Spark of the Everflame: Chapter 3


My insides twisted as I watched my brother chat with the guards, then disappear behind the ivy-laden walls.

His admission to the Descended academy had been bittersweet. His mind was far too exceptional to wither away on the hard life of manual labor that most mortal men in Lumnos were forced to endure. But his spending so much time around the Descended, forming so many relationships with them, seemed doomed to end badly.

Although our homeland of Lumnos, Realm of Light and Shadow, was one of the more mortal-friendly of the nine realms of Emarion, even here Teller’s options would always be limited. The Descended school had told my brother as much, cautioning him that a superior education would be unlikely to change his fate in any meaningful way.

And gods forbid he fall in love. Though such dalliances weren’t strictly outlawed, mortals and Lumnos Descended were forbidden from intermarrying, and any pregnancies between the two races were forcibly terminated and the mortal parent banned permanently from the realm. The harsh policy was put into place centuries ago to stem the dilution of Lumnos magic caused by breeding into new mortal bloodlines. Several of the realms enacted similar progeny laws after the deadly Blood War left the Descended acutely aware of the consequences of allowing their magic to weaken into embers.

Even if a Descended agreed to such a relationship, their prolonged lifespan often stretched for centuries, some for a millennium or more, while their mortal partner aged and died in the blink of an eye. If the object of Teller’s affection was a member of the royal family, even a brief, childless fling would be out of the question.

Henri’s thoughts must have mirrored my own, because his eyes were stormy as they lingered on the academy gates.

“If he gets caught up with a princess…”

“I know,” I said, sighing. “But Teller’s smart. He knows the consequences.”

Henri’s arm slid from my shoulders to my waist and dragged me up against him. “When it comes to matters of the heart, even smart men can make reckless decisions. Dangerous decisions.” His words were serious, but his caramel eyes glittered with something else as they dropped to my lips.

His warmth seeped through his lightweight clothing, heating my blood and quickening my pulse. “I thought you knew by now,” I purred as I leaned in closer, our noses grazing. “Reckless and dangerous is the Bellator family motto.”

His grip tightened around me. “Speaking of dangerous decisions…” He paused, the tip of his thumb tracing my jaw and burning a line down my flesh. “I have to make a delivery to Fortos tomorrow. Maybe you could join me?”

I stilled and looked down. “You know I can’t be away for that long. Maura needs me. Father needs me.”

He nudged my chin up until my eyes again met his. “Your father is an army commander who hunts wild beasts in his spare time. He does not need his adult daughter to play nursemaid. And Maura…” He shrugged, his smile going adorably crooked. “Fine, she probably does need you.”

I huffed a laugh, moving to pull away, but his arms held me tight.

“But so do I,” he continued, both hands moving to cup my face. “You’ve been working yourself to the bone for months, you deserve a break. We’ll only be gone two nights—surely Maura can spare you for that long.”

My better judgment warned me to say no. Maura already had more work than she could handle, and I knew exactly what would happen if Henri and I found ourselves alone on the road, free from the prying eyes of family and town gossips. As much as my body desired Henri’s touch, I wasn’t sure my grieving heart was ready to open itself back up again.

Although… going to Fortos could be a chance to look deeper into my mother’s disappearance. She had spent most of her life serving as a healer in the Emarion Army, and she was still close with some of her former colleagues there. If anyone outside of Lumnos had information on my mother’s plans, it would be them.

“Just talk to Maura,” Henri insisted. His mouth lightly brushed mine, our breaths mingling on each other’s lips. “Can’t hurt to ask, right?”

I drew a deep inhale, willing my blood to cool. My palms slid up his chest and slowly pushed him away until the brisk morning air washed away the feel of his warmth. “I’ll try.”

He beamed at me, and the carnal promise in his eyes had my core burning in response.

We continued walking together, Henri chattering away about the latest news from his work as a deliveryman. He, too, had followed in his parent’s footsteps, as his father handled mail for both the capital and Mortal City.

Henri’s father even had the honor of serving as the palace courier. Rarely were mortals given access to the inner workings of the royal family, but the Descended so deeply feared the temporary loss of magic they experienced when venturing outside of their home realm that they relied on mortals to deliver all but the most sensitive inter-realm messages.

Henri always returned from these trips with fascinating stories of life outside our insular village that filled me with no small amount of jealousy. Aside from the occasional trip with my parents, my own life kept me firmly rooted in Mortal City, the path laid out for me unlikely to ever lead anywhere more exciting.

Eventually, the red and gold canopy of the autumnal trees gave way to buildings, and the sprawling expanse of town opened up in front of us.

Mortal City. I smirked to myself at the absurdity of the name. There was nothing urban about our poor, forest-ensconced village. The collection of crumbling brick buildings and tin-roofed shacks could more accurately be called a slum.

It was the Descended who insisted that all mortal settlements use the same label, regardless of size or character. It mattered little to them that our communities once bore proud, meaningful names of their own. Names of great chieftains and monarchs, mighty clans or beloved figures, the Old Gods we’d once turned to for salvation—these names had all been stripped away with the rest of our mortal culture, our collective skin scraped bloody and raw.

As usual, the Descended claimed the erasure was in our best interests, a “symbolic unification” to assimilate our two races. I suspected it was really meant to serve as an ongoing threat that we mortals could be wiped away with the same ruthless efficiency our culture had been.

Henri said his goodbyes, and I headed for the modest stone building that served as the healers’ center. Maura was already inside, humming over the clink of glass vials and stone tools as she sorted through our supply closet.

“Morning, Maura,” I chirped, slinging my pack onto a nearby table. “What adventures are we in for today?”

“Morning, dearie.” Maura waved in greeting without turning away from her work. “We need to check in on the Barnes family’s little one. Perhaps later you can show the trainees how to whip up a balm of cloudsbreath?”

“Of course.” I wrapped a rumpled linen apron around my hips and set to work on the usual morning tasks.

This building was as much a home to me as the cottage on the marsh. I’d grown up clinging to my mother’s hip here like a persistent shadow. By age ten, I could already create most of the tinctures that lined the shelves. Most trainees spent years apprenticing before they treated patients alone, but I obtained full healer status soon after finishing school. Under the tutelage of Maura and my mother, I’d become as skilled as any healer in the realm, despite my age.

There was one small, but crucial, gap in my competence—healing the Descended.

All Descended were gifted with quick-healing abilities that rendered them immune to most illnesses and injuries. For grave conditions, they could travel to Fortos, Realm of Force and Valor, for a visit to the powerful magical healers that served in the Emarion Army. As a result, the Descended rarely sought the aid of mortal healers.

There were, however, a few exceptions—children, whose healing powers developed at puberty with the rest of their magic, and a handful of rare poisons, the details of which I’d been forbidden from learning. My mother had even gone so far as to lock away the notes of her patient visits so I couldn’t study them later.

I’d learned early on that no amount of protesting would sway her decision to wall me off from the Descended world, in curious contradiction to how shrewdly she had negotiated to get Teller into the academy. I’d called out the double standard with great enthusiasm, but all my tears, screams, and slammed doors hadn’t made a dent.

You’re just going to have to trust me, my little warrior, Mother had assured me. I know what I’m doing.

My heart cracked at the memory. Six months—six long, lonely months since I’d last heard her voice.

Maura had taken on the Descended patients in her absence, but whatever my mother’s concerns had been, it was clear Maura didn’t share them. Whereas Mother had been steadfastly tight-lipped, Maura would return from calls to the palace or the sprawling mansions of Lumnos City breathlessly recounting every fantastical detail, which I’d gobbled up like a starving woman scrabbling for crumbs.

“Henri’s making a visit to Fortos tomorrow,” I said lightly as I swept a haybrush broom over the stone tile. “He’s asked if I might come along.”

“Oh, did he now?” Maura saw right through my feigned indifference. Her eyebrows wiggled as a wicked grin rose on her freckle-splattered face. “Will there be any chaperones on this trip?”

“Don’t give me that look, Maura.”

“Do there need to be any chaperones on this trip?”

“Maura!”

She poked at my hip and cackled. “You lovebirds looking to have some time alone?”

A rosy blush spread along my cheekbones. “We’ll see.”

“Don’t be coy with me. I’ve known you since you were just a babe, tottering around this place in your knickers. You and that boy have been thick as molasses for nearly as long. Only an act of the gods could keep you two from falling in love.”

My throat turned dry. “Love is a big word. We’re taking it slow for now.”

“Tell that to the besotted fool who hovers outside every afternoon staring at you with moons in his eyes until your shift ends.”

“Oh, that’s not love, he’s just imagining me tottering around in my knickers.”

I finally cracked a grin. I was long used to her teasing about my disastrous love life. I’d never been one to yearn for commitment—every time a boy had begun to look at me with something deeper than lust, I’d run as far and as fast as I could.

“If you’re asking me if I can spare you for a few days, the answer is yes. You two go have your fun.” Maura leaned into the storage cabinet and pulled out a small vial fill with a greenish liquid, then pressed it into my palm. “Just make sure he takes the contraceptive tonic first.”

My face turned hot, and I swung the broom at her legs. She leapt away with a hoot of laughter that I returned with a glare—but I quietly pocketed the tonic nevertheless.

A few of the apprentice healers soon arrived for the morning shift. I was prattling away with them when the door to the center slammed open with a foreboding crack.

A tall young man burst into the room. He wore a surcoat of deep purple velvet embroidered with delicate silver swirls, and jeweled rings glittered along his knuckles. His boyish face was pale, his features strained as he scanned the room with fear-struck eyes.

Blue eyes.

A Descended.

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