“I wish you would have talked to me before entering the simulation, I could have better prepared you-”, I try to not take low confidence offensively. After all, until fighting off those vamps I hadn’t been sure of myself either.
“She kicked ass! You should have seen her,” my cheeks blush at the compliment, Embers excitement and confidence in me him further growing the glow of joy in my chest.
“Be that as it may, you could have been more severely injured. You’re lucky it was just a minor flesh wound.” Minor flesh wound? I’d hate to see his qualifications for a severe wound because that hurt like hell.
“Apologies, Alatar,” Beckett mumbles from his place across the room, he’s kept his distance since my comment about his magick. I fear I’ve ruined any progress we had made.
“Can I get you anything, Astra?” Ember asks, her tone slightly tight. “Tea? Water? A snack?” I make a show of pondering for a moment, rubbing my chin dramatically.
“Hmm, let me think-”
“Help us”, a voice hisses in my ear. My blood runs cold, goosebumps covering my arms and neck.
“What?” I look at the three people in the room, none of them appear to have spoken. “What did you guys say?” They look at me with furrowed brows, Ember puts a hand on my shoulder.
“Astra!” The whispers I hear grow more urgent, I feel as though I’m back in my dream. My chest tightens, I grip Ember's arm and look into her warm eyes as my own begin to water.
“I-I can hear voices, they’re in my head. I think I’m losing it, they’re asking for my help and...and I don’t know how to make them stop!” The hissing of the whispers become almost below as they echo in my mind, they grow so loud I can’t even hear the words that come out of Ember's mouth; I can only watch her lips move.
“Help us! Please! Astra!”
“I don’t know how to help you!” I scream, planting my hands firmly over my ears in an attempt to make the now yelling voices quiet. I feel like my brain is going to explode, I squeeze my eyes shut, letting out a cry.
I’m shaking, my eyes open to see Beckett’s icy eyes wide with fear. His lips are moving but I can’t hear anything, only screaming whispers begging for my help.
“Help me,” I mimic the voices, wanting relief. His fingers go to my forehead, and then everything is black.
I’m back in the hallway, with the silver cubes that line the walls. They whisper at me faintly, asking for me to save them. I don’t know where I am, but I know I don’t want to be here. I walk down the halls, my bare feet cool in the water that flows lightly throughout the hall.
“Astra, don’t forget about me!” I hear her, clear over the other rushed whispers.
“Aunt Amelia?” I ask, my voice catching in my throat. Could it be her? Or is grief driving me mad.
“Help me, Astra! I’m stuck, we’re all stuck, free us!” Her voice weakens and dulls back to the tone of the rest of the voices.
“How do I help you? Where are you?” I call out to her, picking my pace up to a jog in an attempt to reach her fading voice. But she is gone, again.
“Astra, you need to wake up.” Beckett.
I whirl around and see him wading the hall to me, his face scrunched in fear.
“Beckett! My aunt is here, these people, they need our help!” He shakes his head, reaching for me, but I pull back. “If she’s trapped I need to help her.”
“I don’t know what this is, this could be a trap. We need to wake up, ok? You’ve been asleep too long.” No, I shake my head. I’d only just gotten here. Or, maybe I hadn’t? How long had I been searching?
“But these people, they need my help.” My voice cracks, I can hear their pleading and it makes my chest ache.
“We will, I promise.” He says earnestly, planting both hands on my shoulders and squeezing them. It’s strange, in this state I don’t feel the electricity.
“Beckett-” I start, but he gives me a long soft look before shoving me backward and I fall into the water.
I gasp as I jolt awake, clutching my chest as I struggle to catch my breath. Ember is at my side, I’m laying on the floor in a pile of salt and other various herbs.
“Astra!” Ember breathes, wrapping her arms around me tightly. “Don’t scare me like that!” She scolds, still squeezing me.
Beckett jolts awake beside me, struggling to breathe for a moment as I had.
“What’s going on?” My voice is hoarse, my throat begs for water.
“Beckett, he tried to use his magick to make the voices go away but then you just passed out! We couldn’t wake you up, not even Alatar. So since Beckett is a DreamWalker we sent him into your mind to get you,” Ember's voice is rushed; her words slipping into one another as she rushes to catch me up to speed.
I look at Beckett, who sips the water Alatar had handed him. The warlocks grim face sends a chill deep in my spine.
“Alatar, these voices, are they trapped spirits?” My aunt's voice begging for help is now a memory, one that I know will haunt me forever.
“It could be…”, he trails off, which only tells me he’s hiding something. They avoid my eyes.
“Ember?” I prod, she will not lie to me I know that much.
“Can you have a snack? Some water?” That is all she says, ignoring my question completely. I pull on her arm, her eyes are sad as they finally meet mine.
“Ember, what’s going on? What aren’t you guys telling me?” She bites her lip nervously and looks at Alatar, willing him to speak for her. Neither of them does so.
“It could be one of two things-” Beckett starts, standing slowly and gaining back his composure.
“No, Beck.” Alatar snaps, his eyes narrow. I scurry to my own feet, the room tilts but I ignore the nagging lightheaded feeling and cross the space to him.
“Tell me, please,” I beg, reaching out and touching his arm. The electricity explodes, shocking my hand but I don’t let go.
His eyes stare into my own, making a slight heat rise up into my cheeks. Now is not the time, but I can’t help but wonder if he feels this warmth; this electricity, the way I do.
“Or?” I push, ignoring Alatar’s warning glare.
“Or,” he sighs, “Parallax is moving faster than we originally thought and he’s already started closing the portals.” My aunt suffering, along with possibly my uncle and all those other souls makes my breath catch.
Could it be true? That he’s already starting? Or is it a trap? I cannot tell which one feels less terrifying. A rock and a hard place, if you will.
“Please, Astra. Don’t stress yourself, come have some tea.” I whirl around to Ember who’s eyes water as if after all these years of training the idea of war scares her to her core. It probably does.
“How am I supposed to have tea time when we are faced with this?” I cry out, unable to contain my frustrations.
“It is most likely a trap, Astra. We will further investigate-” Alatar explains, in his unusually calm tone.
“But what if it’s not a trap? And those people are suffering as we sit here and hope it’s not a trap?” They stay silent. Nobody here wants anyone to suffer, it’s just a coin toss.
“Tea, Astra,” Ember says, this time pushing the cup towards me. I huff at her and take it, plopping onto the couch and sipping. The warm spices make my chest feel less tight and my headless full. I can breathe.
“You and Beckett need some rest, a DreamWalking experience is tiring.” Now that Alatar says it, I feel the exhaustion creeping up my neck; making my eyes tired.
“What’s DreamWalking?” I can’t help but ask, Ember looks at me with a glare that would put mother’s to shame. “Give me a damn snack already, then.” She hands me a bowl of granola, one she had prepared before I’d even woken, and I make a point of shoveling a huge bite in my mouth.
“What’s DreamWalking?” I ask again, this time with a mouth full of food. Drinking tea and eating food subsides her worry, her face grows softer and she sits next to me and pulls a yellow throw pillow to her chest.
“DreamWalking, it’s something only certain people are gifted with. You are. As is Beck, I’m not and neither is Alatar. It’s when people can enter trances, dreams, and see things that are going on in other places, walking. It’s self-explanatory.” I eat more granola, mulling over what she told me. This comes as less of a shock after everything else, just another weird thing that I’ve been able to do my whole life and didn’t know.
“Ok, but why am I seeing this hallway of trapped souls? I’m not trying to find it so why is it showing up?” Embers brown furrows, like she’s trying to find a way to say something.
“Well, that’s what worries Alatar. You see, Parallax is also a DreamWalker. He’s known for giving people nightmares. That’s why we thought it could be a trap.” I choke on my food, struggling to get it down.
“So he could be in my head, is what you’re saying?” My throat feels suddenly very tight, anxiety comes back into my chest. Ember pushes the tea back to me and I sip, welcoming the calming feeling. Whatever brew this is, I like it.
“He could be, yes.” Alatar chimes in, his calm tone edged with a hardness I’m not used to. My blood is ice. Even my mind is not safe if that is the case.
“Or, the lost souls are reaching out to you; our warrior.” Ember chimes in, in a tone that sounds more cheerful than her face portrays.
“Yeah, but that would only mean that the war is starting and that even in death my aunt is suffering,” I respond after swallowing a mouthful of food, her face crumbled and she squeezes the pillow once more.
“Well one of us has to be an optimist.” She grumbles, making me feel a little guilty. I mean what does she expect? A rock and a hard place. Nonetheless, I nudge her and force a tight-lipped smile.
“And I am eternally in your debt, thank you for taking that position so I don’t have to.” I joke with her, bringing a little joy back into her eyes.
“Well either way we will handle this further in the morning. As for now, I think we all could use some rest.” As much as I’d love to argue, the tea makes me tired and the idea of my bed makes my body crave sleep.
My day feels like it has been years long, entering the simulation and killing vamps feels like a lifetime ago.
None of us argue, we all quietly make our way to the hall all of our rooms are in.
“Are you gonna be ok tonight Astra?” Ember asks tiredly, I nod. “Sweet dreams then,” she yawns before going into her room.
“Are you sure you’re ok?” Beckett asks at nothing more than a whisper, I almost don’t hear him. I look up at him, his cold eyes are soft as they search for any deeper emotions I may be hiding.
“Yeah, I’m good.” I lie, looking away to hide the deceit in my eyes.
“Liar.” He scolds, opening my bedroom door. I go into it confused and he follows, hovering in my doorway.
“I’m not lying-” another lie I didn’t have to tell.
“Shut up, it’s sad to see you attempt a poker face.” He pauses, checking for Ember's presence. “I’m not ok either, ok? I have a plan. Just…just don’t fall asleep ok?” I nod shocked, numb. Does he have a plan? For what?
Then like that he disappears and my door closes with a light clock, and I’m left alone with my buzzing thoughts.