Spark of the Everflame: Chapter 16

Tingling exploded through my body. That same peculiar icy heat I’d felt in the palace, and then again in the forest, now poured into every crevice, every soft curve, setting my skin ablaze with waves of frost and flame.

A bright flash illuminated my eyelids, followed by an ominous silence.

I waited to feel something—pain, or impact, or whatever lightness of being people ascended to whenever they died. But there was nothing. Only my own panting and the fading sensation that consumed me moments ago.

“How?” he stammered. “How did you…?”

I cracked my eyes open.

Nothing had changed. A child still huddled in my arms. His mother was still dead in a heap against the wall. And the Descended man still stood over me, slack-jawed and stunned.

He missed.

He missed.

He shook his head. “But… I hit you.”

The glint of light against metal caught my eye. Brecke’s blade had fallen a short distance from the man’s feet. If I could just reach it, if I had one more chance…

He followed my line of vision. Sensing my intention, he lunged forward with palms out. Shadows materialized and hardened into a volley of razor-tipped arrows.

I locked up as the darkness surrounded me.

Another icy tingling.

Another blinding glow.

My eyes closed in reflex. When I reopened them, wisps of shimmering mist dissolved into the air.

He’d missed… again? I’d seen the attack with my own eyes—the arrows were on a direct trajectory, locked on to my thundering heart. There was no chance they wouldn’t hit.

And yet…

Our eyes met in parallel stares of confusion, quickly interrupted by the sound of yelling and approaching footsteps.

My plan.

“Fire!” I yelled again, lurching upright. “Fire, over here!”

A crowd gathered at the edge of the alley, including several burly men carrying buckets that sloshed with water.

Years ago, I’d tended to a woman in these alleys who had been stabbed by her lover’s wife. The wounds hadn’t killed her, but they’d left her unable to walk. After hours of crying for help with no response, she’d realized that in Paradise Row, no one was brave—or foolish—enough to come to the aid of a total stranger.

But if she yelled fire… well, that was different. A fire, in these closely packed streets, could take out a swath of buildings in minutes. While the people here might not risk their lives for a stranger, they would do it for their own homes and businesses.

And the people that stood before me now might never intervene to save me from this Descended, but they could be an audience. And that just might be enough.

He looked at the approaching crowd and swore.

I hurled myself toward my fallen knife. My fingers closed around the cold metal just as my shoulder skidded across the grit-covered ground. I twisted my body and swung the blade at his leg.

Instinct guided my hand toward his ankle. Thanks to my training both as a healer and a fighter, I knew a cut at just the right spot could sever the tendon and render him unable to walk, but a trapped Descended who couldn’t flee might decide to take out this entire crowd. I didn’t need the man disabled—I only needed him gone.

My aim shifted up at the last second, and I flinched at the knock of metal striking bone. Hot blood splashed across my fingers as the knife slashed through his fortified skin as easily as warm tallow.

The man roared in pain and jerked away. He yanked the dagger from his leg and hurled it in my direction, but it was more anger than aim, and the knife skittered harmlessly across the ground in front of me.

I grabbed it and glared up at him. “Go now, or I’ll aim for your face next.”

His nostrils flared. I saw in the jerky movement of his eyes that he was committing my face to memory, filing me away to deal with later. He gave a final glance to the boy that nearly had me acting on my threat, then fled across the opposite end of the alley.

Murmuring and grumbles arose from the crowd.

“What’s going on?”

“Where’s the fire?”

“She fuckin’ tricked us.”

I scrambled to where the boy still lay curled into a tiny ball. “You’re safe,” I whispered, gently tugging at his arms. “He’s gone. No one’s going to hurt you now.”

His hand pulled away too easily. There was no strength in his grip, no resistance when I released his arm and watched it thump back to his side.


I forced the child onto his back. His clothing was punctured in too many places to count, his entire front covered in the dark ruby stain of blood. His lips had gone blue, his eyes…

Open. Lifeless.

“No!” I screamed, reaching for his neck.

No pulse.

Think, Diem, I hissed at myself. Force air back into his lungs, pound on his chest, jerk his heart back into rhythm, pack the wound with gauze and give him meadswart to speed the clotting. But with so much blood gone…

It was too late.

was too late.

I drew him into my arms and wept as anguish poured from my lips.

If I’d come by sooner. If I hadn’t hesitated to attack. If I’d remembered Brecke’s blade earlier.

I dropped my forehead to his chest, silently begging his forgiveness for my failures as my hot tears mixed with the still-warm blood pooled on his fragile body.

A hand grazed my arm. “I’m so sorry about your son,” a voice said softly.

I couldn’t stand to look away, could barely force myself to breathe in between my gasping sobs.

“He’s not mine,” I choked out. “His mother—she’s over there, by the wall.”

“Gods… may the Everflame receive them. Did you know them?”

I shook my head, unable to speak.

An older man with thinning grey hair and a curling, peppered beard crouched at my side and touched the boy’s ashen face.

“That foolish girl, getting wrapped up with one of them,” he said, clicking his tongue. “She should have known better than to lay with the kind of creature that would kill their own young.”

A rage born of injustice rooted inside me, as dark and deadly as the thorned vine of the Descended’s shadowy magic.

“So it was her fault?” I snapped. “Look at this boy—she protected him for years. She loved him. She was willing to die to save him.”

He gave me a sharp look. “And what kind of life was he to have, with a death sentence hanging over his head for the rest of his days? Today might have been the first time he ever left his home.”

My body quivered with flourishing fury, now so deeply woven into my devastation and guilt, I couldn’t tell where one emotion began and the others ended.

“He shouldn’t have to live like that,” I yelled. “He didn’t choose to be born to that vile monster. These laws are wrong, they are evil and wrong and that gods-damned King—”

The man shushed me and glanced nervously over his shoulder, though the crowd had already grown bored and dispersed. Dead bodies were hardly an unusual sight in these parts.

“Hold your tongue, woman. No sense getting yourself killed over a stranger.”

“Why not?” I shot back. “This boy was one of ours, too. Shouldn’t we protect him? Shouldn’t we fight back and make them pay?”

These were dangerous words—deadly words. This man could make a pretty penny turning me in for treason. In a city of poverty, I might as well have signed my own death warrant.

But with the child’s corpse still warm in my arms, I couldn’t bring myself to care. Self-preservation had given way to smoldering, infinite wrath, breaking the dam that held back all my words.

“They’re the ones that diluted their own power, all so they could populate our cities and fill our schools. Why should children pay the price while they shun us and shore their magic back up again? Why should any of us bend for their Flaming w—”

The man jerked to his feet and shook his head. “You go get yourself killed, then. I want no part of this.”

He turned, and my hand flew out and grasped his ankle. “Wait—please. I… I need your help.”

It was a blessing I knew this path so well I could follow it blind, because my mind was a thousand miles away.

I’d somehow talked the grey-bearded man into helping me carry the bodies to the forest to give the mother and her son a proper burial. He’d eyed me warily the whole time, and by the lack of questions about my eye color, I suspected he knew who I was, or at least knew enough to find me if he wanted to.

Whether he would turn me in for my traitorous outburst, only time would tell.

Without a shovel, I’d only managed to claw out a shallow grave in the root-thickened soil. I’d laid out their bodies together in a gentle embrace, the boy cradled in his mother’s arms for all eternity. I prayed they found the serene safety in the Everflame’s warmth that the gods never allowed them in life.

It was hard not to think of my own mother at the sight—to wonder whether she might be waiting for them, or me, on the other side. To wonder whether someone had found her body, and whether they’d bothered to bury her in an unmarked grave, too.

Despite the arrival of a blustery rainstorm that seemed determined to linger over my head, I’d gone back to Paradise Row to find anyone who might have known them. In the six months since the fateful day my mother vanished, I’d honed my memory on other details, leaving my brief encounter with this woman lost to the murky edges.

I wandered the alleys all evening, hoping some forgotten detail might trigger a recollection. After several hours I was soaked, freezing, and miserably hopeless.

And angry. So very, very angry.

Earlier my rage had been molten metal, red-hot and flowing in a river of destruction. Now it had cooled and solidified into something steelier. Something sharp and unforgiving.

My fury went far beyond the murderer himself. I hated him, of course—my mind swarmed with visions of what I might do if I ever saw him again, and the voice inside hummed at each progressively darker and more violent scenario.

But the real focus of my wrath was the Descended and the cursed King that put these progeny laws into place.

Seeing the child die had cracked something fundamental inside me. How could I be so useless? How could I watch a murder and not be able to stop it?

Healing now seemed like an absurdly frivolous pursuit. Healing was reactionary. Passive. Being a healer meant sitting idly by and waiting for someone to get hurt.

I was sick of waiting.

The time had come to fight. And I was ready.

My eyes zeroed in on my destination. Please be at home, I thought. Before I lose my nerve.

Through the glossy, candlelit windows of the post office, I spotted Henri’s father at work. He was alone, whistling as he sorted packages for the following day’s deliveries.

I crept around to the back, eyeing the nondescript door that led to the attached living quarters. With my ear to the wood, I caught the muffled sounds of footsteps and a baritone voice muttering to himself. Any other day I might have cracked a smile or plotted how I might tease him, but today…

My fist slammed against the door, a heavy drumbeat echoed by my heart. Inside, I heard the footsteps still.

“It’s Diem,” I grunted. “Open up.”

The door cracked open, and for a moment Henri’s face lit with heated smirk and the spark of speculation about why I might be showing up at his house so late in the evening.

But as he studied me further, soaked clothing plastered to my skin, the splatters of mud and blood coating my arms wiped any salacious thoughts from his expression.

“What happened?” he asked.

“I’m ready. I’ll help you.”

“Help me?” Henri blinked. He stepped aside, opening the door wider. “Come inside and dry off.”

I held my ground. “I want to help you. I need to do something, Henri. Anything.”

“Help me with what?”

“I’m ready to fight the Descended. Whatever it takes.” I took a long, trembling breath. “I want to join the Guardians.”


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