Chapter Four: Terrified
I wake up before everyone else the next morning. I’ve always been an early bird, I suppose, but it’s unusual for me to wake up before Luna. She’s usually up before any of us, but I guess I couldn’t sleep. Maybe my body could sense the incoming rain that is now pouring from the sky; I guess we picked a good day to do the announcement. I’ve never been part of an announcement while it’s raining, but it does not sound like fun, even if the ordeal is a short one. Obviously, I don’t mind rain, but it does put a gloomy tone on the morning and rings a chill through the air. Then again, we live so close to an ocean I should just come to expect it. Regardless, I put on a thicker sweater to compensate for it, even if it is early spring.
I make my way downstairs and move into the kitchen area, where I make a pot of coffee and sit at the island with a bowl of granola.
“Good morning, Coburn.”
I jump when I hear Luna’s calm voice behind me and I turn around, facing her as she comes into the room. She’s still wearing the same fuzzy pair of slippers from last night but now has her hair in a sleek ponytail and wears a black skirt with a long-sleeved crop top and sheer tights, ready for the day.
Except for the slippers.
“Hey, Luna,” I say back.
“Didn’t mean to scare you there,” she says with a laugh.
“You didn’t, it’s fine,” I reply with a smile.
She makes herself some toast with peanut butter and sits down next to me.
“So,” she says between bites, “are you ready for today?”
“I think so. It’ll be fun to show Saf the training room.”
“She seems to be doing well.”
“I think so. It will probably take her a few days to get adjusted to everything, but I think she’s getting the hang of it.”
Luna takes another bite of her toast.
“I can tell she’s nervous, though that’s to be expected. She’ll be fine,” Luna says quietly.
I decide to not tell her about some of Saf’s anxiety. It’s common for Fire Wielders, but it doesn’t really feel like my place to talk about without her in the room.
“Hey there morning people!” Ehren exclaims excitedly as he enters the room.
How does he have this much energy?
“Hey!” Luna replies and I give a small wave as he comes around the other side of the island.
He makes himself a bowl of cereal and sits down.
“So, which area are Ana and I going to today?” He asks.
Luna takes another bite of her toast before responding.
“The mountains. Something fishy is going on there and I want you to investigate what’s happening,” she says swiftly.
The Shadow Realm, while not the most colourful place in the world, is still diverse in terms of terrain. The mountains make up a large part of the area, though the rest is made up of a decently large forest and some plains.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
“I don’t know, but that’s where I sent Ryker before he came back last time. It’s the best lead we have at figuring out what’s happening. Just stay on guard,” she says, glancing at the two of us.
I tense for a second.
“Sounds like a plan,” he says between bites.
“I think they’re getting stronger, somehow.” Luna says to no one in particular, looking down.
I press my lips together.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
She looks at me for a moment, a wave of fear passing over her dark eyes.
“Nox and Midnight. I might not be on the same side as them, but they’re still my brother and sister, and I have a feeling something bad is going to happen soon.”
Ehren glances at me for a moment.
“Well, we’ll figure it out when Ana and I go down there later,” Ehren says with a reassuring grin as Ana quietly enters the room, her eyes puffy and red.
This can’t be good.
“Morning,” Ana whispers.
“Everything okay?” I ask slowly.
She quickly rubs her eyes and glares at me for a split second before softening her gaze.
“Yes. I just didn’t get a lot of sleep.”
There’s a tone to her voice that tells me not to pry any further.
I wish I could figure out a way to reach out and help her, but it’s like she slaps my hand away every time I try.
“You and Ehren can head out in the next hour or so,” Luna says, looking between the two of them.
Ana fidgets with her hands, pulling her hair up into a ponytail.
“It’ll be good to get my mind off things,” she mutters to herself.
“Hey, it’ll be fun,” Ehren says lightly, like he’s trying to cheer her up.
A small smile crosses her lips for a split second before she moves to get a drink of water.
Saffire enters the room a few moments later, wearing a dark gray tee shirt and a pair of shorts, her dark red hair up in a bun. I wave to her as she takes the seat next to me, resting her head on the island, making a pillow with her arms.
Ehren chuckles to himself.
“Morning, sleepyhead,” I say with a grin.
She sits up and rubs her eyes with a yawn.
“Hey,” she turns to Luna, “sorry if I’m late, I’m-er-not really a morning person,” she says as she jokingly slaps her face a few times.
Luna smiles at her.
“We can work on that, just try to make it a habit,” she says kindly.
Saf glances at Ana, analyzing her for a moment.
She must be able to tell something is wrong.
She opens her mouth to say something, but then looks down and shakes her head before getting up to pour a cup of coffee.
“So, now that we’re all here, everyone knows their jobs for today?” Luna glances at the four of us as she speaks.
“I’m just training today, right?” Saf asks as she takes a sip of her coffee, closing her eyes for a split second.
Luna glances at me for a moment before responding.
“Yes. We’ll assess your skills over the next few days and then you can go to the Shadow Realm for the first time,” Luna says with a smile.
“Cool,” she says excitedly as she takes the other spot next to me.
“Where’s your skillset at right now?” Ehren asks curiously, leaning forward.
Saffire looks down for a moment.
“I-er” She sighs, “I don’t know. What qualifies as good around here?” She says with a nervous laugh.
“You held your own with Jaxson,” I say, nudging her.
She looks at me for a moment and smirks.
“I could probably beat him in a fight, if he didn’t try to cheat,” she says modestly, looking down, fidgeting with a small flame between her fingers before looking up again.
“Well that’s something.” Ehren says with a chuckle, “do you go to the training centres very often?”
There are two or three training centres sprinkled around the city, like the one in HQ, where people can go to practice their sparring skills if they want to. There’s some small clubs that do the occasional tournament every now and again, but nothing very extravagant. Some people really enjoy it though.
Saf frowns for a moment, “a little, but not for about a month or so.”
“What’s your strategy when sparring?” Ehren presses.
“I don’t have one?” She confesses, “I’ve never really thought about that kind of stuff.”
“Things like strategy and preparedness will come in time. We’ll get there,” Luna adds.
Saf breathes a sigh of relief.
“On that note, we should probably get going on the day. Good luck you two,” Luna looks at Ehren and Ana, “and let me know if you need anything.” She glances over at Saf and I.
We all put our dishes into the sink and head our separate ways, and I lead Saf to the training room.
Neither of us says anything before we start climbing the stairs.
“Tell Luna I’m sorry about not getting up sooner. I didn’t know you were all early birds.” She says with a yawn.
“She didn’t expect you to know, don’t worry about it. I don’t think she’ll expect perfection on your first official day.”
She lets out a nervous chuckle, “God, I hope not.”
We reach the top of the stairs and turn right, heading towards the training room and away from where we sleep.
“So, what are we going to do in this mysterious training room? Is it like the other training centres?” She asks.
I pause, thinking for a moment.
“Parts of it are like the others, we have a simulation room though.”
Her eyes widen, “a what?”
“You’ll see,” I say with a wink, “I can show you how everything works and how to set it up on your own, I’ll show you how to make a portal, and then we can spar for a bit.” I glance over at her with a smile.
She looks at me with a competitive smirk.
“Sounds like a plan.” She says mischievously.
I shoot her a playful grin.
“I won’t go easy on you.”
She scoffs dramatically.
“You better not!”
She lightly shoves me to the side as we continue to walk down the hallway, a large, white door coming into view.
“Is that the training room?” She asks.
“The one and only.”
I walk in front of her and turn the large handle of the door, pulling it open.
She walks into the room and I follow moments later, listening to the door close behind us.
The door leads to a small platform that overlooks the large room, almost the size of three basketball courts put together to make one space. In the centre of the room is a large sparring area, covered in a white mat to protect from falls and injuries. To the far left is a series of targets lining the wall, mostly used to practice aim when we’re working on projectile skills and such. The right side of the room is blocked off by a large clear wall. There, we can simulate the experience of being in the Shadow Realm and the kinds of challenges you can face while you’re there. Needless to say, it’s extremely helpful. If you look closely, every surface in the brightly lit room has a silvery sheen to it to protect elemental mishaps from spreading around HQ, though I think that’s mostly in case fire gets out of hand while training.
Saffire looks around the room in awe, taking in the space.
“Oh my God,” she whispers.
I glance at her for a moment.
“What is it?”
“Nothing, it’s just overwhelming, I guess” she says absentmindedly.
I smile to myself.
“It’ll be fun, I promise,” I pause, “Come on, I’ll show you how to set up simulations.”
I lead her down a flight of stairs where the platform connects to the training room below.
“Is that the clear glass room over there?” She asks.
“Yeah. A good first step would be to train in there. Then you can get a feel for what the Shadow Realm is like without the threat of running into the twins.” I say with a laugh.
“Hmm, they’re twins too? Is Luna older or younger then?”
“Younger, by two years I think,” I pause, “come on, let’s try this out,” I dramatically hold out my hand.
She giggles as she takes it with the same playful energy as we reach the bottom of the stairs, turning right towards the glass room.
Upon the closer proximity, a small control panel stands attached to the glass walls, bright lights emanating from it, illuminating the space a little.
Saf runs her hand along the side of the panel, examining it.
“Why does everything have this sheen on it?” She asks curiously.
“To keep you from burning this place down,” I say with a wink.
She rolls her eyes with a playful grin.
“Yeah, right. It’s to make sure you don’t flood the entire first floor,” she retaliates.
“Touché,” I pause, our eyes locking for a moment before she looks down at the panel.
“So, what do these do?” She examines a series of buttons on the panel.
“Right,” I tap a large button on the far right corner and a loud whirring sound echoes through the room as the simulation gets started, “so once it’s turned on, you can just select your element skillset, which would be fire for you . . .” I trail off as I tap a red square with a small flame on it.
“Does that matter? Isn’t the simulation going to be the same for everyone?” She asks.
“Kind of. The setting just optimizes the simulation for your skillset. Something like taking out a group of enemies could be easy for you, but difficult for me, for example. It basically just makes sure you get the most out of the simulation, if that makes sense.”
She thinks for a moment and nods.
“I think so.”
The whirring sound fills the room again and I glance at her.
“Ready?” I ask with a grin.
Her eyes widen.
“Right now?” She asks loudly.
“I can do it with you, if you want.”
She grins as her shoulders drop a little, relaxing.
I push open the glass door and we enter the simulation, dark smoke blocking us from the outside world.
“Holy, it’s cold. Is this what the Shadow Realm is like?” She shivers, rubbing her hands together for a moment.
“Not exactly, but it’s as close as we can get, I suppose,” I say with a shrug.
“Hmm,” she responds, getting ready.
Slowly, the dark shadows that fill the room begin to gather together into mysterious, androgynous figures made of darkness.
One begins to run up to Saf and she shoots a flame at it, watching it disintegrate into fine particles that evaporate into the air.
“Nice,” I say with a nudge.
I catch her grin at me before I turn and see one of the shadows getting ready to jump towards me. I send a watery beam towards it, hitting the midair shadow and sending it flying towards the wall of the sim room, watching it evaporate on impact.
For several minutes we fight off the shadowy bodies, sending waves of attacks towards them before we’re back to back, surrounded.
“We can’t take them all down, can we?” She mutters nervously.
“We can,” I give her free hand a quick squeeze, “I’ll take this side,” I say reassuringly.
I put up a wall of falling water between me and the shadows, just strong enough to hold them off so I can gather enough strength to turn the wall into a wave, sending the group of shadows on my side flying in all directions.
I turn to Saf as she just finishes her attack, turning to me with a grin as the whirring sound slows down, signalling the end of the simulation.
We exit the room a few moments later, high fiving each other.
“That was fun! What’s next?” She asks excitedly, looking around the room with wide eyes.
I smile to myself.
“We could spar, if you want,” I reply, jumping up to sit on the large white mat.
She joins me a second later.
“Okay. What does that entail?” She asks mischievously.
“Mostly self defense,” I say as I get to my feet, her eyes widening.
“Why self defense?” She asks, getting up.
My stomach lurches as an unpleasant memory comes to mind, but I try to hide it as best I can.
“Because it’s a good skill to have. You can’t always rely on your elemental powers to get out of things. I’ll teach you.”
I lead her to the center of the white mat, feeling it sink softly under our weight.
“Okay, so what first?” She tilts her head to the side, waiting for a response.
“Hmm, this one takes a second to get used to, but once you get the hang of it you’ll be okay,” I grab her wrist, “so if one of the twins came up to you and did something like this, what do you do?”
“Torch their hand,” she says with a laugh.
I chuckle, “ideally yes, but that might not be enough if you’re trying to make a getaway or something. Something you can do if they try to grab you like this is to do this . . . er. . . put your hand on my wrist for a second.”
I circle my arm around until it’s pinned at my back.
“So, this way, you could kick behind the knees or something and make a break for it,” I explain.
“Hmm, okay, let me try,” she says as I turn back around, grabbing her wrist again, “okay, so I turn this way and . . . what?” She gives me a confused look.
I chuckle, “this one can be weird. So, rotate my arm to the inside, and,” she quickly completes the move, pinning my arm again, “there you go.”
She quickly releases my arm, doing a silly run in the opposite direction, making a funny face. I can’t help but laugh at her impression.
“Very funny,” I shout as she comes back towards me.
“I was making my getaway,” she explains.
“I can see that,” I chuckle, “try the other side too, one is sometimes more natural than the other.”
After a few tries on the other side she gets the hang of it.
“Let’s do another one, this is interesting stuff,” she says as she pins my arm to my back for the fifth time.
I think for a moment before responding, “how about getting out of a choke hold?”
Her eyes widen, “I need to know that?”
I nod with a grim expression.
“Unfortunately, yes,” I pause, “are you okay doing this one with me? I could always get Luna in here, or we could do another one,” I start.
“I’m okay with it,” a small smile appears across her face as she analyzes me.
“I thought I’d ask first, I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable,” I explain.
Her expression softens, “thanks,” she grins before coming up to me.
I stand behind her and wrap one elbow around her, placing my other hand on her head.
“I can just pry your arm off, can’t I?” She says mischievously.
“Give it a try,” I respond in kind.
She gives my arm a few good tugs but is unable to get lose enough to free herself.
“Damn,” she mumbles.
“Going that way just turns a situation like this into a dangerous strength test, and then something like this will probably happen.”
I quickly lift her up and walk backwards, her heels dragging lightly on the mat as she laughs.
“Okay, okay,” she says between giggles as I put her back down, “so how do I get out of this one if I can’t just pull you off?”
I quickly explain where her stance should be.
“So, once you’re there, you’re going to twist to the left towards my elbow, and that way you can back away safely.”
She pauses for a moment before nodding, quickly releasing herself from the hold.
“I like that one,” she says with a laugh, “I mean, obviously I hope I never end up there in real life but at least I can get out of it okay.”
I chuckle, “I hope you don’t either, but at least you feel good about the escape route.”
She nods before looking down, lost in thought, a spark from her fingertips jolting her back to reality.
“Sorry,” she runs her hands through her hair, “what were you saying?”
“I didn’t say anything,” I pause, “you just zoned out for a second there. Do you want to keep going?”
“Yah, sorry,” she shakes her head, “I like learning this stuff, I just got thinking about what would happen if something like this happened in real life and my mind got away on me,” she says with a nervous laugh, quickly placing her hand on her head with a weak grin.
“If it happens in real life, you’ll be prepared,” I say, trying to reassure her.
“I just don’t want to do the wrong thing, I guess. None of this has really sunk in yet, I’m just feeling nervous,” she responds quietly, looking down.
“I know,” I start.
She narrows her eyes at me.
“No, you don’t,” she snaps, her eyes burning with intensity.
Her words catch me off guard a little, not because I’m angry with her – I don’t think I could ever feel that way towards her – but she knows I was in the same place as her, once. Maybe I don’t know exactly what she’s feeling, we are two different people after all, but I think I can understand the basic gist from experiencing all this before.
“You think I don’t?” I softly grab her arm in an attempt to reassure her, “I was where you are once too, hell, I was even the same age as you.”
“I remember,” a small smile crosses her before she contorts her face again, “what made you so nervous anyways? At that point I was sure you weren’t scared of anything.”
I blink at her for a second, my cheeks feeling warm.
“I’m scared of some things,” I pause with a small chuckle, “but I was nervous for the same reasons you are.”
Days after my own announcement, I was on my way to visit Tessa, my little sister, when I ran into Saf on the way, next to the forest path.
“Why didn’t you tell me? I thought we were friends,” she put her hands on her hips and raised an eyebrow at me.
“I didn’t know until right before,” I explained, “I didn’t have time to tell you, I’m sorry.”
She thought for a moment before nodding, satisfied with the response as we gave each other a quick hug, “will I ever see you?” Her voice softened as she pulled away.
“Of course. If I can make time to see Tess, I can make time to see you,” I said as I tucked a stray curl away from her face.
“How are you feeling about it, anyway?” She asked suddenly.
“A little nervous,” I looked down.
In truth, I was terrified.
Terrified that I would fail. Terrified that all this was a mistake. Terrified of the Shadow Realm and what that was. Even terrified of myself, what would happen, who I would be in the future.
“Only a little?” She chuckled.
She could see right through me, even then.
“Maybe more than a little,” I said, contorting my face for a second.
“You’re the strongest person I know, you’ll be fine,” she said reassuringly, a warm smile on her face.
I opened my mouth to say something, but I couldn’t find words to respond to her.
She took my hand, bringing me back to reality, “come on, let’s go see Tessa, I’m sure she’d be happy to see her big brother.”
A small smile crosses my lips before a more serious expression replaces it, “for a while I didn’t even feel like me, it was like . . .” I trail off, thinking of the words.
“Like you’re in someone else’s body,” she whispers.
“Yah,” I nod, “and honestly that feeling doesn’t ever really go away. Not completely anyways. It kind of just hangs in the background most of the time, but you learn to ignore it.”
I give her a reassuring glance, “just know that you’re not in this alone, okay?” I say softly.
“I know,” she whispers back, her eyes on mine, a small smile reappearing, lighting up her freckled face.
“Okay,” I pause, unsure of how to continue the conversation.
“Let’s keep going, I feel better now,” she says moments later, “but thanks for talking through that with me, I didn’t realize how badly I needed to get that off my chest,” she smiles.
“Of course,” I give her arm a quick squeeze, “why don’t we spar for a little bit? Then you can get the hang of some of the techniques in a more practical setting.”
“Sounds good,” she says as she backs away, getting ready.
I find myself admiring her in the next moment, some of the strands of her dark red hair coming loose from the bun on her head, some free curls framing her freckled face, her bright green eyes buzzing with energy.
She tilts her head to the side for a moment.
“Are we starting? We could just tell everyone I won, if you want,” she jokes.
“Ha, no, I’m ready,” I smile, getting into position.
She shoots a fiery beam my way, and I quickly dodge it as she sends a playful scowl my way.
“I need to work on my aim,” she laughs.
“Don’t worry about that now,” I reply, “let’s try sparring just by ourselves. I have an unfair advantage against you with abilities anyways,” I chuckle.
She gives me an unimpressed look, “fine, it’ll make it that much easier to beat you,” she winks, grinning mischievously.
“We’ll see,” I smirk.
I pull her into the choke hold from earlier and she slips out of it, quickly bringing her arms up to act as a shield.
“Look over there!” She shouts.
I roll my eyes with a smile, relaxing my stance a little, “you think I’m falling for that?”
She grabs my shoulders and knocks me over, pinning me on my back.
“No, but it worked,” she laughs, “I win!”
I raise an eyebrow, “you think so?”
I grab her shoulders and roll her over so our positions are flipped.
“I win,” I say as I sit back, chuckling.
“You cheated,” she pouts, sitting up on her elbows, and I notice her cheeks are a light shade of pink.
I scoff, “I cheated? You’re the one that pulled the look over there thing.”
She laughs, a guilty look crossing her face, “fine, fine, we both cheated,” she winks.
“Call it a draw?” I grin as I move so I’m sitting next to her.
She nods, “sounds fair.”
She dramatically lays back down on the ground, sticking her tongue out at me; I can’t help but laugh.
“Thought much more about the Shadow Realm?” I ask, attempting to restart the conversation.
She turns her head towards me, “a bit. You all make it sound so mysterious.”
“It is, in a way,” I look down, “you’ll be fine, though, it’s just an initiation, really.”
“And what happens if I fail?” She sits up.
I give her a warm glance, “you won’t.”