Chapter no 18 – CASTLE

Lightlark (The Lightlark Saga Book 1)

Isla awoke feeling on the brink of death. There was a relentless cold at the center of her chest. All day, she stayed in bed, drinking broths. Ella fed the fire. Kept bringing tea. Drawing hot baths. By night, Isla only felt a little better.

Celeste risked a visit, bringing a special Starling soup recipe she had procured from Star Isle. “I’ll go instead,” she said as soon as she saw her.

And Isla knew she must have looked on the brink of death too. A groan escaped her as she pushed herself off the bed. She shook her head.

It was the twentieth day of the Centennial. Tonight was the full moon. Her only chance to go to Moon Isle undiscovered. “No offense, Cel,” she said, “but you can’t move like I do.”

Her friend sighed. “I know. But—”

Isla shook her head again, cutting the Starling off. “If you get caught, it’s over. We can’t risk it.”

Celeste frowned. “Can we risk you?” she asked pointedly.

Isla waved her concern off. She stretched her limbs as she formulated the hair dye again. “I’m fine,” she lied. Celeste knew it was a lie.

But she also knew as well as Isla did that they didn’t have another choice.

Everything she wanted was on her mind as she forced down the pain of her arm, the cold with every breath, her need for rest.

None of it meant anything compared to their need to find the bondbreaker.


Juniper might be the most or least trustworthy barkeep on the island, Isla still wasn’t sure. But his information had been correct.

There were no guards on the bridge that night.

The Moonling curse meant that every full moon, the sea sought out Moonling blood. Ships were cracked in half by hundred-foot waves; girls were swept off cliffs by monstrous surges. The sea swallowed them, then went still.

Tonight, it was ravenous.

The entire isle was empty. It was so quiet, Isla could hear the sea banging against the cliff of the castle, over and over, knocks on a door, death demanding its due.

Moon Isle was an ornament encased in ice, water, and glass. From the first step off the bridge, Isla felt the frost, cold in her chest like regret. Harsh as the ruler who ruled it.

And, also, just as beautiful.

Fountains and thin rivers snaked across Moon Isle, giving the water-wielding Moonlings constant access to their power. The ice palace sat perched above, watching her as closely as the moon. The paths were carved out of mother-of-pearl, lined with marble statues depicting sea creatures with winding tentacles, fish-tailed women, and ships floating on nothing. No guards anywhere.

Unfortunately, she was going right toward where they all were hiding.

Celeste had learned the Moonling library was deep within the castle walls. That was where Isla was headed.

Her hair had been painted white with Wildling elixir. She wore the right dress. But something told her that being a Moonling was much more than that—and if any of the guards took one look at her, they would immediately know she was an impostor. Being outside during the full moon was the greatest hint to her identity of all. No Moonling would survive being outside the palace tonight, so Isla needed to move like a ghost, get inside undiscovered. She stuck to the shadows, should anyone be watching from above.

The castle sat high on a hill of white rock. A thin, exposed path led from the gardens up to the castle entrance. Easy to monitor. Impossible for Isla to use without being detected.

She circled the mountain’s perimeter, hoping to see another entrance. The rock was impenetrable—except for a window, fifty feet up, right at the bottom level of the palace.

There were no bars on its glass. That was her way in.

Isla readied herself. Her palms were wet with nerves, so she smoothed them along the chalky rock, coating her hands in the stuff.

The cliff was nearly flat, but there were pockets. She had been trained to see the tiniest of holes, the invisible recesses.

Her hands found its first two placements, barely a few inches to cling to. Then, with a grunt, she hauled herself up.

The first few moments of climbing were never too bad. The ground wasn’t that far away. One wrong move, and she could just start over.

Things became more precarious thirty feet up.

She moved quickly, so as not to lose her momentum and not make time for fear, similar to swallowing down medicine too fast to taste it.

One of Terra’s lessons. Her guardian had made her watch the monkeys that swept across the forest effortlessly, climbing trees with ease.

They didn’t plan out every movement. They swung, knowing there would always be something for their arms or tail to latch on to.

Climb until your muscles learn the movements; leave your mind out of it, Terra said. And Isla climbed the tree, the cliff, the wall, again. Again. Again.

Her hands were used to this. They moved on their own, looking for grooves in the stone. Finding them. Going up. And up. And up.

Another move. One hand latched on to a slight bump. Her other fingers felt around for purchase.

But for once, the rock was smooth. Nothing to hold on to.

Higher. She would need to look higher. Arm shaking with the effort, she lifted herself up, to find somewhere else for her other hand to hold. She barely muted a cry as her still-sensitive skin screamed in pain at the movement.


That was the problem with climbing an unfamiliar rock face. There were no guarantees. Still, there was always something. Some way to get up. Her fingers were starting to get sweaty. The grip on the point of rock less secure. She felt both freezing and too warm. Did she have a fever? Was

she sick?

No. Just weak. Her arm’s skin was still slightly raw. The cold in her chest had intensified.

She needed to find placement for her other hand quickly.


Despite her efforts to be silent, Isla grumbled with strain as she forced her arm to lift her even higher

Only then did she find a slight hollow in the rock. She didn’t waste a moment before shoving her fingers painfully into the pit, distributing her weight again.

That was close.

The window was just a few feet above. It was large enough for her to fit through, with a ledge, even, for support.

Isla made her next move. And just as her hand was about to lock on to another hold, the knob holding all her weight gave way.

She fell.

This high up, she might break her legs. Or, depending on how she landed, could crack her ribs. Or her spine.

In any case, she would be discovered. Found in a broken heap right outside the castle walls.

No bondbreaker.

No future that she wanted more than anything, a future that was changing every day the more she saw and experienced.


So fast it was muscle memory, Isla unclipped the back of her necklace

—a dagger made to look like a choker, sharp point instead of a clasp—and dug its hidden blade into the rock with all her strength.

She stopped falling. Barely.

A moment later, the blade gave out.

By then, she had new hand placements.

She was twenty feet down from the window now. But she was alive.


Her stomach felt like it had been turned inside out, her heart drummed against the cliff.

No time to celebrate. Sweat licking the back of her neck despite the cold, Isla traveled the rest of the way up to the window. Roaring still filled her ears, from the sea, or the adrenaline, or her body warning that she wasn’t ready to exert so much effort—she wasn’t sure.

Minutes later, she hauled herself up the ledge, lifted the mercifully unlocked window, and dragged herself through.

The Moon Isle castle was quiet.

Every inch had been sculpted from white marble, dark-blue veins weaving through it like rivers. It reminded Isla of Cleo.

Spotless. Ageless.

Something about it was unsettling.

It was late. The Moonlings must have retreated to their rooms within the castle. Ever since the curses, Celeste said, most of them had moved into the palace, the only building on the isle high enough to escape the monthly surges.

Even inside, Isla could hear the snarl of the sea, desperately rising in curls toward its inhabitants.

Most people must be asleep. Or perhaps there were rules. Cleo seemed to take pleasure in wielding her power. There could be a mandatory curfew. Or restricted areas of the castle.

It was a labyrinth.

Isla didn’t know where she was going, just that the library was at the very back of the castle, overlooking the sea.

So, she went deeper.

The occasional footstep sounded through the hall, followed by orders.

Guards, patrolling certain corridors.

There were so many. Much, much more than she had seen on other parts of the island. Now that she thought about it, there hadn’t been any guards on Sky Isle. There weren’t many on the Mainland either, except for the ones who lit the torches in the agora.

What was Cleo up to?

Isla hoped the library wouldn’t be as highly monitored. The restricted section required Cleo’s touch to be accessed, after all. But the farther she made it into the palace, the more she heard. Whispers through the walls. The gurgle of water being wielded. The high-pitched crackling of water being turned to ice.

Was she close to the dungeons? Or were the guards simply practicing? For what?

There was a flash of white at her side, and she darted into the closest room she could find.

Empty. Just four stone walls that chilled her to the bone as she pressed against them, hoping the passerby hadn’t seen her.

For a few moments, there was just silence. Then, she heard voices.

“Were you patrolling this hall?” A man. “No.” A woman.

“Was Lazlo?”

The woman grunted her no. “Why?” A second. “I saw someone.”


Isla froze. He had spotted her.

The man and woman were walking down the hall now; she could hear their boots clearly against the marble, clacking like clinking china. Every step brought them closer to her.

“How would they get past the legion?” the woman said.


Cleo was building an army. Why?

What was she planning?

Isla didn’t have much time to wonder.

Because a moment later, the door of the room she was hiding in flew open.

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