Astra

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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 is chipper, and I try to smile despite everything. She is 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 has been flipped upside down, and I half expect myself to still wake up from this dream. When we returned to Alatar’s warm home he placed a small numbing spell on me, in an attempt to prevent me from going all supernova.

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

In the last few hours Beckett took 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.

He 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 stings 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 nod, and Ember gives my hand a light squeeze before leaving the room quietly.

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

No, 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 has made this as easy as she can, and for her I am thankful.

My new room has its own bathroom, which is an upgrade from my previous residence. I climb into the shower and allow the fiery water to scald off the pain of yesterday. Blood, dirt, and sweat pool at my feet before swirling down the drain.

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

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

After getting out and putting on clean dry clothes, I feel better. The clothes from yesterday get tossed in my waste bin, they’ve ripped anyways and I never want to see them again.

I slip on my boots and leave the safety of my room, and cross the narrow hall to Ember's door. After my light knocks, she pulls 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 smile lightly, shrugging.

“I do, a bit.”

“Are you ready?” I am.

***

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

The floors are covered in mats, the far wall is made up entirely of different weapons; some of which I don’t even know the name for. Beckett stands in the center of the room, in a defense position.

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

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

Beckett spars them, the people-shaped shadows. They have no features, just black smoke. But they attack as the vamps had, and he attacks them back with his throwing knives. One jumps around to his back, where he is defenseless, before I can even warn him he throws an arm back and a clear shimmery shield appears from his palm; it blocks the shadow as he slices the head of the one to his front.

“What are those?” I ask in awe. Ember smiles, I think 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 seems very real. The simulation ends as the last shadow dies, then they all dissipate and Beckett stands himself up straight.

“Bravo, brother.” Beckett rolls his eyes and huffs at her comment.

“My form is off,” is all he says before slouching onto a bench and downing water. I didn’t see anything wrong with his form, if anything he had great form.

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

“Oh, um. Fast?”

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

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

“Ignore him, Astra. He has his demons.” I wonder offhandedly what she means 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. 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 crank my arm back and launch it quickly forward, the knife soars and pierces the right arm of the human target.

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

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

“I suck.” Ember laughs lightly and shakes 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 makes me feel a bit better, so I try throwing another. This one somehow lands close to the knees.

Ember's phone buzzes in her waistband, she glances at it quickly and gives me a sheepish glance.

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

The training room is eerie when I’m alone, but I ignore that and try to practice my sun better.

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

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

“Don't sneak up on me like that!” I yell, 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 rolls his eyes and irritation creeps into my chest.

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

“I didn’t choose this life for you Beckett, no need to be an ass.” I snap back, and he steps closer to me causing my words to lose their venom. The electricity begins as it always does, and his eyes stare 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 raises an eyebrow and looks down at me with a mocking eye.

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

Beckett closes 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.

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

“Mmhmm.” I roll my eyes, but my breath catches as he lightly grabs my wrist and lifts 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, rather 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 lift the blade and release it, I watch it slip from my fingertips and slice the air until it meets its match in the face of the target.

“Like that,” Beckett says, stepping away from my back and crossing his arms. I’m cold where he once was, and the electricity finally subsides. With us apart I can think clearly, and I meet his icy eyes that look at me with a level of annoyance

“Now, again.” I let out a breath and ignore his stare, focusing on the follow-through. This blade lands itself where the forehead would be. I smile at him smugly, but he doesn’t look pleased.

“Again.”

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