Spark of the Everflame: Chapter 6


I let out a choked laugh at the miserable picture I made, covered in blood and weeping on the floor of the most extravagant room I’d ever set foot in.

The washroom was half the size of my family’s home, its domed ceiling hand-painted with the image of a swirling evening sky. Light twinkled through the stars that dotted the expanse of sapphire and obsidian whorls, casting a dappled glow across my body.

In an alcove, a circle of solid gold washbasins surrounded a fountain of the goddess Lumnos emerging from a bubbling pond. Rows of cut crystal jars containing soaps and perfumes lined shelves along the wall. There was even a hearth, still aglow with the embers of a dying fire, warming a pyramid of soft, fluffy towels.

My eyes dropped to the dark marble floor, its white and gold veins swirling around a trail of bloody smears that led directly to me. “Great,” I muttered. “Just perfect.”

I wiped away a tear with the back of my hand. I wasn’t even sure why, exactly, I was crying. Maybe it was the innocent girl I’d almost killed with my incompetence. Maybe it was the way that insufferable Descended man had looked at me like I was merely a bug to be crushed beneath his heel.

Or maybe I was just a daughter who missed her mother.

Seeing him had taken me right back to that cursed afternoon. That was the last day I’d seen the crinkle of her eyes, heard the pealing bell of her laugh, felt the warmth of our linked arms as we walked together into town.

Until now, I hadn’t allowed myself to accept she might truly be gone. For my family’s sake, I had always played along with the pretense that she was alive somewhere and would eventually come home.

But sitting here, in the royal palace, surrounded by Descended—the very situation my mother had spent a lifetime trying to keep me away from—felt like the turning of a page.

A goodbye.

Life after Auralie Bellator.

Five minutes, I conceded. You get five minutes to feel sorry for yourself. Then you get up, and you get back to work.

I tilted my head back against the cold stone wall and closed my eyes. With a shuddering breath, six months of pent-up grief crashed into my shattered heart.


Lana and I returned to the center while Maura stayed behind to check in on the elder royal my mother had been caring for, who I now knew to be the King of Lumnos.

To my relief, all three of the injured children survived and would fully recover. Only Elric had bothered to thank us for ensuring such a happy outcome. The rest of the Descended had slipped away without so much as a glance.

I didn’t see the mystery man again after our odd encounter outside the washroom. I was still second-guessing my decision not to ask him about my mother. I wondered now if I’d ever get another chance.

On our way back to town, I caught my first-ever glance of Lumnos City. Though mortals were, in theory, permitted to live there, none could afford to do so. Even the most modest homes were grandiose, sprawling estates adorned with columns and leafy terraces, the light from glittering chandeliers warming oversized windows. We caught the occasional scent of fresh-baked bread, grilled spiced meats, and bouquets of fragrant florals—a far cry from the pungent odors of our mortal village.

How strange, to live my whole life only a brief distance from such breathless excess, and yet be entirely disconnected from it.

That’s not to say that I was completely unsophisticated. I’d made the occasional visit to the bustling ports of Meros, Realm of Sea and Sky, as well as to Fortos, Realm of Force and Valor, our realm’s nearest neighbor to the south. My parents had met there while they were both serving in the Emarion Army. Though led by the Fortos King, the army’s ranks included mortals and Descended from every realm, and it could be summoned by any of the Crowns if a conflict went beyond what the realm’s own internal Royal Guard could handle. Our family visited the army’s headquarters in Fortos often, Father to catch up with old friends and Mother to meet with the well-trained, well-stocked army healers.

Further south lay Faunos, Realm of Beast and Brute, home of Descended who were rumored to be more animal than human. Mortals were forbidden in Faunos unless passing through on the Ring Road leading to Arboros, Realm of Root and Thorn. With its rich vegetation, Arboros supplied many of the medicinal plants we used at the center. I occasionally accompanied my mother on her annual visit there to restock our more difficult-to-find ingredients.

Our realm’s northern neighbor Montios, Realm of Stone and Ice, was technically forbidden to mortals, though Henri and I once covertly slipped across the border to catch a glimpse of its stunning snow-capped lavender mountains. We had even spotted a distant band of Montios’s secretive nomadic Descended tucked away in a cave amongst the rocky terrain.

In fact, there were only three realms whose soil I’d never touched.

Sophos, Realm of Thought and Spark, was open to mortals by invitation only. If Teller earned a spot at one of its lauded universities, only then would I have a chance to visit their legendary city of innovation and see its cloud-scraping buildings and infinite libraries.

The sun-scorched southern deserts of Ignios, Realm of Sand and Flame, were completely off-limits to mortals—even travel along the Ring Road meant certain death. Not that I had any interest in visiting that harsh, wretched place.

Finally, there was Umbros, Realm of Mind and Secret. Though Umbros was the only place where mortals and Descended from all realms were welcome without restriction, the career paths they might find were less than savory: assassins, spies, courtesans, opium dealers, and the like. If Meros was the waypoint for the inter-realm trade of legitimate wares, Umbros was its sneaky evil twin.

Umbros was a haven of darkness and sin, tolerated by the other realms only for fear of its ruthless Queen. She was old and, according to rumor, immensely powerful. Following the Blood War, she had ordered the slaughter of all but one hundred of the Umbros Descended in order to keep her own magic undiluted and strong.

Although the mere thought of Umbros sent chills down my spine, some wild, adventurous part of me stirred at the prospect of exploring its wicked secrets.

My afternoon duties took me on a tour of Mortal City as I left to make house calls to a number of poor families. By the time I returned to the healers’ center, day had melted into evening and the trainees had departed for the night, leaving Maura and I alone in the empty quiet. Maura scribbled the day’s notes into our records while I finished bottling a new batch of willowmoss salve.

“Was everything alright this morning at the palace?” Maura called out. “There seemed to be some excitement with the Princess.”

“Nothing I couldn’t handle,” I answered quickly, shame still gnawing at me for having overlooked the girl’s wound. “The Descended were not what I expected.”

“What do you mean?”

I paused my work. “They seemed almost… mortal.”

“Well they were born of both the Kindred and mortals. Much as they may deny it, mortal blood will forever run in their veins. What did you expect them to be like?”

I shrugged. “Empty. Emotionless.”

“They can be, sometimes. But I suppose fear for a wounded child is universal. Even the wildest beasts go mad when their young are in danger.”

The panicked voice of the mystery man calling for help as Lily crumpled in his arms played again and again in my ears. To me, he’d been nothing but stiff and condescending. But to this girl, to Lily… I could still vividly picture his gentle caress to wipe away her tears as he’d told her how proud he was.

If you’d asked me yesterday, I would have denied them capable of any kind of love. But what I’d seen today…

“That reminds me,” Maura said, “the Prince came by this afternoon while you were out. He asked me to give you his thanks.”

I frowned. “You mean Elric? He’s a prince?”

“No, not Elric. Prince Luther.”

I went still.

“Was Prince Luther at the palace this morning?”

“You really don’t know the royals at all, do you?” Maura grinned. “Diem, you were sitting right beside him. He was the one holding his sister, Princess Lilian. They’re the King’s niece and nephew.”

Oh, gods. Oh, gods.

The man I’d been searching for all this time was Prince Luther.

Teller’s-crush’s-older-brother Luther.

Man-whose-hand-I-threatened-to-slice-off Luther.

Soon-to-be-King-of-Lumnos Luther.

I slumped into the nearest chair. This was not good. Very not good.

Maura took one look at my distress and howled with laughter. “Oh dearie, not you, too. I already have to put up with the trainees turning into giggling featherbrains every time ‘handsome Prince Luther’ is around. I can’t have you swooning after him as well.”

My shock twisted into a glare. “I wouldn’t swoon over that insufferable beast if he were the last man in Emarion.”

Maura blinked, then doubled over, hooting even harder. “What did he say to earn that distinction?”

“Have you ever talked to the man? He’s horrid. Nothing but ego.” I absently touched my elbow where he’d grabbed me. If I thought about it hard enough, I could still feel the burn of his fingers on my skin. Not that I was thinking about it at all. “He tried to tell me how to do my own work.”

“What do you mean?”

“The girl, Lily—her arm was broken, and I needed to set it. He had the nerve to try to stop me. He acted like it was his job.”

Maura’s chuckling abruptly stopped. “And you didn’t let him?”

“Do you know how many broken bones I’ve set, Maura? I could do it in my sleep. Blindfolded.”

“Yes, but the girl was a Descended.”

“So?”

She gave me a curious look. “So how did you set it?”

“Oh, you know, with a hammer, a rope, a shot of whiskey—”

“I’m serious, Diem.” Maura stood and walked over to me. Her face was uncharacteristically solemn. “Did another Descended help you?”

“I didn’t need help. I took care of it like any other patient. Silverworm to numb the pain, a little distraction, a sharp tug—and it’s done.” I smirked. “Just like magic.”

Her head cocked. “And you’re sure the bone set?”

“I’m trying not to be insulted, Maura.”

“It’s just…” She trailed off, frowning. “Descended bones are strong. Stronger even than iron. Mortals don’t have the strength to move them.”

That couldn’t be right. I had clearly felt the girl’s bone shift under my hands and heard the crunch as it slid into place.

“Perhaps it’s easier with the young ones,” I guessed.

Maura shook her head. “The toddler had several that needed to be set, and the first Descended I asked couldn’t even shift them. She had to call in one of the stronger males to help.”

We stared at each other for a long moment, blinking.

Maura seemed to hesitate before speaking again. “Diem… was there only a broken bone? Prince Luther said you saved his sister’s life.”

A lake of blood flashed into my vision. Colorless lips. A faded pulse. A mountain of crimson-soaked gauze. Then, seconds later, an unblemished back, perfectly smooth, no trace of a wound.

I shivered.

I busied myself at my worktable, avoiding her stare. “It was a minor wound that healed almost immediately. Who knew a prince could be so overdramatic?”

Maura loitered for a moment. Her eyes couldn’t stop trailing my arms, like she might peel back my skin to find some answer hidden beneath.

I shifted uncomfortably. “Did he say anything else? Anything about my mother?”

“There was one thing. He asked if I had known you as a child—if I’d seen you with brown eyes, before they changed. I told him I had, of course. And he asked if I knew your father.”

I held my breath. Maura was one of the few people outside of my family who knew that I was not the blood child of the Commander. “What did you say?”

Maura gave me a grave, meaningful look. “I told him everyone knows Andrei Bellator, the great mortal war hero.”

“So you didn’t mention…?”

“No,” she said firmly. “That’s none of my concern.” She turned back to her desk and resumed her writing, as if there was simply nothing further to be said on the subject.

We worked in silence for a bit longer until I finally worked up the courage to say the words that had been hanging on my lips all day.

“Maybe I should start taking some of the Descended work at the palace.”

Maura raised an eyebrow. “What was that you said about insufferable beasts? And now you want to dote on them?”

I scrunched my nose. “There will be no doting, thank you very much. I only mean that I can help. You don’t have to do it all yourself.”

She hesitated. “You know how Auralie feels about it, dearie. She’s already going to be furious about this morning.”

The heaviness I’d felt on the floor of the palace washroom settled back over me like a leaden cape. “It’s time to accept that she might not come back.”

“Don’t say that.”

“It’s been six months. There’s been no sign of her.”

“You can’t give up ho—”

“Don’t, Maura. Please. Hope without reason is… it’s cruel.” I took a deep breath, willing the burning in my throat to fade. “I can’t keep pretending like life is still normal. Like she’s not…” My voice wobbled. “Like she’s not gone.”

Maura sniffled a bit, but remained quiet.

“Teller fears they’ll revoke his admission to the Descended academy without a Bellator serving as the Crown healer. Even if that’s not true—I can’t have him worried about it. He needs to focus on school. I have to take my mother’s place until he’s finished.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“What do you mean?”

“When your mother made that arrangement, she didn’t merely agree to serve until Teller finished school. She—” Maura’s mouth snapped closed.

I rose from my chair. “Tell me, Maura.”

She winced, her pity hanging in the air like a cloying scent. “The bargain was for life, Diem. Your mother agreed to serve in whatever manner the Crown requests for the rest of her life.”

“What do you mean, ‘in whatever manner the Crown requests’?”

“I don’t know the details, that was between your mother and the royals. She only told me that she would keep working here as much as she could, but requests from the Crown would be her priority.”

My knees felt weak. I leaned onto the table, gripping the edge. “And if she breaks the agreement?”

Maura rubbed her hands over her face and exhaled deeply. “I swore to Auralie I would never tell you this.”

“Maura, if this affects Teller, I have to know. It’s my job to protect him now.”

She looked at me with genuine pain in her eyes. “If she doesn’t fulfill the bargain, then her life would be forfeit. She would be executed by the Crown.”

The room began to spin. Suddenly the shadows were too bright, the silence too loud.

I fumbled for words. “But… the King—Teller says he’s unconscious. If he dies… maybe no one else knows. Maybe—”

“Prince Luther knows. He’s the one who negotiated it with your mother on behalf of the Crown.”


At dinner that night, it was all I could manage to shove bits of food around on my plate. As Teller and Father gabbed about their days, I offered just enough nods and smiles to not be rude, murmured just enough innocuous details to satisfy their questions.

My mind was a mess.

I was ravaged by a thousand sparring thoughts, each one more terrifying than the next. None of them made sense. None of them I dared speak aloud.

When my mother had been here, it had been so easy to stay sheltered in the cocoon she’d built around me. I’d pushed back in all the ways that restless youth do, but I always surrendered in the end and accepted my curated existence.

She’d kept so many secrets. From all of us, but especially from me. Her daughter, her firstborn.

If anyone should have known the truth, shouldn’t it have been me? Before Teller, before even Father, it had been the two of us, alone in the world. An unwed mother and her bastard infant.

A part of me hated her for it, even though I knew she had done it for me. I knew in my heart, my soul, that my mother would do anything to protect me.

Keep any secret. Make any deal. Tell any lie.

And now, without her protection, I was being hauled toward all those truths I had been perfectly content to ignore, kicking and screaming all the way down.

If Teller had heard what transpired at the palace, he said nothing of it to me. Though when I sat in front of the hearth and gazed vacantly at the fire, I felt his curious stare on my back. I supposed my moodiness since I’d stopped taking the flameroot powder had made him wary enough to give me space.

The flameroot.

The vial of red powder burned a hole in my pocket. My chaotic thoughts circled it like vultures around a fresh kill. That bottle was my anger and fear, my anxiety and resentment—all my darkest emotions in tangible form.

When the sky turned black and the men in my family were lost in dreams, I gathered all the bottles in my mother’s supply and slipped outside to the water’s edge.

One by one, I hurled the moon-shaped jars into the sea. One by one, they hit the waves and sank forever to a watery grave.

Each quiet splash felt like the creaking open of an old, heavy door, its iron hinges rusted from ages of disuse.

I said a prayer to the Old Gods to make me ready for whatever lay beyond.

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