“What’s your weapon of choice?” Alatar asked me nonchalantly, coming up beside me as I watched nervously as Ember and Beckett prepared themselves for our trip.
“I don’t have one? I’ve never used one, before today I’ve never had to use one.” My voice came out shaky, and my chest felt unbelievably tight. I wanted to save my aunt, and my uncle, but I also didn’t want to go where more vamps may be.
“Maybe we should leave her here, Alatar.” Beckett snided, his cold eyes looking at me. He calmly cleaned his knife, I noticed now he has several of them all of which are tucked away in various places on his body.
“Don’t be an ass,” Ember scolded. Despite everything that had happened today, a very strange birthday indeed, I found myself grateful for Ember and her advocacy. She mentioned earlier that their parents were, what’s the word, defenders? And they had fought in the Umbra Bellum, causing a rough upbringing. So I had to wonder how she came out to be so kind, while her brother is cold as ice.
“You say you’ve never used a weapon? Strange, as your guardians were instructed specifically to train you to fight in battle. I wonder why they opted out of obligation.” His words weighed heavy on me, and I felt a new burst of questions. Ember’s prior statement comes back to mind and a new burst of questions sprung to my lips.
“Ember said you wouldn’t be happy that my Aunt Amelia didn’t tell me about everything. Does that mean you’ll answer my questions? Because I’m feeling a bit lost right now-” Beckett per usual couldn’t help but cut me off.
“All you need to worry about right now is not dying, alright? Which will prove to be difficult since you’re hell bent on going to get your aunt.” Alatar calmly put up a hand, shockingly enough Beckett just stopped talking and went back to cleaning. Then Alatar turned to me and put a warm hand on my shoulder, looking down at me kindly.
“I will answer any questions you have, once you five are back safe. Alright? Now I’m going to give you this gift, a ring, don’t let anything take it off of you alright? You’ve never been to the Umbra Realm and it’s hard to stay tethered to our Realm. This ring will help. It will protect you.” He placed the ring in my palm, it’s a small silver ring with a dark crystal wired onto it. It’s beautiful. I slid it onto my finger and smiled at him, to show my thanks.
“What is it, exactly?” I can’t help but ask.
“Obsidian,” he winked playfully, “great for protection.” I noticed then that Beckett had already prepared a portal, and Ember was reaching a hand towards me. I found this strange, more than anything else I had experienced today, as I’m not used to kind people like Ember in my life. Besides, of course, my Aunt Amelia.
I took it shyly and she gave my hand a squeeze, comforting me. I think she could tell this makes me nervous. Again, I noticed Alatar looking at me strangely from where he leaned.
“Let’s get in and out, ok? Let’s not dilly dally, and for shits sake please don’t act like a hero and do as we say.” Beckett snapped at me, but instead of getting defensive I just nodded. I was too nervous about this to get on the defense.
Beckett stepped into the portal, his body disappeared into the silver mist and before I could even regain my nerves Ember was yanking me in as well. I felt the same feeling, everything falling out from under me and immense pressure everywhere on my body.
Then I’m rolling onto the ground, my hands and knees finding dirt and clinging to it. I don’t enjoy portal experiences. It feels like the first drop of a rollercoaster over and over again.
“On your feet, Astra.” Ember encouraged me, and I did so quickly. I needed to remember to stay on edge here. The Shadow Realm took my breath away.
It looks exactly like our realm, but with a macabre coating. Everything had dark blue undertones, the air held an icy chill, and the air smelt almost like an old basement. The sky above is a deep blue, not quite black, with not a single cloud to hide the radiant sparkling stars that litter the sky. The ground below us somehow seemed dead, with crusted grass and hollowed out roots weaving in and out of the dry dirt. Even the trees, the few that still stood around us, knotted towards the sky in a weak fashion.
“Woah-” I expected something scarier, maybe blood or dead bodies. This is just like home, just decaying.
“Yeah, it looks cool now, while we’re alone. Try not to look suspicious…” Ember whispered, I notice then that they both have their weapons tucked away from view. Maybe in an attempt to not welcome guests.
“So...where’s my aunt?” We stood in a small forest, if you could call it that, with the few and dying trees, overlooking a small broken down town in the near distance. I’m sure it’s safe to assume she’s there somewhere.
“They’re holding her in their club until Parallax comes to retrieve her. The goal is to use her as bait to grab you. So we’re going to have to get her before he shows.” We began a jog towards the town, which is quicker to reach than I’d originally thought.
“The obsidian Alatar gave you will sort of mask you, Shadow Creatures will see you but they won’t be able to register you as a threat. So just try to not talk or, well, do anything.” I felt grateful for my protection, but I couldn’t help but notice that the siblings didn’t have obsidian of their own.
We got to the town quickly, where we slowed down from a jog to a walk. On either side of me they walked casually, but I could see in Beckett’s eyes that he was focused. My blood runs like ice, vamps walk freely here. They passed us by without a glance. Other creatures walked as well, creatures I had not yet seen. I wasn’t aware that there were so many of them.
There were men whose faces are mainly hair, women with scales, and some people flying by on wings. It’s a whole community of Shadow Creatures. Fear creeps up my neck and I have my steps fall in line with Embers, keeping my arm very close to hers.
Ember is a sleek beauty, but in this world of menace she managed to look even more graceful; I didn’t consider that possible. Beckett, on the other hand, looked like he fits in.
“That ring is really doing nothing, Astra is like a golden beacon.” Ember muttered under her breath, looking around nervously. I wondered in what way I am like a golden beacon. Is it my eyes? I catch my reflection in a dirty window, but my eyes were dulled to a brown and everything about me seemed washed out. The obsidian, maybe?
“You know what else is gonna get us caught? You, looking around like a somethings gonna jump out and bite you. You’re going to draw attention to us.” At his words her face cooled, and she smiled at me. We come to a club, dark with deep purple lights and intense music pouring out the door.
“It’s a literal nightclub? When you said club I pictured more…grotesque things.” They don’t say anything, pushing forward towards the door and heading in. I followed, holding my breath.
Inside it was filled with more of the creatures we’d seen outside, only now they’re all crammed into a small low ceilinged room. It’s pandemonium. Vamps feed in the corners of the rooms, while others drink red liquid straight from glasses. Bile rises in my throat and I try to push it down.
Women with wings danced in cages that descend from the ceiling. I notice immediately that they’re not clothed at all, but instead vines sprouting red flowers wrap around their bodies covering their more sensitive areas.
“Don’t leave my side,” Ember instructed, and then we charged into the tight group of people. I tried my best not to shiver when their bodies bumped into mine, but it’s mostly involuntary. Their kind had attempted my death twice today, as well as already abducted my family, so I’m all set with touching them.
“Here, drink.” A woman said slyly to me, stepping in front of me, successfully blocking my view of Ember who continued to make her way through the crowd.
“Oh, no thanks, ” I said awkwardly, trying to scoot around her. She’s tall, with waist-length red hair, her eyes are completely black and she also wears vines for clothes.
“Drink, you must.” The woman whispered, leaning into my ear and gently taking my hand to wrap my fingers around the small glass. I don’t want to drink it, I know I shouldn’t. But I looked up at the woman, her eyes met mine, and suddenly I found myself raising the cup with light green liquid to my lips.
“I’ll take that, ” Beckett took the glass from me and pulled my arm away from the woman, who now offered a drink to someone else.
“My drink…”, I muttered numbly, my head feeling heavy.
“Has nobody ever told you not to take drinks from strangers?” Beckett hissed at me angrily, looking down at me with a furrowed brow. “From the Fae no less! It’s like babysitting a toddler, with you.” His words stung, I didn’t ask for any of this.
“I always thought fairies were nice.” I retorted, thinking about my childhood books.
“Not in the Shadow Realm they’re not. Don’t ever trust anyone from the Shadow Realm, got it?” We stop our brisk walk back to Ember, he looks down at me but this time his eyes are earnest. The music pounded, and the dull purple lights flashed. In this setting, in this moment, Beckett doesn’t seem like someone hateful; but rather someone who just wants to keep people safe. That’s all he had done so far, besides making rude commentary.
“I have more questions.” I responded, and he only nodded, before we made it to Ember who’s stance at that moment was shocking, to say the least.
She leaned seductively against a door, her dark hair pushed back, daringly showing off the pale of her neck. Her hand rested playfully on a vamps chest, she laughed a little too hard at something he said and I watched in shock as she bats her eyelashes up at him.
“Don’t stare, ” Beckett stated and I dropped my eyes to the dark floor. Why would she be flirting with the enemy? They laughed again, and I peeked up at them through a curtain of hair, dancing bodies hit mine and I forced an awkward sway of my body to appear more natural.
The two of them slunk away, Ember taking his hand and giving him a promising wink before they disappeared into a room further away.
“Now we go,” Beckett stated, and I followed his quick-moving body to where Ember had just stood. The door she had been standing by opened easily, I expected a lock at least, and with one last look over our shoulder, we entered the dark hall.
“Is this where my aunt and uncle are?” I whispered as we walked silently in the darkness, towards the end of the hall I can make out a rectangular shaped thin light; the silhouette of a door.
“Hopefully.” We got to the door quickly, over the feeling of electricity between us I’m able to feel fear tingling at my neck. I’m scared to go through the door, I could hear voices muttering on the other side.
From behind us the door opened from down the hall and I gasped, in a flash Beckett released a throwing knife and I heard it strike wood.
“Don’t kill me, you ass!” Ember said, coming closer holding his knife. Her sword was out and bloodied, I guess the lustful vamp was gone. He took his knife back from her, and we turned back to the door.
Beckett opened the door slowly, it creeped and I clenched my teeth knowing what came next. Only four vamps were inside, they didn’t look up immediately as we entered the bright room; I assume it’s because they never thought we’d get here.
Without a word Beckett handed me one of his throwing knives, and moved towards the vamps. I clutched the knife, feeling better because I at least have defense this time.
“Hey, boys,” Ember taunted, clutching her sword. They finally looked up and growled, getting on the defense immediately. “Let’s dance.” Fighting is like dancing for Ember, she twirls and spins with each swipe, moving fluently. Beckett fights more like a ninja, moving quickly and making sharp jabs; his throwing knives slicing the air quickly.
Ember downed the first vamp quickly, but a second one got her before she could entirely deflect and they tumbled to the ground in a heap. Beckett pined another one to the wall, slicing his head off slowly while it tried to bite at him.
The last one comes at me, stopping directly in front of me and smiling. The flesh I could clearly see in his teeth made me want to gag, but I keep my stare as hard as I could muster.
“Mmm, a new defender.” No, I’m not a defender. I can’t fight like the other two. He jumped at me triggering a scream to come bursting from my chest, I jabbed my knife out and squeezed my eyes shut. I felt the knife impale, the force of his weight made my arm cave at the elbow so he was close enough to bite me.
The vamp slashed at me and tried to bite me but with a grunt I forced my arm straight, the knife going through his chest. He still tried for me, but I turned our bodies by twisting the knife and forcing him against the wall.
He’s strong, stronger than I could ever imagine, but he’s weakened by the weapon stabbing at his chest.
“Where is my family?” I growled, clenching my jaw and twisting the knife some more. His eyes grew wide but he said nothing. Behind me Ember and Beckett both finished off their vamps and came up to my flank.
“Talk!” My aunt and uncle aren’t in this room, at least not that I can tell. I need to know they’re safe, I’ve never tortured before but with a burning rage that fuels my strength I push the knife further. I’m not afraid, any unnerved jitters are now replaced with white hot anger at the people who took my family from me.
“Who...are you?” The vamp asked, I push the blade deeper into his heart. My arm drips with vamp blood and scratches from his attack, I never imagined to see this image.
“Astra, maybe we should-” the vamp laughed loudly as Ember spoke.
“Astra? You had balls bringing her into this Realm…I won’t tell you where your aunt is-” Beckett jumped forward with his other knife, this time slashing the vamps head clean off.
I let the body fall to the ground, my hand sliding out from his chest and falling to my side. “You killed him before I could find her.” My tone was hard with my anger, I felt it radiate up my body, it makes my neck feel hot.
“Yeah that’s what I was trying to tell you? We found your aunt. She’s over there…” Ember said kindly, and I felt a rush of both stupidity and relief. All of the heat left my body as I turned to look for her.
“Aunt Amelia?” I called, following the siblings to a small closeted room I hadn’t noticed prior. Inside wass my aunt tied up and unconscious. I rushed to her side, kneeling beside her and holding her limp body. Her pulse wasn’t there, but she doesn’t even have a scratch on her. My uncle is not here, I think now that he is dead also.
“Let me grab her, we need to go. We killed too many to go unnoticed.” Beckett said, and I almost didn’t let him take her; afraid to let her go. But he’d earned my trust if anything. So reluctantly, numbly, I watched him make a quick portal before he grabbed her into his arms.