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Spark of the Everflame: Chapter 25

To my guilt-stricken, knee-wobbling relief, it quickly became clear the fire was not coming from the palace’s magnificent facade, but from somewhere to the west. The exhale that rocked my body shook me to my core.

However, my next fears were confirmed when I turned onto the streets of Lumnos City and overheard murmurs of stunned Descended discussing an explosion at the Benette armory. Outside of a fleeting glance while raiding Evrim Benette’s office, I had never looked too closely at the blueprints I’d stolen before handing them over to the Guardians. Other than the plume of smoke and flame that called to me like a beacon, I had no way of knowing where the building was or what I might find once I got there.

I also had no supplies—not a single jar of medicine or strip of gauze to speak of. I had two useless mortal daggers at my hips, Brecke’s blade in my boot, and my own two hands. I was better equipped to take a life than to save one.

To make matters worse, it quickly became evident I would have no backup from the other healers. The Royal Guard had formed an expansive perimeter around the site of the attack, and no matter how many guards I pleaded with to let me through to help, not one of them relented. If Maura or any of the trainees showed up, they would be turned back as quickly as they’d come.

I might have accepted defeat and returned home myself had I not just acquired six enraged Guardians on my tail. Whether they would risk following me here, or whether they would simply wait for my return, I had no idea. Either way, I was eager to give them time to cool off before facing those particular consequences.

And, of course, there was the small matter of all of this being entirely my fault.

My only path was forward, with empty pockets and open hands. I’d come this far, risked this much—I couldn’t walk away without trying everything.

As I fought to catch my breath from my frantic sprint into town, my legs feeling like jelly for more reasons than one, I edged along the cordoned-off perimeter and studied the guards holding the line. Somehow they had linked their magic, each of them connected by a thick rope of glowing pale blue light. I suspected any effort to break through would leave me with my own burns to tend to.

The armory itself was almost entirely destroyed. Fire raged along the back wall, and though the front of the building was still intact, the flames were spreading quickly. Whatever the Guardians had done, it had been brutal and horribly efficient.

I fell back into the throng of spectators and circled the site, pausing near the front where a group of Descended were tightly gathered. Occasionally, one of them would break away and disappear into the building, only to emerge empty-handed moments later.

Then, I spotted him.

With his raven hair and night-black clothes, he cut an ominous silhouette against the raging wall of flickering orange. I couldn’t make out the details of his face, and his imposing body was shrouded by the crowd clustered around him, but somehow, even among the pandemonium, I knew him. More than that—I felt him, his strange aura sweeping across my skin.


As if he’d heard my thoughts, his head snapped in my direction. Even tucked as I was among a sea of onlookers, his glowing blue eyes found mine in an instant.

I shoved my way forward until I was nose to nose with the nearest guard. “I’m here to help,” I shouted over the noisy crowd. “Get Prince Luther—he’s right there, he knows me.”

“I don’t care who you know,” the guard said blandly. He appeared wholly unconcerned with the bedlam occurring behind him. “No one in or out.”

“Just get the Prince, he’ll tell you—”


“I’m a healer. If people are hurt, I can help.”


“You’re really going t—”

“If I have to tell you no again, I’ll do it with my sword.”

I glanced over his shoulder—Luther was still watching me, though he hadn’t moved from his position.

His face was typically devoid of emotion, but I caught the hint of tightness in his steely eyes and the set of his jaw. There was something harsh in his expression, something akin to…


A tremble ran down my spine.

Did he think I was responsible for this?

Shit—I was responsible for this. All of it. Perhaps not in the way he suspected, but the blood stained my hands nevertheless.

Guilt would come later—gods, would it come—but for now I still had a chance to stop the hemorrhaging. Literally and figuratively.

“Luther,” I yelled, waving my arms in the air. “Over here.”

He made no move toward me, not even a glimmer of a reaction.


He shook his head and mouthed go home, then began to turn away.

Luther, you arrogant prick, come over here and talk to me!”

In the crowd, a hundred eyes turned on me like a mouse that had just awoken a lion. Luther’s shoulders rose and fell abruptly in what I had no doubt was some kind of irritated sigh, but he finally stalked over to meet me.

I had forgotten how tall he was, the way he towered above me with that perennially frozen glare. His hair was unbound and hung in a loose black curtain around the sharp angles of his face, his olive skin glistening from the intensity of the inferno’s heat. Beads of sweat trailed along his scar and dripped down the column of his throat. My hand flexed with the insane and wildly inappropriate urge to brush one away.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he warned.

“I heard the explosion from my house. I thought if anyone was injured, any children, maybe I could help.”

“There are no children here.”

Thank the gods. I nearly collapsed.

“Still,” I insisted, “maybe I can help with the wounded, at least until they can heal themselves. I’ll follow the rules this time, I swear it on my life.”

He studied my face, saying nothing.

“I made a mistake. One that I regret more than you know. Let me at least try to make it right. Please.”

I wondered if he could hear the sincerity in my words—if he knew that the truth of them meant so much more than he could possibly understand.

He raised a palm, and a sphere of pale blue light shimmered into place around me. He jerked his chin in a silent invitation to follow and turned away. I held my breath as I passed through the glowing ropes of the boundary, marveling at the way they fizzled and disappeared where they hit the glittering dome.

I scurried to keep up, and the shield around me vanished as I joined his side with a softly mumbled thanks.

“Stay out of the way, and stay away from the fire,” he ordered. “And do not take off running anywhere. If you do, I’ll throw you in the dungeon myself.”


He looked far from convinced. “Where are your supplies?”

“I don’t have any.”

“You came all the way here with no medicine or supplies?”

“Well I left Mortal City with all the supplies I could carry, and then I was attacked on the trail by a group of jackasses who stole my bag. So, technically, I only came halfway here with no medicine or supplies.”

He stopped. His eyes darkened as they unapologetically roamed my body. “Did they hurt you?” he growled.

I shifted my weight under his sudden scrutiny. “No. I was able to escape.”

“Were they mortal or Descended?”

“I, uh… I couldn’t tell. It was too dark.” I scowled. “Can we focus on this right now?”

He shot me a look that suggested my lies were even less believable than they sounded, but he didn’t push it any further, leading me over to where a group of bodies were sprawled across a patch of grass.

As we approached, the reek of burnt hair and charred flesh wafted to my nose, drawing a wave of nausea heightened by the sound of tormented groans. Burns of concerning severity littered the prone figures, their guard uniforms tattered and scorched—some still smoking like a blown-out candle. At least a few were missing limbs. One was unnaturally still.

“These are the worst of them,” Luther said quietly. “I don’t know if there’s much you can do. We’re gathering carriages to send them out to the Descended healers in Fortos.”

I could only nod, words proving too difficult to form.

Gradually, I walked into the group and sank to my knees between two of the injured. On my right, a man writhed in pain and clutched his face, screaming strings of mangled words I couldn’t make out. I reached for his hand and gently pulled it toward me.

“Hello, I’m Diem. I’m a healer, and I’m here to h—”

My throat closed up as his hand dropped away. His face—what had been his face—was now a mess of gleaming flesh, broiled and bloody.

His hand, still hot from the fire’s touch, tightened around my wrist.

“H-hel… m…” His lips were gone, his tongue a blackened stump, rendering his speech a slow, garbled tangle of blood and pain. Still, there was no mistaking the words he was fighting to say.

Help me.

There was nothing I could do. If I’d kept my bag of medicine, I could at least ease his pain or soothe him into sleep while his body healed, but I’d surrendered it all to the Guardians.

Why hadn’t I fought harder? Why hadn’t I run faster?

A choked sob caught in my throat.

I did this. This is my fault.

I took the man’s hand in my own and leaned in close. “You’re going to be alright,” I whispered. “You’re going to heal in no time. Soon, this will be a distant memory.”

“Hel… m…” he moaned again. His fingers trembled against my arm—or maybe I was the one shaking.

“We’re going to get you to someone who can help you. Just hold on, be strong for a little longer.”

His shoulders began to shudder, his attempts at words turning into long, desperate wails. I spotted a patch of unburnt skin along his ribs, and I laid my other palm on top of it, grazing my thumb in light brushing motions.

“You’re not alone. I’m here with you. You’re going to be alright.”

In the back of my mind, I felt the weight of Luther’s eyes watching my every move, even as the group once again enveloped him into its fold. His voice carried over to me as he issued orders, calm but firm, his confidence steadfast despite the madness around him. The sound of it was oddly comforting.

I sat with the man and whispered reassurances until his sobs eased, then turned silent. His hand went limp and fell away from my wrist. For a moment I feared the worst, but the beat of his heart under my palm remained steady and strong, if concerningly fast. The pain had pulled him into unconsciousness—a small mercy.

On my other side, a female guard convulsed with the effects of shock. I followed the same pattern, clutching her hands and offering a promise that help would arrive soon. Another lie—something I’d become all too practiced at doing these days—but it seemed to offer enough solace to still her trembling body and slow her heaving gasps.

I made my way from Descended to Descended, offering these insignificant gestures in whatever way I could. Occasionally I was able to offer more—Luther directed a guard to bring me fresh water and alcohol, which I used to clean some wounds, and I cut off a leather belt to use as a makeshift tourniquet for a man whose leg was missing from the thigh down.

I came to the final guard, whose body had remained motionless since my arrival. I’d been avoiding looking too closely, convincing myself it was better to focus on the patients who were awake and more consciously suffering, but the truth was I was terrified of what I might find—and now my cowardice could wait no longer.

The guard was female… or so I guessed. Her entire body was burned, hair singed to ash. The fire had claimed both feet and her entire left arm. It was difficult to tell whether her clothing had burned away or merely melted to her skin.

For a long time, I watched her chest, begging any god who would listen that I might see even the weakest of movement.

But there was only stillness.

Terrible, eternal stillness.

I did this. This is my fault.

Tears spilled in freefall as I leaned forward and closed what was left of her eyelids. I held her remaining hand and whispered the Rite of Endings, with a prayer to the divine to take mercy on her soul.

I didn’t bother asking the same for my own.

Eventually, the awful quiet in my head began to subside, and the voices of the crowd that had gathered around Luther edged into my thoughts.

“…thought we got everyone out…”

“…still a few trapped…”

“…undetonated rebel bombs…”

“…opening could collapse at any moment…”

I turned my attention back to Luther. His eyes were still on me, some clouded expression that I couldn’t read etched into his features. He blinked, as if meeting my gaze had shaken him from his own tempestuous thoughts.

Two Descended crowded near his side—a bison of a man with messy golden waves and a slim, stern-faced woman whose midnight blue bob came to a knife-like point at her chin. Both stared at him with grim resignation.

“If we surround the building with shadow magic, we can extinguish the fire, but it might kill any survivors left inside,” the man said, wearing a deep frown that didn’t quite seem to fit his face.

“The armory was built with only two doors for security purposes,” the woman added. Her myriad piercings glittered in the firelight as she shook her head. “The back entrance just collapsed, and the front is in such bad shape, no one can fit through it. We could burn a new one open, but the integrity of the building is badly compromised. It could bring the whole building down.”

The man nodded bleakly at her assessment.

Luther gave them both a furious glare that had even me shrinking back—though, to their credit, neither one so much as flinched. “You’re asking me to leave people inside to burn alive?” he snarled.

“We’re not sure anyone’s still alive in there,” the man argued. “Even if we can get someone inside, we could be asking them to risk their life for a corpse.”

“I’ll do it.”

Luther’s eyes shot to mine.

I rose to my feet and looked at the building, now almost completely engulfed. The large iron door of the entry had been ripped from its hinges by an explosion, and fallen debris had reduced the portal to little more than a crawlspace of flaming, blackened wood. It was narrow, but…

“I can do it,” I repeated. “I’m smaller than all of you. I can fit.”

The man and woman beside Luther glanced at each other, then at me. “You’re willing to go in?” she asked.

“No,” Luther snapped. “It’s too dangerous.”

“You’ve been sending your guards in for the past hour,” I shot back. “That wasn’t too dangerous?”

“You’re not one of my guards.”


So it’s too dangerous. You’re mortal, remember?” His tone was dry, almost sarcastic. “Your body is too fragile.”

I glared. “First of all, if you ever call me fragile again, I’ll slice your precious royal balls off and shove them down your throat.”

The group went dead silent. The corner of Luther’s lips twitched—just slightly.

“Second, why should it matter to you if I get hurt?” I smiled bitterly. “I’m just a mortal, after all. Our lives are so disposable compared to yours.”

The muscles along his throat strained with the effort of not responding. The blond man looked at Luther, then tilted his head at me curiously, a smile slowly growing across his face.

“It could work,” the woman mused. “If you can get in and get any survivors to the opening, we could push the beams up long enough to get them outside. But we’ll only have one chance—the whole thing will collapse as soon as we move it.”

I shrugged. “I can do it. I’m not afraid.”

“Clearly,” the blond man said, grinning at me.

“No.” Luther crossed his arms, shoulders high and tense. “She’s not going in. It’s not up for discussion.”

I shot him a look. “Oh come on, Luther—”

Prince Luther.”

I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough. “People are dying and you’re concerned about your fancy fucking title?”

He started to snarl a response, but I interrupted him with a palm shoved into the immovable wall of his chest. “You’re really going to tell their families you had a chance to save them and you didn’t take it? That’s the kind of leader you’re going to be?”

It was a calculated blow to his pride—but an effective one. A spark of fury blazed behind his glare, but more important were the probing stares of the crowd around him.

Luther was stuck. I knew it, and he knew it. To forbid me would be to prioritize a mortal over his own kind, a display of weakness the future King of Lumnos couldn’t risk.

“Fine,” he gritted out. “Get yourself killed. But don’t expect me to send in my guards to rescue you.”

“Fine,” I bit back. I turned to the woman at his side. “Can you tell me where to go once I’m inside?”

She nodded and walked alongside me as we moved closer to the building. I kept my gaze focused on the burning structure while she described the room where survivors had last been seen. They were further in than I’d realized—much further. It was only my own puffed-up pride that kept me from turning tail and backing out.

I glanced over my shoulder at where the injured guards were resting, my eyes falling on the motionless woman. I wondered if they would even be able to determine who she was under all of her injuries. Gods only knew how many others like her were inside, dead or dying a slow, horrific death.

Because of me.

“If you want, I can try to find a smaller guard to go with you,” the woman offered, perhaps sensing my courage had suddenly taken flight.

I waved her off. “There’s no time. I’ll be fine.”

She nodded. “Get them as close to the exit as you can. When you’ve got them all, we’ll raise the beams and help pull them out.”

I had to admit, I was impressed by her singular focus. She didn’t try to talk me out of it, nor did she treat me like my mortal blood made me too weak or too ignorant to understand the risks I was taking on. Unwise as my choice might be, she was determined to respect it.

I unlatched my weapons belt from my hips and passed it off to her, knowing I would need to be as streamlined as possible to squeeze my way through. “If I don’t come back, tell that Prince of yours…”

I looked over my shoulder for Luther, but he had already disappeared from sight.

A twinge of hurt tugged at my chest, leaving me feeling embarrassed and naive. Of course my certain death wasn’t entertaining enough to hold his attention. Why should I have expected anything different?

“Never mind,” I said quickly. I tucked my hair into the back of my tunic, dropped to my knees and took a long, final breath. “Time to find out if Grandma Lumnos likes me after all.”

Hot was a piss-poor way to describe what the inside of the armory felt like. The word was so mild, so wholly inadequate.

A cookpot of sizzling, steaming oil.

Red-hot iron liquefied over a blacksmith’s forge.

The Flaming surface of the gods-damned sun.

The armory’s walls and floor were made of stone—likely the only reason any part of the building still remained upright—but the tall wooden rafters had become one giant, billowing cloud of fire. The heat of it pressed down with near-physical force, the air so impossibly thick any movement felt like wading through liquid warmth.

The ground ahead was mostly clear, albeit dotted with fallen chunks of flaming wood, but high above, the remaining beams crackled like a winter fireplace. A sound that had once brought me such nostalgic comfort now served as a warning of what could come crashing down on my head at any moment.

I crawled along the floor as quickly as I could, the collar of my tunic pulled over my mouth to filter the blackened air.

“Hello?” I screamed, my voice already hoarse from the effects of the smoke. “Can anyone hear me? Call out if you can hear my voice.”


It was a struggle to keep my eyes open, even harder to see more than an arm’s length ahead.

“Is anyone out there?” I yelled. “I can help you.”


On hands and knees, I dragged myself down the path the woman had described, feeling along the walls of the main corridor. At the entrance to a massive storeroom, a golden plaque engraved with the word Blades had fallen to the floor. The roof had partially given way, allowing the night air to flush out some of the blinding smog. The shelves lining the walls were strangely bare, and several wooden crates sat overturned and empty on the ground. A handful of knives lay scattered on the floor, the pale gemstones in their dark wood handles glimmering in the dancing firelight.

My eyes snagged on a pair of boots sticking out from behind a crate. I rushed toward the body that lay hunched on its side, heart racing, my silent prayers on a ceaseless loop.

I grabbed at his shoulder and tugged him over to his back—then lurched away with a startled cry. His blue eyes were bulging and vacant, mouth stuck open in an unanswered plea for mercy. Blood coated his chest, his throat slit with a gash that ran nearly to the bone.

Not burned, not suffocated from smoke.


My thoughts flashed back to the Guardians I’d met on the road and the two carts they had been pulling. I looked again at the vacant shelves and overturned crates, piecing it all together.

What did you think would happen, my conscience scolded me. That the Guardians would knock on the door and ask nicely?

I crawled around the room, my search for survivors turning up only corpses—two more guards, one beheaded and the other blown apart by an explosion.

At least four guards, dead. Four lives ended in cruel, violent ways.

Killing had seemed so easy when I’d faced the Descended man in the alley. After watching him murder the mortal woman, I was ready to take his life in a heartbeat, my rage so fierce that ending his existence barely warranted a second thought.

It was the same fury Henri had felt after watching the mortal boy get trampled by the Descended man on horseback—a need for vengeance, for justice, that burned so hot it seared away everything else.

I had believed that day in the alley had made me ready, like it had for Henri, to become a Guardian, to join the war, to do whatever it took to protect my people.

To kill, if necessary.

But the man I faced that day had earned his fate when he murdered two innocents. As far as I knew, these guards had committed no crime worse than being Descended in the wrong place at the wrong time.

War is death and misery and sacrifice. War is making choices that will haunt you for the rest of your days.

If this was the kind of killing that war required—I wasn’t ready.

And I never would be.

I collapsed on the floor beside the dead guards as the smoke and the heat overwhelmed me. For a moment, it felt like the burning roof had indeed caved in, as the enormous weight of everything I had been through these past months came crashing down on my head.

Even if I survived another dawn, my career as a healer was over—there would be no going back now that I’d seen firsthand the bloody cost of breaking my vow. My mother was likely dead, my life now bound in service to the wicked King and his miserable heir. Henri probably hated me, and even if he didn’t, would the Guardians force him to choose between us? Would I win that fight, when he was so passionate about the cause he’d inked it permanently into his skin?

Was that a fight I even wanted to win?

Smoky coughs turned into broken sobs as they racked my throat, the oxygen feeling dangerously thin. My brain was as hazy as the air, each new thought feeling like it was being dragged from a pit of sticky, bubbling tar. I tried to push back to my feet, but every time I clawed for the dregs of my energy, my gaze locked on the lifeless eyes of the body beside me, and I remembered how much blood was on my hands.

Maybe it would be best to just… stay here. Curl into a ball and wait for the inevitable.

Henri could move on. Maura and the healers would be safer. Father and Teller would be heartbroken—but better off, perhaps. My choices had already put them at so much risk.

It would be an excruciating end. But maybe that was exactly what I deserved.

I did this. This is my fault.

The fight drained from my body. I collapsed against the floor, a tear streaming down my cheek as I closed my eyes and surrendered to the darkness.


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