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Spark of the Everflame: Chapter 23

“So, Teller… I saw Lily today.”

Teller’s fork froze in his mouth as his face went sheet-white.

His eyes flew back and forth across the dinner table between Father and me, his expression an equal mix of what are you doing and oh my gods Diem whatever you’re doing, don’t.

“She invited us over to her home for dinner,” I continued. “I think she’s trying to set me up with her brother.”

He choked on a bite of food.

Father reached over and clapped him firmly on the back a few times. “Who is this Lily person?”

“A mutual friend,” I answered. “She’s around Teller’s age, and she’s a former patient of mine.”

“And her brother? Do I know him?” He peered at me over his reading glasses. “Should I know him?”

“Oh, don’t you worry about him, Father. I would rather chop off an arm than court that man. My sword arm, even.” I smiled sweetly at Teller, who was looking at me like he might volunteer to do the amputation personally. “I invited her to come have dinner here instead. Without her brother.”

“You invited Lily… here?” Teller asked. “To our house?”

Father beamed, blissfully oblivious to the knives shooting from Teller’s eyes. “What a lovely idea. We’d be happy to have your girlfriend over, Teller.”

“She’s not my—we’re just friends. That’s all.”

“Good friends.” I wiggled my eyebrows. “Close friends.”

Father slowly began to grin as he realized the nature of my teasing. “Is she pretty, this Lily?”

“What a good question, Father. I would say she’s pretty. Teller, would you say she’s pretty?”

He was openly glaring now. “Yes. She’s very pretty.”

Very pretty,” I repeated with a wink at our father.

“I don’t think Lily coming here is a good idea,” Teller gritted out. “You should tell her you were mistaken.”

“What’s wrong with our home?” Father asked.

“Yes, Teller, what’s wrong with our home?” I echoed.

Under the table, a booted foot slammed into my shin. I bit my lip to keep from laughing.

“Well, you wouldn’t invite her, so I did,” I said. “She asked me if I could teach her about healing, and I told her I would show her a few things.”

Teller’s anger shifted to confusion. “She did?”

“That’s wonderful,” Father said. “Perhaps she could join the center as a trainee. We can never have too many healers in the family.”

Teller’s face turned so pale I thought he might shrivel up and pass away.

“You never know,” I said with a shrug. “Anything could happen.”

Father slapped Teller’s arm and gave his shoulder a rough grasp. “I’m happy for you, son. Whoever she is, she’s lucky to have you. And you know your sister and I will treat anyone you bring home like a member of our own family.”

Teller gave me a long look. There was a sad, defeated heaviness to it that wiped my amusement away.

He leaned back in his chair, arms folded over his chest. “Speaking of new members of the family, how’s Henri doing?”

I stiffened. He wouldn’t dare. “Henri’s fine.”

“I’d hardly call Henri new to the family,” Father laughed, once again oblivious. “He and Diem have been friends since before you were born.”

“Indeed.” Teller smirked. “Good friends. Close friends.”

Father turned his grin on me. “Did that boy finally pull his head out of his ass and ask you to court him?”

“Oh, he asked her a lot more than that,” Teller said.

Father’s eyes went wide.

I dragged a hand over my face and slumped down into my chair. I couldn’t even be mad at Teller. I’d earned this one.

“Diem Bellator.” A hint of the Commander slipped into Father’s voice. “Look at me right now.”

I groaned but relented, my hand dropping from my face.

“Did the Albanon boy propose to you?”

I nodded.

“And did you say yes?”

I hesitated, then shook my head.

His eyes narrowed slightly, as if my response hadn’t surprised him, but interested him.

“You said no?”

“She hasn’t answered him,” Teller said. “And it’s been three weeks.”

“I told him it’s a big decision, and I need some time to think it over. And Henri agreed,” I added, flinging a piece of food across the table at my brother.

Father watched me carefully, his fingertips drumming on the tabletop. I chewed on my lip and became immensely fascinated with one of the many scratches that formed a dull patina over our old, worn dining table.

He took off his glasses, then pushed his chair out and shuffled to a nearby cabinet. He grabbed a bulbous bottle filled with an amber-colored liquid and three small tumblers, then returned to the table. Without a word, he filled two of the glasses, sliding one to me, then added the barest splash to the third before setting it in front of an annoyed-looking Teller.

“Alright, let’s hear it,” he ordered.

I took a slow, deliberate sip and savored the warmth that spread down my throat. I briefly debated whether I could stall long enough for Father to lose interest—or get too drunk to remember this conversation.

“Let’s hear what?” I asked.

“Whatever reason you’ve got for making that boy suffer waiting for an answer.”

My eyebrows lifted. “You don’t think I should take my time making this decision?”

“Of course I do. But you two have been inseparable for years. If there’s anyone you should already know if you want to marry, it’s him.”

I chipped away at the gash in the table, scraping flecks of wood away with my nail. Across from me, Teller gulped his drink in a single swallow and immediately erupted into a fit of coughs. When I opened my mouth to tease him, Father cleared his throat, pulling my attention back. One look at his expression had my lips snapping closed.

I swirled the liquor in my glass and took another measured sip, hoping for some liquid courage.

“How did you know?” I asked. “When you met Mother… how did you know she was the one?”

He studied me for a moment, then reached forward and picked up the decanter, refilling my glass. “You’re not going to like the answer.”

“You hadn’t known her for very long, right?” Teller said. “She told me you had only been courting for a month when you were married.”

A gentle smile curved his lips. “I’d known of her long before we courted. Auralie was well respected in the army, and I often heard of her being invited on important missions. People spoke highly of her bravery and intelligence. Even the Descended were impressed by her.”

Though I was unsurprised to hear that my formidable mother had captivated everyone she met, it struck me as odd that anyone would notice these qualities in a healer, even one in the Emarion Army. I’d always imagined that healers only came in when the glory of battle had faded and only the harsh reality of bloodshed was left behind.

“I had only met her a few times. I thought she was beautiful, of course—the most beautiful woman I’d ever laid eyes on. But she had this presence…” His eyes went glassy, lost in the memory. “Even in the army, surrounded by soldiers with dangerous weapons and even more dangerous egos, she commanded every room she walked into. She’s a force of nature, my Auralie.”

His voice slipped, just slightly, and the distant haze of nostalgia left his eyes. He sat up straighter in his chair before knocking back a large swig of his drink.

“I thought about asking her out many times, but I always talked myself out of it. I told myself I was committed to my job and I had no time for a woman or a family.”

“What changed?” I asked.

“She left on a long mission. She was gone for an entire year. It was highly confidential. I didn’t have the clearance to know the details, and those… well, those are the kinds of missions soldiers often don’t come back from. I didn’t know if I’d ever see her again, and the whole time she was gone, all I could think of was how I’d had this incredible woman right in front of me, and I’d let her walk away. I told myself that if she did come back, I’d walk right up to her and confess my feelings the second I saw her.”

“Did you?” Teller asked.

“No,” I answered on Father’s behalf, grinning. “Mother told me this part. You took one look at her and ran away.”

He smiled sheepishly. “I’d never been more scared in my life. I’d taken on every manner of danger you could imagine, but the idea of asking to court your mother… that was true terror. I avoided her for damn near a month.”

“The mighty Andrei Bellator, finally brought down by a pretty girl,” I teased him.

He and I broke into laughter, but across the table Teller’s expression had gone thoughtful.

“How did you get the courage to finally do it?” he asked. “How did you know she wouldn’t reject you?”

“I didn’t. But I eventually decided the chance of her saying yes was worth the possibility of her saying no. To be able to call her my girl—that was worth any risk.”

Teller nodded and looked down at his empty glass, frowning as he traced a finger around the rim.

“So you asked her… then what?” I prodded.

“Everything was normal at first. I courted her like any man courts any woman. I took her into town for dinner, brought her flowers and sweets. I was head over heels for her, but I could sense she was holding back. I had a hunch there was something she wanted to tell me but wasn’t ready to say.”

I gave a dry, sarcastic laugh. “Our mother, keeping secrets? What a surprise.”

Father smiled knowingly. “Auralie’s always been a private person, even then. Especially then. Perhaps that’s why she and I got along so well. I always trusted that if there was something she was keeping from me, she had a reason for it, and that was good enough for me. I was happy to take whatever piece of herself she was willing to give.

“Frankly, the same was true for me. Most women wanted to hear stories of war and the battles I’d fought…” A shadow passed over his face. “But I had no desire to relive those moments, and your mother was content with that. We never needed to see all of each other to love all of each other.”

I forced down a thick burning in my throat. “You said she was holding back. What finally brought you together?”

“You did.” He gazed at me, eyes gleaming. “One day, Auralie showed up at my door with a beautiful baby girl in her arms. She confessed she had fallen pregnant and given birth while away on her mission. She’d decided to leave the army and go make a new life with you somewhere else. She was distraught, but even in her tears, she had that same Auralie determination. I knew there was nothing I could say to convince her to change her mind and stay.”

“She asked you to leave with her?” Teller asked.

“No—the opposite. She was going to leave without saying anything, but at the last minute, she decided she couldn’t go without telling me goodbye.” He laughed, soft and sad. “Your sweet, selfless mother… she wanted me to have closure so I could move on without her. And something in me clicked. I took one look at the two of you, and I realized there was no sacrifice I wouldn’t make to keep you both in my life.”

I tried to blink away the heat prickling my eyes, only to feel warm tears already rolling down my cheeks. Father reached over and pulled my hand from my glass, clasping it in both of his.

“My darling Diem, you asked how I knew your mother was the one? The truth is that I just knew. There was never a decision to make. Whatever path she was on, that was where I belonged. By her side, and by yours. Any other option was unthinkable.”

My stomach felt leaden. His words were beautiful. Perfect. Exactly what a person in love should say, exactly how a person in love should feel.

“Even though you had to give up everything?” I asked. “Your career, your life in Fortos, all your own goals—you weren’t scared of having to walk away from all of that?”

“No,” he answered without hesitation. “It was only the thought of living without her that scared me. Everything else felt trivial in comparison.”

“And you had only known her a month,” I said weakly, more of a statement than a question.

He patted my hand. “Every love story is different. Perhaps for you and Henri, you need…” His voice trailed off, and his eyes dropped away.

The silence, and the words left unsaid, thundered in the air. I dared a look up at Teller, but his mind was elsewhere, his expression clouded with his own impossible decision.

Father sat upright suddenly. A bright, albeit strained, smile illuminated his face. “What I mean to say is, there’s no sense in rushing to a decision. You should wait and speak with your mother when she returns. She’ll have a wise perspective on all of this.”

Teller and I froze in unison. Our eyes met for a heartbeat before shifting to our father.

“What do you mean, when she returns?” I asked.

“When she comes home,” he said simply, as if that were answer enough. He rose from the table, decanter in hand, and turned his back to us as he fussed with various items in the kitchen.

Teller and I glanced at each other again. He raised his eyebrows, eyes widening in wordless inquiry. I shook my head in silent response.

“Do you know where she is?” My words came out excruciatingly slow, each one halting and unsure.

We had not discussed her whereabouts so directly in months, not since those first horrible days after she’d disappeared. We’d only hinted at it in the vaguest of terms.

Her absence.

Our time apart.

Since she’s been away.

Acknowledging that she was gone forever might make it real, so we’d simply talked around it instead.

“What a ridiculous question,” he said. Again his tone was matter-of-fact, final, like nothing further needed to be said.

I gradually rose to my feet.

“Father, if you know—”


A deafening crack split the air. The walls of our home rattled, the liquid in our glasses rippling outward.

“What in the Undying Fire was that?” Teller muttered.


The three of us jolted and crouched low. A frame dislodged from its nail on the wall and crashed to the floor, while bits of plaster shook free from the ceiling. Years of training had all three of us grabbing for weapons.

The sound had been distant, yet deafeningly loud.

“Thunder?” Teller guessed. “I didn’t see storm clouds earlier, but maybe…”

Father shook his head, his brows forming a deep crease. “I’ve heard that sound before. That was an explosion.”

My stomach dropped. “As in… a bomb?”

He rose and walked to the kitchen window, eyes squinting as he searched the darkness. After a moment, he nodded and extended a finger. “There.”

Teller and I scrambled to his side, craning our necks to see.


We jumped again. Teller gripped my arm and pulled me close.

Far in the distance, a billowing swirl of flame leapt into the air. Puffy clouds of smoke glowed from the light of the fires below, an orange smear against the ink-dark sky.

Father frowned. “Looks like it’s in Lumnos City. Must be some kind of accident. Maybe a storage facility caught fire.”

“Or a rebel attack on the palace,” Teller added.

The air felt impossible to breathe, too weighty to pull into my lungs.

I did this. This is my fault.

“I—I have to go,” I stammered. I stumbled backward and knocked into the table, trying to tear my eyes from the red haze rising above the woods.

Father turned sharply. “What? Go where?”

“I have to help. There might be people hurt. I could… I need to….”

“That fire is in Lumnos City, Diem. You know you’re not supposed to go there.”

My mouth opened and closed. Words and thoughts were as inaccessible as the stars in the sky. He had no idea I’d not just broken my mother’s rule on avoiding the Descended, I’d completely obliterated it.

Father reached for me. “Whatever it is, I’m sure the Royal Guard can handle it.”

I recoiled violently from his hand. My body was a bomb of its own, fuse lit and ready to blow at any moment.

I did this.

“I have to go.” My voice was shaky, hoarse.

“Diem, no.”

He moved to block my path, but Teller—gods bless him—stepped in the way. “Father, there may be injuries. They’ll need healers there. Diem could help.”

“There are other healers. Maura will have heard the explosions, she’ll send someone over.”

Maybe. We’d never sent healers into Lumnos City uninvited, only when requested. And now, with our center already on thin ice with Prince Luther, Maura might think it safer to wait for a formal request. And even if she didn’t…

This is my fault.

I didn’t wait to argue any further. I ran to my room and grabbed a large bag that I used for trips away, hastily tossing it across my shoulders before sprinting back toward the front door.

“Diem, stop right there. Your mother forbid—”

As I flew down the front steps, more explosions rumbled through the clearing and drowned out my father’s protests.

Within seconds, I disappeared into the trees.


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