Chapter no 21 – PAIRED

Lightlark (The Lightlark Saga Book 1)

The king was dying. What did that even mean? Chaos erupted at his confession, but he said nothing more before sweeping out of the room. Claiming his win.

It was a secret that affected them all.

Oro’s life-force was directly correlated with the island’s. Did that mean Lightlark was at risk?

He was the strongest of them. An Origin, who was Starling, Skyling, Moonling, and Sunling combined. If he was dying . . .

What hope did the rest of them have?

Isla heard a soft knock at her door, far past midnight. Celeste. The Starling hurried inside, looking as if she had seen a ghost. “That was close” was all she said.

Isla’s stomach dropped, remembering the words printed in her cup. She imagined Celeste’s were nearly the same.

“I know.” She frowned. “Thank you. You shouldn’t have to protect me like this, but—thank you.”

Celeste waved her thanks away, as if it was nothing. But it wasn’t nothing. The only way Isla could ever repay her friend for the risk she was enduring on her behalf was to find the bondbreaker.

“What do you think it means?” Isla asked.

The Starling seemed to know immediately she meant the king’s confession. She shrugged. “I’m not sure. But it’s reason enough for us to hurry up and find the bondbreaker so we can get off this island.”

She was right. Once they were free of the curses, they could be free of Lightlark. The king’s death wouldn’t affect them or their realms.

But there were even more factors that rushed their already limited timeline. And complicated their plan.

She told Celeste about the disastrous display in the Moon Isle castle and Cleo’s almost certain knowledge that Isla had broken in.

Celeste walked around Isla’s room, hands coated in sparks. Her emotions often triggered them, which was part of the reason she always

wore gloves. To keep her energy in check.

“I’ll do my best to get information on the Sun Isle library” was all she said after a long while. Isla nodded, though that wouldn’t solve their biggest issues. How was she supposed to sneak onto Sunling land without gold clothing? Celeste finally stopped pacing and clasped her palms together, making the sparks fall away like ribbons, vanishing before they hit the floor. “In two days, teams are being decided. Oro will hopefully match us together. Then we won’t have to work in secret. We will find a way for you to get onto Sun Isle undetected.”

Isla didn’t want to question her friend, especially when she had complicated everything by making Cleo suspicious of her, but she couldn’t help voicing a doubt. “What if we aren’t paired together?”

Celeste frowned. She placed a gentle palm, still buzzing with energy, against Isla’s cheek. “I know how incredible you are, my brilliant friend,” she said. “But they do not. The king is not going to pick you. Or me, for that matter.”

Isla had to admit she was right.

“Now,” Celeste said. “It’s not all bad news, is it? We know for certain that the bondbreaker is in the Sun Isle library now. We will get you inside. You will find the bondbreaker. We will use it. Break our curses. You’ll get your power. Our realms will be freed. We could be off the island in a week. Two weeks, at the most.”

Said like that, it sounded easy.

But Isla knew now that nothing on Lightlark ever was.


On the twenty-fifth day of the Centennial, they returned to the throne room for the pairing ceremony.

“King.” Azul’s tone was steady, though his eyes flashed with urgency. “Are you going to explain your . . . truth?”

This time, the king sat on his throne, as if reminding the rest of them of his position.

Even if he was, supposedly, dying.

Oro’s crown glinted beneath the light of the flames above. He frowned.

The rest of the rulers were silent, clearly wondering the same thing Azul had so helpfully verbalized.

Finally, the king spoke. “Since the last Centennial, the island has been steadily weakening. Elders have died. Buildings that have stood for thousands of years are now ruins. Our most ancient creatures have vanished.” He gripped the sides of the throne so strongly, his knuckles turned white. “The curses. Centuries of rulers living away from the island. Thousands of our people leaving. It has all taken its toll on Lightlark. On me.”

Isla thought of her own realm. The same things had happened. All signs that too little power was being injected to the land and not enough ability was being used.

Oro rose from his throne. He looked at each of them, eyes hollow as ever. “I fear this Centennial is not simply chance to break our curses. I fear this is our last chance.”

The room was silent.

Surging power—from anger or fear or wariness, Isla didn’t know— filled the hall.

Azul spoke again. “How do you know you’re dying?”

With that, the king lifted his sleeve. Starting from his elbow, his golden skin had started to gray. It looked almost blue. “It’s spreading,” he said. “Quicker than I anticipated.” His jaw locked. “Part of my power and role has been to keep the island warm and full of light for centuries, even during the endless storm.” He frowned. “That power has weakened. The last decade has been our coldest in history. It is causing plants and animals to die. I have been trying to lessen its impact . . . but soon, I won’t be able to stop it.”

That was why he had commanded that all the hearths remain lit. Why there were so many torches across the Mainland, and fire in nearly every room of the castle. They were all masking the king’s weakness.

He stepped down the stairs, putting him at their level. “I hope you see now why it is more important than ever to figure out and fulfill the prophecy.”

The king motioned to the wall. Words began to be carved along the stone in large, fire-coated letters. The oracle’s riddle, the one Isla had been taught years prior. The key to breaking the curses.

Only joined can the curses be undone

Only after one of six has won, When the original offense

Has been committed again

And a ruling line has come to an end Only then can history amend.

“‘Only joined can the curses be undone,’” Oro read. “That is why we break into teams, to fulfill the prophecy. And attempt to solve it. A reminder of the first rule. A ruler is forbidden from assassinating their partner.”

Isla wasn’t really concerned with the prophecy. Her and Celeste’s plan didn’t require it.

Still, she pretended to read the words on the wall while running ideas through her mind. Perhaps she could tweak her elixir potion to dye clothing

. . . she might be able to make one of her own gowns gold.

It would never work. Plus, she barely had enough elixir for one more shot at dyeing her hair, let alone an entire swath of fabric.

She could rob a Sunling in the market and take their clothes? Isla winced at that idea.

Horrible. Also, the Sunling would immediately report the crime, and Oro would know someone meant to sneak onto his isle.

Isla was so focused on feigning interest in the prophecy and plotting her attempt to sneak into the Sun Isle library that she didn’t realize her name had been spoken until it was repeated so loudly she startled.

“Isla,” the king was saying.

Her expression must have given away that she had no idea what he had said previously, or if she had been asked a question, because the king gave her a grating look.

“My choice of partner,” the king repeated through his teeth, clearly hating every word coming out of his mouth. The room fell away. She forgot to school her expression or control her emotions around Grim. Her mouth might have been hanging open. She might have accidentally shot Celeste a horrified look. “Is Isla.”

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