I’m conscious before my eyes open, aware of my surroundings before I can see them. The air smelled like flowers, crisp apples, like spring. A crackling fire to my left, I can feel the warmth coming off of it. There’s a warm breeze that blows my hair over my face, and I can feel soft grass under my arms.
Something else coats my arms, something that I can’t yet see. My head hurts, I fear opening my eyes would make it worse, but I pry them open anyway. The sky above me is a beautiful coral pink, with lavender clouds and distant sparkling stars.
I groan, opening my eyes does indeed bring further pounding in my head. “Oh!” I hear Ember gasp, and she’s at my side. Her eyes, warm and happy, look down at me in relief.
“Hey.” I mutter, my mouth dry with dehydration. “How long was I out?” I tried to sit up, but Ember pushed lightly on my shoulders to keep me down.
“Don’t sit up, you need more rest.” No, now isn’t the time for rest.
“We’re not safe here-” I don’t even know where ‘here’ is. Ember sighed and lifted my head to slide a bag underneath it, so I’m elevated enough to look around. We’re on a small grassy patch next to a crystal clear lake, so translucent that the sky reflected perfectly on the water. In the distance I see periwinkle mountains, and a tinge of a golden horizon as the run rises.
“Of course we’re safe, we’re not in the Umbra Realm anymore.” Nova explained, coming over and handing me a bottle of water. I sipped it eagerly, my dry throat wanting that comfort.
“Where did he send us?” I don’t say his name, but even saying ‘he’ makes Ember cringe. She swallowed hard, tucking hair behind my ear.
“He sent us to the Somnium Realm, it must have taken a lot of power to transport us into a different realm. He’s stronger than we think,” Nova said, rubbing a green paste on a leaf and resting it on my blistering arm.
“Wha-” I stuttered, looking down at the makeshift bandage on my body. I’m naked, I noticed, causing me to flinch. But my skin, the parts not yet covered by leaves, are scorned and covered in welts.
“In my spare time I read books on herbal medicine, luckily a lot of the ingredients were right here by the lake. Your burns should be gone by evening.” Nova explained as she put more paste and leaves on my body, each one relieving a stinging pain at its touch.
“Thank you,” I say, genuinely meaning it. Her cheeks blush a bit at that, and she just turns away in a bashful manner. I watched her make her way down to the lake, where she slipped off her dress and dove into the water in one graceful motion.
“Rest some more, tomorrow we’re going to start our journey to return these souls.” My mind whirls at that, and I jerk my head looking for the souls. My pants aren’t on me, where’s the souls…
“Don’t worry, they’re here.” Ember comforted me, lifting the orb into my view. It glows and swirls as the souls dance around in it. “They’re safe, you saved them Astra. Now we just need to bring them home.” I did that, I did what I set out to do. But at what cost?
My head feels dizzy, and I look at Ember in an accusing manner. “You drugged me?” She smiled back sheepishly.
“You need rest to heal, I’m sorry.” Her apologetic face is the last thing I see before I drift off.
Asleep I am not worn down. I am not hungry, or dehydrated, or covered in burns. Asleep, I feel at peace. Finally, after two weeks of being run ragged, I feel like I can breathe. I DreamWalk, but not in the hall this time. Tonight, I meander in a library, the wide bookshelves covering every inch of wall allowed. A large window, coated slightly with dust, streams light through the whole room.
I’m not sure where I am, I’ve never seen this library, but nothing makes me afraid like the hall had; so I don’t worry myself. Instead I allow myself the luxury of rest, plopping down on the bumped out window, pulling a pillow to my chest.
The room smells of old books and baked bread, I try to use my palm to wipe the dust from the window so I could look outdoors, but the dust doesn’t shift. I furrow my brow and wipe harder, but it still doesn’t clear.
“Well what on earth?” I mutter, scrubbing a bit harder.
“How did you find this place?” His voice jumped me, sending my heart into my throat, I jumped to my feet and held the pillow as a weapon.
“You?” Beckett stands in front of me, his eyes just as confused as mine must be. “What are you doing here?” I demand, keeping my body on defense. Last I knew Beckett had lost himself to his power, breaking free for only a moment and saving us, but I’m not sure what version I see of him now.
He raises an eyebrow at me, “I think I should be asking you that question. This is my dream?” I shake my head, no.
“No, that’s just not true…” he sighs and steps closer to me so I back up as much as I can. “Stay back.” He flinches, guilt reading hard on his face.
“We’re ok here, Astra. There’s no pain here,” his voice choked with tears. I shake my head again, but I had already noticed that prior. Here, there is no pain, and there is no electricity. No warning, telling me to run.
“I wouldn’t be in pain at all if it weren’t for you, and your father.” He flinches at that as well, which I only feel a little bad about. “I’m sorry, but it’s true.” Beckett nods, he knew this. He pushes his hair off his forehead and sighs, he looks more tired than the last time I saw him.
After a long pause, “are you alright?” I laugh dryly.
“Am I alright? That’s a bit loaded don’t you think?” Another long sigh.
“Did you guys make it to the Somnium Realm alright?” I nodded, “I’m sorry Astra. I really am, if I had any other choice-”
“We all have a choice, Beckett.” I cut him off, my voice hard. “You chose wrong.” He shook his head no and stepped toward me again. I go to back up but there’s no room, before I could even demand he back up we’re just inches apart.
“Do you really think,” he whispers earnestly, “that I would willingly choose to hurt people unless it meant the best case scenario? Do you think there are no consequences for setting you three free?” The heat of his body makes my cheeks grow hot, and I refuse to meet the piercing gaze I feel on my head.
“Your actions say otherwise…” I trail off, his hand reaches for me and I freeze, unsure if I should stay or run. Finally I look up at him, his eyes swim with emotion, it makes my heart seize.
“Astra, you’ll come see me again?” He whispers, a finger trailing down my arm, bringing a shiver from me.
“I don’t know,” I answer honestly, and I feel myself fall away.
Nova was right, when I woke up a few hours later my burns were mostly gone, and it didn’t hurt to put my clothes back on. After another bottle of water, the lake water was delicious, I felt refreshed enough to go. I made the decision to not talk about seeing Beckett in my dreams, not even sure what to say about it. I’m ashamed of the part of myself that wanted to stay in the library. Especially given his recent actions.
Ember gave me the souls back, saying they rightfully deserved to be with me. I’m not so sure about that, seeing how we don’t know where Alatar and my uncle are, and Beckett has gone dark. All I’d succeeded in is trapping them, and who even knows if we’ll get them home.
I’m hungry, so much so that it physically hurts to stand; but I push that onto the back burner as we begin our walk. We travel along the side of the lake, staying close to our water source. In the distance, a three day walk or so, I do see the castle. Just like everything here, it looks like the complete opposite from the Umbra Realms tower. It’s a white castle, with several columns around it, from what I can see this far.
Here there is actual foliage, trees in full bloom and flowers of nearly every color reside by the lake. Animals live here, squirrels and loons, it’s utter peace. I can only hope that we get to the castle before it is too late, and Parallax manages to strike again. Who knows what he will do next? Or who he will harm? With that in mind, we move as fast as possible.