Astra

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13.) Simulation

“I think you have a little crush.” Nova said suddenly, appearing from behind the door that Beckett had just shut.

“Jees, Nova!” I jump, clutching my chest. “Are you everywhere? I-wait what? No, no crush.” I started stumbling on my words which made the honey girl smile.

“He’s definitely something to look at, I know I’ve enjoyed our time growing up. An asshole, sure. But definitely beautiful.” I looked at her carefully, she just came over and started stripping my bed.

“Do you have a crush on Beckett?” I asked, strangely finding a little jealousy in my tone. It’s not like I actually like Beckett, he’s rude. Nova looks at me, and fiddles with the sleeve of her sunset orange gown.

“I wouldn’t call it a crush. I definitely love Beckett, we’ve grown up together. So I care about him, and if he ever…” she pauses, sighs. “If he ever did express interest in me I wouldn’t be disappointed. Unfortunately, romance is not written in stone for Beckett and I.” Before I could even ask what that meant, she grabbed my bundle of gross blankets and left the room.

I shake my head and go into my bathroom, pondering everything as I cleansed my body. What on earth had I done to make Nova think I would have feelings for Beckett? Sure, he’s a handsome guy. But after this war, after Parallax is defeated? If we’re all alive, I don’t see a happily ever after for him and I.

Would that be a bad thing though? I think of his chest on my back, and his bold eyes as they encourage me to get up...I expel those thoughts and rush through my shower.

Clean, fed, and hydrated, I made my way down to the training room. At my entrance I found Ember and Beckett sparring, they yell in frustration with each of their attacks.

He went for a kick to her jaw, but she swiftly ducked under his leg and dropped to her knee; using her other leg to swipe his ankle and knock him on his back. Ember stood and grabbed her sword, which I notice is covered in a rubber-looking covering and goes to point it at his chest. He’s already pushing himself onto his feet, throwing a small rubber knife that thumps against her wrist.

“Hey! No throwing the weapons!” Ember protested, getting out of her defensive stance and glaring at her brother indignantly. Beckett laughed at her face, taking his knife back.

“If my weapon of choice is throwing knives and I’m not allowed to throw the knives, how am I to win?” He asked her in a taunting voice, she stuck her tongue out at him before noticing my presence in the room.

“Oh! Astra, you’re here! I’m glad you’re alright.” I nodded, squeezing my arms tightly to my chest. Beckett’s talk made me realize I need to own myself to save everyone, to avenge everyone, but it didn’t just erase the fear. A dark monster sits in my belly, growling, taunting me. I squeezed myself to keep it silent.

“Could you teach me that? Fighting?” I asked, trying to avoid the conversation about my mental health. Ember shrugs and nudges her brother.

“I hate to admit it, but he’s the one who would teach you best. I can only win if I change the rules.” Her tone was joking, but I can see the bruised ego underneath.

“Yeah, sure. Come here,” he said nonchalantly. My heartbeat skips as I cross the mat to him, passing Ember on her way to the bench. After our talk, I can’t help but see him differently, in a less dark way. And after Nova’s comment, about loving him, I can’t help but wonder what’s written in stone for Beckett in general.

Is that how it works? Our fate written and weaved before we are even born? Does it know of our decisions before we even make them? I could spiral thinking about this.

“So, what first?” I askdc, my voice slightly shaking.

“Defense. Never let a punch hit you in the face, hold your arms up like this,” he holds his arms up to protect his face, “and use them to deflect.” I put my arms up as he’d shown me, planting my feet firmly to prevent stumbling.

He threw a light punch, moving his arm very slowly to show me the process. As his fist made gentle contact with my forearm I moved it from my face and used it to push his fist away, which resulted in his arm twisting slightly.

“Good. Like that, now faster.” Then he punched a little faster, but I deflected just as easily. It’s not as hard as I thought. I smiled in pride at Ember, and a fist connected with my jaw.

“Ow!” I yell, looking back at Beckett in shock. He shrugged at me, and I rubbed my sore jaw.

“Always keep your eye on the enemy. Now, again.” I sighed and rolled my eyes, my throbbing jaw was a constant reminder of the next few punches to not take my eyes off him. He was fast, and moved swiftly. As he punched harder and faster with each attempt it hurt more, but I grit my teeth and pushed forward.

“You seem to have that just fine, so now I want you to deflect and then fight back.” Good, now he can get a taste of it back. My brain goes dark at that moment and the image of him lying unconscious flashes in my mind again.

No, I won’t lose my cool again.

He threw a punch slowly again, I deflected with my arm easily and stepped into a punch; I missed his face as he swiftly dodged. He kicks my ankle that I’d stepped forward with, and with a shriek, I fell backward onto the mats.

“What gives!” I yelled, my neck and head throbbing from the impact. Beckett stands over me and shakes his head in a disappointed manner.

“I could tell in your eyes you didn’t mean your punch. If you’re going to fight someone you have to mean it. You can’t be afraid.” He could see right through me, he could see I was holding back.

“Well-”

“You have powers for shit’s sake! Don’t try to punch me with your little fists, use your powers.” I sigh and stare at the ceiling, I know I need to but I don’t feel ready. I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel ready.

“Ok,” I muttered and finally looked back at him, he extended his hand and I took it. Electricity explodes through my body as he helps me up, if he feels it he doesn’t let on.

“Don’t be afraid, Astra. I’ll be alright, learn from your mistakes.” I nodded, he gave me a small sideways smile and held up a finger to say ‘one moment’. Ember and I watched him go to the wall and grab a dramatic helmet. I rolled my eyes and laughed at him as he put it on and gave his head a couple of knocks.

“I see you’re prepared,” I laughed. He grabbed the shield from last time. Ember gives us a weird look, her eyes saying something I don’t quite understand. She watches quietly. So does Nova, a cat form Nova, she sits on a bench and just watches.

“Always, now I don’t want sissy shit. Give me what you got.” His eyes were confident, but it didn’t reach me. Anxiety balls in my chest and nausea made my stomach flip.

The last time I gave it to him he got hurt, and I want to learn from my mistakes but I’m too afraid to try. My fear blocks my mind, so I can’t release my energy.

Before I can tell him I’m not ready, he attacks. He let out a yell before coming at me, he slices the air with the shield. It came close to me, so I sidestepped and dodged his attack. Beckett turned his body and swung a fist at me, I blocked it and sidestep again. Just defense, I’m not comfortable with offense; the monster in my gut growls. The monster of memories that eats at me and whispers, ‘you could kill him’.

Beckett noticed I’m not fighting back, so he stopped.

“Come on,” he huffed. I shook my head no, I’m not comfortable with fighting him. “Aren’t you a stubborn one?”

“I can be,” I state, crossing my arms.

“Well fine, we’ll put you in the simulation,” Beckett said, taking off the helmet and indicating for me to follow him. I gulped, the simulation seems to be for people who are more well off than I.

“Beck, are you sure?” Ember asked, mirroring my exact thoughts.

“We will be right here. If she doesn’t feel comfortable using her powers on us, then she will have to learn using the next to the real thing.” I stand there alone on the mats now, they all look at me from the side.

“Don’t be afraid,” Ember encouraged giving me a thumbs up, but I could see her fear in her eyes.

“Wrong, be very afraid.” Beckett corrects, before flipping a switch and everything disappears. I didn’t even have time to register his words, as the magick kicked in and I’m no longer in the training room. Or rather, I am, but I don’t feel like I am.

I whirled around, frantically looking for Ember and Beckett. All I see around me is the Shadow Realm. Again, I feel as though I’ve been dropped into a macabre version of home. Ember and Beckett, who I’m sure can see me, only see me standing on the mats. But I can see a whole other world. The magick feels so real, I could even smell the rotting land.

I stand alone in a wide field, deep blue mountains surround me, and above me is a dark sky lit by scattering stars.

“Guys?” I called out, feeling wildly uncomfortable. “I don’t think I’m ready for this-” I’m cut off by the sight of a vamp charging at me. “Guys!” They don’t come to my rescue.

It’s ok, it’s not real. I closed my eyes and breathed calmly, ignoring the vamp charging. It screamed in my face, I could feel the spit hit my skin. Ok, it feels real. But it’s not.

It slashed at my arm, my eyes flew open at the shock of the pain. I screamed, cradling my arm and stepping away fast. He doesn’t relent, he bares his razor-sharp teeth at me and lunges again.

Maybe this is real? It sure hurts like it is. Blood drips down my arm, scaring me into motion. I don’t think about slowly letting go of my wall, letting my energy slowly heat up, I just attack.

It’s purely on reflex, as though my fight or flight kicked in. My golden orb appears, and I throw it at the vamp. It hit him square in the chest, upon impact he froze in place, his skin cracked like porcelain; and he shattered.

Another vamp grabbed hold of my hair and yanks, I screamed and reached up to grab his head with my hand. I let the energy burst against his skull, and he too fell in a shatter.

My energy takes the life out of the Shadow Creatures, they do not bleed or get wounded, they just die. I am more powerful than I thought. This big powerful creature that Parallax created to help end the world shatters at my touch.

My confidence built after downing the first two, so as the third one took at me I dug my feet in the dirt and shot a strong beacon at it. He fell, and another quickly replaced him. For this attack, I don’t shoot a beacon or throw an orb, this time I slingshot a disk from my hand; it slices the air and decapitates him.

I laughed at my competence, excitement bubbled in my chest as all anxiety left my body. I feel capable, unafraid. The walls of the simulation slowly dissipate, they melt away until I’m back in the training room looking at Beckett and Ember.

Ember grinned at me proudly, and Beckett had a smug look on his cheeks.

“What’s that look for?” I asked with as much attitude I can muster, but at least at this moment, I’m not mad at him. I’m glad he pushed me.

“Oh nothing, it’s just a little something told, I was right.” He replied snarkily, I walked over and smacked him on the arm; but we are both smiling. Nova gets up and leaves the room, tail swishing.

“You are so cool, Astra! I wish you could see yourself!” Ember shrieked, jumping up and down with uncontainable excitement. “There is no way we will lose against Parallax, you just took down vamps without even breaking a sweat!”

“Ok, easy there,” I said, but I’m laughing at her joy. To be fair, I’m grinning ear to ear as well. I feel comfortable with myself, a weight lifts off my chest and I can breathe. The monster in my belly is gone for now, and I can feel the tension leave my neck and shoulders.

This is the happiest I’ve ever felt, and without the suppression, I can feel it. Internally I’m jumping as Ember is.

“Your arm,” Beckett said over our excitement. Oh, right. That. In the adrenaline, I’d forgotten. “We need Alatar to heal that.” In the light, it looks worse than it had in the Shadow Realm. Four slashes tear deeply into my arm, tearing muscles and veins.

“Ow.” That is all I said, the pain finally edging its way into my psyche.

“Yeah, ow. Let’s get upstairs,” Ember instructed, guiding me.

“Well, if Beckett is also learning magick can’t he just heal it?” I asked, wanting the pain to end now. It throbs and fogs up my mind. I grit my teeth and hold my breath.

His eyes darkened as I met them, he dropped his eyes and just pushed past us to go up the stairs.

“What did I say?” I gasped out, as we headed up the stairs as well.

“Oh, um,” Ember said quietly, then she sighs. “It’s just, Beckett’s magick isn’t like Alatar’s.”

“Why not?” I prod, “is it because he’s not as advanced?” Her eyes looked uneasy, and she spoke under her breath as if the walls were listening.

“Well, it’s because…well it’s because Beckett can only use dark magick.”

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