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Spark of the Everflame: Chapter 31

I had walked the path to my family home a thousand times over the course of my life, and every one of them had been a relief.

Of course there had been times where I’d been quarreling with Teller or avoiding a confrontation with one of my parents, but our little cottage on the marsh had always been my safe harbor, the one place where I was loved and truly accepted.

Even in the aftermath of my mother’s disappearance, when her empty chair was a constant and horribly painful reminder of her absence, our house remained a place of hope—a lighthouse in the dark, stormy sea that might someday draw her safely back home.

Until today.

Today, for the first time, every step felt like a steady march into the frozen tundra of hell.

Everything was wrong. Everything.

My career was over. I had no prospects to replace it and, thanks to my penchant for taking on the center’s most indigent clients, no savings.

The Guardians now saw me as an enemy. Though I had brushed off Henri’s warnings, I had to admit I was frightened. I knew too well the lengths they were willing to go to stop anyone they deemed a threat.

I wasn’t ready to give up on my goal of taking down the Descended. The murder I’d witnessed in Paradise Row had struck a match in me that couldn’t be snuffed. I felt a calling from the deepest pits of my soul that this was a war I was meant to fight, a blood debt I was born to repay, but I refused to stoop to the Guardians’ level to do it. I’d find my own way to bring justice to Emarion—even if I had to do it alone.

But it wasn’t just my future that worried me.

Teller’s dream was dead, and he didn’t even know it. He’d spent his life studying to be the best and brightest in the hopes the final payoff would be an invitation to Sophos. That was the only outcome that might have made walking away from Lily worth the pain. Learning the truth now would destroy him.

My father was about to march off to war. Growing up, I’d eagerly devoured every crumb of his thrilling tales of battle, but the threats in those stories had existed only in his memories and my imagination. The enemies he now faced were very real—and very well-armed, thanks to me.

My mother was still missing, and I was no closer to finding her than I’d ever been. With the door closed on my access to the palace, my hope of finding answers was slim, at best.

And Luther…

What he’d said. What he’d done.

What I’d felt.

I waded through my messy, complicated thoughts of him as I trudged through the door. All I wanted was to slump into the nearest armchair and surrender to exhaustion and the throbbing headache I couldn’t seem to shake, but one look at my father, seated at the kitchen table with hands clasped and hard lines on his brow, stopped me in my tracks.

“Sit down.”

I recognized that tone. That steel in his eyes, the stiffness of his shoulders.

The voice of the Commander.

I knew better than to put up a fight when he was like this. He would be obeyed, one way or another.

Wordlessly, I pulled out the chair across from him and sank into it.

“I learned some interesting things today.”

So did I, I thought, though my lips remained firmly shut.

“I went to Lumnos City last night to find you, but no mortals were being let through. Then I went to the healers’ center, thinking you would wait there to be called for, but you never returned. So I assumed you had come home, but you were not here, either.”

I shifted in my seat.

“It reminded me so much of a different day when I scoured this city searching for another missing member of our family.”

My eyes dropped guiltily. “I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“Turns out my worry was unfounded, since you were in such good hands at the palace.”

I stared at the table with rapt fascination, focus fixed anywhere but on him.

“You may not know this Diem, but I have quite a bit of experience with the royal family. King Ulther often called on me when tensions rose between the Descended and the mortals.”

I frowned slightly. I hadn’t known that. Neither he nor Mother ever spoke of it, and Luther had never mentioned my father’s name.

“For nearly two decades, I’ve worked with the King and his advisors to keep the peace here in Lumnos. I’ve helped him stop many uprisings with the rebels, and I spoke in his favor when there was discontent in Mortal City.”

Your father belongs to them, Diem. He’s a Descended puppet. He does whatever they tell him to.

“And in all of that time, I was never allowed any further into the palace than a sitting room. I was never invited to dine there or offered the services of their staff. And I was certainly never, ever received as an overnight guest.”

I started to speak, and he raised a hand to cut me off, then pulled an envelope from his shirt pocket.

“So imagine my surprise,” he said, his voice growing louder and angrier with every word, “when I received a letter, hand-written from Prince Luther himself, telling me that my daughter was recovering in his personal care and assuring me he would see to it that she would receive the ‘very best treatment Emarion has to offer.’”

“He was only being kind—”

“Luther Corbois is many things, but kind is not one of them.”

An irrational urge to defend Luther shot through me, and I had to bite my tongue to keep the words in. “Perhaps the royals only wanted to repay your serv—”

“I’m not finished,” Father snapped.

My lips pressed closed.

He ripped the letter from the envelope and held it up to read. “The Prince went on to commend me for raising a daughter who was, in his words, ‘so courageous and so selfless that she ran into a burning building to save the lives of two guards mere seconds before its collapse.’” He slapped the paper down and leaned forward, his palms curling into fists. “You told me you were going there to heal the injured.”

“I was—I did.”

“What part of healing involves running into burning buildings?”

I couldn’t tell him the truth—that I had saved those guards because of guilt, not courage. That I’d nearly let myself burn alongside them for the same reason.

“The guards were injured,” I said quickly. “They needed help to get out.”

“And you were the only one who could help them? A mortal, who could have died in a thousand different ways?”

“I’m fine now, aren’t I?”

His dark walnut eyes narrowed on me. “If only that had been the end of the letter.”

Dread began to take root. I cleared my throat, squirming uneasily in my chair.

“The Prince also mentioned what a great debt he owes to you—” I closed my eyes, knowing the damning words coming next. “—for saving Lilian’s life in your work as the new palace healer.”

My head fell back to rest against the hard wooden spine of the chair. Luther, you fool.

“Are you out of your Flaming mind? I hardly know what to yell at you for first!”

“We could put them all in a hat, and you could pick one,” I muttered.

I jumped at the crack of his hand crashing into the table. “This isn’t a joke, Diem.”

My eyes flew open, my spine straightening. “No, Father, it’s not a joke. It’s my life. My life—not yours.”

“Your mother and I have made great sacrifices to protect you from those people all these years, and you’ve thrown it all away.”

“I never should have been protected. Why should I be spared while every other mortal in the realm suffers?”

“So now you wish to suffer?”

“What I wish,” I hissed, “is to live my own life by my own choices. It’s time you start trusting me to decide what’s best for myself.”

His knuckles blanched with the strain of his clenched fists. “How long have you been working at the palace?”

“A few weeks.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

I gritted my teeth. “Well you’re reacting to it so calmly now, it’s a wonder why I ever thought you might be ups—”

“You took your mother’s role as palace healer?”


“Why? I thought Maura was handling it.”

“At the time, I thought Teller would lose his place at the Descended school if a Bellator didn’t fulfill the bargain.”

“What bargain?”

“The bargain Mother made to serve the palace in exchange for Teller’s admission to the academy.”

A mix of emotions flickered across my father’s face, but the clearest one was surprise. I sat up straighter, frowning at him. Did he really not know about Mother’s agreement?

“You said ‘at the time’—what does that mean? What changed?”

“Luther forgave the bargain this morning. Teller can finish his schooling even if I don’t work at the palace.”

“Why would he do that?”

A loaded question.

I looked down at the old oak table and ran my fingertip along its grooves. “I don’t know.”

“The royals never do anything that isn’t in their own interests. What did the Prince have to gain?”

“You saw the letter. He thinks he owes me a debt.”

“They don’t care about debts to mortals. They believe they’re entitled to our service as a matter of right. Why would you be any different?”

“You’re the expert on Luther,” I grumbled under my breath, “why don’t you tell me?”

Again his fists pounded against the tabletop, startling me and snapping my gaze back to his.

“Who is Lilian?”

“Luther’s sister, the Princess.”

“What happened with her?”

“There was an incident at the palace. Some children were injured, and Maura and I were called to help. I treated Lily—”

He stiffened.

I knew instantly I’d made a very, very big mistake.

“How old is this Lily?” he asked softly.

I winced. “Sixteen.”

Red exploded across his face.

Teller,” he bellowed. “Get in here.”

Teller came slinking out of the hallway almost immediately—quickly enough for me to know he must have been eavesdropping just out of sight. He scowled at me with a blend of betrayal and panic.

Father pointed a quivering finger in his direction. “Tell me this is a misunderstanding, son. Tell me you have not been courting the gods-damned royal Princess of Lumnos.”

“He’s not courting her—”

“I’m talking to your brother,” Father snarled at me. “I’ll deal with you and your choices in a minute.”


No. No, no, no, no, no.

I tried and failed to shove the voice down as I pushed away from the table and rose to my feet.

“Leave Teller alone,” I protested. “I was only teasing him the other night. They’re just classmates, he’s done nothing wrong.”

“You said you invited her to our home.”

“Yes, because that’s what you do with friends.”

“He will not be friends with the Princess of Lumnos.”

My eyes narrowed. “He’ll be friends with whoever he damn well wants to be.”

“Diem,” Teller cut in. “I can handle this.”

Father stalked around the edge of the table until he was facing me. “Have you been encouraging this madness? You’re supposed to be a role model for him.”


“And so are you,” I snapped. My temper had become a living thing, fusing with the voice as it slithered and swelled. “Tell me, Father—when were you going to tell us you’re going back to the army? Today? Next week? Next month, as you’re walking out the door?”

Teller staggered backward, his confused stare jumping between the two of us.

Father’s voice went soft as death. “Who told you about that?”

“The better question is why I had to hear about it from someone else in the first place.”

“It’s true?” Teller whispered.

Guilt shadowed Father’s expression. “I wanted to discuss it with you both last night, but the explosions interrupted us.”

“Discuss it?” I laughed harshly. “You sent in your acceptance last week. What kind of discussion could there possibly be?”

Muscles ticked beneath his thinning beard. “The acceptance was a formality. These orders are not the kind that can be declined.”

“Screw the orders,” Teller shouted. My head jerked toward him—in my life, I’d never heard him yell at our father, never even heard him so much as raise his voice. “Mother’s gone and now you’re leaving? How could you do that to us?”

The anguish on his face shattered my heart. Teller had always been the steadiest of us—when Father retreated inward after Mother’s disappearance and I drowned myself in destructive decisions, Teller alone had stayed the course. His positive attitude, his kindness, his commitment to his schooling—none of it wavered, even in grief.

“Son,” Father started, his own voice unsteady. “I don’t have a choice.”

“Tell them no.” Teller shook his head as his eyes watered. “Tell them you can’t go. Tell them—tell them you have a child at home you have to care for.”

“You’re of adult age for a mortal. The army won’t care that you’re still in school.”

“Then just don’t go,” I joined in. “They can’t conscript you, not unless war is declared.”

“War has been declared.” Father’s eyes flashed angrily as they returned to me. “Last night’s attack was not an isolated incident. There have been bombings in several of the realms. The Crowns wish to stamp it out before it becomes anything worse.”


“So you’re going to kill them?” I spat out, unable to conceal my withering judgment. “You’re going to kill our own people because the Descended told you to?”

“I am trying to keep the peace. If this goes on much longer, more of the realms may ban mortals from their borders. Thousands will die, and the restrictions we live under will get worse. If stopping a handful of rebels means preventing the destruction of our people entirely, then I’ll happily do it.”

His words sounded so similar to Henri’s that it roiled my stomach. Each side was convinced they were fighting for good, each of them believing that the killings they committed were righteous and justified to prevent the deaths of innocents. How was it possible for me to love people so deeply on both sides of this war?

And what choices would we each be forced to make before it all ended?

Father gave a drawn-out sigh, slumping as the fight flooded out of him. He clamped a hand on Teller’s shoulder, then did the same to me.

“I know you’re both worried, but they only want me there because it will look better to have their orders coming from a mortal commander. I’ll be far from any real danger.”

Teller looked at me with brows raised, as if asking for permission to believe him, but my head was too crowded to offer much reassurance, the call of the voice now a constant, demanding rumble in my thoughts.


Father gave Teller a good-natured jostle. “Focus on your schooling, son. I’ll be back before you know it. And you…” He looked at me and placed his palm on my cheek. “I know you feel I do not trust you, my Diem, but nothing could be further from the truth. I know you’ll take good care of your brother while I’m away. You’ll have to take on more work at the healers’ center to make ends meet in my absence, but once—”

I froze. I tried to rein in my features, but I knew from the gleam in his eyes that he’d caught on to my alarm.

“What is it?” he asked.

I stepped back until his hand fell from my face. His eyebrows sank into a deep slope.


“I quit the healers’ center.”

Teller’s mouth dropped open, and even he retreated out of Father’s grasp.

Father closed his eyes, his chest expanding in a slow, controlled inhale. My muscles stiffened, as if anticipating a blow.

“Then you will go back,” he said quietly, “and you will tell Maura to reinstate you.”


I steeled my jaw.


His eyelids flew open. “Yes.”



“Because I can’t be a healer now. I won’t. I did it for Mother, because it was expected of me, but… I can’t. Not anymore.”

The shaking in his fists radiated to his shoulders as he visibly struggled to contain his wrath. “Then you will marry Henri,” he gritted out. “His family can provide for you both.”

I gasped, or maybe Teller did. It was getting harder to separate what was happening in front of me from the chaos brewing inside.


That voice—that wretched, angry thing—was pacing in frenzied strides, wringing its hands, clawing at the inside of my skin, shrieking to be unleashed, as it had done so many times before.

This time, though, felt chillingly different.

I had never been able to control the voice with any reliability, but I had at least been able to control myself. During its worst, most violent urgings, I could flee to the safety of solitude until my temper cooled and the voice returned to its slumber.

But tonight, I felt like a passenger to my own rage.

Every instinct and shade of better judgment warned me to leave, to lock myself in my room or run from the house until cooler heads prevailed. But I couldn’t run. I could not even move.

I could not do anything except…


“Whether I will or will not marry Henri is my choice,” I shot back at him. “Not yours.”

“You gave up that choice when you walked away from being a healer.”

“The hell I did. If Mother were here, she would never let you say that to me.”

“Well she isn’t here,” he snarled, “and we’re all making sacrifices.”

“Please stop, both of you,” Teller pleaded.

“Then I’ll make some other sacrifice. I can find work in Paradise Row.”

“No daughter of mine will work as a barmaid or a prostitute. That is not up for discussion.”


“It’s not your choice.” My face was burning hot, the air around me sizzling as if I’d walked right back into last night’s raging inferno. “I’m a grown woman, I’m not a child anymore.”

“Then stop acting like one.”

“You can’t—”

Enough,” he bellowed. Even the cutlery laying along the kitchen hutch rattled faintly at the force of his thunderous tone. “I am your father, and you will obey me.”


You are not my father!

The words poisoned the air like a foul odor. Lingering. Turning my stomach.

“Be that as it may,” he said, his voice rough and trembling, “I am the closest thing to one that you will ever have.”


“Fine then,” I seethed between gritted teeth. “Tell me, dear Father—where is our mother?”

He faltered. A subtle, almost imperceptible thing. “I don’t know.”


“I don’t believe you.” My eyes narrowed to slits, a silvery firestorm blazing behind them. “Why did you stop looking for her, Father? Why have you barely lifted a finger since the day she disappeared?”

I had never seen him look so furious with me before. Never. I should have been terrified, but his wrath was feeding the flames of my own. My hands tingled with pulsating sensations of frost and fire.

Fight. Fight. Fight.

“Why haven’t you grieved her loss, Father? Why do you speak as if she’ll walk through that door at any moment? What do you know that we don’t?”

The tingling coursed up my arms and scorched through my chest. Something crackled in my ears, and the corners of my vision went dark as the walls of the house faded from sight, leaving only the enraged man in front of me and an endless, angry darkness.



Just like those weeks ago when I’d quarreled with Henri in Fortos, I was consumed with the overwhelming urge to hurt him—to crush his body and his spirit, to strike a wound so vicious he might never recover.

And so I did—with words, if not with weapons.

“Perhaps you do not look because you do not care. Perhaps you’re the real reason she’s gone.”

“Diem,” Teller gasped.

Father detonated, overturning the table and sending dishes and chairs scattering across the floor. “Get out,” he roared. “Get out of my house!

“Gladly,” I snarled. I shoved past Teller and across the threshold, slamming the door behind me.


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