Spark of the Everflame: Chapter 10

That night, Henri secured a room at an inn above a local tavern to spare us the misery of camping on Fortos’s hard, rocky soil.

The tavern was warm and raucous, alive with boisterous voices that rang out with laughter, debate, and the occasional drinking song. In the middle of the room was a roaring fireplace that filled the air with the scent of smoke and pine.

I scanned the room, quietly grateful there wasn’t a Descended in sight. Though the villages of Fortos were not nearly as segregated as Lumnos, it seemed the mortals and the Descended wisely kept to their own where drinking was involved.

After ordering a hot dinner and pints of ale, Henri and I curled up at a small table near the fire. I did my best to smile and nod as he recounted the news he’d heard from around the realms, but my mind was on the other side of town, locked in a cage behind a warded padlock that apparently only the King of Fortos himself could unlatch.

The powder I’d seen in that cage was flameroot powder—my powder. That much, I was certain of. That bottle, that consistency, that color—it was too distinct to be a coincidence.

But why would a medicine be so strictly controlled by the Crowns of Emarion? What could it do that the Descended were so afraid of? And how had my mother gotten her hands on bottle after bottle of it?

“And that’s how I decided to go to Faunos and ask them to turn me into a half-peacock, half-leopard. I really think it will spice up our sex life, you know?”

I blinked at Henri a few times. “Wait—what?”

He smirked. “Ah, you are listening.”

My cheeks flushed, lashes lowering. “I’m sorry. Long day.”

“Anything you want to talk about?” He nudged my untouched plate and still-full pint in silent encouragement. “You’ve looked like a ghost all afternoon.”

I took a long swig of my drink. Stalling.

“Just a lot of memories of my mother, that’s all.”

He reached across the table, his fingers brushing against my own. “Did anything happen?”

The truth clung to my lips, nearly spilling off my tongue. Instead, I shook my head and pushed my fork around my plate.

“Diem… whatever it is, I would never judge you.”

I swallowed. He knew me too well. “The red powder I take—have you ever seen it in any of your deliveries?”

“The flameroot?” I nodded, and his eyebrows lifted. “Is this about what happened last night?”

“No.” He gave me a look, and I sighed. “Maybe. I ran out of it, and without my mother, I don’t know how to get more.”

He rolled his eyes, though the slight curl of his mouth told me it was more playful than annoyed. “The wolf last night was real, D. You aren’t having delusions again, I promise.”

“I’d feel better if I knew how to get more. Just in case.”

He paused for a moment, then leaned back in his chair, eyes glazing in thought. “I haven’t ever seen it myself, but I can ask around to some of the other couriers, they may have—”

“No!” I cried out quickly. A handful of patrons glanced at me in alarm.

If word got to the wrong person that Henri knew about the flameroot—worse, that he was trying to obtain some…

I pulled my hand away from his and tucked it into my lap. “There’s no need for that. I’m sure the recipe is in my mother’s records. Forget I said anything.”

I grabbed my utensils and dug into the plate of food in front of me, stuffing my mouth so I couldn’t say more. I might as well have been chewing on soil for all I tasted it, panic having dulled every sense other than the drumbeat of my heart in my ears.

Henri frowned. “Diem, what’s going on?”

The Old Gods must have been looking out for me, because I was spared from responding by the arrival of a swaggering, thick-bearded man. His lean body cast a shadow on our plates as he sauntered up to our table.

“I heard Henri Albanon was wandering around town with a gorgeous woman, but I was so sure it was a dirty lie that I bet my cutlass on it. Looks like I’m about to be one blade poorer.”

Henri snorted as he gripped the man’s forearm in greeting. “Good to see you, Brecke. I would pretend to be insulted, but I can’t believe she’s willing to be seen with me, either.”

“That makes three of us,” I teased.

Brecke grinned. “And a fiery one, too. Are all Lumnos women like her? Maybe I’m in the wrong realm.”

Henri slid an arm around my waist and tucked me possessively into his side. “I assure you, there’s not another woman like this in all of Emarion.” He winked at me, his smile radiant with affection, and my heart stumbled. “Brecke, this is Diem Bellator. Diem, meet Brecke Holdern.”

The man appeared to be deep into his third decade, and despite the faint web of creases at his eyes and mouth, the brightness of his joy brought a youthful charm. His dark hair was closely cropped in the usual military style, and he wore a tunic embroidered with a rounded temple surrounded by a nine-leaved laurel wreath, part of the standard-issue Emarion Army uniform. Though the fabric’s brown color marked him as a mortal tradesman, his arms and legs were trim and cut with muscles, and his skin was littered with scars—the body of a soldier.

I offered a hand in greeting, and his amusement faltered as he took me in. He grabbed my forearm and roughly pulled me closer, leaning his face to my own. “Your eyes. They’re…”

My smile vanished. “Grey.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it.” His eyes—chestnut, with a touch of gold—narrowed. “Even the Descended don’t have those.”

“Childhood illness,” I said bluntly, tugging my arm from his grasp.

He tilted his head as he looked me over head to toe, studying me more closely.

“If you don’t believe me,” I said coolly, bristling at the scrutiny, “you’re welcome to take that cutlass you mentioned and see if my skin is as tough to pierce as a Descended’s.” I thumbed the weapon at my hip. “Though I can’t promise you won’t lose a limb in the process.”

He gave a wicked grin. He crossed his arms, eyes lighting up at the challenge. “A Bellator, indeed.”

My chin lifted in pride. I may not have been a Bellator by birth, but I took upholding my father’s venerated name as a sacred duty.

Henri, visibly uneasy at the whole exchange, cleared his throat. He motioned for Brecke to pull up a chair, and the two men soon fell into a lively chat about mutual friends whose names I didn’t recognize. I let my mind wander as I focused on my dinner, though I marked how Brecke shot me glances every time Henri looked away.

Eventually the men’s conversation slowed, and Brecke turned to me directly. “Andrei is your father, then?” I nodded, and his expression smoothed, as if he’d solved some great mystery. “And Auralie is your mother.”

“You know my mother?” That was unexpected—though deeply respected among the healers’ circles, she was relatively unknown otherwise. I motioned to his tradesman tunic. “Are you a healer?”

“No, my trade is far less honorable than the noble healers.” He flashed a wide, toothy grin. “I’m a bladesmith. I made a weapon for your mother once.”

Another surprise. My mother never went anywhere unarmed, a trait I’d chalked up to my father’s insistence, but unlike me, she was careful to always keep her weapons carefully concealed. I thought back over her collection of subtle, easily hidden blades and wondered which one had come from his hands.

“She’s a hell of a woman, that Auralie,” he said. “I can see where you get it from.”

Another flutter of pride danced through me, this time shadowed with the whisper of grief.

“How did you meet her?” I asked.

Before Brecke could respond, the table jolted as if struck. He and Henri exchanged matching glares that had my brows rising, but Brecke rubbed his leg and quickly continued.

“We met in the army, and we’ve stayed in touch since then.” His focus ticked down to the sheaths at my hip. “I can make one for you, too, if you’d like. Something quick and stealthy to replace those giant… things you’re hauling around.” His voice dropped, eyes gleaming. “And sharp enough to pierce through thick Descended hide without losing a limb.”

I frowned at my twin daggers. I’d stolen them from my father when I was twelve. My childhood judgment had been awed by their heft and sturdiness, and they had served me well enough in the years since—if, admittedly, a bit bulky at times.

“In fact, I’ve got something that would be perfect for you.” He reached into his boot and pulled out a short, thin blade. Its smooth metal was the color of a storm-darkened sky—the telltale sign of Fortosian steel, one of the only substances that could pierce Descended skin. Its onyx handle was carved with wavering flames on one side and interwoven branches on the other. He balanced it between his fingers, running a thumb along its edge until a wisp of blood appeared, before sliding it across the table to me.

It was an exquisite weapon, the kind I’d normally have to save for years to afford. And if I was going to work at the Descended palace, it would be good to have a blade that might do me some good if things went really poorly.

“I can’t,” I said, even as I ran a fingertip longingly along the cool metal. “It’s beautiful, but I can’t possibly pay for it.”

Brecke shrugged. “Take it.” He unclipped the matching sheath from his boot and tossed it to me.

“You can’t mean that. You could sell this for a small fortune.”

“If I sold it for what it was worth, only the Descended could afford it.” His jovial mask slipped for a split second, something like resentment darting across his features. “I get enough of arming their kind during the day. Just promise me you’ll watch this one’s back.” His smirk returned as he elbowed Henri in the ribs.

Hesitantly, I dared to pick it up. Its weight was shockingly light despite its sturdy feel, but well-balanced in my hand. My fingers grazed the etching along the hilt, noting how the deep grooves caught my skin and improved my grip. A clever design—as much function as form. And the dull grey metal had been brushed to a matte finish, allowing it to be concealed more easily in the dark.

A weapon more suited to an assassin than a healer.

I almost whimpered as I offered it back to him. “I really can’t take this, it’s too generous.”

He raised his hands, refusing to touch it. “Then pay me in a favor. One favor, to be chosen and called in at some later date.”

“What favor?” Henri cut in. He shot his friend a frown that suggested he knew exactly the kinds of favors Brecke usually traded in.

“Don’t get your breeches twisted. Nothing scandalous—unless the lady prefers scandal.” His expression turned positively wolflike.

“The lady does not,” I answered. “Nothing illegal, and if it involves touching any part of you, I’ll slit you open with your own blade.” The threat only seemed to excite him even further. “But I’ll agree to any other favor within my power to do.”

“And nothing dangerous,” Henri added.

Brecke and I shot him matching exasperated looks.

“If it’s not dangerous, it’s not worth wasting a favor on,” I said as I sheathed the dagger and secured it to my boot. I marveled at how its sleek lines were almost undetectable against my calf.

Brecke roared with laughter. “Albanon, you better hold on to this one.” He slapped a very nervous-looking Henri on the arm. “If you can.”


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