Eternal

Emlyra has always hidden her spark, but now all her secrets are coming unravelled. Cursed with a mysterious new fire and heavy destiny, more people are depending on her than she’d ever imagined.

Thiria is from the icy country of Arkitt, in the farthest corner of the Northern Sea. Her skill in the Forbidden Arts of magic and healing could easily get her in trouble, but instead they make her a weapon to be wielded by Arida, her sister with a major power-complex.

Arrow has lived a life of difficulty in the Floating City, until he’s lucky enough for to be Partnered. But it’s not at all what it seems, and a stroke of incredible luck turns out to be his downfall.

When the lives of these three very different people become entangled, who will sort out the mess?

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1. Reunion

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        Family reunions are always one thing always have loathed with a burning passion, right from my innocent childhood days. The throngs of people I barely know, pressing in on all sides. Recklessly drinking wine and other—more scandalous, exotic—beverages like there's no tomorrow. This upcoming one will be no exception, I heard my mother talking with my uncle about bringing in various expensive brews from the south.

The only part that makes them bearable is seeing Zarac, my brother. I live with our mother, he lives with our father, and so it's only on the annual reunion that we get to speak. 

Being cooped up in a carriage for so long is definitely a strike against the reunion. If it was up to me, I'd ride the whole way on horseback, instead of in the stuffy chamber that the horses are forced to pull. But when I'd suggested it to mother, she merely scoffed and told me it'd ruin my dress. Not like she'd need to worry about that, her own gown cut preposterously short, while mine droops around my ankles. 

Gown is probably the wrong word for the silken sheathe of fabric, black as midnight if not for the crimson and orange trim around the end, mimicking flames as it swishes around my feet. My mother’s own dress is entirely orange, and if I had the courage I'd tell her just how foolish it looks. But I don't, so I keep my mouth shut. 

“Miss Torch?” The servant whispers as she pokes her head through the doorway dividing the carriage—the less done up back for me, the plush and frilly front for my mother and whichever man she's pulled in off the street this time—in two. 

“Yes?” I respond, keeping my tone even and quiet. My mother and her never-ending, always-changing, flow of men may be rude to all the maids and servants, but I see no need of it. 

“Your mother wants you to grab her another bottle of wine,” the servant girl says timidly, and I look to the stack of bottles stashed beneath my bench. It's impossible to guess which one she wants, there's so many different kinds. 

“The red bottle with the black cork!” My mother calls, answering my thoughts, and the servant girl flinches. With her shift, I catch a glimpse of my intoxicated mother on the lap of a man I'd never met. Without uttering a word I grab the bottle she requested, trying not to gag at the smell of whatever liquid is inside, which is definitely much more potent than wine. I hand it to the servant. She in turn hands it to my mother, who pops the cork off and takes a long swig, before filling up the glass of the strange man. 

Then the servant shifts and closes the door, and my view of my mother and the stranger is cut off, I'm no longer able to fantasize about the luxuries I'm denied. 

Even the servant gets better than I do, staying up front with my mother to fetch her wine and poor it up for her, while I stare at the wall that separates us. A nice wall, I'd say if I was the joking type. 

But I'm not, and it's an ugly wall. Not covered by flamboyant wallpaper embellished with fancy whorls and patterns, but raw wood and a few patchy spots of paint to cover up stains. The floor is no better, made from metal but strewn with wood chips and paint splatters. And, there's no heat. A small fire up front keeps my mother toasty, while I'm left to shiver. 

Of course, I could end that easily. I run my hand over the soft folds of my dress, imagining the flames I could spurt, I'd only I had the proper channel. 

The Torch family is one of the more powerful of the four families, but we need something to channel our flames through. Sometimes a metal rod, or even a stick would do. But my mother is careful not to leave any long, roughly cylindrical objects around. 

My mother is not a Torch. She is now, as she married my father, but she's not a real Torch, she doesn't bear the burnt-in symbol or the fire magic to prove it. I touch my own mark, at the base of my wrist. A coiled flame, with a line slashing through it to represent weak power.

I am a true Torch, and so is Zarac. His power manifested early, and so my father took him to train him, while I was left to wonder if I would possess any magic. After a while, it became obvious that I do. I realized this when I was playing with twigs in the woods behind our house, with a friend of mine who’s name I can’t recall. We were eight or nine, and having a sword fight. 

I was winning, and I got excited, and suddenly bright red and orange flames curled around the tip of my stick. 

My friend screamed and ran, while my mother charged out, wrenched the stick from my hands and forced me inside, keeping me in isolation ever since, except for the occasional time I'd need to venture out and pick her up some wine. 

As the carriage hiccups over the cobblestone road, I shiver on the hard bench, thinking about how I'd give anything to be a Wild. They didn't need to channel their fire through anything, they were uncontrollable and unpredictable, their fire having a mind of its own. Or even a Spark, who could create fire but needed to have something to burn to keep it going, burning. Maybe an Ember even, so I could heat objects up with a touch. 

But Spark and Ember are the two weakest families, while Wild and Torch are the strongest. And I wouldn't sacrificed my strength just for a bit of warmth in the cold carriage. 

Suddenly, we jerk to a halt, in front of an old house, white with crimson and orange shutters and a black door, carved with flames that were plated with glittering gold. The door swings open, and my mother all but hauls me out of the carriage.

I can't say I don't resemble the woman responsible for giving birth to me. I got my crimson hair from her, as well as my blue-green eyes. My father always told me when I was young that my hair was the edge of the flame, but my eyes were that hot lick at the centre. Now though, he barely says anything to me. He’s too fixated on Zarac. 

I would probably resent my brother for all the attention her receives, if not that he completely loathes that he's the one everyone fusses over. He knows that I have power too, I'm just not allowed to use it. He can see how unfair it is. Yet he does nothing to shift the attention off himself, so I guess I do kind of resent him. 

“Hello, Emlyra.” A coy voice greets, Zarac slithering up behind me. He’s changed since the last time I saw him, a year ago from this very day. He’s taller, less scrawny. Through his thin black shirt, I can see the bulge of thick muscle. His black hair is longer, his rusty gold eyes sharper and colder. The planes of his face are more angled, his voice absent of brotherly warmth. 

“Zarac!” I shout, throwing my arms around his neck. The wind plays with the skirt of my dress, causing the shimmering trim to twist like real fire. A warmth grows inside my chest, despite the obvious cold tone he used when he spoke to me. I’m so excited, I barely registered he used my full name, not ‘Em’ or ‘Emmie’ like he would when he were kids. He shrivels in my embrace, gently pushing me away. The grin that slipped across my lips falters, before falling away completely. 

“Please, Emlyra. Have a bit of grace, you’re a young lady now.” I fix him with a harsh stare. He’s just like our father at first glance, but under sharper scrutiny it’s easy to see how he resembles mother. The coldness of his eyes, the scowling curve of his lips, his cruel tone. Our father is more hot, unpredictable. His rages are blazing, his brassy eyes always alight with heat. It’s no wonder he choses to live separate from our mother, it’s a mystery why they even married in the first place. 

“Emlyra!” An excited Wild saunters up to where Zarac and I stand. I try to pinpoint her amongst the myriad of Wilds I’ve met before, but her name alludes me. There’s something familiar to here, though, in her wolf-like yellow eyes and tumbling locks of dark gold hair. She’s a pretty girl. Thin as a wisp with long, slender legs and thick, curled lashes. 

“Oh, hi.” I murmur. Where did four years go? While each individual family meets once a year, all four families gather every four years. 

“You don’t remember me!” At first, I mistake her for being generally kind and bubbly. But there’s something about her that screams fake. Something in the way her smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes, or how her happy tone is hollow. “Well, I’m Lovina Wild. I already know that you are Emlyra Wild. Don’t sweat it though, I only remembered you because of your brother.” 

I bristle. She purrs the words your brother, resting a perfectly manicured hand gently on his chest. Also, she pronounces my name wrong. Am-liar-ah instead of Em-leer-ah. Though I can’t blame her, she doesn’t look the brightest. 

“Nice to meet you, Lovina.” I plaster in a fake smile, while my eyes glitter with anger. Fire and ice course through my veins, my father’s hot rage and my mother’s cold contempt. “I would shake you hand, but I notice your too busy groping my brother.” 

Lovina immediately reddens, dropping her wandering hands from Zarac’s chest. She shakes put her thick hair, the sun playing on the curls and making them blaze with burnt-gold flame. Envy swells up inside of me. My own looks aren’t bad, but I’m nowhere near as stunning as Lovina. I self-consciously brush my own hair out of my face. Silky and straight as opposed to Lovina’s curls, crimson red instead of dark gold. 

Zarac seems to think so too, following her away and leaving me standing alone. Mother sidles up to me, pulling down her dress. It has the opposite effect as she desired. Pulling it down of her bottom only causes more of her breasts to show. 

“I’m off to find your father, maybe I’ll introduce him to Kelan.” I nod absentmindedly. Kelan must be the young man hanging off her arm. She doesn’t say anything else, but I wander along behind her into the backyard. The house is busting at the seams, and I’m surprised the old holds can hold together against the four families stuffed inside of it. Each family is unrelated, all descendants of the original four. The original four fire-bearers. 

I’ve lost my mother in the crowd, meandering to the farthest edges of the yard. A rickety fence of crude pine branches borders the neatly groomed grass, untamed tangles of underbrush spreading along beyond. It’s oddly beautiful in a rugged, untamed way. The grass is almost as gold as Lovina’s hair under the mid afternoon sun, mingling with wild roses and rich, pink-purple foxglove. Farther along the grass thins to moss and blackberry bushes, than sharply plunges away into the frothing Northern Sea. The cliffs are high and jagged, with pockets of moss and grass tucked in the groves. I tend to visit them every morning of our stay, and I’ve memorized every handhold and sharp point from climbing down onto the white sand beach below.

I head back, sticking towards the edge of the yard, and pass by Zarac and Lovina entangled in each other behind the shed. After that I decide to stick more to the thicker clumps of people, unable to chase the image from my mind. 

“Urr—” I stop suddenly, smacking into a solid body. I recoil immediately, muttering my apologies without meeting the strangers eyes. “I’m terribly sorry...”

“Huh,” a surprisingly feminine voice huffs, and my eyes travel up the wall of muscle to meet the face of a young woman about my age. Long, caramel coloured hair cascades over her shoulders and falls almost to her waist in natural waves. Her eyes are warm, a matching shade of caramel with dark red flecks around the pupil. They glitter with amusement. 

“Who are you?” I blurt, reddening. The muscular woman cocks her head. “I-uh, I m-mean you look familiar.” 

“The name’s Nhal Ember.” She extends a hand, and I can’t keep from my eyes wandering up her arm, corded with lean muscle. Ember. I would never of guessed. She has such a powerful essence I would’ve pegged her from a more powerful family. As I take her hand, I feel warmth travel up my arm and I’ve no doubt which power she possesses. 

“Nice to meet you, Nhal.” I say politely, more out of habit than actually thinking running into her is anything in the area of ‘nice.’ Needless to say, Nhal is intimidating. “I’m Emlyra Torch.” 

“I can’t say the circumstances are,” a smug smile tugs at the edges of her lips, and I pale. I know the face she’s making, it’s the face of someone craving mischief. “This family reunion is more boring than fishing stagnant waters. Since this is your house, I feel your obliged to show me somewhere more interesting. 

“I... I don’t know.” The cliffs, my brain hisses at me. Take her to the cliffs. 

“Come on, Torch. You did bang into me, this is the least you can do to make it up to me.” I sigh, there’s something in her tone which makes me hesitant to disagree. “You’ve got to be just as bored as I am, right?” 

“Um, I guess.” I agree reluctantly. “Just let me take off this dress.” I lead Nhal towards the shed, thankful to see Zarac and Lovina have moved on, leaving only a patch of tore up grass to remember them by. I dug inside the shed, the ancient hinges screeching at porches as I swing open the moss-caked wooden door, musty air hitting me in the face. I rummage through the discarded tools and moulding hay, before my hand hits something much newer. 

I pull out my bag, pushing the dust off of the supple red-brown leather. I tug it open, pulling out the nondescript black shirt and matching pants. The top, though corset-style, is more designed for functionality than fashion. The pants are simple, and despite the year that’s passed I’ve no trouble tearing off my frilly dress and slipping into the more practical clothes. The pants are a bit short, the corset slightly tight across the shoulders. After I’m dressed, I head back out to rejoin Nhal. 

“Okay, let’s go.” I lead her through the grass, knowing exactly where to step to avoid stinger-needles or thorny wild roses. The terrain has changed since last year, but the nearly imperceptible path remains unchanged. Other than the grass starting to creep over it. 

It takes a good minute to reach the safest part of the cliffs for climbing, where the rock isn’t as smooth, with more pockets full of vegetation and cracks to wedge a foot or a hand. 

The climb is easy for me, and my body knows instinctively where to place each limb. Despite the year since my last time scaling the cliff, I am down the steep wall with minimum effort. When my foot hits only empty air, I realize I’ve changed direction slightly during the climb to be directly over the sea-cave. With no choice but to drop, I let go and swallow my stomach as it works my way up my throat. Then the short fall is over, and I land on the powdery sand with ease. My bones jar from the impact, but I catch myself gracefully. 

As I wait, I find myself looking up and watching amusedly as Nhal attempts to clamber down. Even with her superior strength, it takes her shamefully long minutes to reach the beach. She doesn’t have the same experience as I do, having been visiting the beach with its sea-cave since I was but seven or eight years. Which makes for a decade’s worth of climbs under my belt. 

“Hmph,” Nhal lands with a graceless thud, nearly toppling over face first into the sand. She looks around wide-eyed, taking in the glittering, silvery indigo of the Northern Sea and the high cliff we just descended. Her eyes finally find the sea-cave, which would be inaccessible once the tides rose—the thin stretch of beach swallowed up by the mighty ocean. We’d need to be sure we left by then. 

“Is it to your like, Your Majesty?” I ask sarcastically, dipping into a curtsy a tad too elegant.  Mother had mandated I learn how to curtsy properly, making me practise until I could execute the maneuver with ladylike grace and ease. 

“Not sure. Is there anything fun to do now that we’re here?” She looks around, wrinkling her nose at the ocean. 

I draw in a deep breath, savouring the familiar smells. Salty seas and wild, summer winds, mingling with the crisper, floral scents from the clusters of beach flowers sprouting from every crevice of the cliff. Memories flood back of my first visit, a good ten years ago now. I’d been but seven, and had scraped my palms raw climbing over the sharp rock. Now, my hands are so calloused I hadn’t even noticed the jagged edges. 

I’d played in the ocean, until it soaked through the pale yellow sundress my mother had insisted I wear. I’d collected up snail shells from the drifting deposits of oceanic treasures, remembering how my grandmother used to call them wrinkles. The shells were kind of wrinkled in shape, small curls in dark chocolate browns or creamy whites. I’d picked the flowers from the cliff, bright white daisies and deep violet, bell-shaped flowers that smelled like summer rains and happy childhood memories. 

Then the sea-cave. I’d been too scared to go in on my first visit, but I’d crept to the very edge and stood with the tips of my toes touching the tempting shadows. Fear had risen up in my throat, and I’d slowly backed away.

I shake off the memories. Nhal paces around, a disappointed look on her face. I feel a pant of hurt, followed by anger—directed at myself—for bringing a stranger to my sanctuary. 

Then I see it, and fire blossoms in my veins. Real fire, not the heat of anger. Magic begging to be released, and I’m over the entrance to the cave in seconds. My hand finds the stick, the wood smooth and white. The bark had likely been stripped by the turbulent ocean waters, the wood beneath bleached in the glaring sun. 

I grasp the driftwood, the fire rushing for it, grabbing it as well. I funnel all my power into the simple piece of wood, watching around orange, red and yellow-gold flames curl around the end. A lick of blue-green at the base, matching my eyes. The hottest part of the fire. 

“Cool,” Nhal comments suddenly. She reaches for a pebble laying unthreateningly in the sand, and it heats up like a hot coal in her hand until it glows a dull red. I can’t hide my surprise, she’s more powerful than any Ember I’ve met before. She tosses the glowing pebble in the air, and it arches in a blaze of red against the grey cliffs and blue sky. She catches it as it falls, then lobs it towards me. 

I barely have time to duck before the stone whizzes past, finding its place in the sand once again. The sand hisses from the searing heat, likely fusing into glass. 

Anger rushes through me like a riptide, and the fire blazes hotter. Bluer. I could have been seriously hurt because of Nhal trying to show off, and on top of that she was powerful enough to be a threat. Not just with tossing rocks. The Embers have a reputation for being weak, able to heat enough to cause minor discomfort or irritation, but usually no worse than the sun’s harsh rays. This was something new, whaat Nhal just did without effort. Heating up a rock until it glowed like a true ember, hot enough to melt sand into glass.

She grins at me, her gold-brown eyes glittering with something dangerous. The red flecks have become unnerving, but she doesn’t notice my discomfort. If she did, I’m beginning to get the sense she’d only smile wider. 

“So, sea-cave?” She asks, the grin not wavering as she strides over. “We still have plenty of time before the night-feast, why not explore?” 

“Because there’s nothing for me to explore,” I declare coldly, challenging Nhal’s grin with one of my own. I’m so used to hiding my power, I’ve never tried to push the limits before. But being with Nhal makes me want to explore parts of myself I never did before, and I have the feeling I’m even stronger than her. Even stronger than Zarac, and the Lovina Wild he ogles over. I bet he wouldn’t find her so fetching if he realized she was nothing special. “I know every inch of those caves like the back of my hand. I could navigate them with my eyes closed.” 

“Then prove it, Torch. Shut off that light of yours and lead the way.” I cant help but laugh at the challenge in Nhal’s tone. Were going to be good friends, I can tell. 

“With pleasure.” I step into the shadows, the route flooding back to me from all those days passed when I’d visited these caverns. I swim through the darkness, not bothering to wait for my eyes to adjust to the gloom. By the time they did, we’d be far enough in its be no use anyways, there’d be no light whatsoever to see by. 

The only sounds are Nhal’s and my breathings, the distant lapping of the waves on the shore, and something dripping within the cave. 

Slowly I walk. Tap, tap, thump, scuff, tap, thump, squelch. My feet play an uneven rhythm on the cave floor, sometimes landing heavy, sometimes falling heavily, sometimes light, sometimes into unpleasant pools of unidentifiable wetness. 

A warm of fear winds its way through my chest, but I can ignore it for now. I’ve never been through the caves without a light to guide me, and I’m suddenly painfully aware of all the dangers possibly obscured by the darkness. Scorpions, uneven patches of stone, stalagmites, any number of things to cause harm. I don’t think about anything worse than harm. I won’t let myself scare that badly, especially with Nhal close behind. 

We wander our way deeper into the cave, and she chats amicably. I oblige her with conversation, not making much effort to keep it going other than answering what’s required and grunting whenever a proper response isn’t mandatory. 

“What about your brother, Zark right?” I purse my lips and then frown angrily, but the shifting expressions are lost without light to see them by. 

“What about him? Oh, and his name is Zarac by the way.” I snap, but Nhal either doesn’t notice my tone, or doesn’t care. “Why does he matter?” 

“Do you resent him? For being stronger, favoured by your father, living on the family grounds?” I think about her assault of questions, slightly unnerved by how much information about myself I’d unknowingly let slip during our conversation. I didn’t know nearly so much about Nhal, other than that her mother was a true Ember while her father was a mundane baker, the opposite of my parents. 

“No, I don’t quite resent him. He’s not stronger. As for being favoured by father, I don’t really care. Though I would like to get training and live on the family grounds.” I think about climbing the cliffs to visit the beach every day. The though causes excitement to thrill through my  toes, and they curl inside my shoes. 

“I resent my two sisters,” Nhal admits. “Nimma and Ahala. They’re so perfect and ladylike, and well, I’m not.” She sounds strangely rueful, as if she’d rather be thin and ladylike instead of full-bodied and strong. 

“Oh,” is all I can say. “Are they as powerful as you are?”

“With our Ember magic? They’re nowhere near me!” Nhal laughs, as if I said something genuinely amusing. “They’re as useless with fire and heat as two Arkittian sailors.” 

This time it’s my turn to laugh. Arkitt, in the northernmost point of the Northern Sea, is a sworn enemy of Suhula, at the point where the Northern Sea meets the East Sea. A fraction of the size of our much more powerful territory, Arkitt is a nuisance at best and faced with constant ridicule from Suhulans. 

I stumble suddenly, pitching forward into the blackness. The sound of Nhal’s breathing grows distant, and I feel myself plummeting through the inky shadows towards whatever danger lays below. Water, stone, angry cave lizards…. 

Suddenly, brilliant white-hot light fills the darkness, cutting through the perpetually chilled air of the cave with its intense heat. I can see Nhal, standing atop a slight rise. Then I hit the ground. I’d fallen barely a meter, but it felt like forever and knocks the wind from my lungs. What’s more startling, however, is Nhal’s burning hot light. It has no particular source, yet it flows over every nook and cranny in the rock around us, each corner and groove. 

“What... howww?” I slur, my mind fuzzy. An ache resonates through my skull. I’d must of hit my head harder than I’d initially thought when I fell. 

“Relax, would you,” Nhal pants, the light already starting to dim. “You’ve probably... got a concussion... if not, a pretty good smack.” 

“Yooph can phuff ouf pheh lief...” my head spins, but I cling to the edge of consciousness with stubborn determination. A good smack, indeed. I refuse to pass out, not wanting to seem weak. So I push myself up, regardless of the black dots on my vision and Nhal’s cautioning. Suddenly, the light blinks out, plunging us once again into a darkness so complete I hurts my eyes. I want to beg her to bring the light back, but freeze in fear when something thunks against my chest. 

Angry cave lizard! My mind immediately cries, and I fumble for the unseen object. My fingers find something long, thin and slightly rough. A stick. I immediately correct myself. My driftwood stick from earlier. 

Almost without having to think, fire curls around the stick. I raise the torch, letting the flames cast long, spooky shadows through the cave. The blaze illuminates Nhal’s face, and she is oddly beautiful with her features cast in angular shadows from the frolicking flames. Beautiful in a haunted, wraithlike way. 

“Can we get out of here?” She asks, not sounding afraid but instead bored. I nod, hoping he catches the movement in the torchlight. 

She helps me back up over the drop, hauling my body as if I weighed nothing. Between her muscles and my slender frame, I’m not surprised she didn’t even have to blink before hauling me up. My head swims, but I force myself to take steady, even steps. I don’t want Nhal to know exactly how good my smack was. 

We wander back through the tunnel of rock, until light beckons from the edge of the sea-cave. I quicken my pace, and in a couple dozen steps waves lap at my toes. 

Nimiqt!” I shout angrily. The curse tastes good in my mouth, the harsh syllables mimicking my rage. Nhal spurts her own strand of curses, some I haven’t even heard before. I sigh, studying the water. It should only reach our knees by the time we leave the cave, we’d have to wade. I open my mouth to tell Nhal, but she’s already stepping into the frigid ocean water. I have no choice but to follow silently, except for the splashing of my footsteps. 

I’d misjudged the distance, and by the time we’re out of the cave and into the brilliant summer evening, the water is up to my waist and Nhal’s mid-thighs. She’s almost a head taller than I am, though my height is nothing impressive. I’m about average, but I can usually appear a bit taller thanks to my film form. Not next to Nhal, though. She absolutely dwarfs me. 

I haul myself out of the water, clinging with slippery fingers to the rock. I’d need to make up an awful good excuse when my relatives saw me sopping wet. Maybe I would say o ventured to the swimming hole about an hour’s walk away. We’d certainly been gone long enough. Where had our time gone? 

Once at the top of the cliff, o wait for Nhal. It takes her painfully long, but when I finally help her over the edge I feel a surge of relief. The pain in my skull has begun to throb, but I’m too anxious to get back to care. 

That’s when I see them. Zarac and Lovina. 

This time, they’re not just kissing. The image sears itself into my mind, their naked bodies twined with each other, if they rolled another inch they’d feel the wrath of a thousand wicked-shape rose thorns. 

Nhal laughs. I roar, not caring who hears. The two immediately snap to attention, and Zarac immediately grabs for his pants. Anger blazes through me, and I keep my eyes glued to his, two cold golden arbs warmed slightly by embarrassment and shame. Lovina takes her time to redress, being sure to show off ever inch of her meticulous body. I can hardly wait for them to redress, before marching over. I punch Lovina Wild so hard she goes headfirst into the rose bushes, before turning my rage to Zarac. 

“Let me—”

“I’m not letting you do anything, Zarac!” I growl, my voice dangerous and Zarac knows it. He immediately pales. “We’re supposed to be en enemies, the Torches and the Wilds! But what do I find, my brother rolling around with some Wild snot—”

“What about you?” He interjects, his own rage kindling. “Huh? You and that Ember, both soaked to the bone from the waist down. How do I know you weren’t doing the same as I was, in the water?” 

“Zarac no—! We’re both woman, for crying out loud! And I just met her, and unlike you I’m not into getting at it with a stranger!” 

“May I interrupt here?” Nhal smiles politely, just a tad too wolflike and menacing with too many teeth. “As entertaining as this squabble is to observe, the night-feast will be starting any minute now.”

Sure enough, the sky has already started to turn a dusty blue. From the house, subtle smells of food drift along with wisps of musical laughter. 

“Fine. We’ll continue this later,” I snarl, then stalk past Zarac and a squealing Lovina. I don’t bother to see if anyone bothers to follow, I’m too livid to care. Zarac was not going to have it easy at the upcoming Firefight, befriending a Wild. 

Then I think about Nhal. I’d befriended an Ember, so did I really have much room to talk? The answer comes to me immediately. Yes. Embers are weak, Wilds are not. I’ve nothing to worry about from the Embers. I could easily take them on, if my father even deemed me worthy of participating in the Firefight this year. 

Maybe I do resent Zarac. Maybe more than ‘a little.’ 

 

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