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37.) Portals

The vamps flooded into the room in heaps, so quickly that I lost count almost instantly. Theodore grabbed a sword and defended his father, who’s only form of defense was yelling loudly in fear. Nova shot arrows quickly, downing them, but not as quickly as they were coming in. Ember stood back to back with Ashton, defending each other as they swung their swords and decapitated vamps.

I jumped onto the table, crossing it quickly and dropping down beside Beckett. “Are you ok?” I asked quickly, placing my hands on both sides of his face. Touching his skin made the electricity so intense it took my breath away, or maybe it was just being that close to him. Beckett’s eyes met mine, and relief seeped out of the both of us.

“Never better-” he smiled briefly, but then his eyes widened with shock. Before I could even turn I felt myself getting yanked away from him and thrown onto the floor, I screamed. The vamp bared his teeth at me as he tackled me, pinning my arms above my head. Try as I may I could not maneuver my legs under him to kick him off, I grunted and tried to push him away.

“Get off her!” I heard Beckett yell, and then his chains wrapped around the vamps neck, pulling and pulling as it embedded in its throat. The pressure on wrist loosened enough that I yanked a hand free, the vamp tried to grab for the chain; but I reached up and grabbed Beckett’s wrists, pushing on them so the chain pulled through the vamps neck and his head rolled off.

I gasped for breath, scrambling to my feet and pulling Beckett with me. “They’re leaving!” I yelled, noticing then that vamps had begun to run out the door and out the windows. “The civilians!”

Nova turned and began shooting the ones trying to get out the window, and Alatar threw orange balls of magick at the ones making a break for the door.

“Astra…” Beckett said, turning to me. I looked up at him exasterably, now’s not the time really. His eyes are sad, and with a cuffed hand he reached and tucked my hair behind my ear. I took in the moment, savored it, before stepping away and releasing my energy.

With a cry, my palms facing the ceiling, I let my energy explode from my chest and hands, taking out most of the vamps in the room. It shattered them easily, the golden light encasing the room and taking them out.

“You stupid bitch!” I heard Parallax yell, I turned to him with a smug grin. He struggled to stand, leaning against the wall. With an angry yell Parallax raised a hand and shot his mist towards me, it whipped the air and charged at me. I released a beacon and it connected with his mist, the connection causing a large burst of energy. My stance wavered slightly, but I fixed my feet and pushed my energy harder. Behind me I can hear the clang of swords as they pierce flesh, the sound of vamps growling, and the sound of my friends fighting for their lives.

I feel his mist push harder at me, my hands shake as I push all of my power back at him. Gritting my teeth, I fight, sweat begins to drip down my temple. He’s stronger than I had anticipated.

“Let go!” Beckett yelled, his eyes worried when I met them. “You’re going to make this place blow up!” I noticed finally that the energy where our powers connected was indeed growing, it was golden encased in black mist and it was taking up more and more space.

“I can’t!” I yelled back, the sound of our energy roaring loudly, the pressure from it causing my hair to whip around my face and scratch my cheeks. From my peripheral I see Beckett turn and run for his father, and jump. After that I can’t see past the light of the connection, it is growing too bright. But I do feel a tear as his mist dropped, my own hands dropping in relief.

My arms tingle, hurt even, but I paid no mind. Beckett and his father lay on the ground, but Parallax was moving to his feet, the beginning of a portal growing beside him. I went to shoot him again, but Ember put a hand on my shoulder and pulled me to her side.

“Let them go,” she murmured.

“You made a mistake!” Parallax laughed, yanking Beckett to his feet, I noticed that his knees trembled with exhaustion. It took a lot for Ember and I to stay still. “Nobody can close those portals! No one except me! My creation will devour this land, and we will kill you all.”

From behind us I heard a yell, and then River sprinted past us, his sword rearing. Parallax simply rolled his eyes and sent his mist to encase the soldier, his screams loud and instant.

“River!” I heard Nova yell, and an arrow launched at Parallax. He only dodged it, and with a flick of his hand he sent River flying through his portal. We all yelled, and he laughed out, “see you on the field.”

I couldn’t just stand there, I tore free from her hold and sprinted towards them. Towards Beckett. His eyes begged me not to, but I reached, and then they fell through the portal.

“No!” I screamed, going to jump in, but there Ember was again; holding me.

“Don’t you dare!” She scolded me, pulling me to her bloody shirt. “That is a death trap and we both know it! You’re needed here, we know he left that open to tease you,” I sobbed quietly.

“River!” Nova screamed again, but she didn’t run into the portal, she only cried beside us. It was all for nothing, all of this. This meeting was supposed to give us a chance, but in the end we just got our asses handed to us. Especially as more vamps come through, there are two portals in total, not counting the one Parallax had escaped through, and each one just pours out more vamps.

Despite the amount of people defending the castle, they still get out the door and window, where they can hurt civilians. “We need to close those portals!” Ashton grunted, yanking his sword out of a vamps skull.

“The only person who can close those portals is Parallax, and he won’t close them until we’re on the battlefield.” Alatar responded, his voice tight as he fought off the vamps.

“If we kill him now, we could save everyone!” I speculated, resulting in cries of agreement. A few vamps charged for us, but Ember took them out.

Alatar let out a yell, and with shaking outstretched hands he held shields in front of each of the portals. “Get out of here then! Go do what you have to do!” He ground out, struggling with the shields.

“Come with us,” Nova begged her father, rushing to his side. Everyone already looked worse for wear, River was taken, Beckett was gone...and the king was-

“Stand up!” I demanded the king, whom I’d found sitting on the floor behind his son’s legs. Theo let out a groan and heaved his father up.

“If I live through this, I will be king.” Theo promised his dad, and all Erran could do was nod. “Ashton, rally the troops, we’re heading to battle.” Ashton, pale and covered in blood, only stared at the portal where his best friend had been taken. “Ash!” Theo exclaimed, jolting the brunette back to life.

“W-what?” Ashton stuttered, as if noticing suddenly where he was.

“We will save him, Ashton. Remember your training, rally the troops, activate the evac portals. You know what to do.” Ashton nodded simply, and ran from the room, searching the hall for vamps before running down the hall. Erran followed him, I

“Astra, are you ready?” Theo asked, his eyes searching for any sense of despair or weakness in me.

“Dad, come with us, please!” Nova begged Alatar once more, but he shook his head. His whole body shook with excursion, struggling as vamps pushed onto the shields.

“No, sweetheart. I need to be here, you’ll be alright. I’ll see you when you get back.” Alatar managed, his breathing rough. I knew we wouldn’t see him when we got back, I knew that the second his eyes met mine. He didn’t plan to live through this, his wrinkling skin and graying hair showed me what I needed to know. Alatar had reached his end.

“Nova, he will be ok,” I lied. “Let’s get going.” Nova wrapped her arms around his, hugging him briefly, before sniffling and following Ember and Theo into the hallway; leaving me alone with him.

“You’re dying, aren’t you?” I asked him knowingly, stepping close to him and resting a hand on his shoulder, shielding one of the portals myself to give the warlock some relief. There must be at least fifty dead vamps scattered on this floor, there’s more body than tile.

“You’re too smart for your own good, Astra.” Alatar responded, looking down at me with tired eyes. “I always knew you’d be great.”

“Then why pull the wool over my eyes?” I prodded, not hiding the irritation in my voice. “Why put us through this torture?”

Alatar sighed, “I’m sorry. I know it’s hard to take a step back but I swear I did everything for a reason.” I rolled my eyes.

“Everyone seems to think that around here,” I countered.

“Why did you do it?” He asked, smiling softly. “Did you not do it because you felt you had no other choice?” I shrugged my shoulders exasperatedly.

“The stars wrote it, what choice did I have?” My voice cracked slightly.

“I had hoped you’d love him,” Alatar finally said after a long pause. “I bet on it, really. It’s the one thing that could save everyone.” I looked at him shocked, not daring to speak a word. “I felt the electricity, you know? I was so shocked when we first met, I saw you give him an attitude like no tomorrow and I thought ‘this is how much emotion she has towards him with a suppressor? Imagine if I took it off’.”

“I noticed, a few times, you looked at us weirdly…” I mumbled, thinking of how the signs were there the whole time.

“I put you two together on purpose. Do you think I would let you two be in the same room together unless I thought there was a chance you could grow to care for each other?” The vamps struggled more, I pushed my shield harder.

“But the stars said-”

“Astra inclinant, sed non obligant.” Alatar stated, putting his second shield back up, showing me it was time to leave. There it was again, that phrase.

I began walking to the hall, turning back at the doorway. “What does that mean? I need to know…”

“Let’s go, Astra!” Ember called to me from the end of the hallway, I inched closer out the door, not wanting to leave without knowing.

“It means, ’The stars incline us, they do not bind us.’” Alatar told me with a smile, before throwing the door shut in my face, and he dropped his shields with a cry.

The stars don’t bind’s almost as though--no. Yes?

“Astra! Come on!” Ember yelled, and with a sigh I took off running down the hall towards my friends.

“Where are we going?” I asked after we had been running for quite some time. We’d reached places of the castle I hadn’t even known existed, and we seemed to be underneath the castle at this point. We walk slowly, single file, down a dark hall with cement walls and pipes on the ceiling. Definitely the tunnels of the castle.

I hadn’t told anyone about Alatar, about the shred of hope I now held. No use in giving them false hope, or breaking their hearts just before battle.

We’re really doing this, really heading to war...on our way to fight a man who wants to kill us all. The feeling is surreal, I feel like an imposter in my skin. This can’t be real...but it is.

If this were a dream, it would be a disgusting nightmare. Two months ago I woke up on my birthday and my biggest issue was dreading going downstairs to my excited aunt. Now I’m walking to my possible does so much change in so little time? Someone pinch me.

“To a secret room the stars set up for us,” Theo responded from in front of me, I’d actually kind of forgot I’d asked the question. “It was supposed to be where Astra would prepare for battle, and then enter the portal to the battlefield.”

“There are already portals to the field?” I asked shocked, “so did they prepare for everything except my survival?” Theo looked back at me embarrassed but kept walking.

“There are three portals in total, each one leading to the field. One belongs to Parallax, two belong to us.” Theo continued, as we walked deeper into the dark hall.

“Why do these portals already exist?”

“Because...long ago, before peace was broken, there was a mutual meeting ground in the Umbra Realm. The prophecy said the war would happen in the place of the darkness’ home, and that building is where the darkness really started. The building was destroyed long ago, and now it is where we will fight.” I mulled that over some, as we came to a door and entered one by one.

Inside the small room was a wall of shields, armor, and weapons. There were a few seats, stored mason jars of water, and a swirling silver portal.

“This is really happening…” I whispered to myself, Ember rubbed my back comfortingly.

“Alright, make sure everyone has armor of some kind, Nova be sure to grab more arrows-” Theo instructed us, grabbing a silver cuirass and latching it on over his shirt.

“No, you guys aren’t coming with me.” I told them, trying to make my voice sound proud, and not at all afraid.

“What? Of course we are?” Ember said, looking at me incredulously. I shook my head, heading towards the portal that waited for me expectantly. “Hey! Don’t try to be the bigger person here, we’re doing this together. You and me,”

With a sigh I turned back to my best friend, my eyes stinging slightly with tears. I just shook my head again, it was easier than talking. Then, “I’m not going to ask you to come to war with me, Ember. Not when it is prophesied that I will die, and take the whole Umbra Realm down with me. I will not ask you to die for me.”

She placed cold hands onto my cheeks and stared hard into my eyes, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Do you think I could live with myself if I knew that you died alone, without your best friend by your side? I’m not asking to die for you, I’m asking to live our last moments alive together.” With a loud exhale I pulled her to my chest, avoiding everyone else’s sympathetic gazes.

“You saved my life, Ember. You made me feel like a person,” I whispered into her shoulder, and she squeezed me tighter, but it said everything it needed to.

“I know, I’m pretty great.” She joked, breaking the heavy moment. We laughed, separated, and wiped our wet cheeks. “Ok, let’s blow this popsicle stand.”

Now was the time to be who I was made to be, I told myself as I stared at the portal; everyone behind me waiting. Can I do it? I hold onto that small shred of hope, that the stars do not bind us, and will myself be able to save us. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and holding Ember’s hand I stepped through the portal.

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