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Spark of the Everflame: Chapter 2



It was less a name than a command—a hawkish summons that left room for nothing short of perfect obedience.

My shoulders pulled taut. This was not the voice of the gentle man I knew, whose kind eyes and calloused hands would wrap me up in a chest-crushing embrace after a rough day. The man who, though we shared no blood, had been the best father I could have ever hoped for.

This was the voice of the man that came before.

The soldier who fought his way up the ranks of the Emarion Army, earning the highest rank ever given to a mortal, both for bravery on the battlefield and leadership off of it. The warrior whose name might have gone down in legend, had he not walked away from it all for a quiet life with a penniless young mother and her wild-spirited infant.

This was the voice of the Commander—and it never meant anything good.

Teller lifted his head from his book and grinned in that infuriating younger sibling way. “What did you do now?”

I rolled my eyes as I finished lacing my boots. “Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s your fault somehow.”

His smile only widened. He knew I was full of it. My brother was our father’s most obedient soldier. If Teller ever found himself scolded by the Commander, it was only because he’d taken the fall for me out of pity to spare me yet another lecture.

“Di-em,” the voice boomed again, the two syllables stretching into a menacing dirge. “Get out here, now.”

“Dead girl walking,” Teller teased.

“Try to sound a little less thrilled about it, will you?” I threw my white, waist-length waves into a sloppy braid, then slung my weapons belt around my hips. The leather sheaths of my daggers thumped softly against my legs as I secured them with a clink of the brass buckle. “Hurry up, I’m supposed to meet Maura early this morning.”

I bounded down the short hallway to the hearth-warmed, wood-wrapped chamber that served as the common room of our small home. As I sidestepped the teetering piles of books that seemed to fill every corner, my thoughts rummaged through the past few days, trying and failing to anticipate what had earned this particular reprimand.

Frankly, there were too many possibilities to count.

I skidded to a stop in front of my father and beamed my most believably innocent smile. My fist thumped to my chest in mock salute. “Present, Commander.”

His eyes narrowed at my use of his former title. It was always a coinflip whether the term of endearment would soothe or stoke his anger. Today, my odds were not looking good.

“Have you been taking your flameroot powder?”

I fought the urge to cringe.

“Yes,” I said, slowly and carefully.

“Every day?”

I shifted my weight. This was going to be ugly.

“I… may have missed a few days.”

“How many days?”

“Things have been so busy. I’ve had a lot to do around here, the center is a mess and—”

“How many days, Diem.” An order, not a question.

I sighed, then shrugged. “I’m not sure.”

He crossed his arms with a deep-cut frown. Despite the wrinkles mapping their way across his features, he still looked the part of the fearsome warrior—tanned skin leathery from years under the Emarion sun, shoulders thick with muscle. “Well, I’m very sure. Do you know how I’m so sure?”

I swallowed a teasing response, managing instead to hold his gaze while shaking my head.

“Because I found this.” He held up a small, crescent-shaped jar containing a powder the color of warm blood on fresh snow. “It was inside my fishing box. The one that hasn’t been opened since I went out on the water ten days ago.”

For a brief moment, the argument played itself out in the theater of my head. I would complain that I was sick of taking the powder, that it made my brain fuzzy and my emotions dull. He would say those were necessary side effects, that the hallucinations the flameroot prevented—symptoms of a disease I’d inherited from my birth father, the same illness that turned my eyes grey and my hair white at age ten—would be far more severe than a clouded mind. I would let it slip that I had actually stopped taking the flameroot weeks ago, yet the visions hadn’t returned. He would tell me that I was being reckless and immature, that my mother would be disappointed.

My mother.

That was a spiderweb I did not feel like getting snagged in.

Experience told me to cut my losses and give in. But even as I hung my head, working my expression into penitence, a persistent voice cried out from deep inside of me—the call of my burning temper.


“Thank you,” I said with as apologetic a tone as I could muster. “I’ve been looking everywhere for that.” I reached to pluck it from his grasp, but his other hand closed around my wrist.

“Diem, I need to be able to trust you.”

Dueling waves of shame and irritation battled for release. I looked away, shoving them both down.

“I know things have been difficult since your mother…” He trailed off, and I knew he was struggling to choose the right word. Disappeared? Left? Was taken?

We’d never had a funeral service for her. Never even admitted she might be dead.

Out of denial, naivete, or just dumb, blind hope, we’d convinced ourselves that she was just away. Left on a trip she’d forgotten to mention. Visiting a distant patient who perhaps needed more help than she’d expected. Any day now, we’d get a letter from her, apologizing profusely and explaining. Any day, she’d walk back through the door.

For the first few weeks, I’d almost believed it. But now, after so long…

Now, we didn’t talk about it. Swollen by months of silence, the truth had become too painful to touch.

“It’s been hard for all of us, with her absent,” he said.


There it was again, that voice that plagued me. A harsh retort took form in my chest, and my teeth clenched to keep it in.

My father’s expression softened. “You’ve done so much to help here at home, and Maura told me how invaluable you’ve been at the center. I see the effort you’re making, and I appreciate it.”

This was the Commander in action. The man who could see a soldier about to snap and reel them back in with kind words and an acknowledgement.

Normally, the ease with which he managed egos was inspiring. Now, watching him turn it on me so seamlessly only further rankled my nerves.

“I only worry for your health, sweetheart. If the illness comes back—”

“I’m fine,” I cut in tersely. “I’m sorry. I’ll take a dose today.”

“Is there a reason you haven’t been taking it?”

My thoughts flickered to a black-eyed woman in a darkened alley.

“I just… I’ve had a lot on my mind.”

“How did that jar even get in my fishing box?”

Because I’m planning to take our rowboat out and leave it at the bottom of the Sacred Sea once I work up the nerve.

“I brought the box in last week. The jar must have fallen in then.” I marshaled a casual smile. “I really need to get going or Teller and I will be late.”

His drawn-out exhale made it clear he was unconvinced by my act, but he released my wrist.

I was almost to the door when his voice rang out again.


I winced and glanced over my shoulder with eyebrows raised.

“I love you.”

My temper dissolved at his gentle words. This generous, thoughtful man who had given up everything all those years ago for me and my mother—he was not the real reason for my anger. I tried desperately to remember that.

“Love you, too.” I paused, then added with a wink, “Sir.”

He gave a rumbling laugh and shooed me off. I grabbed my satchel and bounded out the front door before he could change his mind.

Our house was a simple little thing, tucked away on a marshy inlet that meandered west from the sea at the center of the atoll of Emarion. My father had built it entirely from scratch, wanting a quiet home far enough away from the prying eyes of town. Clearing the swampy vegetation had taken months, but over time, he and my mother had shaped it into the tranquil oasis it was now, a glimmering diamond in a puddle of mud.

This house had always been my safe harbor, filled with memories of sitting on the front porch creating tinctures with my mother, fishing on the water with my father, and chasing Teller through the woods that wreathed the home like a protective shield.

But over the past few months, these walls had begun to feel hollow. Lacking.

“So he finally figured out you stopped taking the powder. What’s it been, a month?”

I shushed my brother, nervously confirming Father was out of earshot. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Teller rolled his eyes and joined me on the forest trail.

I eyed him warily. “You knew?”

“Of course I knew. You’ve been a different person since you stopped.”

“I have?”

“Yes,” he said, his tone suggesting the word was a gross understatement. “I’m surprised it took him this long to notice.”

We walked in silence for a few minutes, listening to the crunch of fallen twigs and dead autumn leaves under our boots, before I spoke again.

“Different how?”

“If I tell you, will you promise not to get mad at me for it?”


He snorted. “There’s a perfect example.”

I stopped and turned toward him with a glare. “Explain.”

“You’re angry. Moody. Stomping around, snapping at simple questions, treating everyone like an enemy.”

He wasn’t wrong. Lately, I’d felt a growing outrage prodding me like a hot iron, the fuse of my temper trimmed alarmingly short.

At first, I’d attributed it to my mother’s absence, but she had been gone for months.

It was in the weeks since swearing off the flameroot that things had really changed. With my mind now clear and my emotions no longer blunted to a dull edge, the injustices of the world grated on me in a way I found more and more impossible to ignore.

The snide comments from Teller’s classmates. The whispered gossip of the townsfolk. The violence and cold callousness of the Descended guards.

My whole life, I’d tried to convince myself I didn’t care what others thought or did, but with the lifting of the fog, I was beginning to realize that I very much did care. And I was sick of pretending otherwise.

I frowned as we fell back into step on the well-worn path. “Are you going to lecture me about it now, too? You want me to go back to being quiet, obedient Diem?”

“You haven’t been quiet or obedient for a day in your life.” He nudged my side with his shoulder. “And I trust your judgment. You’re one of the best healers in the realm. Mother made sure of that. If you don’t think you need the flameroot, you know what you’re doing.”

I grumbled, though my chest warmed. “At least one member of my family trusts me.”

“Father trusts you. He’s just worried about you. We both are.”

“I’m fine, I swear. If the symptoms come back, I’ll start taking it again.” I sighed and hooked an arm through his, tugging him close. “And you’re right. I have been angrier lately. Though I’m not sure if it’s the flameroot or…” I waved a hand vaguely around me, motioning to the world beyond. “Everything.”

“I know.” His voice grew quiet. “Do you think we’ll ever see her again?”

I wanted to say yes. I wanted to assure him that all would be well and this was only a brief hiccup in our otherwise boring lives.

More than that, I wanted to believe it myself.

But Teller had always been the one person I could never lie to, even when the truth was too painful to bear.

“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I thought I would sense in my heart somehow if she were really gone. And Father seems convinced she’s still out there. But for her to vanish without even saying goodbye or sending a letter…” I squeezed my eyes shut to fight off the dread seeping into my thoughts. “She’s always had her secrets, but this is unusual, even for her.”

“And your investigation turned up nothing?”

I stiffened. “It’s not nothing. I found out she’d been going to the palace more frequently the week before she disappeared. One of the royals was unwell, and they’d called on her almost every day. Maura’s been going in her place since then, but she swears she hasn’t seen or heard anything unusual.”

“What about that Descended man you saw her talking to?”

A memory flashed through my mind—dark features cut with a scar, piercing eyes, that enthralling voice. I saw his face every time I closed my eyes, heard his low timbre whispering in my ears when my mind wandered. In the months since, I’d searched for some sign of him, hoping he might know something, anything, that could help me find her.

I’d made the mistake of asking a few of the townsfolk, but I saw the scorn in their eyes when I described my mother following a handsome Descended man into Paradise Row. Rumors that she had fallen pregnant out of wedlock and fled for shame spread like wildfire soon after.

The reminder of it brought my anger roaring back to the surface. In Mortal City, many naive mortal women got caught in the spell of charming Descended men, only to find themselves heartbroken and disgraced. But that would never, ever be my mother—not for a thousand reasons.

“I’m still looking for him,” I responded tightly. “But I’m not giving up. I’ll find her, Teller.”

“I believe you. If anyone can, it’s you.”

Again we walked again in silence, the crushing weight of her absence making the air around us heavy and hard to breathe.

“You don’t have to walk me to school, you know.” Sharpness edged into Teller’s normally mild voice, and I wondered if my newfound irritability had been rubbing off on him. “I’m not a child. If I were with the other mortals, I wouldn’t even be in school anymore.”

“What kind of sister would I be if I sent my favorite sibling—”

“Your only sibling.”

“—my smartest sibling into the lion’s den on his own? It’s bad enough you’re the only mortal at a Descended school, but you’re also ten times more clever than any of those blue-eyed brats. And they know it. If they have half a brain, they’ll sweep you up after you finish next year and send you across the sea to those fancy research institutes in Sophos.”

“If they even let me finish,” he mumbled.

“Why wouldn’t they?”

He looked away, avoiding my gaze.

I grabbed his arm and forced him to face me. “Teller, what’s going on?”

“Come on, D,” he huffed. “You know the arrangement. Mother serves the Crown as the palace healer, and I get to attend the Descended school.”


“And she’s no longer serving the Crown.”

“Maura took her place. They’ve still got their healer, why would they care who it is?”

He shrugged, his dark brown eyes fixed on the horizon. “Maybe they don’t. But is Maura fine serving the palace without payment? She has her own wife and family to care for, Diem. I can’t keep asking her to do that for me.”

My shoulders sagged. I’d been so wrapped up in my own temper and self-pity, I hadn’t even thought about the ripple effect of Maura’s generosity.

Teller finally returned my stare, his features steeled with resolve. “Maybe this is for the best. I hate that place anyway, and with Mother gone, I should be working so I can—”

“No,” I interrupted. “If—when—she returns, she’ll have my head if I let you quit now.”


“You only have one year left. Let me worry about it until then.”


“I’m not letting you walk away from your chance to get out of this cesspool, Tel.”

“Diem, listen—”

A lighthearted voice interrupted our spat. “Haven’t you learned by now there’s no winning an argument against the great Diem Bellator?”

I smirked. Teller groaned.

“Thank you Henri, I’ve been telling him that for years,” I said to the shaggy-haired man swaggering toward us.

Henri flung an arm around my shoulders and grinned down at Teller. “Whatever it is, take my advice and accept defeat. She’s relentless—especially when it comes to you, kid.”

Teller bristled. “I’m not a kid. And this is none of your concern.”

I snaked my arm around Henri’s waist and squeezed his side in a silent plea to back off.

Teller was straddling the cusp of boyhood and manhood, and it had become a growing sore spot. Mortals finished school at fourteen and carved out paths for themselves shortly thereafter. I myself had done the same, beginning work with my mother as a healer six years prior. However, the prestigious Descended academy that Teller attended finished at eighteen, and the particularly bright would be invited to Sophos, Realm of Thought and Spark, to continue their learning well into their twenties.

At seventeen, Teller’s mortal peers were already years into their adult lives, but his Descended classmates had yet to begin theirs. With a foot in both worlds, he was not a boy but not yet a man, and I knew he’d been struggling to find his place.

Henri’s constant teasing didn’t help. With no siblings of his own, Henri fancied himself an adopted big brother, an offer Teller had never quite warmed to.

Henri held his free hand up in mock surrender. “Sorry. Family business. I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

“Unlikely,” I joked, though I shot him an appreciative look as we turned onto the main road leading into Mortal City.

“How’s school?” he asked Teller. “Are our magical overlords treating you with kindness and respect?”

Teller wrinkled his nose at Henri’s dripping sarcasm. “All they talk about is who will take over once the King dies. They’re even taking bets on it. The man’s on his deathbed, and they’re circling like vultures.”

“Deathbed?” I frowned. “The King is dying?”

“You haven’t heard?” Teller’s lips parted in an incredulous stare. “Diem, he’s been sick for months. They say he’s nearly gone now. He lays in bed and stares at the ceiling, waiting for the end.”

“How sad,” I murmured as I thought of the many patients I’d treated in similar states. Teller was still staring at me with a strange look, and I arched an eyebrow. “What?”

“You really didn’t know?”

“How would I have known?”

“Because Mother was treating him.”

Our mother?” I blinked. “She was treating King Ulther?”

Henri matched my brother’s odd expression. “What did you think she was doing up at the palace every day?”

I shook my head. “This doesn’t make sense. If his condition is that serious, why not call in a Descended from Fortos? With their healing magic, they could do far more than a mortal healer could.”

“You know Descended can’t use their magic while they’re outside of their home realm,” Teller said.

“And you know as well as I do that the Crowns can get around any rule they want,” I shot back, earning a loud grunt of agreement from Henri.

Teller shrugged. “Maybe it’s not something a magical healer can fix. My Law of the Crown professor says sometimes the Forging magic itself will decide it’s time for the Crown to change hands, even if they’re young and healthy.”

“If that’s the case, why not simply strike him dead?” I asked. “Letting the man waste away slowly for months seems needlessly cruel.”

“Maybe the magic is as corrupt and soulless as the people who wield it,” Henri muttered. I shivered at the coldness in his voice. He pulled me in tighter, giving my shoulder a squeeze.

Henri didn’t just dislike the Descended—he despised them. Some nights we would lay out by the water, staring at the stars, and he would tell me of his dream that one day Emarion would be free of the Descended and their magic, united into a single nation, as it had been so long ago. I had always dismissed it as a fantasy, but lately there had been a spark in his eyes when he spoke of it—a sense of certainty that day was coming, and that we would be alive to see it.

“Do the Descended really have no idea who the next Crown will be?” I asked.

“None,” Teller answered. “In theory, the magic chooses the most powerful Descended, but measuring their power is more art than science. Some of them can do flashy tricks, but their power drains quickly. Others can only do small things, but they can sustain it forever, even while they sleep.”

“Who’s the betting pool favorite?”

“Prince Luther, the King’s nephew. He’s incredibly powerful, no matter how you measure it. He’s one of the only Lumnos Descended that can wield both light magic and shadow magic.”

I felt Henri tense beside me, his gait faltering, though he said nothing. I shot him a questioning look. “Have you met him?”

His lips formed a tight line. “He comes into town on occasion. He likes to skulk around and gather information. No better than an Umbros spy, if you ask me.”

I looked to my brother. “Have you met him?”

“No, but his sister Lily is in my class. Princess Lilian, I mean. She’s… really nice.” If his splotchy, blushing cheeks hadn’t betrayed him, his casual use of her nickname would have.

“Really nice, huh?” I teased. “Is Lily also really… pretty?” My accusatory grin stretched from ear to ear.

He glared. “She’s Descended. They’re all really pretty.”

“Let me rephrase. Do I need to hunt Lily down and threaten to slip rosebane into her morning tea if she breaks my little brother’s heart?”

“By the Flames,” Teller hissed, his head whipping around to look for eavesdroppers. “Do you have a death wish? You can’t walk around threatening to murder members of the royal family.”

“I didn’t say I’d kill her.” I shrugged irreverently. “In the right dose, rosebane just makes you a very teeny tiny bit temporarily insane.”

“That’s not any better, Diem!”

“What? They used to call it gods’ horn because those who survived it claimed they could talk directly to the gods.” I couldn’t help my grin at my brother’s exasperated groan. “Just imagine, pretty Lily could have a nice chat with great grandmother Lumnos herself.”

“I need to leave before you two get me executed.” Teller broke off and headed for the ornate wrought-iron gate of the Descended academy. “Try not to plot any more royal assassinations in public, please.”

“We’ll take it under consideration,” I said cheerfully, waving goodbye.

Henri grinned. “No promises.”


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