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Spark of the Everflame: Chapter 22

Maura stayed true to her word. Over the next few weeks, the palace called for a healer several times, and despite my promises to behave, she forbade me from taking the job.

Instead, she continued to handle all visits with the royal family herself, occasionally accompanied by Lana.

My silent tension with Lana had reached a fever pitch. Neither of us could look the other in the eye, and we bumbled around each other so awkwardly at the center that we’d begun to catch curious stares from the other trainees. What they suspected, I had no idea, but the truth was that looking at Lana felt like looking at a reflection of myself I was too ashamed to accept.

Every time she and Maura walked in from a call to the palace, I stood paralyzed in fear that they would bring news of a rebel attack using the secret entrance I’d revealed. The scenario played out in my head every night as I lay tossing and turning on my pillow.

They got in through the opening in the gardens, Maura would say. They slaughtered the children in their own beds. Those poor babes never had a chance. What kind of monster would take part in such a thing?

Had I been smarter—and braver—I might have pulled Lana aside and warned her, or at least confessed my guilt at bringing the Guardians into our world. We’d never been close, due mostly to my own petty jealousy. Lana was the kind of petite, doe-eyed blonde who captured every man’s eye and left me feeling perpetually insecure about being tall, muscular, and brash in every way.

But those issues were all my own. Lana was kind-hearted, and she was the only person who might understand the burden I now carried on my shoulders. From her very un-Lana-like somberness whenever she returned from a visit to the Descended, I wondered if that was a war she was waging in her heart, too.

These days, I was short on both wisdom and courage, so instead I spent my time keeping to myself and volunteering for all the patient visits that would keep me far, far away from the healers’ center.

Though Maura had banned me from the palace, she’d allowed me to continue serving the Descended of Lumnos City, and I’d taken to those visits with a newfound eagerness. The Guardians had politely declined my help on any more missions, with Vance encouraging me to focus on keeping my eyes and ears open while visiting patients at the Descended’s homes.

So I did, and though I had yet to discover information of any real worth, it had allowed me to fall into an easy pattern of deluding myself into thinking I was useful without taking any kind of risks that might jeopardize the lives of everyone around me.

Henri, on the other hand, had all but disappeared. He had been recruited for a highly secretive mission that kept him away at planning meetings nearly every night, and though I put up a half-hearted protest, to be honest, I was quietly grateful for the distance.

I still had not answered his marriage proposal, nor was I any closer to knowing if I was ready to take that step. I hadn’t even told anyone about it except for Teller, who had merely raised his eyebrows and told me rather cryptically, “Whatever makes you happy.

As autumn gave way to winter, and the jewel-toned leaves of the Lumnos forests curled, withered, and absorbed into the cold-hardened soil, the frosty air carried with it a sense that something was coming. It was a quiet, dangerous thing, like the crackle in the air that warned of a lightning bolt preparing to strike.

The voice inside me could sense it, too. It no longer slumbered—it waited. I slept and woke to the endless hum of it in my ear. It had become so constant a presence I could almost ignore it completely. Almost.

But there were times when it grew so loud, so insistent with its calls to fight, that it became nearly all-consuming. It had always risen to life when I felt threatened—now a rarity, thanks to my ban from the palace—but I’d also come to realize that its steady chanting grew louder and wilder the closer I came to the palace.

It became so loud, in fact, that as I stood outside a patient’s palatial mansion in the heart of Lumnos City and gazed up at the palace’s sparkling pinnacles nearby, I didn’t even hear the sound of my name being called from across the street.

“Diem! Di-em! Diem?

I snapped from my trance. A group of blue-eyed teenage girls strolled toward me, dressed in what I could only describe as the kind of outfits one might see at a traveling circus. There were outrageously large sleeves made of sheer chiffon, wide-legged pants of smooth silk that trailed five feet behind them as they walked, and bare skin galore. And color—so much color.

In Mortal City, school-aged girls were obsessed with propriety, clothed from neck to toe in drab fabrics and muted tones. The purpose, allegedly, was to convey that they were practical and selfless, uninterested in attention—the makings of an ideal wife and mother-to-be. Even a too-brightly dyed ribbon might be enough to send the town whispering about a girl’s poor virtue.

One look at the girls in front of me would have the gossips of Mortal City tittering into an early grave.


One of the girls pushed her way through the throng—a beaming, bubbly brunette clad in shades of lavender and mint whose dark waves cascaded all the way to her hips.

It took me a moment to make the connection that the perky girl jogging toward me—in beaded satin slippers, no less—was the same girl I’d watched nearly bleed out on the palace floor.

“Oh—Lily. Uh, hi.” I gave her a short, awkward wave.

Gasps and murmurs erupted from the group behind her. More than one of them scoffed at me in disdain. Lily flashed me a brilliant smile, though I noted the strain in her features as she tried not to wince.

I had almost certainly broken some sacred Descended etiquette rule, but that had become such a constant state in recent weeks that I’d lost all ability to feel bad about it.

“I was hoping I might see you around somewhere,” she chirped. “I’ve been meaning to thank you for everything you did for me that day at the palace.”

My eyes darted between her and the whispering gaggle at her back. “That’s kind of you to say, but it was nothing, really.”

“It wasn’t nothing. You saved my life—I owe you everything.”

“Your healing powers did all the real work. I’m just glad you’re feeling better.”

Lily frowned, the expression looking unnatural on her. “It’s strange how quickly it worked. All of my injuries were healed before you even left the palace.”

“Is that unusual?”

“Very unusual. Small cuts heal quickly, but it usually takes at least a day for bigger injuries. Sometimes even a week.” Her head tilted inquisitively. “Maybe one of the medicines you gave me sped up the healing process?”

It was my turn to frown. “Only the silverworm for pain and an herb mix to slow the bleeding.”

We both stared at each other with matching looks of confusion as voices rang out behind her.

“Can we go yet?”


“Come on Princess, it’s too cold out here.”

Lily gave me an exasperated smile and twisted to address her friends. “You ladies go on ahead, I’ll catch up in a minute.”

A svelte redhead tossed a mess of curls over her shoulder. “It’s the palace, Your Highness—they won’t let us in without you.”

“Just flirt with the guards like you always do, Roxie,” Lily answered.

The girl scowled as her friends giggled and bit their lips. The redhead turned in a huff, and the group continued on down the road, throwing me a few dubious looks before they finally disappeared around a corner.

“So why are you in Lumnos City?” Lily paused, then stiffened, her eyes going wide. “Not that you don’t belong here—I mean, of course you do. Anyone is welcome here—you don’t need a reason, I just—”

I raised a hand to put her out of her misery. “It’s alright, I understand. I just finished seeing a patient.”

“Oh. Right.” Her gaze drifted to the surrounding houses. “Which House was it? Maybe I know them. If they’re ill, I should send flowers, or perhaps a note, or—”

“I can’t say. Vow of confidentiality and all.” The words felt like poison on my tongue.

“Right, yes, of course. I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t even have asked.”

She looked so mortified I couldn’t resist a reassuring smile. “How are your cousins, the ones who were also hurt that day?”

Her expression brightened. “Oh, they’re wonderful! All better now, thanks to you and your friends.” She reached out to touch my arm, then hesitated. “Teller always told me you were a gifted healer, but I didn’t quite understand until I saw you work. I was terribly frightened that day, but you were so kind to me and so easy to trust.”

I didn’t know what to say—thanking her seemed like a slap in the face, all things considered.

“My brother thinks so, too,” she added with the hint of a smile.

My eyes snapped up. “What?”

“He was impressed with you. That’s not an easy thing to do, you know. Luther doesn’t give out compliments very often. I mean, he does to me, of course, because I’m his sister, but to everyone else, he’s a bit… well, he’s not mean, really, he’s just very—”

“Compliments?” I cocked my head. “What kind of compliments?”

“Oh! Um, he said you were very impressive. And interesting. He kept asking me what I knew about you and what Teller had told me. And I think he went into Mortal City to find you, maybe. A few times, actually, but I suppose you weren’t there, because he—”

“What did you tell him?” I asked, my brows pulling together. If Luther was investigating me that deeply, I very much doubted it had anything to do with him being impressed.

She shrugged. “I said Teller always speaks very highly of you. He really admires you. Teller and I always talk about how fortunate we are to have older siblings that set a good example for us.”

The knife in my heart twisted a little deeper.

“He’s a good man, you know.” She looked at me expectantly, her eyes round and full of hope.

I gave her a weak smile. “I know. I’m lucky to have him, too. Teller’s a great brother to me.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean Teller. I mean, yes, he’s a good man—a great man—one of the best I know.” She laughed nervously, running her hands repeatedly through her hair as her cheeks blushed a soft pink. “He’s so kind, and really smart, and he doesn’t ever—um, never mind. I meant my brother. Luther. Um, Prince Luther, I mean. He’s a good man.”

It took every last drop of self-control in my body to keep my face from reacting. “I’m sure he is.”

“I know he wasn’t very nice to you that day at the palace. It’s just that he was worried about me, and he felt so guilty about the children getting hurt. If someone he cares for is in danger, he goes a little…” She held her hands up like claws, then bared her teeth and growled.

I swallowed. “I thought Elric caused the accident.”

“He did. He didn’t mean to, of course—Elric is a nice guy too, by the way—but you knew that, right? Elric said he talked to you. He said you were also really nice, and—”

“Then why did Luther feel guilty?” I was probably violating another volume of royal etiquette rules by interrupting Lily every time her stream of consciousness took flight, but I had a feeling if I didn’t, we might be here until spring.

“Yes, right—Luther’s the High General of the Royal Guard, so he’s in charge of keeping everyone in the palace safe. If anyone gets hurt, he takes it personally, even if it’s their own fault.” Lily rolled her eyes. “One time, a couple of our cousins were playing and fell down some stairs. I don’t think Luther slept for a week. He kept stomping around and brooding.” She ground her jaw in an impressively spot-on impression of her brother, then covered her mouth and giggled. “He assigned guards to shadow every child in the palace for months until Uncle Ulther—um, King Ulther, I mean—told him to stop. Thank the Blessed Kindred for that!”

The fond familiarity with which she talked about Luther and the King set me off-kilter. I’d spent so long thinking of these people as mere figureheads. The Prince, heir to the Crown. The King, ruler of the realm. It was strange to think of them as family—cousins, uncles, siblings—and as people who loved each other and fussed over each other’s safety. It made them feel human in a way that made me deeply uncomfortable.

“Anyway, I know Luther wasn’t nice to you then, but he is nice. No one ever believes me when I say that. He’s just misunderstood, you know?” Her smile faltered, her features hardening with a sisterly protectiveness I recognized all too well. “Everyone’s always trying to use him to get to the Crown, or they’re trying to win him over because he’s going to be King someday. He can’t trust anyone.” Her head tilted again, her expression going thoughtful. “I think he trusts you, though.”

I snorted. “I’m quite positive you’re mistaken about that.”

“No, really. I think he trusts you because you were mean to him. No one’s ever mean to him.” Her eyes twinkled. “I think he kind of liked it.”

“I wasn’t… I don’t think I was mean. He was mean. I was just doing my job.” I paused and shook my head. “Wait, what do you mean he liked it?”

“Would you like to come have dinner with us at the palace sometime?”

I blinked at her.

“Maybe you could even, um, bring Teller. You know, just the four of us.” Her smile was dazzlingly hopeful and painfully innocent.

Then the realization hit me. She must know Luther disapproved of her relationship with Teller—her brother had surely ignored my advice to leave it be. Perhaps she thought if she could engineer a forced friendship between Luther and me, he might be less inclined to interfere.

It was a sweet thought. An absurd, impossible thought, but a sweet one.

I started to turn her down, but the optimism in her eyes was so utterly guileless I couldn’t bring myself to break her heart.

I reached forward and took her hand. She startled a little at my touch, but her fingers immediately closed around my own.

“That’s very kind of you to offer, Lily. I’ll, um… I’ll think about it.”

Her expression fell.

“But you’re welcome to come to our home any time,” I added quickly. “It’s no royal palace, but we’ve always got room for one more at dinner.” I gave her hand a light squeeze. “And there will be no judgment or gossip about anything that happens there. That much, I can promise.”

Not entirely true. If Father knew Teller was getting friendly with a Descended princess, he would certainly have judgment—some very strongly worded judgment—but I also knew he would never express those thoughts in front of Lily. He would treat her with kindness and acceptance while she was in our home, which was surely more than Teller would get from anyone in that wretched palace.

She beamed, mollified by my offer. “Really? You wouldn’t mind?”

“Of course not. A friend of one Bellator is a friend of us all.”

She grabbed my other hand and clutched them both to her chest with an excited hop. “That would be wonderful. I would love to. And maybe… maybe you could teach me about being a healer. I mean, if you want to. If you’re allowed to.”

“You want to be a healer?”

“Blessed Kindred, no,” she rushed out, sounding almost frightened at the thought. “I couldn’t, of course. Not that there’s anything wrong with it—healers are incredible. Helping people like that, it’s so… so…” She sighed. “It’s just that my family wouldn’t allow it. We’re not, um, allowed to work, that is. Outside of the palace or the Royal Guard, I mean.”

Not allowed to work.

I nearly snorted.

“But I’d still like to learn about it. If… if that’s alright with you. It would be nice to know a few things, you know, in case I have children someday.”

The glimmer of pain in her eyes wounded my heart. I knew the words that went unsaid—children with someone other than my brother. Children that wouldn’t be doomed to a death sentence for their mixed heritage.

I squeezed her hands with a smile. “I would be happy to teach you, Lily. Come by any time.”

Luther might actually, finally kill me for it, but that never stopped me before.


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