Astra

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9.) Sparring

“I hope you like the room, mine is right across the hall so if you need anything I’ll be right there.” Ember’s voice was chipper, and I tried to smile despite everything. She was making an effort to make this easier on me, and I should be grateful.

But how does one easily adjust to such turmoil? My whole life had been flipped upside down, and I half expected myself to still wake up from this dream. When we returned to Alatar’s warm home he’d placed a small numbing spell on me, in an attempt to prevent me from going all supernova.

The numbing had helped thus far with the tears, but the pain was still there; gnawing on my chest.

In the last few hours Beckett had taken a trip back to my old apartment, he grabbed things he thought I’d need here while I trained with them. He came back with clothes, toiletries, and a few of my especially worn-out books from my shelf.

Beckett didn’t say a word as he dropped them on my new bed, but Ember thanked him before settling me in. She’s a homemaker I believe, as my Aunt had been. Her kindness stung a bit, reminding me of my lost family.

“I’ll step out so you can get cleaned up, then if you want we can show you the training room.” I nodded, and Ember gave my hand a light squeeze before leaving the room quietly.

I feel like an alien, in a foreign place. Alatar had a beautiful home decorated with warm colors and plants and had a faint smell of incense. An earthy smell, like Frankincense. I’m cold, dark, like I may just suck in all the warmth and destroy it. If Ember wasn’t who she was, kind and accommodating, I wouldn’t be here.

For sure I wouldn’t be. If it was Beckett who told me I need to destroy Parallax, I’d laugh in his face and check myself into an institution. But Ember had made this as easy as she could, and for her I am thankful.

My new room had its own bathroom, which is an upgrade from my previous residence. I climbed into the shower and allowed the fiery water to scald off the pain of the last two days. Blood, dirt, and sweat pooled at my feet before swirling down the drain.

Having the remnants of reminding pain off my skin helped me breathe easier, and I’m able to feel a bit of the sorrow leave my tense body.

The shampoo and body wash smell like flowers, but the bottles only labeled ‘hair’, and ‘body’, don’t give away which type. I’d have to ask Ember.

After getting out and putting on clean dry clothes, I felt considerably better. I put on what I found first, black jeans and a gray shirt.

The clothes from yesterday get tossed in my waste bin, they’ve ripped anyways and I never wanted to see them again. They’re the clothes I wore when I was almost murdered, when my aunt was murdered, and then I wore them to her funeral as well.

I slipped on my boots and left the safety of my room, and crossed the narrow hall to Ember’s door. After my light knock, she pulled open the door excitedly, as if she’d been waiting anxiously at the door for me. Maybe she had been. Now she wears gray sweatpants and a loose top, her hair pulled back into a bun on her head.

Unfair, she makes it look model-Esq. If I wore the exact thing I’d look like a drowning rat. Not her though.

“Well, you look like you feel better!” I smiled lightly, shrugging.

“I do, a bit.”

“Are you ready?” I am.

***

“How big is this house anyway?” I asked after we descended into the basement of the house, into a large room that is the training room. It’s intriguing, down here.

The floors were covered in mats, the far wall was made up entirely of different weapons; some of which I don’t even know the name for. Beckett stood in the center of the room, in a defense position, he only wore a pair of worn out red sweatpants.

“Huge.” Ember laughed but put an arm in front of my body to prevent me from stepping onto the mats. I realized why moments after.

The wall Beckett was facing, the one to our right, came to life. Tall black figures emerge from the stone and run at him. I let out a gasp, but I saw that Ember was not concerned. So I silently watched.

Beckett fought them, the people-shaped shadows. They had no features, just black smoke. But they attacked as the vamps had, and he attacked them back with his throwing knives. One jumped around to his back, where he was defenseless, before I could even warn him he threw an arm back and a clear shimmery shield appeared from his palm; it blocked the shadow as he sliced the head of the one to his front.

“What are those?” I asked in awe. Ember smiled, probably because she’s happy to see me intrigued.

“It’s a simulation. You see, we could spar each other all day but it’s not like the real thing. So Alatar set up this simulation so we could train against ‘real’ Shadow Creatures.” Impressive, the magick seemed very real. The simulation ended as the last shadow died, then they all dissipated and Beckett stood up straight.

“Bravo, brother,” Ember mocked. Beckett rolled his eyes and huffed at her comment.

“My form was off,” was all he said before slouching onto a bench and downing water. I didn’t see anything wrong with his form, if anything he had great form. My face grew hot at that thought.

“Ok well, I wanted to figure out your strengths before we start anything else. Are you fast?” Ember looked up at me expectantly and I realized that we are beginning.

“Oh, um. Fast?” Stupid.

“Like running? Are you quick? Do you have good reflexes?” I shook my head no, I am none of those things. “Are you strong? Have you ever even held a weapon?” Besides last night, no. I shake my head again. Beckett scoffed at me and walked past annoyed.

“Waste of our time.” He muttered under his breath, the quiet hiss stinging my ego. Ember looked at me sadly and started her walk to the weapon wall.

“Ignore him, Astra. He has his demons.” I wondered offhandedly what she meant by that, but before I can ask she drops a small knife like Beckett’s into my palm

“What do I-?”

“Throw it at the targets. Bend your arm behind your head, and let loose. Kinda like darts. Have you ever played darts?” I don’t want to seem foolish by telling the truth, that I hadn’t. So I nod and grasp the small knife tightly. It’s smooth, easy to release. I cranked my arm back and launched it quickly forward, the knife soars and pierces the right arm of the human target.

“Oops,” I muttered, I’d been aiming for the head.

“Well, we need to work on your aim. But, it’s a start.” I nodded, and she handed me another knife. This one lands closer to the abdomen but still not near the head.

“I suck.” Ember laughed lightly and shook my arm.

“Well, you can’t expect to be as good at aiming as Beck. He’s been throwing knives since he was five years old, you’ve only thrown two.” That made me feel a bit better, so I tried throwing another. This one somehow lands close to the knees.

Ember’s phone buzzes in her waistband, she glanced at it quickly and gave me a sheepish glance.

“Alatar needs me to run him an errand, are you ok to keep practicing?” I nodded, and she handed me the last two knives. “I should be back soon, don’t hurt yourself while I’m gone.” She laughed to show me she’s kidding but I can tell there’s a seriousness to her tone.

The training room was eerie when I was alone, but I ignored that and tried to practice my form better.

I gripped the knife, let out a slow breath, and let another one go. This one landed near the collarbone, and I smiled to myself in a feeling of success. I’m already improving.

“Do you think that kind of offense will keep you alive?” Beckett sneered from behind me, I let out a shriek and wheeled around to see him just feet away.

“Don’t sneak up on me like that!” I yelled, putting a hand to my racing heart. “Besides, I’m practicing. It’s not like I’ve trained my whole life, cut me some slack.” He rolled his eyes and irritation creeped into my chest.

“Yeah, lucky you,” he mocked. I remember what Ember said about his resentment, and I get even more irritated.

“I didn’t choose this life for you or your sister, no need to be an ass.” I snapped back, and he stepped closer to me causing my words to lose their venom. The electricity began as it always does, and his eyes stared through me.

“My sister doesn’t know how to train, but she’ll try because she’s fond of you. She doesn’t have the grit to teach. If you want to learn how to fight you’ll have to learn from me.” So he’s cocky, too.

“I’ll be fine learning from Ember, thanks. She seems plenty capable.” He raised an eyebrow and looked down at me with a mocking eye.

“Was she able to teach you throwing techniques?” My cheeks grew hot, I don’t know if it’s from frustration or the electricity. “That’s what I thought.” He grinned, if it wasn’t such a cocky grin it may be considered a handsome one. But his ego overrides any good looks.

Beckett closed the space between up and plants himself right behind me, I try to step away but he plants his hands on my shoulders and holds me still. He still hadn’t put a shirt on, and the heat from him makes my back feel hot.

“Don’t just chuck it, you gotta be precise. Follow through.”

“Mmhmm.” I rolled my eyes, but my breath caught as he lightly grabbed my wrist and lifted my arm; pointing it straight at the target. He’s more gentle with my arm than I would have thought, perhaps he’s afraid I’ll blow up.

“Never take your eyes from the blade. Think of it not as a knife, but as a release of your arm.” His voice is low in my ear, making my heart skip a beat. I’ve never in my life had a guy this close to me, well I had yesterday but I had been preoccupied with vampires at that moment. Now, I find myself wildly self-aware of his chest against my shoulder blades.

Together we lifted the blade and released it, I watched it slip from my fingertips and slice the air until it met its match in the face of the target.

“Like that,” Beckett said, stepping away from my back and crossing his arms. I’m cold where he once was, and the electricity finally subsides. A small creeping sadness tickles the back of my mind, like a part of me had left with him. With us apart I can think clearly, and I met his icy eyes that look at me with a level of annoyance. It’s enough to remind me why it’s hard to like him.

“Now, again.” I let out a breath and ignored his stare, focusing on the follow-through. This blade landed itself where the forehead would be. I smile at him smugly, but he doesn’t look pleased. Of course he didn’t. Nova meowed from the benches, I jumped a bit at that. How long had she been there? My cheeks blush, not like there had been anything to see. Beckett’s cold command brings me back.

“Again.”

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