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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2. Revenge

2

 

 

        The food makes my mouth water, even if I won’t be allowed to have any. I can’t help but gaze at the night-feast’s massive away, though. Roast beef, sticky with a sweet-smelling sauce. Exotic fruit grilled up beautifully. Healing bowls of rice, smelling strongly of spices and sharp cheese. And the breads, oh the breads. Pillowy soft clouds of goodness, freshly baked and still warm. 

“Remember,” my mother slinks up beside me. “None for you. Not if you want to keep that thin body you’ve worked so hard on.” 

I swallow back my hunger. I’m used to the small portions on ordinary days, but whatever is usually prepared smells nowhere near as good as the spread on the table now. I’d say the food, or more precisely being forbidden from so much as touching a grain of rice, is the worst part of the reunion. Still, I choke on my hunger and silently take my seat next to my mother. On the other side of her my father sits, and on the other side of him is Zarac, 

On my other side there’s another, unfamiliar Torch. A young woman, maybe a few year younger than I am. She has a heaping plate of rice, beef and vegetable, with several skewers of grilled fruit stacked on the side of her plate. Her mother hands her a glass full of thick, white liquid and my mouth waters anew at the spicy, sweet scent. 

“Em,” Mother coos softly. “Remember. You eat nothing.” 

I smile and nod, fidgeting with my fingers under the table. The servant from the carriage approaches us cautiously, handing my mother a glass of wine and a couple pieces of dry, unappealing turkey with a handful of wilting leaves. Nothing for me but equally wilted leaves,  not even a sauce to cover up the bitter flavour. It’s likely the best I’d get, so I chew it slowly in order to trick my body into thinking I’m eating more. 

Down the table, Nhal sits. She also has no rice or bread, or vegetables I notice. Her plate is a mountain of meats, roast beef, fish, lamb, and several others I can’t place. 

I spit out the leaves I’d been chewing on my plate, and grab my fork. I don’t know how to hold it, I’ve always used my hands to pick up a singular leaf or vegetable at a time. Then I reach for the meat. A hand tightens around my wrist, and mother hisses angrily at me to drop the fork. But I don’t. Instead, I light it aflame. Fire dances over the prongs, and Mother immediately drops my wrist. I glare at her, reaching for the roast beef and heaving several slices onto my blade, careful to keep the flavourful meat away from the disgusting leaves. I couldn’t quite place them, kale or spinach or something else equally unpleasant. 

From where Nhal sits amongst Embers, I see her offer an approving nod. 

Then I tear into the meat, harvesting the flavour as it bursts in my mouth. A few people who’d notice clap, shooting angry glowers at my mother. They’re all drunk, anyways. Very few will remember what happened at the dinner table when they wake up tomorrow. 

Night-feast is over much too early, and I’m barely able to finish the meat. I’m not used to eating so much, or so fast, and afterwards I feel pleasantly full and satisfied. 

Afterwards, most people gather around a crackling fire, started by Sparks and maintained by Wilds, drinking and cheering. Their boots and hollers are loud enough to wake the whole town. While they drink and tell stories, the younger stories frolic with lanterns in the darkness, kept inside the borders of the yard by the fence. 

I sit alone, behind the shed. It’s too dark to go to the cliffs, the sky already a deep shade of blue-black, the full moon shining brightly and the first handful of stars scattered above, with only the occasional trembling cloud daring to obstruct their light. 

“Hey,” a quiet voice whispers. My eyes immediately snap open, I hadn’t even noticed before that I’d closed them. The voice is so gentle, I’m surprised to find Lovina. “I was looking for you. I wanted to say... I’m sorry?”

“Huh,” I sigh defeatedly, staring up into her wide, yellow eyes. She appears earnestly apologetic, even if her apology sounded more like a question than a plea for forgiveness. “No, I guess I’m the one who should be sorry, after all I pushed you into those rose bushes. How are you feeling by the way, we’re you hurt?” 

“No, just a few scratches,” she replies, but I catch her wince. She was obviously hurt, which I cant bring myself to feel sorry for. 

“Well, that’s good.” We lapse into an awkward supper, and I rub my stomach. I’m still full from the supper. I hadn’t realized how often I was hungry until I finally ate enough to be full. “Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to quietly mope behind this shed.” 

“Can I join you? I-I just told Zarac nothing could ever happen between us. H-he agreed w-with me.” Lovina smiles hopefully, and I can’t muster the energy to come up with a scathing remark to get her to go away.

“Fine.” I grunt. “But Remember, I wanted to mope in quiet. Please leave me be, I don’t want to waste my time talking to you.”

Ittid, you sure are adamant about hating me.” 

“Who you calling Ittid?” I snarl, startling her. She studies me with those infuriatingly gorgeous yellow eyes. They should make her look feral, but the brilliant yellow hue only makes her all the more stunning and exotic. 

“I thought you didn’t want to talk?”

“I didn’t.” I grunt. “But sometimes, when my pride is in risk of being damaged, I’ll break my own rules.”

She laughs. An infuriating, tinkling laugh. My lips curl in a snarl, but I say nothing else. I cast my gaze upwards, once again studying the stars in all their cold, regal beauty. I used to want to count the stars, and I give them each a number as my gaze travels over each one, diamonds glittering in the velvet of twilight. 

One... two... three...

Twenty three... twenty four... 

Thirty eight... thirty nine... forty...

My eyes flutter shut, numbers swirling around in my brain, still aching from my fall in the cave. I fall into a sleep deep and complete, my dreams perturbed only by nightmares of the Firefight to come, which I would likely not even be participating in. 

It’s well past midnight when I wake up again, and Lovina snores daintily from where she leans against the shed. I gather myself to my feet, trying not to disturb her as I gracefully stroll away. Laughter and cheers still come from around the fire, and I give them a wide berth. Much to my surprise, I almost walk headfirst into Nhal for the second time. 

“Oh, hey. Good job standing up to your mom.” She grins. “I don’t know how I’d live with someone like that, I love food so much.” 

“Well, my mother is a cruel woman.”

“No kidding,” Nhal laughs humourlessly, starting to walk slowly through the gloom. She slinks like a shadow, moving with grace despite her bulk. “I feel like I’m suffocating here, it’s so boring. How about he have some fun?”

Of course, I scoff to myself, she would want to have some ‘fun,’  but I follow her nonetheless, down the gravel path back to the main road. Trees rise on either side of us, ancient aspen’s planted eons ago when the house was first built. Through the trees, fields stretch. The yard on the front of the house is meticulously groomed for the occasion, while the other field is left wills as the lands behind the fence. 

The only light comes from above. The moon, the stars, and the distant Floating City. Pinpricks of blue and white light, spread out like flickering flames along the stretches of black. Lights shine from beneath as well, from whatever technology keeping the Floating City from crashing to the rural countryside below. 

I find myself squinting into the darkness of the nighttime sky, trying to make out more details of the Floating City. There’s a lot of lore surrounding the city-in-the-sky, it’s origins and the people living there. Everyone now and then, balls of bright light shoot off it and disappear into the ancient fjords past the edge of the town. A salty wind howls from the sea, making my eyes sting. I blink, diverting my gaze from the sky. 

“What shall we do?” Nhal muses, and I know enough of her to know she’s not actually asking for my input. So I keep my mouth shut, reining excuses through my head for if someone catches us sneaking away. 

“Anywhere is better than here,” I comment after a long stretch of silence with neither of us moving or offering a brilliant solution to our boredom. 

“What about the pub down on Hunnar Street?” I shoot her a curious look. 

“Hunare Street? You sure know you way around...” I drift off, and Nhal shrugs indifferently. 

“Hunare’s the one with the steep drop on one side and all the shops on the other, right?” Nhal pauses, casting her eyes upward as if trying to remember. “We drove that way on our way, I made a note of all the shops that looked half-decently interesting.”

Hunare Street is the only place with shops in the entire town. There’s only a handful of places, but there’s a couple half-decent restaurants that serve fresh, hot food. The ‘pub,’ as Nhal called it, is not one of them. It sells watered-down ale and week old food, but there’s no saying no to Nhal once she makes up her mind. That much is clear. I simply nod, quickening my pace. Hunare Street is across town, and despite the town being small it is spread out, the streets sprawling and unfurling in haphazardly directions.

Once we reach the street, stepping onto the cracked and hole-riddled asphalt, I slow my pace. Nhal does the same, and we stroll lazily through the town. The closer we get to Hunare Street, the more bitter the air becomes. It smells of salt and ice, swept down from the farthest corners of the North. A biting wind howls, but otherwise the night is warm. The stars still glitter like fiery white diamonds, the night sky a black so deep I could get lost in the inky depths. The fire within me keeps the chill from being overpowering, and Nhal radiates such Heat I find myself starting to sweat by the time the road ends abruptly in a sea-cliff. 

The cliffs along Hunare Street make the ones Nhal and I scaled earlier look like nothing. Sheer rock, descending down into darkness. If it wasn’t for the sound of the waves pounding against stone—the rhythmic sloshing and thumping—it would be impossible to know an ocean lies licking at their feet. 

Music and a cacophony of voices drift from down the street. Every restaurant busting at the seams despite the fact it’s well past midnight. People from all over the town gather in celebration when the Torches gather for their reunion, each person in the town of Northern Crest wanting to gossip about the reclusive family. They like to speculate about us, about our fire. How it works. What we can do with it. They trade snippets of false information for half-truths warped and stretched out of proportion, the words falling from eager lips into even more eager ears. 

Nhal and I come to an abrupt stop in front of  the pub. The door hangs crookedly on rusted hinges, the outside unpainted. Upon closer inspection, thing flakes of dark green are visible. The building was painted at one point, ages ago. 

The boisterous music from inside oozes from every crack, along with the hotting and hollering of the drunk patrons. Though I’m barely seventeen, I look older than I am. And if that wasn’t enough to get me in, I look other enough most can guess I’m from one of the four families. Not many people have blood red hair as I do, and even fewer have blood red hair paired with electric blue eyes. 

Nhal is downright terrifying, and we’re let in without so much as a second glance. In face, many people refuse to make eye contact. Though whispers do sweep around us, some making me want to laugh, other making me wanting to punch the utterer the second the words leave their mouths. 

‘Witches.’

‘Look at her hair,” 

‘Demons!’ 

‘Look at her muscles!’ 

‘Are they... one of those people?’

‘Cursed,’ 

I shrug it off, marching straight up to the bar but not ordering anything. Nhal joins me, brazenly telling the bartender to surprise her. 

Surprise indeed. He comes back with a tall glass filled with an opaque white liquid. I burst out in laughter when I realize she’s been handed a glass of milk. Most likely donkey or goat. She chuckles drily, before downing the milk anyways. 

“Let’s get out of here,” she suggests after a moment. The smell has become overpowering, sweat and vomit mixed with the sharp tang of alcohol. I agree enthusiastically and we stumble out into the night. 

Outside, it’s much fresher. The salty air burns my lungs as I heave down mighty gulps, but it’s better than the stale air inside the pub. Nhal appears to think so too, eyes closed and lips curling faintly upward. A strong gusts hits us, filling my mind with images of wind and rocks, icy rains and salt-encrusted ropes. 

We start walking down Hunare Street, occasionally poking our heads into a restaurant or shop that looks interesting. We never stay in one place for long, and soon we’ve walked the entire length of the short street. We turn down the next road, the pavement here even more cracked than on the last two streets. I peer up at the street sign, trying to discern its name in the darkness. I’ve never been down this road before, so I never had a reason to learn it’s name. 

I almost trip several times and roll my ankle, my foot getting caught in every single whole or crack that we come across. Nhal finds this hilarious, until she too almost trips. Although she catches herself with more dignity than I do, no flailing arms or disgruntled half-screams. 

In the distance somewhere, a gull cries. The noise and activity of Hunare Street has faded away, and so the unexpected shrieking pierces through the silence like a knife. I jump, and Nhal glances around warily. Hearing gulls is not uncommon in Northern Crest or any of the surrounding communities, but hearing them so late at night is truly spooky. 

The gull screeches again, and I catch a glimpse of white feathers on the edge of my vision. It circles overhead, it’s white and silver plumage standing out starkly against the ebony black of the night sky. 

It shrieks again, circling a little closer. I shift uncomfortably, watching it’s path through the sky. With each cry I jolt a little, and even the tough-as-nails Nhal seems a bit unnerved. Gulls are daytime birds, and they certainly don’t circle predatorily. Another gust of icy wind hits us, and once again images flip through my mind like half-remembered dreams. Ice, salt and wind. The smells of the sea, all tinged with an impossible cold. 

“Let’s move,” I whisper urgently to Nhal, but something burns in her eyes. Sudden fear punctures my chest. She’s going to want to fight. 

I ready myself, as Nhal pulls a pouch out of a hidden pocket in her jacket. She’s much better dressed for battle than me, she wears a leather riding jacket over a sturdy corset top and pair of charcoal denim pants, the material hugging her body and looking surprisingly supple. I wear a dress, not the same one as earlier but a dress nonetheless. Its skintight, leaving hardly enough room to breathe let alone fight. 

I slip a knife from my boot, the gull drawing in tighter and tighter. The wind picks up strength, and I brace myself for the danger coming. Nhal drops several sharpened stones, similar to arrowheads, into her palm. They heat up until the turn almost white. 

Then we glance around, keeping an eye out for anything else suspicious. There’s nothing for us to do as we’re waiting for something to burst from the shadows, only feel the hairs on the backs of our necks rise. It’s unmistakable now, in the icy air and the screeching gull. Something is definitely amiss. And definitely a threat. 

~

        The wind is sharp, but only the faintest reminder of the bales in Arkitt. The boat rocks beneath my feet, the gull perched at the stern flapping its wings impatiently. It wants to join its sister, circling in the night. But this gull is my messenger, its sister is my spy. 

I finger the charm fastened around my neck. An anchor made from polished Arkittian steel, with a rope and sea-snake winding around it. As I touch it, impressions flutter behind my eyes of icy piers, salty ropes and ocean winds. The gale picks up, growing stronger and colder as it howls along the water. The waves are mountainous, reaching upward for the sky before crashing back down into the frothing sea. 

Running my finger over the engraving on back of my charm, I picture the engraving in my mind. 

For Thiria, 

    All the love in the world, 

        —Mom

It had been a gift for my eighteenth birthday. Crafted from the finest Arkittian steel, imbued with the icy strength of the north of Arkitt. The rope is made from yak leather, strong and sturdy. The same material my riding boots are made of. 

The spying gull suddenly plummets for the boat, landing gracefully next to her brother. She squawks, her eyes burning with animal intensity. I pull a pouch out of my bag, feeling for the smooth rock. My fingers find it, and the dory crests a massive wave, slamming back down into the Northern Sea. 

I pull out the stone, a simple piece of jasper. Uncut and unpolished, but still useable. My last thought-stone. Clutching it in my palm, I outstretch my arm. The gull hops over, landing in my open palm and perching precariously. 

My eyes snap shut, as I wait for the thought-stone in my other hand to start working. It kicks in slowly, at first I get only the faintest impressions from the gull. Ever-so-slowly, pictures form. Two girls, maybe slightly younger than I am, on a stretch of derelict pavement. Their fear is easily spotted, in how they gaze around uneasily and shakily ready weapons. 

Weapons will be no use against what’s coming, I think with a wicked laugh. Then I send the gull off again, gripping game tightly to the wooden shafts of the paddles and rowing back towards the ship. 

In the murk of nighttime, the hull of the Ice Witch is hard to discern. Crafted from the ebony wood of trees that grow only in the northernmost fringes of Arkitt, the Ice Witch is an impressive sight in full daylight. Black wood and steel, with shimmering silver flags crafted from the silk of frost-spiders. Steeped in potent magic, the Ice Witch can sail without any wind and cruise through iced over waters without so much as flinching. 

With her decks shadowed and sails turned dull grey by the lack of light to glint off them, the ship looks abandoned. Decrepit, haunted even. I row the dory tight to her starboard side, waiting for the ropes to fall. 

The tumble down within moments, made of spider silk and yak leather. I grab onto them, hoisting myself up. Another sailor would secure the boat, right now I needed to report to the captain. I clutch at my pendant so tight the points of the anchor dig into my palms, and I feel the warmth of blood as they pierce skin. Reporting to the captain is the most nerve-wracking part of my job. 

The door to her quarters swing open, and out steps my sister. She looks furious, her pale skin and dark hair giving her the appearance of the undead. Her eyes, white-silver so pale they’re easily mistaken for pure white, glitter with impatience. Despite my own impressive height, she towers over me and radiates an air of ferocity that I lack. 

“Spit it out, Thiria!” She snaps, placing her hands on her hips indignantly. We’re both the same age, but we’re far from twins. Where she is light and dark, my skin is slightly tanned from spending so much time under the harsh sun and my black hair has lighter streaks running through it. The main difference though, is in our eyes. Hers are pale and ghostly, while mine are like two glittering chips of smokey quartz. It would be impossible to tell we’re sisters if not for our nearly identical features, the same arching cheekbones, upwards lilting eyes and thick, sweeping lashes. 

“Good to see you too, Aridda.” I mutter sarcastically. “What’re you up to this fine evening?” 

“I’m not kidding,” Aridda whispers dangerously. “Tell me what you saw. Or else I’ll throw you off this ship for the sharks.” 

“Two girls. Maybe seventeen or eighteen. Seemed kinda sacred.” I deliver, waiting to see how Aridda would take the news. Surprisingly, she laughed. A low, malicious laugh and the promise of pain twinkled in her ghostly eyes. 

“Perfect! This’ll be the perfect strike against the Suhulans. They’ll find them murdered, drowned. With lips frosted and hair tangled from our winds. We’ll be sure there’s no way they can mistake the deaths as an accidental, and we’ll be sure they know who did it.”

“Uh, Aridda? What do you mean by ‘we?’” I raise my eyebrows, not entirely sure I want to hear her answer. 

“I mean me and you, sister. Between your aptitude for magic and my skill with a sword, they won’t stand a chance.” She tilts her head back to laugh, basking in her own bloodlust. I shiver, a chill colder than any Arkittian winter running down my spine. “Now we’ve no time to wait! Who says those girls will stay in one place for long.” 

Aridda claps a hand on my back, spurring me on. Her teeth gleam in the moonlight, looking inhumanly sharp. We walk to the edge of the ship, and I can feel her eyeing my pendant. I unconsciously reach for it, seeking the comfort of the cold steel against my hand. 

“Use it. Fly us.” Dread curls in my toes, but I oblige. I fish a piece of unshaped steel from my bag, handing it to Aridda. Then I reach back in, pulling out a length of rope like the one used for pulling up the dory. Yak leather and forest-spider silk. I clutch it in my hand, using it to augment the power in my pendant. Then I touch the piece of steel Aridda gingerly grips, sharing the power between the two of us. 

“Okay, we’re off.” I call to the cold winds, and they gust up stronger than ever. I’d need to replace my supplies after, my bag already feels lighter. 

I push the winds, and our feet leave the deck. The air wraps around us, and we sail through the air. It doesn’t take long to find the street, the two girls still standing in almost the exact spot as the spying gull had seen. 

We drop down, my feet finding the ground lightly. Aridda has a lot less practice, and stumbles forward. She teeters, threatening to tip. I don’t bother to steady her, and cant help but let a giggle slip out as she falls. The noise alerts our targets, though. They whirl around. One holds rocks, glowing white-hot like coals and illuminating the darkness. The other expertly wields a knife, fire curling around the tip. 

Fire-witches! There’s always been rumours about fire-witches in Arkitt, but they’d always been just that. Rumours. Myths. 

I continue to clutch the rope, using it to fill my body and my pendant with magicked strength. Aridda drops the steel, and I can’t help feel glad I won’t have to share the magic with her. 

The two fire-witches prowl closer, and Aridda smirks confidently. I see through the guise, she wasn’t anticipating the girls to fight back. She was expecting to sweep in from behind, take them by surprise with as little fighting as possible. I slip my dagger from its sheath on my thigh, the blade shining like ice as the starlight glints off the sharp edge. 

Slowly, we draw nearer and nearer to the other girls. I study them, assessing them as opponents. The one with the fistful of rocks is tall and muscular, almost boyish except for her distinctly feminine features. She’d definitely be hard to take. The other is harder to place, on the taller side of average but not as tall as the first one. Lithe and lean. She wears a tight, short dress yet holds her knife with expert ease. 

“What do you want?” The taller one spits, eyeing us with obvious distaste. Her lips curls in a snarl, her eyes boring into me. 

Aridda doesn’t answer, so neither do I. With my free hand, I reach up for the pendant and call to a strong, icy breeze. It plays with my hair, tossing it around and buffering against my skin. The other girls exchange glances, but don’t stand down. 

Then the fighting begins. 

I rush forward, finding myself facing off with the muscular one. Of course, I snarl in my head, of course I get the strong one. 

She grins at me, not unlike the smirk Aridda wears. My stomach drops. The pendant in my hand is a chip of ice, half-formed images of Arkitt playing inside my head. I let the wind drop, needing all of the pendant’s energy focused elsewhere. A thin film of ice forms beneath her feet, frost creeping up over her legs. 

“What are you?” She whispers, staring aghast at her frozen lower-body. “What’s in your hand?” 

“I’m Arkittian, Suhulan filth.” I snarl, lashing out with the knife. I’m surprised to find a smile on her face as she ducks, stepping out of the way. The ice is gone, her pant legs sodden and a puddle of water dripping on the asphalt.  

She raises a fist as if to throw a punch, but instead flings one of the stones. It whizzes through the air, glowing white from heat. The stone hits my shoulder, and I stifle a cry of pain. If not for my jacket of spider silk, it would likely be at lot worse. As it is, the material—dyed black for stealth instead of its natural brilliant silver—has partially melted, giving off wafts of smoke that burns my nostrils. 

I drop the pendant, grabbing my other dagger. I also dropped the rope a while ago, feeling oddly weak without the boost of strength. The blade arcs through the air, drawing a line of blood along the other girl’s chest. She snarls, looking at the blood as if it’s an insult to her. 

Another stone leaves her hand, and this one I manage to dodge. Barely. The stone nicks the edge of my arm, and once again a flare of pain erupts through my arm. 

My shoulder throbs, but I have no choice but to ignore it. I’m riding high off off adrenaline, so I hardly feel it anyways. It’s an angry whisper in my mind, telling me I shouldn’t be using my arm. I raise the daggers, glancing for a split second over towards Aridda. She appears to be struggling, the smaller girl’s flaming sword inches away from piercing her heart. 

Aridda will have to fend for herself, I decide. I turn my attention back to my own opponent, once again readying the blades. A fiery rock hits me in the stomach, and another in my leg. I drop to my knees. 

Clumsily, I drop the dagger and fumble for the pendant. I find thee steel anchor, letting my veins fill with frost to numb the pain from the burns. 

The fighting intensifies, and suddenly I find myself faced with both girls. They move in whorls of fire and light, blocking my vision so I cannot see what happened to Aridda. For an instant, I wonder why I should bother to finish the fight my sister started. Then a sword nearly sliced through my chest, and I realize I’m fighting to stay alive. 

I duck, tucking my limbs and dropping into a roll. The pavement is hard, my bones shattering upon impact. 

Bursting upwards, I take off at a sprint. With each pounding of my footsteps I can feel the vertebrae in my spine rattling, but with each step I get closer to the familiar comfort of the ocean. When I near the cliff, I push myself even faster. My hand finds the pendant, cold steel cutting cruelly against my soft skin. I can only hope there’s enough power left in it. 

I draw in a deep breath, savouring the tang of salt carried by the breeze, air wrapping around my legs in the beginning of a gale. Then I jump. 

 
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