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Lightlark: Chapter 6

BONDBREAKER

Isla threw the weapon at Celeste, who caught it in the air, in her power’s invisible grip. “What is this?”

“A sword,” Isla said, pulling her own from behind her spine, where she had smuggled them both into the castle. “And an expensive one, at that.”

Celeste gave her a look. “I know what it is, Isla,” she said. “What I’m wondering is why you’ve brought the ghastly thing into my quarters.”

Isla had long ago learned that the Starling didn’t have the same appreciation for weapons, though her realm was famous for making them with their proprietary techniques and metals. Why would she? Celeste had the power of energy at her fingertips—she could wound an enemy from across the room. In her eyes, a sword was a clunky misuse of iron.

Which, Isla imagined, was exactly why Grim had chosen a duel as his demonstration. Well, he hadn’t said the word duel, but with his clues, he might as well have.

“Our first trial is a duel,” she said. “We’ll need these.”

Celeste crinkled her nose as if she had smelled something foul. “And who told you that?”

“Grimshaw.”

Celeste blinked. “Is that who you were with this whole time?”

“No, just for a bit. Why?”

Celeste gave her a look. “Really, Isla?” She didn’t need to say anything else. Grim was bad news. Dangerous. Untrustworthy.

“I know, I know. But I got this information, didn’t I? Don’t you think he could be useful?”

Celeste shook her head firmly. “No, Isla. I think, if anything, he’ll use you. Us.”

Was that what their trip to the agora had been? Just strategy by the wicked Nightshade ruler?

Of course it was. It would be foolish to believe it to be anything else.

Isla started to wonder if Grim’s heads-up was even accurate. Maybe it wasn’t a duel, or any type of demonstration involving a sword, and he was just trying to fool her into thinking so.

She frowned.

Celeste sighed in a long-suffering way. She placed both of her delicate hands upon Isla’s cheeks and said, “My lovely, lovely, naive friend.” Isla would have balked if it had been anyone other than Celeste saying those words. But even though they were practically the same age, Isla had learned priceless lessons from the Starling. Celeste had taken her under her wing when she had no one other than Poppy and Terra. “You will stay away from him,” she said steadily, a sister warning a misguided sibling who should know better.

Celeste was right. Grim was a distraction. She wouldn’t be the fool who fell for his tricks. Especially when her own mother had died because of her affection toward a man.

Especially when she had made it her mission to prove she was more than the temptress her guardians had trained her to be.

The first step in Terra and Poppy’s elaborate plan was to seduce the king. Steal his power by making him fall in love with her. Without this step, the rest of their strategy was useless. And Isla was willing to do many things to save her realm. But that wasn’t one of them.

Luckily, her friend had thought of another way for Isla to get everything she wanted.

“Good. Now. Even though we haven’t started the demonstrations, the sooner we start preparing for finding the bondbreaker, the better,” Celeste said.

The bondbreaker. That was their plan. In a room full of manuscripts taken from Lightlark, Celeste had discovered a text speaking of an enchanted relic. A giant glass needle with two sharp points on either side that could break any bond that imprisoned a person and their family line—including curses.

But everything on Lightlark had a cost.

The bondbreaker’s cost was blood. Enough to kill even a ruler. That was why, to their knowledge, it had never been used before. On Celeste’s chamber floor, they had come up with a plan to split the cost between the two of them.

And hope it wouldn’t kill them both.

According to the text, the bondbreaker was hidden deep within a library on Lightlark. They didn’t know which one, and each isle had its own. So, they would have to search them all.

Celeste would search Star Isle’s library first. Hopefully, it would be there. If not, the Starling would have to go to great lengths to procure the tool Isla would need to access the rest of the libraries.

And, with their tight timeline, Isla needed to operate under the assumption that she would have to.

The bondbreaker would only break their realms’ curses, not the rest. They wouldn’t win the prize of the power promised in the prophecy. But Isla didn’t care. By breaking the curse of being born powerless, she would finally receive the Wildling ability that had been denied to her at birth. And her realm would be rid of its suffering.

She could return to the Wildling newland free at last—no need to hide in her room any longer. She could inject power back into the land and make it prosper once more. She would have the life of an immortal ruler, centuries to explore the world with Celeste.

Everything she wanted hinged on finding the bondbreaker and its ability to break all the curses that affected her and her realm.

“I’ll start tonight,” Isla said.

To secretly search the libraries on Sun Isle, Moon Isle, and Sky Isle, Isla would need to blend in.

Her dark hair would be the first giveaway to her identity. But she had arrived prepared. Before leaving for the Centennial, she had sneaked into Poppy’s quarters. Wildling elixirs ranged from healing remedies to enchantments to beauty products. Creams that tinted one’s lips, or cheeks, or even, temporarily, hair.

She would have to mix the right color herself, which would be its own challenge, but at least she had the materials.

Clothing was the other problem.

Far past midnight, she crept out of the castle. She committed landmarks along the way to memory. The abbey with a giant single stained-glass eye. The insignia she had arrived upon just days before. A pile of ruins that she liked to think might have once been a lighthouse, powered by Sunling beams. She had read about those in one of the few books she was allowed a year.

Terra learned early on that she liked to read. So, she used books as incentives. If Isla didn’t complain about her split knuckles or sore muscles during training, if she mastered a certain fighting technique, if she threw her throwing stars right at their marks, she was rewarded with a trip to the library.

Isla cherished them, wrote her favorite lines down on paper. Felt pangs of grief when she was forced to give them away in exchange for another.

Only one book at a time, her guardian told her. Don’t be greedy.

She stopped just short of the agora, surprise making her still.

The marketplace transformed when the sun went down. Most shops were closed, their windows dark, but the ones that were open were . . . open. Just as the Wildling Eldress had described.

Somehow, some of the stores had been turned inside out, their walls completely folding out into the streets, no doors to be seen, the ceiling stretched out and wide like a fan. Patrons walked freely inside pubs and, moments later, out, holding foaming, overflowing drinks. Skylings danced in the middle of the road to music that spilled into the night, drums and guitar and voices that forced the darkness to obey its wild rhythm. Sunlings were specks of gold everywhere, enjoying the hours they could be outside.

The agora was lively, disorienting, but Isla remembered the roads from earlier. She took a back way, choosing alleys instead of main streets, following the lines of lit torches until she ended up at the back door of the tailor.

Every light was off. Every window was locked.

When she was sure there was no other way inside, she got on her knees and pulled out her pins. On one trip to the Skyling newland with her starstick, she had trailed a group of thieves, curious. She had watched from the shadows as they used pins and curved needles to work their way into a lock.

A useful skill for breaking into Poppy’s and Terra’s rooms later. For breaking out of her own room too.

The door popped open, and Isla gathered her tools, careful not to leave anything behind. She squinted through the darkness, not daring to turn any of the lights on. A tailor wasn’t typically a place prone to robbery, therefore guards wouldn’t be focusing on this street, but who knew how long it would take someone to stumble into the alley and see her through the window?

Quickly. Her eyes zeroed in on the colors she needed—every Lightlark realm’s hues other than Starling, which Celeste would take care of.

White. She grabbed a simple long-sleeved and high-necked Moon-ling dress.

Light blue. She took a dress with pants that were supposed to be worn underneath, a fashion she had seen a few Skylings in the market wearing.

Gold.

There was no gold. Come to think of it, she didn’t remember seeing the color in the store during her appointment.

Did Sunlings not use the same tailor as the rest of the realms?

Why not?

A voice at the window sent her to the floor. Two friends were leaning against the store, laughing merrily, clinking glasses together. She crawled to the wall and put her back against it, determined not to make a sound.

Half an hour passed before the men moved along, and Isla was gone moments later, careful to close the door on her way out, hoping the tailor would assume he left it unlocked by mistake.

With an armful of silk, she returned to the castle, one step closer to the bondbreaker.


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