Astra

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5.) Umbra

I don’t find myself feeling bad at all that Beckett was in a sour mood. I wasn’t going to be able to rest until my aunt was safe, especially since I knew I was the cause of it.

“Why are these vamps after me, Ember?” My voice broke the silence, and her face registered as she’d rather not answer my question, so I pushed. “I ask you because you seem to have some sympathy towards my situation. So, please.”

Silence hung between us for a moment, I could hear Beckett hissing sharp phrases to the man they called Alatar over the phone. Finally, she took a deep breath and came 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 trailed off, stress lines pulling at her delicate features.

“My uncle is...was?” I wasn’t 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 was talking about him in the past tense, and doing so made my chest feel heavy.

“Yeah well, a lot of people who fought in the Umbra Bellum came out, ‘not the nicest’.” She used air quotes and I pondered for a moment, I already had a bunch of questions.

“What’s the Umbra Bellum?” My accent doesn’t do the wording justice, so it came out less fluent than when she said it. Her eyes grew darker, they lost their warmth, and her voice dropped 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 sat 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 mind. Suddenly I felt like nothing was real, and everything was a lie.

“Who’s Parallax and how did the...stars...make him mad?” Ember looked 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 laughed like it did 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 looked at me strangely but didn’t say anything, I can’t pinpoint the emotion behind her eyes.

Before she could speak any further Beckett strode 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 scoffed, mocking his uptightness. But louder than her laugh is the below of a deep cry coming from the hallway, it grew louder with each moment and I was 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 hissed at her brother under her breath, sliding her sword out of its sheath and pulling my body behind hers. I cowered like a wimp behind Ember, I’ve seen her handle a vamp before.

Beckett grabbed my arm, his fingers tightly squeezing, and pulled me to his side. The electricity erupted yet again, but I paid no mind. Not now. Not while I know we are in danger.

The door flew open, and I let out a scream; leaning into Beckett’s side in shock. The vamps scanned quickly, three of them in total, but one in particular seemed out for blood. He sniffed the air as an animal would, and when his eyes met mine he grinned widely. In a flash he jumped at Ember in an attempt to plow her down and get to me. Ember sprung to action, turning her body to the side to avoid getting tackled and planting a firm kick to the center of his chest.

He stumbled, hissing and baring his teeth. I looked back to Beckett who had his eyes peacefully closed as if his tiny sister wasn’t sparring a vampire. His hands were dancing in the air, tracing invisible drawings with his long fingers.

To my surprise, the drawings hovered in a silver mist for a moment before falling finely towards the cluttered ground. “One portal, coming up.” Beckett muttered after just a few seconds, opening his eyes. I watched in awe as the lightly falling mist gathered into a silver oval that began rapidly swirling on the floor.

Ember let 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. Three headless bodies sprawl on the floor, their heads rolling by Ember’s boots. She let out a sigh of success, rolled her shoulders, and wipes a blood smear off her pale cheek.

“See now, I told you to check the perimeter,” Beckett said in a cocky tone that Ember responded to with a roll of her eyes. With a huff, she gave him the finger, and I just dropped my head into my hands. I was overwhelmed with everything I’ve seen so far, vampires and portals, and crime-fighting siblings; yet they seemed as though this was an average Friday.

The thought crossed my mind again, maybe it is a normal Friday for these two. The thought made me shiver.

From behind me, there were several loud crashes, causing me to scream again and flinch closer to the ground. Beckett grabbed me and yanked me to his side, which I had strayed from. In my fear I welcomed the rush of electricity.

We turned, there were 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. It’s as if every vamp was a copy and paste creation. They all grinned at us, hungry looks on their faces.

“We figured the front door wasn’t safe so…” one vamp said, and he let 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 slid a small slender knife out of his waistband, holding it menacingly in front of himself. Ember gripped her already bloodied sword, getting into a prepared stance.

“Yeah well, we don’t enjoy unexpected guests.” Ember snapped, her voice fierce. It looked almost strange, so much strength coming from a small body. But with her gleaming sword and bloodied black clothes, she appeared much more menacing than her cold demeanored brother.

“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 cut off the vamp, bold to do so since they kept crawling in. I wondered offhandedly how long Beckett’s portal would stay open.

“Oh, cute, you guys actually think you’re going to win here?” Embers taunting made me more nervous, how long until they attack? “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 growled as we all realized at once that the small talk was over. I’m not sure what happened next, all I know is Beckett grabbed me and dragged me as though I am weightless, and tossed me into the silver mist swirling on the floor. It was all so fast I didn’t even have time to gasp from shock, it got stuck in my throat. Then I felt a tight pressure around my whole body, and like someone decided to sit on my chest.

Then I’m rolling onto another floor, a nice sleek wooden floor. I knelt there for a moment, staring down at my hands that plant firmly onto the ground; where I’d like them to stay. In total it was probably only about six or seven seconds, and I kneel there waiting for my mind to catch up to my body.

“Ah, you must be Astra. Have the twins gotten themselves into a twist?” I looked up abruptly trying to find the voice, I saw 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. Embarrassment heats my cheeks as it dawns on me that it may be a bit silly kneeling on this guy’s floor. He didn’t seem shocked at my answer, instead, he nodded and dipped his tea bag in and out of the steaming water.

He was tall, with long legs that outgrew his pants, so his ankles were showing. My aunt would say, ‘looks like he’s going to a flood’. His long blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail, his deep brown eyes looked over carefully and a smile pulled at his thin mouth. Honestly, he looked 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. He turned his head to sip his tea, exposing his ears that ended in an upwards point. Maybe he was an elf?

“Yes well, they’ll be coming through soon.” He said, 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 asked it as a question, but his all-knowing tone makes it sound more like a suggestion, so I pushed myself to my feet quickly.

“Do they, uh, do this often?” I asked, risking sounding stupid to have an answer to the question that’s been causing me to spiral all evening. The man tilted his head curiously, rolling his eyes to the ceiling as if to search for the answer up there.

“Define, ‘often’?” I gulped, 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 coincided. I just nodded, not knowing what else to say. He looked even more confused after.

“I mean, that’s the normal reaction to this stuff right?”I asked, risking silliness once more. He nodded his head, but his eyes said no.

“Well, not for you it’s not.” What? Another vague person, avoiding answering me. Before I could make him elaborate, Beckett and Ember came through the portal, and he waved it away with another small gesture of his hand.

Shockingly, I felt a small bit of relief when I saw them alive and well. Well, at least Ember, who only looked a little bruised up. Beckett had a cut along his forehead, it bleeds into his right eye and drips down his cheek. Nobody looked fazed by this.

“Astra, I see you’ve met Alatar,” Ember chirped. Ah, it makes sense. The name fits the man. He sipped his tea once more and waggled his eyebrows at us from over the mug. I notice now his kitchen seems very homey, with plants everywhere and a nice earthy smell filling the air. A small cat with fluffy white silvery fur resides on top of his fridge, the whole essence radiating ‘home’ to me, and ‘safe’.

The cat flicked her tail when I looked at her, her green eyes staring me down. A butterfly fluttered through her vision and took her attention. “Beautiful cat,” I whispered, but nobody heard me as they continued their conversation.

“Yes, we’ve met. But come now, you two never come visit this old man unless you need something.” Old man? How old was he exactly? The lack of gray hairs and wrinkles made me say forty at the oldest. Beckett scoffed and walked to Alatar, nudging his shoulder.

“These two got us on a death mission.” Anger built in my chest and I glared at him, hoping he could feel it from across the room. His eyes met mine, and the same buzzing energy hit me. Only this time, Alatar looked at me in shock. Does he feel it too? If he did, he said nothing about it. Instead, he reached over and placed his two first fingers on Beckett’s wound, which started to glow a vibrant orange.

Before I could even register that, the wound was healed, and Beck was wiping the blood from his face. No freaking way.

“You’re a wizard!” I yelled, a smile pulling at my lips. Finally, something cool happens. Alatar rolled his eyes at me though and sipped his tea some more.

“He prefers warlock, makes him feel stronger,” Ember said knowingly and laughed lightly at Alatar’s offended expression.

“Okay well, ” he puffed, pouting his lip, “if you want help getting into the Umbra Realm from this warlock you’re gonna have to play nice.” At that my blood runs cold, gooseflesh rippling over my skin.. I knew enough Latin to know umbra means shadow, so he meant the 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 said softly, her eyes concerned for me. I could 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 continued , “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.

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