“Why are these vamps after me, Ember?” My voice breaks the silence, and her face registers as she’d rather not answer my question, so I push. “I ask you because you seem to have some sympathy towards my situation. So, please.”
Silence hangs between us for a moment, I can hear Beckett hissing sharp phrases to Alatar over the phone. Finally, she takes a deep breath and comes to stand beside me; close enough that Beckett can't overhear.
“Honestly, Astra, your aunt, and uncle were supposed to fill you in on all this; not us. Alatar won't be happy to hear about it. I'm not sure why they didn't tell you…” she trails off, stress lines pulling at her delicate features.
“My uncle is...was?” I’m not sure what to say there, “kind of an ass. My aunt says he’s a vet and such, I think it took a toll on him because he wasn't always the nicest.” I let my words trail off, I'm talking about him in the past tense, and doing so makes my chest feel heavy.
“Yeah well, a lot of people who fought in the Umbra Bellum came out, ‘not the nicest’.” She uses air quotes and I ponder for a moment, I already have a bunch of questions.
“What's the Umbra Bellum?” My accent doesn't do the wording justice, so it comes out less fluent than when she said it. Her eyes grow darker, they lose their warmth, and her voice drops lower.
“It's Latin, for Shadow War. A lot of defenders tend to use the native tongue for things. The war between defenders and creatures of the Shadow Realm. Peace was kept between our Realms for millennia, at least until the stars made Parallax mad. My parents also fought in the Shadow War, and like you said they weren't the nicest people. War takes a lot out on people.”
We sit in silence again, with Beckett still talking in the background. I'd never once considered that the war in which dampened my uncle's mood was inhuman. Before today the thought of vampires and something called a Shadow Realm never even crossed my psyche. I feel like nothing is real, and everything is a lie.
“Who’s Parallax and how did the...stars...make him mad?” Ember looks at me plainly, her eyes a little sad.
“They made a weapon, a deadly weapon. One that could potentially wipe out the entirety of the Shadow Realm, or at the very least destroy its portal into our Realm.” Wow, okay.
“Makes sense, ” I laugh like it does make sense and like I'm not royally losing my mind. “I mean if I was a ruler of a Shadow Realm or whatever, I’d probably be ticked off if the stars made a mega weapon too.” Ember looks at me strangely but doesn't say anything, I can't pinpoint the emotion behind her eyes.
Before she can speak any further Beckett strides from the living room into the kitchen, his face still irritated.
“It's not tea time Ember, you should have taken this time to search the perimeter for any strangling vamps-” Ember scoffs, mocking his uptightness. But louder than her laugh is the sound of a low growling coming from the hallway, it grows louder with each moment and I'm dipped into the icy feeling of deja vu.
The same low growl that the vamp who attacked me had. I know I am in danger again, without even looking at the siblings who jump into action.
“Make that portal.” Ember hisses at her brother under her breath, sliding her sword out of its sheath and pulling my body behind hers. I cower like a wimp behind Ember, I've seen her handle a vamp before.
Beckett grabs my arm, his fingers tightly squeezing, and pulls me to his side. The electricity erupts yet again, but I pay no mind. Not now. Not while I know we are in danger.
The door flies open, and I let out a scream; leaning into Beckett's side in shock. The vamp scans quickly, and when his eyes meet mine he grins widely and jumps at Ember in an attempt to plow her down and get me. Ember springs to action, turning her body to the side to avoid getting tackled and planting a firm kick to the center of his chest.
He stumbles, hissing and baring his teeth. I look back to Beckett who has his eyes peacefully closed as if his tiny sister isn't sparring a vampire. His hands are dancing in the air, tracing invisible drawings with his long fingers.
To my surprise, the drawings hover in a silver mist for a moment before falling slowly towards the cluttered ground. “One portal, coming up.” Beckett finally says, opening his eyes. I watch in awe as the lightly falling mist gathers into a silver oval that begins rapidly swirling on the floor.
Ember lets out a yell of attack, twisting her body and putting her strength behind a mighty swipe of her sword, cleanly taking off the vamps head. Woah. Who are these people?
“See now, I told you to check the perimeter,” Beckett says, in a cocky tone that Ember responds to with a roll of her eyes. With a huff, she gives him the finger, and I just drop my head into my hands. I am overwhelmed with everything I've seen so far, vampires and portals, and crime-fighting siblings; yet they seem as though this is an average Friday.
The thought crosses my mind again, maybe it is a normal Friday for these two. The thought makes me shiver.
From behind me, there are several loud crashes, causing me to scream again and flinch closer to the ground. Beckett grabs me and yanks me to his side, which I had strayed from, and I welcome the rush of electricity.
We turn, there are numerous vamps in the apartment, climbing through the kitchen window. Each one looks nearly identical to the first one I saw. Big build, bald, dark eyes, and razor-sharp teeth. They all grin at us, hungry looks on their faces.
“We figured the front door wasn't safe so…” one vamp says, and he lets himself trail off as if it's self-explanatory. ‘You killed the guy that came through the front door so we came through the window’ makes sense.
Beckett slides a small slender knife out of his waistband, holding it menacingly in front of himself. Ember grips her already bloodied sword, getting into a prepared stance.
“Yeah well, we don't enjoy unexpected guests.” Ember snaps, her voice fierce. It looks almost strange, so much strength coming from a small body.
“Sorry to impose, but you know how it is when the higher up gives you an assignment...Parallax wants the weapon so just hand it over” Beckett cuts off the vamp, bold to do since they keep crawling in. I wonder offhandedly how long Beckett's portal will stay open.
“Shut it! You will not get the weapon.” Wait, the weapon? As in, the one the stars made? Do the siblings keep it on them?
The vamps growl as we all realize at once that the small talk is over. I'm not sure what happens next, all I know is Beckett grabs me and drags me like I am weightless, and tosses me into the lavender mist swirling on the floor. Then I feel a tight pressure around my whole body, and like someone sat on my chest.
Then I'm rolling onto another floor, a nice sleek wooden floor. I kneel there for a moment, staring down at my hands that plant firmly onto the ground; where I'd like them to stay.
“Ah, you must be Astra. Have the twins gotten themselves into a twist?” I look up abruptly trying to find the voice, I see a man in his mid-thirties standing barefoot in his kitchen pouring tea into an oversized mug.
“Uh...vamps?” My lungs feel tight from my trip through Beckett’s portal. Also, I feel a bit silly kneeling on this guy's floor. He doesn't seem shocked at my answer, instead, he nods and dips his tea bag in and out of the steaming water.
He is tall, with long legs that outgrew his pants, so his ankles are showing. My aunt would say, ‘looks like he's going to a flood’. He has long blonde hair and pulled back in a ponytail, he has deep brown eyes and a thin mouth. Honestly, he looks a bit like how I would picture an elf looking. A small part of me feels like I've seen him before, or maybe someone very similar looking.
“Yes well, they'll be coming through soon.” He says, not concerned at all for their safety. Again, like they do this often. “Not to be rude but, are you going to get off my floor any time soon?” He asks it as a question, but his all-knowing tone makes it sound more like a suggestion, so I push myself to my feet quickly.
“Do they, uh, do this often?” I ask, risking sounding stupid to have an answer to the question that's been causing me to spiral all evening. The man tilts his head curiously, rolling his eyes to the ceiling as if to search for the answer up there.
“Define, ‘often’?” I gulp, that doesn't help at all. “Does that make you feel afraid, Astra?” What a strange question. What a strange day, a little voice in my head coincides. I just nod, not knowing what else to say. He looks even more confused after.
“I mean, that's the normal reaction to this stuff right?” He nods his head, but his eyes say no.
“Well, not for you it's not.” What? Another vague person, evading answering me. Before I can make him elaborate Beckett and Ember come through the portal, and he waves it away with another small gesture of his hand.
Shockingly, I feel a small bit of relief when I see them alive and well. Well, at least Ember, who only looks a little bruised up. Beckett has a cut along his forehead, it bleeds into his right eye and drips down his cheek. Nobody looks fazed by this.
“Astra, I see you've met Alatar.” Ah, it makes sense. The name fits the man. He sips his tea and waggles his eyebrows at us from over the mug. I notice now his kitchen seems very magical, with plants everywhere and a nice earthy smell filling the air. A small cat resides on top of his fridge.
“Yes, we've met. But come now, you two never come visit this old man unless you need something.” Old man? How old is he exactly? The lack of gray hairs and wrinkles makes me say forty at the oldest. Beckett scoffs and walks to Alatar, nudging his shoulder.
“These two got us on a death mission.” Anger builds in my chest and I glare at him, hoping he can feel it from across the room. His eyes meet mine, and the same buzzing energy hits me. Only this time, Alatar looks at me in shock. Does he feel it too? If he does, he says nothing about it. Instead, he reaches over and places his two first fingers on Beckett's wound, which starts to glow a vibrant orange.
Before I can even register that, the wound is healed, and Beck is wiping the blood from his face. No freaking way.
“You’re a wizard!” I yell, a smile pulling at my lips. Finally, something cool happens. Alatar rolls his eyes at me though and sips his tea some more.
“He prefers warlock, makes him feel stronger,” Ember says knowingly and laughs lightly at Alatar’s offended expression.
“Okay well, ” he puffs, pouting his lip, “if you want help getting into the Umbra Realm from this warlock you're gonna have to play nice.” I feel my blood go cold. I know enough Latin to know umbra means shadow, so he means Shadow Realm.
“We’re going to the Shadow Realm?” I thought it was dangerous, now they talk about going there? Why would we?
“I mean obviously?” Ember says softly, her eyes concerned for me. I can tell she doesn't want to have to take time to teach me all this new stuff, but she does anyway.
“Where did you think your aunt was?” She continues, “We got word from the vamps Beck tortured that they're keeping her in their hideout there. To save your aunt, we gotta go get her from there.” I was afraid she was going to say that.