Spirit of Fire

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Chapter Twenty-One: Memory

Saffire

The wave of shadows sweeps me up in its current.

I’m floating, submerged, drowning.

The shadows wrap around me, constricting me, I can’t breathe.

I try to get to the surface, kicking, trying to push away the shadows, but I can’t.

No, this is just a dream. It’s all just a dream.

I just need to wake up.

I try to kick to the surface again, but the current knocks me back, the shadows tightening their grasp around me.

My chest burns for air.

My head feels heavy.

Thunder booms around me.

I fight one more time, but it’s no use.

My heart beats in my throat.

I can’t do this anymore.

I can’t.

Why can’t I wake up?

I wrap my arms around my shoulders.

I’m about to let go . . . when I hear something, a familiar voice.

It’s soft, barely there, but it cuts through the thunder.

It’s saying my name.

I can see the soft sands of the ocean meeting the treeline in my minds eye.

I can feel something soft on my face.

I feel pressure around my heart.

Something about it gives me the strength to push to the surface of the shadows.

I take in a full breath of air as I reach the surface, before my consciousness pulls me away from my waking nightmare.

*

I awake with a start.

I’m laying on the sands of the beach, the clouds above me. The light blue of the sky breaks through the intermittent gaps in the overcast weather, the occasional ray of sunlight peaking through. Pain pulses through me, but I can’t exactly pinpoint where it’s coming from. Somewhere in my back, I think. But I can’t be sure. It seems to evade me whenever I try to focus on it.

With a groan, I sit up, my gaze meeting the crashing waves of the ocean just ahead of me. They quietly roar as they land on the beach, a sound that never fails to make me feel at ease. They seem more unruly right now, which is strange given the lack of wind. I wonder why that could be.

I shrug off the thought, taking in the sound once more. I can almost smell the salt in the air.

Wait a second.

I can’t smell the salt in the air.

I can see and hear everything fine, but I can’t feel the soft grains of sands between my fingers either.

Something is wrong.

What’s going on? Why can’t I feel anything?

My heart pounds out of my chest as I take a determined breath, standing up.

It feels so strange to not have the salt on my skin, and to not smell the ocean, to not feel cold, or to feel . . . anything, really.

Where the hell am I? It looks familiar enough, I’ve walked this waterfront dozens of times. It’s always been my haven, a second home, even. But I can’t figure out why my senses aren’t working. Something is missing. But what?

Or am I the one missing something?

Panic fills me at the thought, a spark shooting out of my right hand.

It doesn’t interact with the sand at all.

Maybe it is me that’s missing something.

I have to figure out what is going on. How did I get here? Where even am I? Is there anyone else around here? What should I do?

Looking to the side, I squint and notice a few people down the beach. I can’t recognize them from here, but I think there is four of them. Maybe five. It’s hard to tell. They seem familiar.

Maybe they can tell me where I am.

I run towards them, noticing I don’t make footprints in the sand. The realization makes me run faster, desperate to figure out where I am, why I can’t feel anything around me.

As I come closer, I recognize Ehren’s dark curly hair. And then I make out the others.

Thank God, they’ll know what’s up.

I come closer, and see that Ehren has his arm around Coburn, who looks upset as he cries against Ana’s shoulder.

The sight hits me like a knife to my heart, the colour draining from my face.

Why is he crying? Did something happen?

How did I get separated from everyone? This makes no sense.

I walk over to Coburn, going to put a hand on his shoulder, when it – what?

My hand goes right through his shoulder, as though I am an apparition, or something. The action sends chills throughout my entire body, as though I have suddenly become covered in ice.

What the hell?

This is all so strange. Why wouldn’t I be able to interact with him? Why would my hand go straight through his body?

Am I really here?

“Coburn?” my voice echoes all around me.

He doesn’t turn around, or even notice me.

I start to panic.

Why can’t I talk to him? Why can’t I help him? Why can’t he hear me? Why can’t anyone hear me? Do they know I’m here? Maybe they don’t. Maybe this is all an illusion of some kind. Maybe this is all in my head.

“It’s okay,” I hear Ehren whisper, “she’ll be okay.”

I freeze.

What is okay about this?

Who is he talking about?

Why can’t I help my friends?

And why is everyone so upset?

I look up and notice the back of Luna a little way away, her long black hair tucked over one shoulder.

Maybe she’ll be able to hear me. If anyone could, it’s her. But my hope is beginning to dwindle now. I still can’t pinpoint why the others would be crying. Something must have happened, but what?

I slowly make my way over to her, cautious with each step.

She looks like she’s working on something – no – someone. Her hands are vibrating over a body, but I can’t make out who it is; Luna’s body is blocking the face from this angle.

I walk to the side so I can make out who it is, and I realize . . .

Oh my God.

It’s me.

I sink to the ground.

The first thing that hits me is how pale my skin is. It’s as white as snow, as though all the life has been sucked from my body. It makes my hair look as dark as blood, parts of the strands from my bun coming loose around my face. My eyes are shut. Nothing about me looks real. It’s as though I’m looking at myself as a ghost. Or some kind of lifeless doll.

Luna has one hand hovering over me, the other pulling on the hilt of a familiar looking knife that is . . . squarely lodged in my back.

The sight sends me into shock.

How am I here if she’s healing me? Am I dying? Am I dead? What happened to me? Why am I outside myself?

I glance at myself again, and the memories come flooding back to me.

The knife. The battle. Getting possessed. The eclipse.

Coburn.

Hurting my best friend.

I can’t stop the tears from falling down my face.

I don’t remember anything that happened in the outside world when I was compelled. All I can remember is being stuck in the wave of shadows, with no way out. It felt so . . . real. Too real. My nightmare wasn’t a figment of my imagination anymore.

It had turned into reality.

But as soon as I came back, as soon as I saw the burns all over Coburn, the pain in his eyes, I knew it was me that hurt him.

It broke me.

I hate myself for what happened.

And then the knife . . . how did this all go so wrong?

I look up again as the tears keep coming, the sight of myself, Luna, my friends, sending my emotions over the edge. I bury my face in my knees. Overcome by everything.

I’m dying.

I could already be dead.

I could be gone from this world, and never have the chance to do everything I wanted to do. I might not ever see Katya again, or Tessa, or even Raphael. Or have the chance to laugh at Ehren’s jokes again, or ask Luna more about my mom, or keep building my friendship with Ana.

I might never have the chance to tell Coburn I love him.

Before my mind has a chance to spiral any further, I feel a hand on my shoulder.

The sensation makes me jump, but it feels vaguely familiar, like a memory from a long time ago, something that has been dormant within me for a long time.

I glance up, my eyes meeting two figures that are next to me.

I stand as I take in their features.

It’s a man and a woman, the two of them with red hair. The woman has short, curly hair and green eyes, the man having short hair and eyes as blue as the sea. I analyze them for several moments, before I realize who they are.

My jaw drops as I cover my mouth.

Oh my God.

“Mom? Dad?” I can barely whisper.

She reaches for me, nodding as she cups her face in my hand, “oh, my darling.”

I start crying for a completely different reason, my body filled with so much happiness I can’t contain it.

I pull them both into a tight embrace, as though I’m trying to make up for all the lost years of hugs I never got to experience from them.

They’re here. They’re actually here.

We pull away, and I’m able to get a better look at them. My mother really is a spitting image of me. We stand at about the same height, the only true difference being our hair. Hers is slightly brighter than mine, with more of an orange tinge present. But we have the same emerald green eyes, the same small nose, the same structure to our faces. It’s as though I’m looking into a mirror, with only a few things different.

I get the colour of my hair from my father, with his being closer to my dark red colour. He’s a bit taller than my mother, but not quite as tall as Coburn. The freckles that dot his face seem to be where I get mine from, with his scattered around his nose and cheeks, just like me. He has a kind smile. It’s the sort of smile that exudes selfless kindness and empathy, the kind that you would see on someone who would do anything for a friend or loved one.

Neither of them have changed one bit since I was a child.

They’re here, I can talk to them again. I never thought I’d be able to talk to them again. Not in this lifetime.

Not unless I was . . .

Reality sets in as I shiver.

“Am I dead?” I blurt without much thought.

My father shakes his head, “no,” his voice is just as soft as I remember, “you’re in a limbo between life and death.”

I blink at him.

That explains a lot.

“But why? Do I have to stay here forever?”

My mother chuckles lightly, the bright sound like music to my ears, “no. You have a choice.”

What did she just say?

Before I can say another word, she continues, “come on, let’s walk for a little bit.”

I glance at over at Coburn, Ana and Ehren before looking at my parents again. I’m sure some worry is present on my face. I don’t want anything bad to happen to them.

“They’ll be okay,” my father assures.

With a deep breath, we begin our walk down the beach, away from the scene.

“So, I have a choice? Of whether to come back or not?”

“Exactly, darling,” my mother smiles. It’s bright, cheerful, but genuine at the same time.

My mind buzzes with a million questions.

“Why? Did you two have a choice? What happened the night you died?”

“Slow down,” dad starts, “not everyone has a choice. It all depends on how you die. If your physical body is too weak to support you, then you don’t get a choice,” he pauses before finishing his sentence in a whisper, “we didn’t.”

Why do I get a choice, but they don’t? The idea of it causes an overwhelming sense of emotions to pulse through me. Guilt mixed with anger. Guilt that I have a privilege they never had. Anger that they were taken away from me so soon.

I’m too scared to ask the reasons why. My dad’s explanation is enough for me to put the pieces together on my own.

I nod with a deep breath, pushing back my tears.

“Sorry, I just,” I sigh, “I wish I could have stopped it from happening in the first place.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” she says softly, “our plans fell through when the storm started, and we were on our way back, when. . .” she trails off.

I take another deep breath, my mom’s emerald gaze meeting mine, “what happened?” My voice breaks.

“That night,” mom starts, “we were ambushed.”

Ambushed?

“By who?”

“Has Luna told you about her father?”

I look between the two of them, frowning, “briefly. I don’t know much about him though,” my thoughts connect together, a pit forming in my stomach, “is he the one that ambushed you? I thought Luna was the only one who could leave the Shadow Realm.”

A wave of sadness passes over dad’s expression, “he is the one that attacked us. During the storm.”

I tense, “I remember the storm.”

They put their arms around me as mom continues, “but to answer your question, Luna is partially right. She is the only one that can live permanently on Earth, but as I understand it, her father was able to come here for short periods of time. I remember her saying it required a lot of strength on his part, a strength that the twins don’t have right now. But anyways, he could only come here for a few hours at the most before his strength got too depleted. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to get back. I found something about it in the Manor’s library years ago, but I think that’s the gist of it.”

I think back to the records I found in the Manor, how one of the documents said he disappeared. . . nearly thirteen years ago.

I gasp, “after he ambushed you, do you know if he was able to get back?”

“That, I don’t know, darling.”

I knew that gut feeling wasn’t for nothing!

My eyes widen, but I take a deep breath, choosing to focus on that information later as I look back towards my friends.

“So, I have to choose? Whether to live or die?”

Dad nods with a warm smile.

“We’re not here to pressure you either way,” he explains, “we’re just here to guide you through this process. But the decision is yours.”

A pit forms in my stomach.

How can I possibly make this choice? How can I choose between my parents, the family that was taken from me so soon, and Luna and the others? My new family?

I shut my eyes, hard, “I can’t make that choice. I can’t choose between you and my life here. I can’t,” I cover my mouth with my hand, breathing hard.

I can’t do this.

“Saffire, it’s okay,” he says gently, a hand on my shoulder, “we’re here to support you, whatever you choose.”

I meet his gray blue eyes as he smiles warmly.

“No matter what,” she starts, “seeing the woman you have become gives us so much joy. Truly. But we never left your heart, I hope you know that. We never stopped loving you.”

I think back to Coburn’s words when we first met, a smile forming on my face as the tears begin to fall again.

“I know,” I whisper.

I pull them both into an embrace again, wanting to soak in as much of this as I possibly can. I can feel the good energy radiating off them. Their love. Their happiness. Their pride for me.

“I don’t want to leave you,” I can barely speak, “I don’t want to ever have to say goodbye to you. Not ever again.”

“You don’t have to, if you don’t want,” my mother starts, “but we’ll be with you no matter what you choose.”

I look back at my friends, with so many emotions conflicting in my head it’s hard to keep them straight.

I want to go with my parents. I want to be with them for the rest of my days. To live the life that was taken away from me.

But I can’t just leave my life here. I can’t leave this world.

I don’t know what to do.

“I don’t want to rush you,” mom’s voice breaks the silence that fell over the conversation, “but you do have to decide soon. Otherwise, your physical body may be too weak for you to come back, if that’s what you choose.”

I take a deep breath, “Nox got me pretty good,” I look down.

“That was not your fault,” dad reassures, “neither were the events that happened when you weren’t in control. The twins are evil creatures, at least based on what your mother has told me.”

“I don’t miss them, I’ll say that,” she chuckles dryly.

The comment makes me smile weakly.

I suppose that is a good point. I would never have to deal with the twins again if I left. But that feels like such a selfish reason to leave.

I look back up at my parents, and I notice their skin looking more translucent. Their features dulling, the colour of their hair becoming less saturated.

I blink several times, my heart pounding, “what’s happening?”

Mom smiles, “we can only stay in limbo for so long. We don’t belong here.”

I start to panic, my breath becoming shallow, “but why? I haven’t made my choice yet! How am I supposed to do this?”

I feel tears begin to prick my eyes again.

“Darling,” mom starts, “it’s okay. This isn’t goodbye forever. Even if it’s not today, you’ll see us again one day.”

“That’s a promise,” dad adds.

The tears begin to fall again as mom places her hand on my cheek, and I pull them into one last embrace, hanging on to the feeling for as long as I can. Even as they fade, I can still feel the love in their touch, how familiar they both seem, even though it’s been so long. Their warmth around me is something I never thought I’d feel again, and I want to make sure I memorize this feeling. I want to soak it in as much as I can, so that I never forget what they feel like.

“Goodbye,” I can barely speak.

Just like that, their embrace fades, and I’m alone again.

I can’t choose.

How can I possibly make this decision?

I lower to the ground, overcome, when I realize something.

The hole that has been in my heart ever since my parents died . . . it’s almost not there anymore.

Maybe seeing them again was enough to fill it, at least a little bit.

I don’t think it will ever completely go away. In the past, that scared me. But now, for some reason, I can accept that.

I can accept that there will always be a part of me that longs for them. That there will always be a part of me that is afraid of thunderstorms. That there will always be a small part of me that is missing from having them taken away from me at such a young age. The trauma of it will never completely heal, and that’s okay.

But that doesn’t scare me anymore.

Maybe all I needed to do was properly say goodbye to them. Was to feel their touch one last time.

Maybe.

I look back over at my friends, Luna still hovering her hands over me, Coburn still sitting with Ana and Ehren a little ways away.

I nearly tear up again at the sight.

I can’t bear to see Coburn so upset. Or any of them, for that matter.

It’s too much.

If I was making this decision at any other point in my life, I would choose to go with my parents without a second thought.

But now, I don’t think I can.

I’ve always had Katya as my sister, and Coburn has always been there for me, so it would have been hard to leave them in the past, but I still would have chosen my parents over them. Purely because of the past trauma. Of missing them so much I could hardly stand it.

But now that I’m here, and I’ve had the chance to talk to them again, to say goodbye, to feel their arms around me; I think that’s all I really needed.

Just to see them one last time.

And now that I’ve had that . . . I feel ready to move on.

I think.

No – I know I am.

I look up at the overcast clouds, a smile tugging at the corner of my mouth as the roar of the waves echoes in my ears.

“Goodbye for now.”

*

I can feel the wind again.

The coarse sand beneath me. The smell of the salt in the air. The usual coldness that is constantly coursing through me. The light smell of the close by trees.

I can feel it all again.

Am I back?

For certain?

I suddenly feel pain radiate throughout my entire back and side. I tense, grimacing with a light groan in response, my eyes opening.

I suppose that’s my clue for answering my question.

“Saffire,” Luna’s voice is filled with relief as I look up at her lazily.

She looks drained, dark circles forming under her eyes as she continues to hover her hands over me. The pain dissipates slowly, but surely.

“Hi, Luna.” My voice is weak.

“I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you’re okay,” she smiles her usual kind smile, “I just got the knife out of your back, I’m almost done.”

I catch a glimpse of the others, who still look upset. The sight brings me back to when I was back in limbo, unable to reach out to them, unable to comfort them.

I shut my eyes – hard – to prevent my emotions from getting away on me again.

“Is everyone okay?” I mumble after several moments, bringing my gaze back to Luna.

Luna nods, “they’re all right,” she pauses, turning to the others in the next moment, “she’s okay, everyone! She woke up!”

I glance over in their direction as Coburn turns towards me, covering his mouth. His eyes are wide in disbelief as he stares, frozen, shaking. It’s as though he’s seen a ghost, or that he isn’t sure if what is in front of him is real.

A relieved smile crosses Ehren’s face, a light grin present with Ana.

The others beckon Coburn forward as he gets up and slowly makes the short walk towards me, his eyes watery and red.

Luna brings her arms back with a loud exhale. “That should do it. Just be careful, okay?”

I nod. “I – thank you so much.”

I slowly sit up as Coburn lowers to the ground, eye level with me, dry tears staining his face, an expression I can’t discern on his features. It looks like relief mixed with sadness and disbelief, and happiness. His soft brown eyes instantly put me at ease.

“Hi,” I breathe.

“Hey, Sparks,” his voice is barely audible as he reaches for me, trailing his fingers through my hair. It’s a gesture he’s done a million times, but something about it feels different now. It’s more tender. Softer. More affectionate than it’s been before. The feeling makes my heart flutter, as though it’s trying to fly to him.

I bring his forehead to mine, cupping his face with one hand, pushing away his tears with my thumb.

“Don’t cry,” I whisper, “because if you cry then I’m going to cry and it’ll be a mess,” I smile.

He lets out a soft chuckle before pulling me against him, being careful to avoid my back, feeling his warmth surround me.

“I thought you were gone,” he breathes, “I thought I’d never see you again.” His voice breaks several times.

I hug him back tight, burying my face into his left shoulder, “I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”

I let his warmth surround me as the ocean breeze brushes against us. The sensations feel like they’re breathing the life back into me. I had woken up, I had made my choice to come back, but now I feel alive again, that I am truly back.

Coburn and I pull away after several moments, but I think we would have stayed like that forever if it were possible.

“Can you stand?”

I nod as he helps me up, an overwhelming dizziness rushing to my head threatening to knock me over, but his steady arm around my waist catches me before that can happen. I slowly regain my balance as Ehren and Ana come up to me.

Ehren instantly pulls me into a tight hug, catching me off guard a bit, making me laugh.

“I’m so happy you’re okay, hon.”

“Well, mostly okay,” I joke, pulling away before Ana gives me a light hug.

“Even so, you’re alive, and that’s what matters,” she reassures as I move so everyone is in my view again, taking Coburn’s hand in mine with a light squeeze.

“I, I couldn’t leave you. Any of you. I just couldn’t.”

Ehren frowns, “what do you mean?”

I open my mouth to answer, to explain everything that happened with my parents, when I catch Luna falling to the ground out of the corner of my eye.

I gasp, “Luna!”

Everyone turns and rushes towards her, and I slowly join them moments later.

“I’m okay, just drained,” she explains, sitting up as she shakes her head, turning to Coburn, “I can heal you when we get back, I just need a second.”

I notice a flash of something in her eyes. Not fear, or even nervousness, but some kind of a silent panic. Her face looks paler than usual as she tucks her hair behind her ears, leaning back on her palms with a deep breath. There’s something uneasy about her energy that I can’t quite pinpoint. I can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong.

It’s like she’s trying to hide something. But what?

I suddenly feel a light layer of chills flood me as I sense the barely there dark energy I’ve felt before. It only passes by me for a split second, but connects pieces together in my mind.

I remember Luna’s comment about her father when the twins were here. The fact that he’s been missing for thirteen years. What my parents said about him. The shadow that’s been following me around for the last month and a half. It’s all connecting together. It had to have been her father.

“Is everything okay?” I ask as we lower to the sand next to her. I already know the answer to my question.

She turns to me, her eyes looking as though they’re fighting to stay awake, before giving me a weak smile.

“It’s fine,” she says quietly, looking down.

I’m about to respond, when Ehren nudges her, clearly unconvinced by her explanation.

“Luna, what’s going on? Something is up with you, and it isn’t just that you’re tired.”

She looks between the four of us, nodding with a light sigh. “No, you’re right. I haven’t been completely honest with you. Any of you.”

“Meaning what?” Ana pipes up.

“Meaning,” she pauses with a deep breath, “I lied about my father. He is still around. He’s – he’s been stuck on the island for the last thirteen years.”

I knew it!

“You didn’t think to tell anyone about that?” I suddenly feel anger bubble within me, “you don’t think I deserve to know that he killed my parents?”

The ability to breathe suddenly evades me, Coburn’s arm around my shoulder somehow bringing me back to reality. He feels so warm against my icelike skin.

Luna brings her gaze to me, a firm kindness in her face. “Hear me, before you say anything else.”

Something about the tone of her voice makes my body relax, though my emotions still linger in the back of my mind, simmering quietly.

I nod.

“I did have every intention of telling you what happened that night. You have to know that. In fact, I was going to tell you after all this blew over,” she gives me a curious look, “may I ask how you found out it was him?”

I press my lips together, the anger that was present within me diminishing into dust as I remember my parents. Talking to them. Feeling their arms around me. Remembering the sound of their voices.

“I can’t explain it now,” I start, “I’ll tell you later,” I mumble as Coburn gently rubs my shoulder. It’s as if he’s telling me ‘it’s okay’ without words.

“So,” Ana starts, “your father was just walking around the island all this time? Why wouldn’t you tell us something like that?”

Luna takes another deep breath, “he didn’t have enough strength to get back to the Shadow Realm. He wasn’t strong enough to do anything, really, outside of keeping himself alive. He certainly didn’t have enough strength to hurt anyone. Telling people would have just caused everyone to be afraid. I thought it would be better if he was just forgotten by the world.” Her tone is particularly bitter as she reaches the end of her explanation.

“Wait,” I comment, thinking back, “when I told you about that dark energy following me around, you knew it was him, didn’t you?”

Luna averts her gaze for a moment, nodding, “I’m truly sorry for hiding that from all of you. You have to know it didn’t come from a place of malice or ill intent. I did what I thought would give everyone the most peaceful outcome,” she pauses, “I was wrong, and I’m sorry.”

Silence falls over the conversation as I process her words.

I can see where she’s coming from, I suppose. If he wasn’t causing any harm, then I can see why she would have kept that a secret. But even if I can understand why she did it, it doesn’t mean I agree with the decision.

I know it’s not what I would have done.

I push my emotions to the side as much as I can. Getting upset isn’t going to solve anything. It will only make things worse. I know that.

Instead, I lean my head against Coburn’s chest as he holds me tighter, letting the feeling of his arms around me block out everything else in the world.

“So, what now?” Coburn asks suddenly.

Luna looks at all of us before responding, “I think the dark energy from the eclipse gave him the strength he needed to get back to the Shadow Realm.”

The eclipse did what?

I jolt upright, my eyes widening, Coburn tightening his grip around me.

Luna pauses with a light shiver before continuing. “And if that’s the case, a storm is coming.”

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