The moment Parallax entered the room everything snuffed out, as if he had blown out a candle upon entrance. The golden light that always streamed through the windows dulled, the warmth that made your skin feel sun kissed cooled to a chill, and the easy to breathe air felt dense.
The room I had met the king in, once white and gold and blue, now cloaked in an opaque darkness. It trailed behind him, he adorned it like a blanket, and it took the whole room in instantly. In a matter of seconds, the golden room looked as though it was a part of the Umbra Realm.
“Welcome…” the King said, I noticed his voice shook. Parallax stood in the room, barely leaving the portal, taking us all in. When his eyes met mine a grin broke out onto his face, and when he saw Ember he gave her a light bow.
“Good to see you lived,” Parallax drawled, his voice taking up the whole room just as his darkness had.
“The pleasure is all mine, trust me.” Ember snapped back, and I saw his eyebrows shoot up in surprise.
“Touchy subject?” He taunted, causing her face to scrunch in instant rage. I placed a hand on her arm to remind her of the plan, we do not attack him unless he harms one of us.
“Let’s all sit, I can introduce you to my court, and we can talk business.” The King said, indicating the large table set for dinner. Parallax nodded, straightening the coat of his suit.
“That’s what we’re here for after all?” Parallax replied, finally stepping away from the portal. Then, finally, Beckett stepped through. I hadn’t noticed I was holding my breath until I released it, the sight of him making my chest feel whole once more. His blackened eyes searched for mine, and when they found me I saw warmth explode in them.
Electricity entered my body, coursing through my veins, and I welcomed it hungrily. I missed it, missed him, and now I feel like I can breathe again. I know that this is not a warning, not something to be afraid of, with him it’s not bad. We will not be what they want us to be.
He stands at the portal, his shirt torn and hanging off his body, his skin bloody and bruised. Beckett looked as though he hadn’t been fed in weeks, he probably hadn’t. The sight of him, while feeling like coming up for air, shattered a part of me I didn’t know existed. The way he looked at me was scared, relieved, angry, exhausted, all at once.
“Erran, my son Beckett.” Parallax said, pointing a claw at his son who could barely stand. His hands, handcuffed in front of him, are nearly purple from blood loss. Ember and I stand there, both of us itching to go to him, to help him. We both know we can’t, so instead we walk in trembling legs to the table.
The king gestured to his own son, who stood tall in his green silks, his golden hair not at all dulled by the smoldering darkness. “My son, Prince Theodore.”
Theo, always the gentleman, bowed to Parallax, his eyes pulled with defense.
I watched Beckett take Theodore in, his eyebrows raising ever so slightly as he realized this is the man he called my prince charming. I want so badly to tell Beckett that my statements, the ones where I said it would be so easy to love him, I had been drugged. Now is not the time.
Theo looked at Beckett as though he wanted to help, sympathy pulling at his eyebrows, but we all know that right now is not the time for showing our weaknesses.
“Shall we?” Parallax asked, helping himself to a chair at one end of the table, Beckett taking the seat beside him. He grimaced as he sat, his body probably exceedingly sore. Ember grabbed my hand, squeezing it in reassurance, as we sat down at the opposing end of the table.
“Parallax, these are my two right hand men,” the king said, indicating River and Ashton, who sat at his flank. “This is Alatar, the court’s healer,” that’s a lie, “and I’m guessing you know these three girls?”
Parallax looked at us three who sat side by side, his lips curling back to reveal his blackened teeth. “Yes, I’m quite fond of these ladies.” His tone made my blood run cold, and I heard Nova inhale sharply beside me. “These girls single handedly defaulted my plan, they stole my souls. How rude?”
“They were souls you had stolen,” Nova ground out, her green eyes blazing at him. “We only took them to their home.” Parallax rubbed his chin with his decayed hand, black shadows swirling between his fingers. I’ve felt that pain, I’ve been encased in that dreadful mist.
My heart pounding I remind myself of the wards, he cannot hurt us here. But he can hurt Beckett, a small voice reminds me, which brings my anxiety back.
“Now, now. We agreed to a meeting, let’s not get emotional before it even begins…” the king said, shooting us a warning glare. I make sure to return the venomous look, but say nothing. Looking at Parallax at the end of the table feels wrong, like he doesn’t fit in this puzzle. His darkness does not belong in this realm.
“Agreed, maybe we should leave this conversation to the adults.” Parallax sneered, putting my teeth on edge.
“Then leave,” I countered, causing the king to stutter out a shushing noise. “Why are we here, Parallax? You nearly killed Ember to get this meeting, so why don’t we just cut to the chase?” My voice trailed off, and nobody spoke after it. The fake politeness left the room, about time, and Parallax smiled at me broadly.
“You know? I missed you, my dear Astra. Never a dull moment with you around, is it?” He responded after a long pause, I said nothing. Parallax was deflecting, and I wasn’t going to fall for it.
“This isn’t a game, so why don’t you answer her?” Theo called across the table, making us all look at him, even Beckett looked at him in surprise.
“Isn’t this a game? It’s all one big joke, a competition on whose weapon is bigger. The fact that I have to keep mine chained to prevent the end of the world just shows how powerful mine is.” Parallax said, taunting the fact that Beckett is being chained and tortured.
“It’s not a joke, not when if you were to try to win this the world could end, innocent people would die…” Ember countered, her anger finally getting the best of her. “You think it’s funny to risk everyone’s lives, to kill the people I love, to kill innocent humans-”
“Humans are far from innocent, little girl!” Parallax yelled back at her, his anger getting to him as well. The walls vibrated with his darkness, his rage, I didn’t let that fear show on my face. “Have you turned on the news lately? Taken a trip to the Terra Realm? They’re killing each other, the impure messy mistakes! I would only be putting them out of their misery-”
“It’s not for you to decide!” Nova yelled, standing quickly and slamming her palms on the table. “You don’t get to decide who lives or dies!” Alatar looked at his daughter nervously, willing her to sit. Please, I will her too as well, please sit down. After a stare down, where nobody spoke, Ember finally pulled on Nova’s coat so she would sit.
“What do you want, Parallax?” The king asked, after another pause, his tone resigned.
“My son turns eighteen in a few hours, you know?” We all hold our breaths, “I’m sure we’ve all read the prophecy?” He commands the attention of the room with his slow speaking, I swear you could hear a pin drop.
“We were hoping maybe the prophecy would play out later on-” the king started, sounding very foolish. I’ve only been around for two months, and even I know that if the stars write it, then so mote it be.
“The souls, I wish for them to be returned to me.” Parallax stated matter of factly, everyone on my end of the table immediately started shaking their heads.
“No way in hell-” Ember laughed, we all agreed.
“--In return, I will give you my son.” The air left my lungs as shock overtook my body. Everything spins for a moment, I grip the table to center myself.
No, no. That’s an impossible deal. He’s joking? No, he knows this is impossible, that the king would never trade. Erran doesn’t even want Beckett in his court, did he really think this deal would fly?
If the king were smart, he would never give up one thousand lives for one person. Let alone a person who could be the world’s undoing, the ‘enemy’. I want Beckett by my side, safe, but anyone who can do basic math can see the deal is not all that fair.
“The deal is not fair,” I whispered to Nova and Ember, they nodded.
“There must be something else? He wouldn’t give up his weapon just to destroy a portal…” Ember responded, her voice low.
“Care to share with the class?” Parallax called to us, I turned to him and put up a hand to silence him, and a finger to my lips.
“Shush, the adults are talking.” I snapped, everyone blanched in shock.
“If you have an issue with that then cry yourself a river, and go drown yourself in it.” Ember sneered, resulting in a chuckle from Beckett, a faint smile pulling at his lips.
Parallax shot his gaze to his son, his eyes warning him. But Beckett didn’t lose his smile as he looked back at his father, I could tell from down the table that this pissed Parallax off. With a flick of his decaying hand, to punish him, he released his suffocating mist and encased Beckett’s lower body in it.
The mist lifted him into the air as he screamed, throwing his head back in agony, it swirled and seared his legs and abdomen. He struggled in the air, against his cuffs, against the smoke, it was too much to watch. My whole body screamed to help him, my eyes and throat burning with fear. The electricity between us intensified as he struggled.
“Stop it!” I barked, jumping to my feet. “Put him down!” Parallax, and everyone else, looked at me with warning eyes. I was pushing my luck, I knew that. But I couldn’t stand here and watch this as well.
“Or what?” Parallax asked softly, so low that I almost didn’t hear him over Beckett’s moan of pain above our head.
“Put him down, Parallax. We are having a meeting, are we not?” Theodore reasoned, and after a long pause Parallax dropped his son to the ground in a heap. I could cry in relief, Ember actually did. Alatar looked gray, as my gaze met his, I knew in that moment that he blamed himself. Good. As he should, Beckett would not be going through this right now were it not for him.
“It seems we’ve all lost our cool. My deal still stands, Erran.” Parallax sniffed, fixing his suit once more, and pushing his thin strands of hair back.
The king stood slowly, all of us looking at him expectantly. What would he do? The question buzzed between us, shocking me more than the electricity coming off of Beckett. I could hear his groan as he struggled to stay awake, my chest aches with longing. I just want to help him…
“You seem to be a smart man,” Erran started, leaning forward so his long dark hair fell across his face. “So I think you know that your deal is only a win-win for you, we would get nothing from it.”
Parallax stood as well, suddenly I felt as though we all needed to be on our defense, the two men facing off at each end of the table. “That’s simply incorrect, you see...if you give me the souls then sure a few measly humans would perish, but I would leave your court alone. Now, with the help of my son, I could demolish both your realm and the Terra Realm.”
“Then why not just take the ladder? It seems from your standpoint you’d gain more with your son?” The king countered, with a raise of his eyebrows.
Parallax waved him off, “it’s neither here nor there. My plans are all hearsay, and quite frankly it seems to me that you’d gamble that everyone in your court would die, so long as you’re the last man standing?”
Theodore’s mouth dropped open slightly, his eyes accusing as he looked at his father. It seems he had not seen his father’s true colors. The king feigned shock, as though he did not truly feel this way.
“Of course, I’m the villain in this narrative.” Parallax went on, grabbing a chalice of wine and gulping from it deeply. “But what of you? A scared king who does not value the lives of his men?” I noticed then the betrayed looks on his soldiers’ faces, Ashton and River looking at each other disappointed.
I understood then, it dawned on me so quickly it felt like a slap in the face. While they bickered, while everyone sat on the very edge of their seats, watching the show; slow tendrils of black smoke crept along the edges of the walls. I see them now, blending in almost perfectly with the darkness that Parallax had brought with him. It cloaked the room, surrounded us, and readied to pounce.
Under the table I reached and grabbed Nova’s thigh on my right, and Ember’s on my left. With a squeeze, I gave the most subtle nod to the walls. I knew when they noticed as well because Ember slowly moved a hand to the hilt of her sword, and Nova shifted slightly in her seat.
Protective wards or not, I decided then and there that I would not risk it, for all I know his mist had already detonated the shielding. It was not a risk that I was willing to make.
The king was giving some sort of rebuttal to defend his honor, but I was not listening. With blood pumping in my ears, I looked across the room and met Beckett’s eyes as he finally made it back to his seat. He gasped for air, his dry lips cracked and bleeding. I gave him a nod, a look that I hope portrayed everything I felt for him in my heart.
If it got through, I’m not sure. His eyes looked at me desperately, what he wanted I’m not sure. I didn’t let myself sit on it much longer, as I watched the smoke gather and swirl, as they slowly became portals.
With a cry, in total synchronicity, the three of us jumped to our feet. I released my energy into my palms, adorning my power and intensifying it, then throwing it as hard as I could at Parallax. As my energy connected with his chest, sending him soaring into the wall far behind him, I heard him cry out in shock.
In the same breath Ember wielded her sword, Nova readied an arrow, and the soldiers leapt to their feet. With little to no warning the portals swirled intently, pulsed, then exploded with vamps.