25.) New Comers
The next morning I woke up alone, the grass pressed where Ember had slept. I sat up stretching and looking for my missing friends, worry filled my chest at the idea that they’d been taken.
The first one I find is Ember, she’s by the water filling our bottles. If she isn’t panic searching, then Nova must be hunting. I let out a long sigh, running my hands roughly through my hair, thinking of my visit with Beckett last night.
He looked worse for wear, and when I asked him if he was alright he left. I try to not worry about him, lord knows he shouldn’t be on my list of priorities. Still, there he is. Prominent where he need not be. I consider for a moment telling Ember that I’ve seen him twice now, but as she comes closer to me I opt out of it.
“How are we feeling this mor-” Ember starts as she comes near, but she’s cut off by Nova bolting into view. She’s running, coming out of the trees as if they’re on fire. “Nova?” Ember asked worriedly, and I jumped to my feet at her worried expression.
“Please, come quickly. There…”, she clutches her chest and heaves a breath, “there are men vamps, here. In this realm, they have some soldiers from the Somnium Court, this way.” Vamps? Here?
My heart sinks, I’d thought we’d left them all behind, that here was safe. The three of us took off into the woods, Ember wielding her sword and Nova readying an arrow.
I test my energy, it feels stronger than it had been these past few days, I can only hope it’s enough. “How many vamps?” I asked as we ran, trampling through some brush as we did.
“Three vamps, two soldiers.” Nova whispered back, before putting a finger to her lips and slowing to a crouch. We all followed suit, peering around the thick bushes to see what had Nova on edge.
There are indeed three vamps, each one bald and shirtless, baring their teeth at the Somnium Soldiers. One of the guys, his red hair bright in the vibrant green trees, struggles against the hold of the first vamp. His arms are pulled roughly behind him as he struggles, but he’s nothing against the strength of Parallax’s creation.
The other guy, the one who looked as though he’s already been beaten senseless, is held by one vamp as the last vamp drags his sharp nails across the soldier’s chest. His brunette hair is damp with sweat, as he grits his teeth at the pain.
“You can’t say they’re not here, we know they came to this realm. Now where are they?” The vamp demands, baring his teeth at the brunette soldier.
“I haven’t the faintest who you’re talking about.” The brunette grits back, resulting in another slash of sharp claws down his chest.
“I can’t just watch this, “Ember hisses, after watching him cry out in pain. Her look at me says it all, and I release my power into my hands. We leap from our places in the bushes in synchronicity.
In one fluid moment Nova pulls back her bow string and releases it into the eye of the vamp grasping the red head. At that same second I release my energy, it whips out and wraps itself around the vamp holding the brunette; lifting it into the air and holding it captive. Ember slices the head off the vamp that had tortured the soldier, it’s head rolled at our feet.
The two soldiers looked at us in awe, three women just burst forth from the trees and killed the vamps in just two seconds. One of them, the one I hold in my grasp, ready to be tortured with questions of our own. The brunette stares at Ember with adoring eyes, his lips moving as if he’s trying to find his voice.
“What are they even doing here?” I asked, and both of their eyes shot to me. At the sight of me, both of them straighten and fix their attire. The brunette tries to make a brown tattered silk shirt look presentable, it’s almost laughable.
The red head coughs, wiping blood off his cheek. “They came looking for you three, actually. As were we.” The vamp I hold above my head flails and growls at that, baring his teeth fiercely.
“You lied!” The brunette furrows his brow, and looks up at him in disgust.
“Did you really think a couple of scratches would make us give over these women?” He asked, picking his sword up off the ground and sheathing it. “Not like we were much help,” he whispered as an afterthought.
“Who are you two?” I asked, and as I started talking again the two soldiers straightened once more in a hurry.
“At ease, soldiers.” Ember said, only half kidding.
“My name is Ashton, ma’am. I was sent by King Erran to retrieve you guys safely, and this is-”, the brunette indicated to the male at his right but Nova cut him off.
“River, his name is River.” Ember and I looked at Nova, who looked at the red head in shock, her cheeks looking warm. “River was a student of my dad’s, we were good friends, but he left to train to be a soldier.”
“Nova? My lord, it’s been...what? Ten years?” River smiles, a dimple popping in his freckled cheek. He looked at me, “it’s an honor to be your guide to the Somnium Court.”
“Ok, you”, I look at Ashton, “please don’t call me ma’am. And you,” I looked back at River, “it’s not an honor to be around me ok? I’m just like you guys.” Ashton laughed, pointing at the vamp in the air that still struggles. I’d actually kind of forgotten about it, I still hold it there without breaking a sweat.
“King Erran eagerly awaits your arrival. Shall we get going?” River asks, and I stare at the vamp in the air. Should I leave him alive for questioning?
Nova answers the question for me, shooting an arrow into its head from where she stands. “Nova,” I groan, dropping the body in a heap. “We could have questioned him.”
“They’re disposable, we know that, they know that. He wouldn’t have told us anything, it’s better if we just get going.” Ember explained putting a hand on my arm, sheathing her sword with the other hand. I sigh, she’s right.
“So, your King is waiting?” Both of the men nodded and bowed, making me blanch. Why do they keep acting like I'm royalty?
“We actually have a carriage waiting on the road, just through those trees. It was coming to the lake to find you three where we got intercepted by those vamps,” Ashton explained.
“It was actually quite lucky that they found us first, rather you guys.” River started, stumbling over his words a bit.
“Say’s you,” Ashton laughed, nudging his friend’s shoulder, his chest wound still bleeding slightly. I’d also forgotten about Ashton being cut up, at that I decide we really should be getting on.
“So,” I coughed, shuffling my feet. “There’s a carriage waiting for us?” River nodded, indicating the opposite direction of where we came.
“Right this way ma’am.” Ashton said, extending an arm to me. I don’t take it, not because I wanted to be rude, but because it would be foolish to just blindly trust them.
So Ember took his arm, he blushed at her light touch. “Does it hurt?” She asked politely, looking at his chest through the ripped silk.
He mumbled something about it not even being ‘that bad’, but I barely listened to their small talk as I followed their backs through the trees. Nova and River catch up behind us, he stutters over excitable stories of his first time holding a sword, and she listens with wide eyes.
I wish Beckett were here. He would laugh every time one of the soldiers called me ma’am, and he wouldn’t extend an arm to me as if I needed help walking through some bushes. Maybe that’s an issue? Perhaps it’s normal for women to enjoy that type of flattery, and I’m just not used to it yet since I’m new.
I chewed on that while we walked, the whole time I had my hand shoved in my pants pocket, holding the souls. Just one carriage ride and I will have successfully rescued these souls, my aunt and the others can rest.
I’m not sure what I’d expected when they said carriage, but I wasn’t picturing a literal horse drawn carriage. Ember’s laugh trailed off as we left the trees and came out to the dirt road, where our ride waited.
Two white horses stand hooked up to a blush pink carriage, they whiny as we near them, knowing it’s time for them to get us to the Somnium court.
“They’re lovely,” Ember whispered, running a hand down the mane of the closest one. They are, they’re also very large so I politely keep my distance.
“Their names are Serenity and Thalia. They’re mine.” River explained, opening the door for us to enter the cart. Nova launches into questions about how he’d come to own horses, while Ember steps through the small door.
I rest a hand on one of the soft brown wheels, while I wait for Ember to be seated so I can go in as well. Ashton extends a hand to help me into my seat, I internally sigh and grab it; letting him lift me to the waist high door.
The inside is spacious, and I allow my shock to show on my face. There are two white velvet seats that face each other, a circular table holding tea sits in the middle of it. I sit next to Ember, and she kindly grabs my hand, sensing my nervousness.
Knowing my luck these two guys are lying and they’re bringing us to our death. Maybe there isn’t even a King Erran anymore, maybe they killed him. No, that’s just my scorned self scrutinizing everything now.
Nova came in next and sat on the other side of me, the two soldiers sat across from us, and we jolted as we took off.
“Woah, ok.” I whispered, gripping Ember’s hand. “How do they go without a driver?” There is a small chandelier above the table, it shakes slightly as we make our way down the little dirt road.
“King of the Umbra Realm, ruler of the Shadow Court...no biggie. Now horses on the other hand…” Ember mocked me, but didn’t let go of my sweating hand all the same.
“They’ve walked these roads their whole life, ma’am.” River explained, pouring me a cup of tea. “They don’t need guidance anymore.”
“Wow, you trained them so well.” Nova gushed, resulting in a blushing smile from the redhead.
“The King will want to see you all immediately, afterwards you can bathe and rest.” Ashton explained, sensing my nervousness. The last King of some court tried to kill me, so excuse any unease I may have. Even though he’s the King of the Dream Realm.
“I’m gonna meet him looking like this?” I whispered to Ember, even though the carriage is so small I’m sure they can hear me. My last shower was a week ago at this point, I never took the time to bathe in the lake like Nova and Ember had.
I haven’t seen myself, but I know it isn’t pretty. My face is probably bruised from being hit, and I’m sure I’ve lost some weight. Nervously I tuck my hair behind my ear and try to smooth out my wrinkled shirt.
“Do you need a mirror or something?” Ashton asked, and I’m sure he’s being nice but his comment only makes me angry.
“I’m fine.” I bite out, his face falls a bit, but he brushes it off and fixes his own hair.
“Well, I hope you’re ready. ’Cause we’re there.” Ashton said, pointing out the window. My chest dropped as I looked out the window, seeing if he was right.
Spoiler alert, he was.