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Nightbane: Chapter 7

RISING UP

It was the middle of the night when the balcony doors to Isla’s room burst open. The ocean rose like a hand, and it dragged her out of bed.

She gasped in shock, salt water scorching her throat and nose and lungs. Her shirt scrunched up, her stomach raked against the stone terrace, and she had enough good sense to cling to the balcony pillars, but the sea was too strong. It pulled her hundreds of feet down, straight to its depths.

She choked on lungsful of water, sure she was going to die, until her vision went dark.

When it returned, she was on her knees, hearing the word, “Now,” and then the water was being pulled back out of her as quickly as it had been inhaled, salt scraping against her throat.

The high ceiling was stone. Stalactites hung from the top, sharp as icicles. She was underground. No one would hear her screams. Her eyes still burned from the sea, but she blinked frantically past the sting, looking for a way out. Shadows glinted all around, and suddenly her captors came into focus. They were wearing masks—monstrous red masks that hid their faces completely.

Her kidnapper and the one who had revived her were clearly Moonling; they had to be, to use the sea to their advantage as they had. The rest were not.

Isla spotted the blue hair of Skyling. The gold and red tresses of Sunling. No Starlings she could see. Their clothes were all the same shade: beige. A color that had not officially been claimed by any of the realms.

“Are you sure?” She could just make out the words of a muffled voice. “Perhaps if we waited—”

“There’s no time,” another, louder voice said. “The drek attack is just the beginning. This happens now.”

At first, Isla’s mind had gone straight to Cleo, but now she wondered if the rebels were behind this, the ones Azul had mentioned at dinner. Did they think she was responsible for the dreks? Is that why they were hurting her? Isla opened her mouth, to say anything, but her throat was raw. Nothing came out.

She had no weapons. She was already covered in blood, the skin of her stomach scraped clean. Salt stuck in the wounds. If her hands weren’t tied together behind her back, she could have reached for her invisible necklace, clutched the stone, and watched Grim turn all of them to ash.

Should you ever need me, touch this. And I will come for you, he had said when he had given it to her.

The fact that she was even considering it worried her.

Isla should have listened to Oro from the beginning. Her life was not her own.

Were none of them Starling? Why would they want her to die, when it would mean the death of so many others? She heaved again.

“Don’t move,” someone commanded as some in the group inched forward. She watched them approach and counted her last moments down in her mind.

Cold hands gripped her raw skin—

The world exploded.

At their touch, energy rippled out of Isla like the consequence of throwing a stone in a still pond. Power burst in every direction, sending everyone around her soaring. She heard the crunch of bones as some were catapulted against the stone walls. Screams. She saw the red of the masks mixed with blood.

Someone had been thrown directly into a stalactite, pierced right through their skull.

“I didn’t—” Her voice was barely a rasp. She hadn’t tried to hurt them, even though they’d clearly intended to hurt her.

She didn’t wait to see if they recovered. The energy had torn through her restraints. Isla ran.

The tunnels were dark and musty; she heard the crash of the sea somewhere nearby. There were multiple directions, but she made a choice and kept going, eventually on an incline. She needed to reach the surface. The rebels—were they right behind her? She didn’t stop to listen. Sharp stones stabbed her bare feet until everything began to go numb. Her clothes were drenched in blood, fabric stuck against her wounds.

Just when she wondered if she would be trapped forever beneath Lightlark, there was a path so vertical, she had to climb it on her hands and knees. A wooden door, barely the size of a cupboard, was at the top.

She burst through, into an abandoned shop, covered in cobwebs, dust, and broken glass. Some of it cut her feet as she ran through the door, right into one of the forgotten corners of the agora. The harbor was to her left. She saw the broken ships, some on their sides, some no more than a pile of wood.

Down. She needed to go down to the heart of the market. For a moment, her fingers inched toward her necklace, her mind going there again.

The rebels could be chasing her. Grim would end them all in a moment.

A shiver snaked down her spine. That was the problem.

What was wrong with her?

Isla dropped her hand and raced down the narrow stone road, past shops long closed.

It was late, and the streets were empty, except for a patrolling Sunling guard. When he saw her, his eyes went wide in alarm, and Isla wondered if she should be afraid. Could he be working with the group that had taken her? Some of them had been Sunling, after all.

Before she could worry too long, the guard swept off his golden cloak and draped it over her shoulders. Only then did Isla realize she was in her soaking nightclothes, her body nearly completely visible beneath them.

The cloak was warm, and Isla sank to the ground wrapped inside it while panic spilled around her as more Sunling guards were called. Someone shouted to alert the king.

She knew Oro had received the news when a tidal wave of heat raged across the island.

When Oro had found Isla, shaking and raw skinned, he had looked like he wanted to bring the entire island down. The very ground beneath their feet had shaken as he had said, very calmly, “Who did this to you?”

By the time he had ripped the abandoned house to pieces, the rebels were gone. He had ordered his guards to search the tunnels, and they had found hundreds of passages that no one officially knew existed.

Now, in the throne room, everyone was quiet with fear. Isla had never seen Oro so angry. The only person who dared even look at her was Soren.

“Treason has been committed,” Oro said, his eyes pure fire. His voice thundered through the room. He was standing in front of his throne, addressing a hall filled with all the nobles and representatives across the island. Azul stood down the steps, to his side.

Isla was next to him. Her skin had been scraped away; parts of her stomach had needed Wildling elixir to piece back together. The salt water had made the pain unbearable. Every sweep of the fabric of her dress even now was torture, but Isla wanted to stand here, in front of them, as a demonstration of strength.

“A ruler was attacked. Let it be known that anyone who is found associated with this group of rebels will be strung across the cliffs in the Bay of Teeth.” It was a torturous death, according to Azul. Sea creatures as large as entire parts of the castle lived there, in waters so deep it was rumored no one had ever seen their bottom. “Any ill will toward the Wildling realm stops now. A Wildling broke your curses. This Wildling is the reason Lightlark still stands. You will treat her and her realm with respect, or you will find another place to live.”

The representatives quickly filed out of the throne room when the king was finished. Soren was last to leave, and Isla had the unsettling feeling that he was going to talk to her. In the end, he simply turned and left.

Azul approached, with two guards behind him. “This is Avel and Ciel,” he said. “Two of Sky Isle’s best warriors. They have volunteered to be in your service for as long as you require them.” Guards. They wanted to keep her safe. Avel was a towering blond woman, with her head shaved nearly all the way down. Ciel was the same height, with the same color hair, though his grew long. Their features were almost identical. Twins, she assumed.

The idea that someone outside of her realm, who had no link to her at all, wanted to help her . . . it made her eyes burn with emotion. Not everyone on this island hated her because she was a Wildling, she thought. Not everyone wanted to hurt her.

“Are you sure?” Isla asked them.

In unison, they knelt in front of her, bowing their heads and offering their sapphire-tipped daggers. “You broke the curses, Ruler. We are forever in your debt.”

Isla shook her head. “No. No—you are not,” she said. She thought about the rebels and their attack. “But I will accept your services, at least for the time being.”

She thanked Avel and Ciel, then asked them for privacy. They stood watch outside the doors of the throne room.

Only she and Oro remained inside. By the time she walked up the steps to Oro, he was sitting slouched over, his head lowered. One of his hands dragged down his face. He startled as she knelt before him, so their gazes could be level.

His eyes were bloodshot and devastated.

“I will find them,” he said.

She put her hand on his cheek. For a moment, he stiffened, like he wasn’t used to being touched—who would dare touch the king?—but a second later, he leaned into her palm. “I know,” she said.

“If they had killed you, I—” He closed his eyes, and the heat of his anger was like a wall, mixed with the tinge of something heavier. Sadness.

“I know,” she said again, because she would feel the same way if something happened to him. Their love was a shining link between them. She felt it, lustrous, as she leaned her forehead against his. “I’m here. We’re both here. We’re both fine.”

His eyes dipped to where her dress had partially fallen open, showcasing some of her remaining scars, including the one over her heart, where an arrow had pierced her during the Centennial. No amount of elixir had been able to fade it. She leaned back so the dress fell closed again.

“The healers said I won’t even have a mark from the attack by the end of the week.” She had been treated by some of the Moonlings who had remained in the castle with those injured by the dreks.

“You shouldn’t have a mark to begin with.”

“Oro,” she said. He didn’t meet her eyes. He was looking past her, likely imagining the dozens of ways he was going to torture the rebels once he finally found them. “I want to start my training.”

That got his attention.

“With the dreks, I tried—” She winced against the memories of limbs being torn away, of screeches blowing out her eardrums. “I attempted to use the powers. I really did. Even with people dying around me, I couldn’t summon my abilities. I couldn’t save them.” She grimaced. “But then, underground . . . I didn’t even try, I didn’t even think about it, and I became a weapon. I’m glad I did, but you were right. I want to learn to control my powers so they don’t control me.”

He nodded, looking determined, relieved, like she had given him something to do to help keep her safe.

“You said you had thought of a way to attempt to untangle them?” she asked.

His relief faltered. “Yes,” he said. “But you’re not going to like it.”


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