in the Shadow Realm. But how? Is it the influence of the eclipse?
Something tells me it’s more than that.
“It’s probably because they’re trying to compel multiple people,” she sighs, “we have to go.”
The sky darkens even more, not quite as black as night, but the horizon begins to turn a pale orange, as though the sun is setting, a few stars shining through the breaks in the clouds. The sun is completely covered by the moon now, like a hole in the sky, the corona from the sun shining around the moon.
I can’t shake the feeling that something is very wrong.
“That’s not it,” I feel the energy get stronger as my eyes adjust to the sudden darkness, “it’s like they’re . . .”
I trail off, feeling piercing eyes behind me.
No. That can’t be who I think it is.
It can’t be.
Saf turns before I do, gasping, “they’re here,” she breathes.
I turn, Nox and Midnight coming into view.
I’m unable to breathe for a moment, their presence hitting me all at once, like a wave of the blackest darkness that steals any and all light from anything it touches.
It drowns me.
“Hello, you two,” Midnight chastises, “long time no see.”