Spark of the Everflame: Chapter 4


“Auralie—I’m looking for Auralie Bellator,” he wheezed, chest heaving for breath. “Where is she?”

The sound of my mother’s name sent a sharp swell of grief surging through me. “She… unavailable.”

“I was told to get Auralie Bellator. It’s urgent—you have to hurry!”

His hands trembled, eyes bulging so wide I could see the whites surrounding his bright cobalt irises.

“She isn’t here, but I’m sure we can help. Can you tell me what’s happened?”

“The palace… there’s been an accident—children are hurt. Several. Please—please come with me.”

Calm settled over my bones as my training kicked in. “How many children?” I fired off. “Ages? Type of injuries? How severe?”

“Th-three children. Two are young—under ten, I think. The other is older, maybe sixteen. A stone roof collapsed. Please, hurry!

Immediately, my eyes found Maura. An unspoken understanding passed between us, honed from years of working side by side. We nodded silently and each reached for a satchel, packing them with gauze, splints, and jars of various concoctions.

“You stay,” she said. “I’ll take some trainees with me.”

“I’m coming with you,” I cut in. “You can’t treat three injured children on your own.”

“Diem, it’s the palace.”

“They’re children, Maura.”

She hesitated, eying me nervously. “But your mother…”

“Isn’t here.” The words came out more bitter than I’d intended. “You can take it up with her when she comes back.”

Maura pursed her lips, but said nothing more.

“What’s your name?” I asked, turning back to the Descended boy, who looked as if he might empty the contents of his stomach at any moment. He seemed barely more than a child himself.

“El… Elric.”

“Elric, I’m Diem. This is Maura. Lana will be coming, as well.” I paused and motioned to one of the more experienced trainees, a petite blonde who was near me in age but had not yet advanced to full healer status. I walked over and laid a hand on his shoulder. “Everything’s going to be fine.”

I realized with a start that this was the first time I’d ever touched a Descended—certainly the closest I’d ever been to one. To feel his body heat under my hand, feel the thump of his racing pulse…

I’d been so sheltered from them, my perceptions fed on a strict diet of myth and gossip, that I had imagined them to be something monstrous. Cold-blooded, soulless, hypnotic. Ethereal beauty and wicked to the core.

But this boy, pale and shaking with terror, seemed utterly… normal.

“Thank you,” he breathed. Some of the tension in his features relaxed at my touch.

We finished gathering the supplies, and the four of us scurried outside and onto the long dirt path that led to the royal palace. Elric’s muscles twitched as we walked, and I could tell it was taking all of his self-control to keep from dragging us into a dead sprint. His eyes kept darting to Maura’s cane—his face twisting into a wince with each of her slow, limping steps.

“It was my fault,” he said in a shaky whisper, too low for anyone but me to hear. “I was showing off my magic to the children, and it hit the ceiling, and it…” His voice broke.

I grabbed his hand and gave it a light squeeze. “Accidents happen, Elric.”

He nodded, but despair was stark on his face.

“When my brother and I were little,” I said, “I stuck some carrion in his bag. I only meant to tease him with the smell, but on our way to school a wild boar caught the scent and attacked him. Put a tusk right through his thigh. We were all alone, and I thought he was going to die right in front of me, all for a foolish joke.” My gut clenched at the memory of my brother’s bleeding body in my arms as I screamed for help. “Then I was scared that, even if he did survive, he’d hate me forever. And I was convinced my parents would never forgive me either way.”

Elric’s anguish dimmed at the momentary distraction. “Did he survive?”

“He did.”

“Did he forgive you?”

I groaned. “He got to stay home from school for weeks and eat all the sweets he wanted. It was the greatest time of his life. He thanked me.”

A smile tugged at his lips. “And your parents?”

“They weren’t happy. But they knew my heart. They knew I’d never hurt my brother on purpose.” I squeezed his hand again. “That’s what family is all about. Standing by each other’s side, even when you make the worst mistakes.”

He said nothing, but the storm broke on his expression, a tentative hope cutting through the dark clouds of guilt.

Eventually we reached an unmarked curve on the road. Elric peered into the trees nervously, then turned and studied the three of us, biting his lip as he appeared to process some unspoken dilemma. “Healers can’t say anything about what they see, right? Isn’t that the rule?”

Maura nodded. “That’s right, dearie. It’s all confidential.”

He exhaled deep. “I know a shortcut that will get us there faster. But you can’t tell anyone about this—ever.”

Without awaiting our response, he bolted off the path and into the forest. Maura, Lana, and I shared a confused look before hurrying to follow behind him.

After a few minutes of clambering over snarled roots and ducking under low-hanging branches, an enormous wall covered in a thick spread of leafy vines came into view. The wall was camouflaged so seamlessly into the surrounding vegetation that, had it been nighttime, I might have crashed right into it.

Elric felt around on the wall, mumbling quietly to himself as he searched, before yelping with success. “Here! Follow me—quickly.”

He pulled back on the foliage to reveal a hole barely large enough to pass through. He peered through the opening and glanced around before motioning for us to go on.

Elric offered out his arms to carry Maura, and I had to bite back a smile as she smacked him away with a stern scowl. Born with one severely bowed leg, Maura had never let it hold her back, and after all these years, she certainly wouldn’t start now.

One by one we crawled through, our satchels clinking as they dragged along the ground. Another interior wall of fluffy boxwood hedges blocked our view, but as I breathed in the sweet fragrance of florals and fresh herbs, I realized we’d entered a large garden.

A giant mass of granite lay tossed to the side. As if it weighed barely more than air, Elric lifted the stone block with a single hand, drawing the curtain of ropey vines and slipping it back into place.

I nearly choked. The stone had to weigh twice as much as I did. I knew Descended outmatched mortals on strength and speed, but I’d never seen a display like that.

Elric beckoned us forward. He crept along the wall, staying close to the hedges, occasionally peeking above to see if we’d been spotted. We turned a corner, and my breath caught in my throat.

From Mortal City, I’d only ever seen faint glimpses of the royal palace, a crown of spires peeking over the trees to keep watch on us from afar. I’d always imagined it to be some imposing stone fortress, a stronghold as fearsome and impenetrable as the Descended themselves.

What stood before me was something else entirely.

It seemed to be made not of stone or wood, but of light itself. Its structure rose and fell in sharp, delicate waves, the walls radiating an ethereal shimmer, like starlight given physical form. A mass of towering steeples disappeared into the sky, visible only by the faint sheen of reflected blue that made it difficult to comprehend the full sprawl of the building’s massive footprint. As clouds passed over the morning sun, the glistening facade gently wavered like a reflection off the Sacred Sea. Far from frightening or imposing—it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

“Diem!” Maura’s voice drifted from a distance.

I tore my eyes away, only to realize I’d been left abandoned in my stupor. Up ahead, Lana and Maura had followed Elric out of the garden and up marble steps to a set of giant arched doors.

“Stay close,” Maura hissed and snatched me by the arm as I jogged to join them. “They’re jumpy whenever mortals are around. Don’t go wandering off, understand?”

I could only nod, still dumbstruck by the grandeur surrounding me.

The splendor didn’t end when I stepped past the threshold.

If Mortal City was a gloomy array of stone and dirt, this place was an artist’s palette. Buttery yellows, flaming reds and oranges, watery blues, mossy greens—every hue imaginable painted the interior, woven into plush, tassel-edged rugs and tapestries that loomed larger than my house. Lifelike paintings in gilded frames adorned the walls, each one lit by a hovering orb of pale blue light.

Maura yanked me alongside her as we followed Elric down a long corridor lined with vaulted, hand-carved wooden trusses.

The cries of pained young voices echoed through the rafters. A group of Descended, dressed in an eye-popping kaleidoscope of colorful silks, had gathered at the end of the hallway. A few turned their attention to us, their expressions guarded.

“I brought the healers,” Elric shouted, pushing his way through the throng. “Move! Move!

The crowd parted and a pathway formed, revealing an airy, glass-walled sunroom filled with rubble, the air still cloudy with particles of fallen stone.

Several long tables overflowed with fruits, pastries, and steaming dishes whose aromas wafted through the chamber. A table in the center lay in disarray, its edges jutting with splintered wood where it had been snapped in half by falling debris, while a hole in the ceiling opened up to the level above.

By the Flames. It was a miracle no one had died.

“Which child is the most critical?” Maura asked.

Elric waved over a pretty, golden-haired woman whose face was splotched with dried tears. After an exchange of words, he turned back to us.

“The youngest.” With a trembling hand, he gestured to a small boy lying motionless nearby. Not missing a beat, Maura broke off toward the child, leaving me and Lana behind. “The oldest, she’s hurt badly as well.”

I turned to Lana. “I’ll tend to her. You check the other, then help Maura.” She nodded and hurried off.

As Elric led me away, something hit me about the air in the room—something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It felt heavy in an oddly sentient way, like the heft of it pressed against my skin, exploring me, assessing me.

“Do you feel that?” I asked Elric.

My words fell on unhearing ears, his attention consumed by the whimpering girl at his feet.

She was cradled in the arms of a man kneeling among the wreckage, his long, ebony hair fallen free from its binding and obscuring his features. He gently stroked the girl’s cheek as he murmured to her in a hushed, soothing tone.

She stared up at him, her expression twisted in pain. Blood caked her temple, and her arm lay against her chest at an unnatural angle. Her brunette hair was woven into a labyrinth of tiny braids across the crown of her head, now matted with blood and dusted with shattered stone.

I kneeled at her side. She flinched as I gingerly touched her arm, and I felt the scorch of the man’s glare snap to my face.

“Hello,” I said to her softly, conjuring up my well-practiced calm. “I’m a healer, and I’m here to help you. Can you tell me what hurts?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” the man snarled. I ignored him, my gaze locked on my patient.

“My arm,” she answered. Her voice was quiet but smooth, her eyes bright, her breathing steady—all good signs.

“Can you move it?” I asked.

“No,” the man shot back on her behalf. “It’s clearly broken.”

The presence I’d felt in the air seemed to engulf him and pulse in time with the flares of his anger. The heady aura sent something flickering beneath my ribs, but I refused to let my focus waver. I had years of experience working around the overbearing family members of my patients. Just because this one happened to be a Descended—a furious, heavily muscled, royal Descended—would not keep me from doing my job.

“Can you move it?” I repeated to her.

The girl shook her head weakly, wincing with the effort.

From her age, I guessed that her healing abilities had already developed and would be able to repair the injury soon, but I suspected I’d need to set the bone first to ensure it healed correctly.

I dug in my satchel and retrieved a large stoppered flask. “I’m going to give you something to help with the pain. Can you tell me your name?”

“I—I’m Lily,” she stammered.

“You may call her Princess Lilian,” the man corrected, still boring a hole through me with his stare.

Realization barreled into me. Lily—Princess Lilian. The very same girl my brother had blushed at the mention of.

My head tilted as I assessed her with new eyes.

“Nice to meet you, Lily,” I said pointedly. A low growl rumbled from the man’s throat. “My name is Diem. Can you take a big drink of this for me?”

Lily’s brow furrowed as she eyed the vessel. “What is it?”

My lips quirked up. Questioning mystery liquids from strangers—smart girl. No wonder Teller liked her.

“Silverworm. It’s made from a lovely white flower that grows near the shore.” I brought my face close to hers and winked. “Don’t worry, there’s no real worms in it.”

She gave the tiniest of smiles, and the man’s tightly coiled posture eased. As she tilted the flask to her lips, I scanned the rest of her petite body for wounds, spotting only a gash on her head that was already beginning to clot.

I tucked away a stray lock of hair that had fallen over her face. “Soon you’re going to feel much better, Lily. The silverworm needs a few minutes to take effect, but I’ll wait here with you until then, is that alright?”

She nodded again. A tear escaped from her midnight blue eyes, leaving a wet track along her dust-coated cheek. Her lower lip began to tremble. She turned her face to the man whose arms still held her close. “I’m s-sorry. I thought I could get the ch-children out of the way before it fell.”

He cupped a hand to her face, brushing away her tear with his thumb. “You did a brave thing in service of another. Don’t ever apologize for that. I’m very proud of you.”

The man’s gentle, soothing voice was a far cry from the severe tone he’d used with me. I finally dared to bring my eyes up to study his face.

Instantly, every thought flushed from my head.

Olive skin. Blue-grey eyes. A long, uneven scar.

Him.

It was him.


For months, I’d scoured Mortal City for clues that might lead me to the Descended man I’d seen arguing with my mother the day she disappeared. And now, here he was, inches away—the one person with the answers I sought. The man whose secrets my mother had used against him.

The man who might have killed her to keep them quiet.

My eyes darted to the jeweled hilt rising over his shoulder, the very same one he’d worn that day in the alley. I blinked a few times and shook my head, as if the movement might reveal this was all some vicious illusion.

He was here. Real. Close—so close.

He must have noticed my gawking, because his attention flicked up and met my stare.

Perhaps it was an illusion, but for a heartbeat, a glimmer of recognition seemed to tear across his face—the slightest widening of his eyes, an abrupt flare of his nostrils.

It was gone in a second, locked behind a stony mask.

I immediately looked away and busied my hands in my bag.

“Have we met?” he asked, his tone turning clipped once more.

“No,” I said quickly. Too quickly.

“You said your name was Diem?” Lily asked. “Are you Teller’s sister?”

I tensed, then nodded.

“We go to school together. He told me about you.”

I debated how badly Teller would murder me for what I said next. “He told me about you, too.”

Her cheeks flushed scarlet. “He did?”

“He said you’ve been very kind to him. I’d hoped to thank you personally for that. Maybe our meeting here today was fate.”

“A blessing from the Kindred,” she murmured reverently.

My lips pressed tight as I averted my gaze. Mortals did not particularly view anything from the Descended gods as a blessing, but here in the heart of the royal palace, I didn’t dare admit that out loud.

“Your brother is the mortal that attends the Descended school?” the man asked, his voice sounding oddly strained.

I nodded without looking at him. His attention lingered on me as I fussed with a jar of salve in feigned distraction.

Mercifully, Lily intervened. “Uncle Ulther gave him special permission to attend. He’s the smartest boy in class. He would be wasted at the mortal school.” She caught herself at the end and cringed in my direction. “That is—I didn’t mean—I’m sure the mortal schools are very good, I only meant—”

I gave her a reassuring smile. “It’s alright. I agree with you completely.”

She let out a deep exhale in relief.

I wondered at the relationship between Lily and the man across from me. He cared for her like a father, though he appeared only a few years older than me. Then again, the Descended matured like humans only until adulthood, at which point their aging slowed to a crawl. He could just as easily be 25 as 250. But his gruff protectiveness seemed something other than parental—a doting older brother, perhaps?

“I’m sorry about your mother,” Lily said. “I hope she’s found soon.”

The man went deathly still. Again I felt the weight of his focus, and this time, it took all my effort not to meet it with a glare of my own.

He knew.

Somehow, I felt certain—he knew what happened to my mother. He had to know.

An inferno kindled deep in my chest. Anger and accusation seized my throat and squeezed until I flinched. My muscles trembled with the urge to lunge at him and demand the answers locked inside his head.

Fight.

The voice, the same one that had hounded me this morning in the kitchen with my father, clanged through my head like a clocktower bell.

Or perhaps a death knell.

My fingers tightened around the flask, knuckles blanching. “How does your arm feel?” I gritted out.

“I can’t feel anything—does that mean it’s working?”

I applied pressure to her arm, gradually moving closer to where her flesh had begun to redden and swell. She gave no reaction. “Good. Now I’m going to set the bone. It won’t hurt, but you might feel a little discomfort.”

Remnants of my ire still throbbed between my temples. I rolled my shoulders back and tried to settle myself through a few shaky breaths.

Fight.

I clenched my jaw and channeled the energy coursing through my blood into my hands as I gripped her delicate shoulder. “Ready?”

“Wait,” the man interrupted. “Shouldn’t I do this?”

“Are you the healer?” I shot back. I refused to look at him for fear that his condescending expression might make me lose the fraying control I had on my temper. How dare he suggest I need his help to do my job? “Lily, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and count to three.”

Lily eyed my hands nervously for a moment, then her eyelids fluttered closed. Her chest rose once, then fell.

“One… two…”

The man held up a hand. “Are you sure I shouldn’t—”

I snapped her arm into place with a sickening crack.

Lily gasped and recoiled away from me. The man tucked her snug against his chest. “You’re safe,” he assured her, his tone once again gentle.

“You did perfectly, Lily,” I said. “That was the only scary part—the rest is easy.” I coaxed her out of his arms and began to tend to her, wrapping her arm into a makeshift sling and cleaning the wound at her temple.

The man continued to assess me with unnerving intensity. His glittering eyes watched my every movement like a hawk on the hunt.

When I finished, I gestured for Lily to stand. I realized with frustration that I had no idea how long her arm would need to stay in place before the girl’s Descended gifts would heal the bone. That was precisely the kind of information my mother had ensured that I never learned—but my pride wouldn’t allow me to admit that in front of this man, especially not after he’d already questioned my skills.

I started to excuse myself to consult with Maura when I noticed Lily swaying on her feet. Her face was drained of color, her eyes now cloudy and glazed.

“Lily?” I asked slowly. “Are you—”

Her eyes rolled back into her head. With a short, rattling breath, she collapsed into the man’s arms, and her body went still.

Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset