Spark of the Everflame: Epilogue


ELSEWHERE IN EMARION…

Six months, two weeks, and four days.

She twirled the chalky white rock in her hand as she counted up the rows of jagged lines scratched onto the godstone wall.

She’d learned the last time how quickly the days could get away from her. A week could feel like a year, or a month could feel like a day. When the soldiers had arrived to take her home from this place two decades ago, if it weren’t for the newborn in her arms, they could have easily convinced her she’d been gone for years.

This time, she’d been more careful. She’d tracked each sunset with a single white line, grouped in batches of seven, counting as the days ticked by.

Six months, two weeks, and four days.

When she’d left, the King’s condition was already so weak, his mind murky and his power faded to embers. She had prepared, both mentally and in a more practical sense, to wait out the final throes of his death in solitude for a few weeks, perhaps a month or two at most.

She hadn’t counted on the King holding out for the better part of a year.

As it often did these days, uncertainty nipped at her heels. What if the King made a full recovery? What if she had misread the signs and he had only been struck by some temporary illness?

With a task this dangerous, she had only been able to trust three people with her plan, and only two with her location. Even if one of them was willing to risk their life to rescue her, it had taken her twenty years to find a way back into this place. When would the next opportunity arise for them?

She could be stuck here for years. Decades. Centuries. Her body could be dust in the wind before another mortal soul touched this soil.

She tucked the hunk of chalk into her bag and rolled the covering of leaves back over her makeshift calendar. There was no point in wallowing over what-ifs. She’d known the risks when she came here. If this was her final resting place, so be it.

She whistled a tune to ease her mind as she started her daily routine—or rather, her nightly routine. It was too dangerous to wander among the sunlight and risk being spotted, so she’d learned to survive only in the darkness. It hadn’t been so bad during those warm summer evenings when she could lie under the stars, but winter was fast approaching. The nights were getting colder and food was getting scarce. Soon she would have to make some difficult decisions between staying hidden and staying alive.

But not yet, she chided herself. Soon—but not yet.

She circled the trails crisscrossing the land and checked each one of the locations she had mapped out for the culmination of her plan. She cleared debris from the walking paths and verified each of her stockpiles—fresh water, food stores, weapons, and the precious surprises she’d miraculously managed to sneak in. She edged as close as she dared to each of the ports of entry, making slight adjustments wherever nature’s forces had dislodged her preparations.

She even managed to do a bit of hunting, winning herself a rare warm dinner from a warren of rabbits, whose unexpected presence here she could only attribute to a gift from the Old Gods. The large meal had her in such good spirits that she even talked herself into approaching the glittering black stone door.

It had been the first place she visited when she’d returned to this awful place. During the agonizing journey, it had been all her mind could think of. What would she find here? Who would she find here?

When she had stood at the door and called out his name, the ultimate answer had been nothing and no one.

Still, though, she hadn’t yet managed to make herself go down those dark spiral stairs. Once a week, she forced herself to return, her godstone dagger clutched tightly to her chest, wondering what awaited her in that rat-infested room.

It had been her home once. Long ago. She’d been a very different woman then, with very different goals.

“Hello?” she called out, forcing herself to descend the first few steps. “Are you… are you still there?”

She strained her ears, every skitter and rustle making her heart skip a beat. She edged another step, then another, her toes brushing the line where the moon’s silvery wash gave way to the ominous darkness. She reached into her satchel and pulled out a small box of matches. Even with her careful rationing, their numbers were wearing dangerously thin. Wasting even one could make a difference, especially considering her plans.

But she had to know.

She struck the match, its bulb hissing as orange light fluttered across the walls and illuminated a few more feet. She took another few steps, counting each one. Nine, ten, eleven…

Fifteen steps. As long as she stayed within fifteen steps, she was safe. Out of reach. She’d learned that the hard way, back then.

Tonight, she stopped at twelve.

She stared into the depthless shadows. “It’s me. I came back for you.”

Only silence answered.

She threw the match forward, holding her breath as the tiny flame nearly guttered on its path to the ground. It hit the floor and took an unlucky bounce backward, not far enough to fill the shadows in the room.

But far enough to see the edge of an old blackened stain on the ground. Blood.

She turned and flew back up the steps, heart hammering in her ears as relief warred with a foreboding apprehension.

He’s gone, she reminded herself. Dead. You killed him. You’re safe, and so is she.

When she emerged into the chill night air, something in the atmosphere felt… different.

The buzz in the air reminded her of those delicate moments between the lighting of a fuse and the detonation of a bomb—those precious seconds when there was no more turning back and all you could do was hold your breath and wait for the fallout to begin.

A hunch in her chest tugged her toward the other place she had yet to visit. Until now, she had always found some excuse to stay away, but tonight she felt it whispering her name on the autumn breeze.

She kept the blade gripped in her hand as she ascended the path to the broad stone dais. She avoided passing through the archways that lined the periphery, entering instead through the wide gap in the border on the northern edge.

An unearthly tremor passed through her as her foot crossed over the edge and settled on the black tile floor. The moonlight glinted off the smooth stone, revealing a symbol carved beneath her feet: a ten-pointed star.

Being here felt wrong in some deeply fundamental way, as if the very blood under her skin knew it did not belong in this place.

The feeling of it only made her angry. It was an artificial wrongness, a stolen sanctity its builders had no right to claim. It prickled at her inner defiance and pushed her to continue toward the center.

Across the circle, her eyes fell on one of the archways. Like each of the others, a tall obelisk rose from the top of the arch, capped by a shallow cauldron, wisps of ice-blue flames dancing around its edge. Engraved into the center of the shimmering onyx column was another symbol—a crescent moon emerging from within a fiery sun. Soft light glowed from its edges and cast her face in a hue of pale sapphire.

She stood quietly and watched the flames lick at the air, the evening silence disturbed only by the crackling of the nine fires that surrounded her.

The ground beneath her began to rumble, and she staggered forward at the sudden movement. Her hand flew out to steady herself and landed on a short pedestal in the circle’s center topped by a hunk of glossy, smoky rock. The moment her hand brushed its rough-hewn edge, a searing pain shot through her veins.

She dropped to her knees, clutching her throbbing hand to her chest and gasping for air as waves of agony rocked through her. Red welts had already formed where her skin had made contact, and she watched in horror as they swelled and blistered to an unnatural shade of grey.

Far in the distance, she heard a series of long, piercing cries, their distinctly inhuman nature cutting through the fog of her pain.

Her eyes lifted in the direction of the sound—but caught on something else.

The obelisk she had been looking at moments ago had gone dark, the symbol at its center fading to shadow. The cauldron at its peak now held only wisps of smoke.

In the sky beyond, a column of light rose from within the forest and disappeared into the clouds. As if in answer, a twin beam shot down from the sky directly above her head. It landed on the glassy rock at her side, filling it with a sapphire glow.

Despite her still-aching hand, a jubilant grin spread across her face.

The King was dead.

After six months, two weeks, and four days of waiting, of being apart from her family, of retracing the steps that haunted her—the King of Lumnos was finally, finally dead.

Which could only mean one thing…

In thirty days, Auralie Bellator was going home.

To be continued…

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