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Spark of the Everflame: Chapter 18

“Henri Albanon, I’m going to murder you.”

Henri lounged against a stone pillar outside the family’s home, half-hidden by a tree laden with blooming ivory camellias. I stomped past him, refusing to pause on my warpath for the street.

He jogged behind me. “What happened? Did you get anything useful?”

I didn’t answer at first, too focused on soothing the adrenaline scalding my veins.

“Diem, wait.” He tugged on my arm, but I jerked it out of his grip. “Are you alright?”

I spun to face him. “No, I’m not alright. I almost got killed in there. And I have some serious questions about what happened to that little girl. Did you—”

“Killed?” His focus skipped across my face, then down my body. “Are you injured?” He fell deadly still, eyes narrowing. “Did he do something to you?”

“No, but he came a foot away from catching me hiding under his desk, and if he’d found me there—”

Under his desk? You got into his office?”


His expression went slack. “You… got into… Evrim Benette’s personal office…”

I glowered. “Try to look a little less shocked.”

“Was he there with you?”

“Not at first.”

“Did you find anything?”

I huffed and grabbed his wrist, dragging him around a nearby hedge until we were out of the public view. I reached into my satchel and handed over the documents I’d spirited away.

As he slowly rifled through them, I suddenly felt small and insecure, a nervous student cringing in wait for their teacher’s assessment. Despite my irritation at how the mission had unfolded, joining the Guardians was my only real chance at getting the vengeance against the Descended I so desperately craved, and these documents were the keys to my acceptance.

“I don’t know if they’re useful,” I said, already guarding my heart for his disappointment. “That was all I had time to copy.”

I paused, waiting for him to speak, but he only gazed at the papers in torturous silence.

My anxiety grew by the second. Had he expected more? Had I just wasted a crucial opportunity?

“I also heard a conversation. Something about Sophos researching explosives. And he mentioned orders from Fortos and—”

Henri gave a loud, abrupt laugh.

My shoulders slumped. “Is it not enough?”

Not enough?” He laughed again and carved a hand roughly through his hair. “Shit, Diem. I didn’t expect you to get anything. I didn’t think he would even let you out of his sight.”

My head cocked. “Then why send me in at all?”

“The point of the test is to show that you’re willing to try.” He grinned. “No one ever actually completes their first mission.”

“Are you joking? I almost got killed just to prove that I would try? I swear to the gods, Henri, I really am going to murder y—”

He lunged forward and wrapped me up in his arms, lifting me into the air as his lips crushed against mine and stole my words away. “I’m so proud of you,” he said breathlessly. “This is incredible, D. Most of the Guardians wouldn’t be brave enough to do what you just did.”

I froze, my temper paralyzed by his unexpected words.

“These documents…” He released me and stared again at the papers in his hands. “You have no idea how valuable these are. This is…”

He shook his head and gazed at me, his smile nearly blinding. His eyes glowed with admiration, his expression one of wonder and a reverent kind of pride.

Warmth spread through me—he’d never looked at me like this, not in an entire lifetime of knowing each other. This was something more than friendship or even love, something that went beyond merely being impressed. This was respect—the kind that could only be earned through trials and proof.

I’d seen it in strangers’ faces when they looked at my parents or spoke of their illustrious careers, but I’d never felt it myself. All my life, I’d stood in the shadow of their well-earned greatness. Now, for the first time, I felt like someone who might be worthy of greatness myself.

Or at least someone capable of it.

“You truly think these will be useful?” I asked.

“Diem, this is some of the best intelligence we’ve ever had. The Guardians have been trying to find information on Benette’s business for so long. This isn’t just information—this could be enough to blow it up entirely.”

A grin slowly crept up my lips. “Really?”

“Yes, really. If they had any doubts about letting you in, this will put an end to it.”

“Doubts?” My happiness faltered. “Why would they have doubts about me?”

He tensed. “I only meant—you know, they’re sensitive about new members. And with your father’s history in the army and all…”

“Why should that matter? Brecke’s in the army, and he’s a member, isn’t he? I saw his tattoo.”

“We have many members in the army. But they’re all soldiers or tradesmen, not high-ranking officers. Not people loyal to the Descended.”

I pulled back and frowned. “My father isn’t loyal to the Descended, Henri.”

He stared at me for a few beats. “Diem…” His head tilted slightly, his features softening. “He led battalions for decades. Do you know how many rebel cells he attacked? How many Guardians he’s responsible for capturing or killing?” His tone was gentle, but I couldn’t miss the judgment in his eyes.

It’s not that I wasn’t aware—I’d heard the accusations before, I’d even made them myself the other night. But to realize that joining the Guardians might set my father as my own enemy…

“It’s not always so black and white,” I argued, a heaviness knotting in my stomach. “My father fought back in his own way. Sometimes you have to do things you hate in order to stop worse things from happening.”

I wasn’t sure whether I was trying to convince Henri or convince myself.

When he didn’t respond, and only looked at me with a quiet sort of pity, I got the impression Henri had the very same question.

I sighed heavily. “You really think they won’t let me in because of my father?”

“When you show up with these documents? Gods, D… they’re not only going to let you in—I wouldn’t be surprised if they give you a whole team of your own.” A delighted grin returned to his face. “You’re going to be a hero.”

My pride swelled, and with it, my arguments shriveled on my lips.

I still had concerns—too many, if I was really being honest—but for once in my life, I felt a sense of purpose. Of righteousness.

This was a path I had chosen, free of my family’s influence or the expectations of society, and through it, I could help far more people than the occasional patient. If I could work with the Guardians to win this war, I could help every mortal in Emarion and ensure peace for generations to come. No more violence, no more suffering—surely that was worth more than whatever worries were shouting from the back of my conscience, wasn’t it?

Besides, I could be more careful, take fewer risks. I could lay ground rules with the Guardians—lines I wasn’t willing to cross. If Henri really believed I could be a leader within their ranks, I could use that to ensure we fought this war with honor, never sacrificing one innocent life to protect another.

There was so much I had the potential to do.

The one thing I couldn’t do was nothing.

I drew in a deep breath and nodded. “Alright then. Let’s go meet the Guardians.”

“We’re here for the card game.”

Henri and I stood outside a nondescript door on the back side of a seedy, run-down tavern. The evening air was damp and brisk, and both of us were wrapped tightly in thick woolen cloaks. I couldn’t stop myself from tugging my hood down over my head every few seconds, my focus darting around constantly in a sweep for prying eyes.

Outside the door, a burly man sat on a stool with arms crossed. He was slouched against the wall, a broad-brimmed hat pulled down nearly over his eyes and looking immensely bored.

“Quiet night tonight,” the man said.

Henri’s voice dropped to a whisper. “But the tree burns on.”

The man tilted his hat up, then studied the two of us, his eyes sticking on me. “No card game here,” he said finally, taking a lazy drag from his pipe.

“Come on, Brother—you know me.”

“No card game here.”

Henri glanced over his shoulder, then flipped his cloak away and pulled at the back of his tunic. The fabric bunched upward until the image of spindly roots appeared on his skin—the base of his Everflame tattoo.

“That good enough for you?” he hissed as he pulled the fabric back into place. “Let us in.”

“I said there’s no card game here.” The man jerked his chin toward me. “Not for her.”

I shifted my weight uneasily.

“She’s new,” Henri said. “The Father arranged her test, and she’s already passed it. And she brings an offering—a really good one.”

“I don’t care if she brings the keys to the royal fuckin’ palace. Until someone that matters tells me she’s in, there’s no game for her.”

“I just need to talk to him and show him what she’s got. Give us five minutes, Dar—”

Watch it,” the man snapped, rising to his feet. “Remember the rules, or there’ll be no game for you either, Brother.”

Henri bristled. “My apologies, Brother. But I’m telling you—the Father is going to want to see what she brought.”

The man looked between the two of us, then came over and stood in front of me. Without warning, he jerked my hood down and grabbed my chin, pulling it closer.

A smarter Diem might have remembered that she was supposed to be acting obedient and loyal to prove herself worthy to these people. A smarter Diem might have let this stranger manhandle her a bit if it convinced him she wasn’t here to cause trouble.

But I had always been an act first, think later kind of girl.

I grabbed his wrist and wrenched it from my face, then slammed my other fist into his chest, carefully targeted on the soft flesh below his sternum. Breath wheezed out of him as he doubled over, groaning in pain.

“Diem, stop!” Henri wrapped an arm around my waist and dragged me away. “What are you doing?” he hissed in my ear.

I gave him a glare that said Shouldn’t you be the one defending my honor? but a round of boisterous laughter froze us in place.

Though still hunched over, the man’s shoulders shook with each rumbling chuckle. “Now there’s a woman who knows how to land a punch.”

He straightened and took me in anew, a terrifying gleam in his eyes. I couldn’t tell if he wanted to bed me or kill me.

“You,” he pointed to Henri, “go in and speak with the Father.” His lips twisted. “She stays with me.”

Henri started to protest, but I nudged him forward. “Go on, it’s fine.”

He hesitated. “Are you sure?”

I made a show out of curling my fingers into a fist as I returned the man’s smirk. “Don’t worry. Me and Tiny here are going to be best friends.”

His grin widened.

Henri gave me a pleading look that was half panic, half admonishment. “Just give me a few minutes.” I waved him off, and he disappeared inside.

The silence grew tense as the man and I each tried to intimidate the other with equally malicious smiles.

“You’re the Bellator girl,” he said.

I didn’t respond.

“You’re not supposed to be here.”

I ached to ask why, but I refused to give him the satisfaction.

“How’s the ribcage feeling?” I asked instead.

He gave a low, dangerous laugh. “So what’s this offering you brought that’s so special?”

“Why don’t you come try to touch me again, and I’ll show you.”

He snorted. “Big words for a little girl.”

“Better a little girl than a little…” My gaze briefly dropped to his crotch, and I clicked my tongue sympathetically.

His lip curled. “You do remember that you need my permission to get inside, don’t you?”

“Really?” My eyebrows lifted. “You said only ‘someone that matters’ can make that call. But when I do finally speak with the Father—” Whoever the hell that is, I thought flatly. “—I’ll be sure to ask him if he got your permission first.”

A moment later, the door swung open. A group of three men strode into the alley and formed a semi-circle around me, Henri following close behind. The air was so rich with violent energy, my hands flexed with an urge to fly to my weapons.

The man who’d positioned himself directly in front of me stepped forward. He was older, near my father’s age, skin rough and marked with the scars and wrinkles of a hard-worn life. Something about him was distantly familiar, though I couldn’t place his face in my memory.

“You’re the healer that went into House Benette?” he asked.

“I am.”

“And you were able to get documents from Evrim Benette’s office?”

“Only a few.”

“Show me.”

I shot a glance at Henri, who nodded and gestured to my satchel. I pulled out the documents and, hesitating for a heartbeat, held my breath as I handed them over.

The three men huddled close, mumbling comments too quiet to hear. I watched the other two men react with shock, their lips parting and nostrils flaring wide, but the man who had initially addressed me gave no reaction.

Again, my insecurity surfaced. I hated, despised, that I so deeply needed the approval of these men. I’d grown accustomed to the confidence that my proficiency as a healer had earned me, the sureness of self that came with being an expert in my field and experienced beyond my years.

But here, I was nothing and no one, a woman they did not know raised by a man they did not trust. To these three strangers, my only worth lay in the scraps of paper in their hands—and if that wasn’t enough to impress them, my time as a Guardian could be over before it began.

The longer their whispered deliberations stretched on, the higher my anxiety rose, and I found myself rambling before I could stop the words from coming out. “The names—they were from his customer ledger, I think. It was a large book, but those were the most recent entries.”

The man in the center glanced at me, then back down. “Is this all?”

I stiffened. “I… I also overheard a discussion. I’m not sure who it was with, but they were discussing shipments and purchases from other realms. And research—something about explosives.”

All three men stilled at that.

“Tell me,” he demanded. “I want to hear everything—every detail, no matter how small.”

I recounted all that had happened and all that I’d seen and heard, leaving out only the details of the two children I’d met and the things they’d shared. Though I’d already betrayed my healer’s vow, there were some boundaries too sacred to cross—even for me.

When I finished, the man folded up my documents and handed them to the others. He crossed his arms over his chest and gave me a long, indecipherable stare. “Did anyone there recognize you?”


“And no one saw you go in or out of his office?”

I shook my head.

One of the men turned toward him. “You can’t really be considering letting her in. Do you realize who she is?”

He continued to watch me, his dark eyes drilling into my own. “I know exactly who she is.”

“Then you know why she’s off-limits.”

He narrowed his gaze. “How old are you, girl?”


“An adult, then. Capable of making your own choices and deciding for yourself where your loyalties lie.”

It didn’t feel like a question, but I nodded nonetheless. “I know what you’re fighting for. And I know the risks. I’m not afraid. I want to help.”

Something tingled against my skin. A chill from the evening cold, perhaps, or my conscience warning me of the dangerous line I was about to cross. Or…

I glanced over my shoulder into the darkness of a nearby alley. My eyes squinted as I peered closer, scouring the shadows.

“Father,” the third man said, drawing my focus back to the men, “I have to agree with my Brother. She’s a Bellator. She shouldn’t be here. It will cause too many problems when…” He stopped himself, but he tipped his head to me with a loaded frown.

The man in the center—the man I now realized was this Father they kept referring to—glanced back at the guard I’d socked. “And you, Brother—what do you think? Is she more trouble than she’s worth?”

His lips spread into an enormous grin. “Oh, it’s up to me, is it?”

I almost groaned.

He sauntered over until he was standing so close, the folds of my cloak brushed against the dark curls that sprang free from his half-bared chest. I wanted to choke on the smug arrogance on his face, but I forced myself to fix my chin high.

His hand rose to my face as if to grab it once again. I jerked back and raised a clenched fist in warning. Even if I’d already lost, I sure as hell would go down swinging.

He laughed and dropped his arm. “You got fight in you, girl. We need more of your kind around here.” He turned back to the man in the center. “I say let her in.”

“Then it’s decided,” the Father said. A dark smile curved his lips. “Welcome to the Guardians of the Everflame.”


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