Spark of the Everflame: Chapter 14


I returned home that evening with fire still crackling in my veins.

My father took one look at me stomping through the house, and he grabbed two dull sparring swords.

“Outside,” he grunted, tossing one to me.

I didn’t bother arguing.

Though my father’s aging body had put an end to his days on a battlefield, his mind had never really left. Retired and without an army to train, he had turned his children into his new battalion. Until I began working full-time as a healer, he would corral Teller and me outside every single night to pass down his knowledge.

How to fight, by hand and by blade. How to creep up and sneak away. How to spot an enemy’s strength as well as their weakness. When to stand our ground, and when to flee.

We were Andrei Bellator’s most cherished soldiers, and he trained us well.

By now, the routine was so familiar that neither of us had to say a word. A certain nostalgic comfort warmed my too-tight muscles as we fell into position in the open clearing. Lit only by the moon and paint strokes of golden lamplight from inside the cottage windows, we began to move in a wide, slow circle.

He raised his sword high, too high, the blade wavering over his shoulder. Despite my foul mood, I cracked a smile. He was baiting me with poor form, trying to determine how badly my blown temper had clouded my mind.

Though I was quite tall for a mortal woman, I was still outsized by most male opponents, especially the unnaturally large and muscular Descended. Father had taught me not to cower at those qualities and instead see them as strengths.

Smaller means you’re faster and harder to hit, he’d say. Weaker means you’ll be underestimated, better able to catch them by surprise.

But it also meant I had to know my limits. And wasting my energy waving a heavy sword above my head to look menacing was one of them.

“Energy and blood, the two most important resources in a fight,” I taunted, echoing the words he’d so often taught me. “Choose wisely how you spend them both.”

He grinned. “That’s my girl.”

Despite his praise, he took advantage of my decision to hold back, lunging forward to bring his sword down at my unprotected head. I feinted left before spinning right, swinging my blade in a broad arc to his ribcage. I nearly clipped him, but he deflected at the last second.

We both pulled away, panting from the burst of effort as we resumed our circling.

“What happened today?” he asked.

My smile fell. “Injured children. Unfair world. You know, the usual.”

“Must be more than the usual to have you this worked up.”

This time it was my turn to engage, forcing his weight to one foot as he sidestepped a quick thrust. I swept at his ankle with my leg, and he dropped to the ground in a smooth roll that brought him right back to his feet.

“You were watching my right foot the whole time,” he scolded. “Don’t let your anticipation announce your next move.”

A novice mistake, one I’d learned to stop doing years ago. The fact that he didn’t point that out suggested he was more worried than he let on.

“Tell me what’s bothering you,” he pressed.

“I’m fine.”

Before he could argue, I swung my blade in a swift circle to his shoulder. He parried, using my momentum against me to force my blade to my weak side. I twisted in a counter attack, but he knew my habits too well, and his sword blocked mine, the harsh gong of metal on metal reverberating through my bones.

Though I stepped back to regroup, he wouldn’t allow it. He pressed forward aggressively, our limbs and bodies flying through motions as familiar to our bodies as a loved one’s voice to our ears.

With each hit of our blades, I felt my temper rise, my movements turning increasingly sloppy. I knew better than to bring anger into combat, but I couldn’t seem to stop it. Ever since giving up the flameroot, my emotions had become an out-of-control firestorm, threatening to char everything in its path.

The butt of his hilt came down on my wrist, carefully aimed to strike a sensitive nerve. Searing pain rocketed up my arm, and my fingers loosened against my will. My blade thumped to the peaty soil.

“Tell me,” he pressed again.

My resolve fractured.

“How did you stand it?” I snapped. “When you were in the army, how did you stomach serving the Descended?”

It was a question I’d never had the guts to ask him.

Others had. Most in Mortal City considered him a hero, or at least a seasoned warrior deserving of respect, but a few had accused him of being a traitor to his kind. His calm temperament usually paid it no mind, though the occasional heckler had earned a fist to the mouth—from him or from me.

His expression went icy. His eyes darted to my fallen weapon, then back to me—a wordless order. I scowled and snatched the sword from the ground.

“I didn’t serve them,” he said as we resumed circling each other. “I served Emarion. All of its people, mortal and Descended.”

“But you took their orders. You fought the rebels.”

“And I fought Descended at times, as well. My vow was to protect Emarion from any enemy it faced, no matter what blood ran through their veins. And I would do it again, without question.”

I paused and lowered my sword. “But who decides who’s an enemy?”

“The Crowns do.”

“And what if the Crowns are the real enemy?”

“Careful, Diem.” His severe tone matched his features. “You speak of treason.”

My eyes rolled. “Was it not treason to the people of Emarion when they came in and took over our cities and our holy sites? When they cut down the Everflame? When they started slaughtering children for being born to mixed parents?”

He stabbed his blade into the marshy ground, then folded his arms. “Where is this coming from? You never cared about such things before.”

His words felt like a blow.

“Of course I cared,” I shot back defensively, but the truth chewed away at me.

I’d cared. But I’d cared in the ways that affected me. I’d cared when I or the people I knew suffered, when the injustices inflicted by the Descended were forced into my path, disrupting my happy little bubble. And now, I was finally starting to look beyond the oily rainbow prism of that bubble’s edge to the reality of the world beyond.

“These lessons I’ve taught you out here, about fighting and facing opponents…” He trailed off, gesturing to the blade in front of him. “Strength wins, Diem. Strength endures. The Descended have strength on their side, and they always will. Ignoring that will only get you killed.”

“So we should surrender and accept it? You didn’t raise me to do that.”

“No, I didn’t. But what have I taught you about fighting an opponent that’s much stronger than you are?”

I sighed. Years of his lessons flowed mechanically from my lips. “If you cannot be stronger, be smarter. Choose both your battles and your enemies with care. Know when to flee a fight to win a war.”

“That’s exactly right.” He came closer and laid his hands on my shoulders. “Those lessons are as true off the battlefield as they are on it. Don’t you ever forget that.”

His dark umber eyes poured into mine, concern hiding behind his gruff expression. For all his bravery, I knew the reality of sending his children out into this wretched world terrified him. The sparring and the lessons and the memorable one-liners had been as much about managing his own trepidation as preparing us for the battles he couldn’t fight at our side.

“What if I don’t want to sit back and do nothing anymore?” I said. “What if I want to fight back?”

He cupped my face in his hands, his skin rough against my jaw. “I cannot tell you what to do with your life, my darling Diem. But whatever you choose—be smart. And above all, survive. Your life is far too precious to me to be wasted.”

I sighed and kissed his cheek, the wiry hairs of his greying beard tickling my face. “Love you, Commander.”

His shoulders shook with laughter. “Love you too, soldier.”

We grabbed our sparring swords and headed back to the house, his arm draped around me and tugging me into his side. “I’m very proud of the woman you’ve become, Diem. And your mother, wherever she may be, is proud of you, too.”

Though I couldn’t speak through the thick burning in my throat, I offered up a silent prayer that he wouldn’t live to regret those words.


“It’s been awhile since you and Father sparred.”

Teller and I were sprawled out in our beds in our tiny room, his face buried in his schoolwork while I laid on my back and stared blankly upward. We were both far too old to still be sharing a room, but Lumnos tradition dictated a child only move out when they married, and there was little chance of that for either of us any time soon.

“Not since before Mother’s been gone,” I agreed.

I felt his stare shift to me.

“Did you tell him about the flameroot? Or the Descended?”

“No.”

“Are you going to?”

I didn’t answer.

I gazed in admiration at the whorls of light skipping over the ceiling from the candles burning on our bedside table. A memory clawed at the edges of my mind, pleading to be unleashed from the coffin I’d sealed it in. A memory from so many years ago, when I’d laid in this very room, watching the same dance of light and shadow, imagining that I could…

No.

My eyes slammed closed. I shoved the thoughts back into a dark, cobwebbed corner buried deep in my head.

They were hallucinations. Visions. Nothing more.

I swallowed away a lump in my throat. “Teller?”

“Yes?”

“You’re being careful with Lily, right?”

“There’s nothing to be careful about,” he rushed out.

I turned my head to look at him. “I wouldn’t blame you if there was. She is very pretty.”

His face turned a flaming crimson that said far too much. He shoved his head even deeper into his book. “It’s not like that. We’re just friends.”

“Alright. If you say so.”

“Every boy in school would give up an arm to be with her. She can pick anyone she wants.”

“I can imagine.”

“And she’s a princess. The only princess. They’ll probably marry her off to some inbred cousin the moment she finishes school.”

I bit down on my lip to suppress my smile. “Probably so.”

He slammed his pencil down, his voice rising. “And she’s Descended and I’m mortal. You know the rules. No marriage, no children.”

He looked at me, and my wicked grin gave my thoughts away. He balled up a scrap of paper and bounced it off my forehead.

“Fine, fine,” I relented, struggling to wipe the amusement from my face as I turned my attention back to the ceiling.

Perhaps what I said next made me a terrible sister, or a bad influence, or recklessly naive, but to see the light in his eyes when he spoke of her…

“You know I would support you, right?” I said softly. “Even if you were more than ‘just friends.’ Even if you steal her from her cousin-husband and run off to Umbros to elope and have a thousand forbidden babies. I’d be the proudest aunt there ever was.”

And I meant it. Though I couldn’t fathom ever falling for a Descended—I would die before I’d ever allow myself to get caught up with one of them—I would stand by Teller’s side, whatever choice he made. Even if he was rash and foolish and broke all the rules, I would do it, because I knew he would do it for me, too. He always had.

“Be careful, alright?” I said. “No matter what happens, I’ll have your back. Just… be careful.”

He nodded without responding, a thousand words passing unspoken between us. We sat in the dim quiet for the rest of the evening. Though the silence was occasionally broken by the rustling of his papers, I knew my brother well enough to know his mind was far, far away from his schoolwork.

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