“Do you think this will work?” Theodore asked me, coming to stand at my side, where I stood away from the group. I sighed, shrugging.
“I can only hope,” I replied, “can you actually overthrow the king?” Theodore smiled lightly, the grin not meeting his eyes.
“Yes, if he proves to be unjust, then the prince can step up and take over. Did he actually try to force you to love me?” His tone is sad, it makes my chest hurt a little bit.
I sighed again, “yes.” His whole body slumped, his eyebrows forming a V.
“I didn’t know.” I believe that. We stood in silence for a moment, looking over the dining room that prepared for Parallax’s arrival. After agreeing to help us, Theodore had sent a messenger to the Umbra Realm to inform Parallax of the dinner. The messenger had come back shockingly unharmed, saying he would be here at six pm sharp.
The room was prepared by having the warlocks set up wards in the corner of each room, protection sigils that would enable his power from working on us. They would not prevent him from using his power entirely, that would make the trap much too obvious, but it would at least prevent us from being injured.
“There is someone out there for you Theodore, it’s just not me.” I told him, resting a hand on his arm. “Someone who would willingly love you. They’d be a fool not to.” He smiled a bit, looking over at me.
“Just not you?” I shook my head, “your soul is already someone else’s.”
“Beckett, that’s his name. Ember’s brother? The weapon.” Theodore nodded, understanding. “Silly, right? The one person I was meant to hate...and I don’t even know if he feels the same way.”
“He’d be a fool not to,” he replied, mirroring what I’d said earlier. “If it means anything? My mom always used to tell me, ‘souls don’t meet by accident’.” I let that sit, and before I could ask about his mom Theodore walked away to go help the servants carry chairs to the large dining table.
Was it not by accident that our souls met? It was a coincidence on who was chosen, I’m not sure why for sure I was. I know for him, his mother was chosen for her beauty. I don’t know why my parents were chosen to produce me, and I have to wonder if they made the right choice. Clearly I haven’t achieved what I was supposed to, nor do I plan to.
Ember sharpens her sword, and Nova makes more arrows, they sit together off to the side whispering amongst themselves. Theodore addresses his soldiers, telling them to be on standby, I see Ashton and River among them.
I sigh and lean against the wall, closing my eyes and willing myself to get a little rest before six. It’s Christmas Eve, on the Terra Realm. Last year to celebrate my aunt made hot cocoa and sugar cookies, we curled up in warm pajamas and watched Christmas movies that made her cry. At the time I hadn’t been able to enjoy the moment, not fully, so I enjoy the memory now; even as it makes my chest ache with longing.
I would do anything to watch those silly movies about happy endings right now, rather than preparing for potential war. Already I can feel the beginning ache of loss begin to eat at my soul, I will not let them follow me to the battlefield. There is no way, with all this unknowing, that I would let them die if it came to that.
I feel a pulling in my mind, someone searching for me. My heart lifts, hopeful for Beckett, so I succumb to the sensation; and I feel my body being pulled into a DreamWalking state.
When my eyes opened, I didn’t see Beckett. I’m in our library, the place where I realized how he made me feel. Where it dawned on me that a life without him isn’t a life I want to live. My disappointment clearly shone on my face, but the men in cloaks standing before me still shocked me. They stick out like a sore thumb here, in a place of joy.
“Who are you guys?” How did they get to our library? The men in cloaks, with golden eyes, looked at me expectantly.
“Your creators.” One of them told me, looking at me from under his hood. They won’t allow me to fully see their faces, just their thin mouths and bright eyes.
“So you are the stars?” I prodded, standing there awkwardly. What do you say to the people who gave you powers? To the people who determined your whole life before you were even born?
They nodded in response, and just continued to stare at me. Like I am a bug under their microscope, they scrutinize and take me in.
“Why did you call me here?” I asked, slightly irritated. “I should be preparing for the meeting, not just standing here-” one of the hooded men raised a pale hand and I stopped, holding my breath.
“Why did you push for this dinner? We know you’ve read your prophecy, why with the pointless attempts to change your fate?” My jaw clenched with anger, thousands of things flying through my mind at once. These are the people who made me, only to let me die. These are the people who wrote down on parchment that I would be obliterated, and I would destroy everything. That I will be the end of the Umbra Realm, and all of its inhabitants, of Parallax and his creation, of Beckett.
I could punch these hooded men in the mouth, how dare they? The nerve to sign me up for this, to sign the death certificate, then wonder why I’d want to change that.
“You didn’t leave me any choice,” I ground out. “I didn’t ask for this! Why? Why me? Why him?” My throat burns with frustration and sadness. How dare they? I keep asking to repeat in my mind.
“Why you?” They repeated, and I nodded, my hands clenched in fists by my sides.
“Your parents offered, they offered that their child could bring peace to everyone. When Parallax found out, only two months after your creation, he found a woman of his own.” I don’t say anything, I keep my glare on the man who speaks, his voice unnaturally high.
“They did not plan to die, only two months after your birth. But after Macy gave birth and fled, he felt out of options.” I tear my eyes away finally, not wanting to hear more. Still, I had more questions.
“Is there really no alternative where I can live? Where Ember, Nova, and Beckett…” they shake their heads. “Why? Why would you write it that way?” My voice lifted with rage, but they lifted another hand.
“The reason why we agreed with Rose and Phillip, in making you the weapon, is because we felt your soul was selfless. We knew you’d be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for everyone.” I’m left speechless, unsure. Am I really that selfless? Dying in the place of Ember had felt easy, I know that. So dying to save everyone? It’s not rocket science.
“I never knew their names…” is all I said. It was true, my Aunt Amelia had never even spoken their names to me, saying it hurt too much to speak of them. Rose, and Phillip. Defenders, protectors, willing to offer their daughter for the world.
“They are why we called you here, Astra. As a gift.” I raised my head, meeting their gaze shocked.
“My parents?” They nodded, one reaching toward me, their fingers coming close to me. “Woah-” I started, trying to back up. But his fingers met my forehead, and in an explosion of golden light I felt myself shoved through consciousness.
The light, blinding and intense, lasted a long moment. Then it was gone, and I was left staggering where I stood.
“Sweetheart?” I recognized her voice instantly, I whirled around to find my aunt standing there with her arms open wide for me. Tears burst forth, as I gasped in shock and relief, my heart feeling full as I ran into her embrace.
“Aunt Amelia!” I cried, hugging her small body into mine, taking in her scent. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” I kept saying, squeezing my eyes and holding her. Her hands, rubbing my back, brought back years of love from her and I let myself feel this all at once.
“Shh, hush my sweet girl. You’ve been so strong.” She replied, resulting in more tears. “Wouldn’t you like to meet your parents?” My aunt murmured to me, and I pulled away, my tears soaking my swollen cheeks. I looked, there they stood waiting patiently. The pieces of me I never got to know, smiling at me.
My mom, tall and slender, with cinnamon curls falling down her back, brown eyes, and a warm smile. Beside her, my dad, with shaggy brown hair and bright green eyes, also smiles at me.
“Mom? Dad?” I asked in disbelief, before entering their embrace. Together they held me, laughing and crying. “You’re here-” I managed to get out through the crying.
“Yes, my beautiful Astra. You’ve done so good, so good. We’re so proud of you.” They kept saying, stroking my hair and kissing the top of my head.
“You’re here,” I said again, stepping away finally to look at the three of them. We stand in a wall-less space, golden light floating around us. The stars? Heaven? I cannot know. They all beam at me, adoration on their faces. I mourn the part of me now that could have had their love my whole life.
“We’ve always been here, darling.” My father says, smiling a lopsided grin. I think I have his smile.
“Why am I here with you now? Why did you call me here?” I asked, holding hands with my mom and my aunt. They looked at me sheepishly then, their eyebrows drawn down.
“To encourage you, to tell you it’ll be ok.” My aunt said, trying to seem confident in her smile. I can feel that it’s forced, that this feels wrong.
“This next part will be scary, sweetheart. But we will be here waiting for you when you get back…” my mom trailed off, her eyes watering.
I get it now. They’re here to show me what I will be coming to after I am dead, that they are waiting for me. No, this wasn’t a show of love. This was persuasion.
“Will Beckett be here, too?” I asked, knowing the answer already. Parallax told me already, he is nothing without the darkness within him. Beckett told me, before I was trapped. He’d said, I was made of the stars and he was made from...he’d never finished. I understand now. Once he’s dead, there will be no place for him among the stars, only eternal darkness.
“I won’t let him suffer like that!” I said, my tears now drying and replaced with indigent stubbornness.
“What about the rest of the world?” My father asked kindly. Reminding me, how I’m supposed to be selfless.
“This isn’t fair…” I murmured, and they nodded in agreement. They pulled me into another hug, our foreheads all resting together as we said nothing. We stand there, golden warmth surrounding us, intertwining us.
“We do not choose who our souls love, darling.” My mom whispered, so quietly that I almost didn’t hear her. “Astra inclinant, sed non obligant.” She said, and I jerked my head up to look at her, feeling my heart drop.
“What is that? Alatar said that too-” but they ignore me, looking at me sadly with smiles forced onto their faces.
“Astra? You fell asleep-” I can hear Ember calling to me, but I’m not ready to leave.
“Goodbye, sweetheart.” My aunt said, and before I could give them one last hug I felt myself getting yanked back into my own body.
“Jeez! Stop scaring us like that!” Ember scolded me, smacking my arm.
“Ow!” I held my arm, looking up at her shocked. “What did you do that for?” I asked, as she helped me to my feet.
“It’s almost six, and you were dozing off. You scare me, you know? One of these days you’re going to get lost in there,” she tapped my temple as she smiled. When she saw my eyes, presumably red from crying, her smile faded.
“I saw my parents...their names are Rose and Phillip. I’d never seen them before, never even knew their names.” Ember wrapped her arms around me, pulling me in for a brief hug.
“Oh, honey-” her sympathizing was cut off to a loud bang, one so fierce that the very walls shook. We gasped and pulled apart, there on the wall was a swirling black portal.
“Were the wards ready?” I asked quietly, feeling my stomach plummet. Ember nodded, gulping. “Let’s get this over with then.” I muttered, as Parallax himself stepped out of the churning darkness, and entered the Somnium Court.