Portals are always a trip, and I find myself struggling to stay on my feet as we landed in the Shadow Realm. Beckett held me still, not letting me fall, but once we’re through he dropped my hand and pushed on.
I’ll never get used to it here, the doom and gloom that hangs heavy in the air is contributing to that. The sky is dark, an indigo with scattering stars. Mountain terrain surrounds us, they’re full of dead carcasses of trees, suffering wildlife. It’s dead all around us, even the air stinks of loss.
“This isn’t the hall? Your trick didn’t work.” I pointed out, noticing Beckett marching forward and jogging to keep up.
“I couldn’t exactly drop us inside the building now could it?” He looked down at me with raised eyebrows, his condescending tone is obnoxious but he definitely has a point.
“So how do we know where to go?” I asked, trying to not trip over the strange dark roots that sprout out of the crumbling dirt.
Beckett feigned looking offended, clutching his chest as though as if I’d wounded him. “You truly doubt my skills?” I rolled my eyes, honestly I should know by now that he tends to have a plan. He holds the small piece of parchment in his hand in front of me, “blow on it.” Um, what?
“Yeah, probably not.” Such a weird command, to blow on it. He stopped walking, placing his body in front of mine so suddenly that I walked straight into his chest. The electricity between us shot through me, and he calmly took a step back. I think of his fingers grazing my cheek as he tucks my hair behind my ear, and I feel myself blushing.
“Seriously? Now’s not the time to be stubborn. Do you trust me or not?” I trusted him, maybe more than I should. Memory of Embers whispers pops into my head, ‘Beckett can only use dark magick’. What does that mean? Is Beckett darker than he appears to me? Her telling me that he has his own demons also goes through my mind, and I seriously have to question my gut feeling about him.
My gut says trust him, he hasn’t let me down yet. Plus, he just told me he’s grown fond of me. Just as it seems, I’ve grown fond of him.
“Fine,” I rolled my eyes, leaning forward and lightly blowing on the paper in his hand. It feels utterly ridiculous, until the paper lights up gold and begins to ride out of Beckett’s hand. The glowing paper hovered in the air between us, before slowly moving forward deeper into the mountains.
“Follow the paper!” Beckett announces, before taking off at a jog. I laughed lightly, keeping stride just behind him. The terrain was rocky, my feet continuously tripping over the smallest things; whether it be a stray rock or stick. I’m tired, really tired. My body aches with exhaustion, and as we trudged along I wanted nothing more than my bed.
My foot caught again and I stumbled, falling to my knees and hissing in pain as they scraped on the dirt. “All right?” Beckett asked me, hesitating from helping me up. I pushed myself to my feet and brushed off my pants, ignoring the light stinging that burned my legs.
“Right as rain.” I replied, pushing onward, the paper moved far from us so I quickened my pace to keep up. It doesn’t take long before I see the tall slim building looming in the distance, standing ominously alone. The only thing is, a very tall cliff separates us from the building.
“What is that place?” I whispered, angling my body slightly behind him in reflex. The very sight of it makes my breath hitch, I can feel the dark energy from here. We stand in the dead trees, just looking at the hanting building.
“Oh just, you know, where Parallax lives.” He tried to say it nonchalantly, like it’s no biggie that the paper was bringing us here.
“So it’s a trap?” If it is then we need to leave, no sense in going closer if we will just find ourselves killed. He shakes his head no.
“The spell was to bring us to the souls, he must have them. If he does, we need to free them, Astra.” I nodded, ignoring the nausea that crept it’s way into my abdomen. Slowly I released my energy into my palms, and realized quickly that my exhaustion makes it so much harder to channel that energy.
“I don’t feel good about this, I’m tired. My power feels weak, I don’t want us to go in there with my powers weakened. Especially if we plan on going without Ember or Alatar.” His jaw clenched and he breathed out slowly, not liking what I’m saying but heading my word despite that.
“It’s dangerous to rest here, Astra.” Beckett finally said, and I get that it is but I needed rest if I’m going to be expected to save all those souls. I cannot remember the last time I slept, let my mind rest.
“I will be nothing but dead weight, unless I get some rest.” I retorted, and he sighed in exasperation. But he drops his backpack, starts making a salt circle, and lighting black candles.
“I’ll cast a spell that will cloak us to the best of my ability so you can get your beauty sleep.” His tone is sarcastic, but I’m thankful. He tucks us right at the bottom of the cliff, in between some dead trees, so we are out of sight of the building and most passersby.
The circle is relatively large, big enough for both of us to lay down. I do so eagerly, grabbing dead leaves and bunching them up as a pillow. I’m so tired that even the ground feels inviting.
“Thank you, Beckett.” I say, he huffed in response and dropped down beside me. Laying side by side the electricity is suffocating almost, I wondered if I’ll be able to sleep like this. “I’m sorry, you know.” I finally whispered, my voice sounding very loud.
The Shadow Realm ambiance is howling screams, wind, and the whispers that don’t quite register. It’s eerie.
“For?” He asked, his eyes are closed but he cocks an eyebrow.
“Everything. That you and Ember were raised to protect me and I came out weak and a deadweight. Someone who needs beauty sleep before a rescue mission.” My voice catches, realizing fully how bad I feel for not being as good as them. I know they’ve had years while I’ve had a week, but still.
He didn’t say anything, but he did finally open his eyes and look at me. “I think maybe we’ve led you to misunderstand. Ember, she was raised with the purpose of protecting you. You are her assignment, not mine.” I shivered, his voice was hard.
“Then, why are you here?” My voice was still a whisper, but I break eye contact that threatens to swallow me and look up at the dark sky instead.
“For Ember. She’s my sister, and I’ll always protect her.” Beckett’s words hit hard, and his behavior at the beginning makes a bit more sense. He didn’t care for protecting me, he wanted to keep Ember safe. Not that she needs protecting, she’s a powerful woman in a little body.
“Why are you here right now then?” I wondered aloud. He doesn’t say anything for a long while, I don’t take my eyes from the sky.
“Did Ember tell you why Parallax is wreaking havoc? Why the peace between realms was broken?” He finally asked, I blinked confused for a moment.
“Um, because the stars created me to be a weapon?” I say it as a question, I’m still so fuzzy on what happened exactly but that’s what I can remember.
“The Defenders asked the Gods to make a weapon out of the stars because they believed there could never be peace. Lots of bad blood between them, even with the peace. So, Parallax made his own.” I coughed, his words shaking me to my core.
“Oh, a weapon designed specifically to kill me and end the world, I presume?” He nodded grimly.
“And if this weapon is human, do you have what it takes to kill him?” The question is loud, weighing heavy on my heart. I tried to stay calm, not react, as I can tell he’s trying to be gentle with the bomb of news. Could I kill a human? Well, they wouldn’t be human…right? Just as I suppose I’m not entirely human.
“Is the weapon human?” I whispered back, hoping he’ll say no.
“Does that matter?” Yes, it does. But, no. Yes? I don’t know.
“I suppose, if their very creation was to destroy the world just as mine was to save it, then I really have no choice in the matter do I?” I didn’t get an answer back, and we sat in silence once more. What aren’t I being told? Is the weapon a person like me? Am I prepared to take the life of someone who’s not a bloodsucking creature?
I shifted closer accidentally, and the shocks got worse in response. “Do you feel it too?” Beckett asked at nothing more than a whisper, so quiet I swear I could have made it up. I looked at him quickly, his eyes are facing the stars and won’t meet mine.
“What did you say?” He feels it too? This whole time I haven’t been crazy? “The shocks? You feel them too?” I found myself relieved, it wasn’t all in my head. He nodded, I broke out into a grin, but Beckett did not smile back.
“It’s not something to smile about, Astra. It’s not a good thing. You were made by those,” he pointed at the sky exasperated. “And I,” he paused, “our magick can’t coexist. That’s why you feel shocked when you’re near me, it’s your energy trying to make you want to get away.”
“Beckett,” I started, taking a deep breath and collecting my thoughts. I’ve come to care for him, and I thought he had for me. “We’re friends, I don’t care if you use dark magick, not if you’re using it for good.” His eyes met mine and I felt my chest shatter, his cold eyes filled with tears.
Taking a deep breath I pushed everything down. I pretended I’m safe in bed, sleeping soundly at home. I pushed aside the fact that the guy who I find myself caring for is supposedly dark, and my inner energy wants him gone. Finally I fell asleep.