Chapter no 3 – BLOOD

Lightlark (The Lightlark Saga Book 1)

The sun had fallen. It was just a yolky thing, halfway consumed by the horizon, when Isla opened the double doors and stared up at the incoming moon. She was in the middle of getting ready, just in her slip. The gauzy white curtains blew back in the breeze, trailing her arms, falling against her bare knees, her toes. She crept out onto the balcony, the stone cold beneath her feet. Breathed in salt and brine.

She carefully climbed onto the wide stone ledge, knees to her chest. And just like she did back home when she was alone in her room, whenever she felt anxious and lonely and trapped, she began to sing.

Singing was a Wildling thing, a temptress thing. Just like their sisters, the sirens of the sea. Isla’s voice was unnaturally good, like silk and velvet and deep dreams. She knew it and liked the sound. Liked how her voice could be as deep as the ocean floor and as high as wind chimes. She didn’t need music. The sea below was instrument enough, its waves crashing roughly against the island’s harrowing white cliffs as if trying to get a good look at her.

She sang and sang, meaningless words and melodies, letting her voice ripple and peak and dip, like drawing on an endless canvas. She sang to the sea, to the moon, to the rising darkness. All things she hadn’t been able to see from her painted-over windows in the Wildling realm. Finally, she ended on a high note, letting it drag out as much as she could without taking another breath. She smiled to herself, always surprised by what came out of her mouth. Always relieved by how it put to rest even her darkest thoughts.

And there was clapping.

Isla whipped around to see a man on another balcony yards away, tucked so far back into the castle she hadn’t even noticed it. Practically in her underclothes and caught completely off guard, Isla gasped. She whirled too quickly, startled. Her arms pinwheeled at her sides, but it was no use— gravity was too great.

She fell straight back, clean off the ledge.

Her breath spooled out of her chest, and she screamed soundlessly as she fell, grasping at the night air like the stars were footholds.

But only air passed through her fingers, and she fell, fell—

Until the sea roared below, and her head cracked against its surface.

Isla sat up so quickly she retched sea water. Her throat burned with it. She blinked and blinked. Wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.

And found that she was back on her balcony, in a puddle of water. Her hair was dripping wet. Her slip clung to her body, completely soaked through. Her head pounded in pain from its very crown. When her fingers gingerly ran over the spot, she expected there to be blood. There wasn’t.

She was very much alive. Not drowned, the way she should have been. That person, the one who had been watching her . . . he must have saved her.

Then dumped her here, not even bothering to see if she would wake up. Who would do such a thing?

The more surprising part wasn’t that he had discarded her . . . But that he had rescued her.



After the curses were spun, there was chaos. That same night, the six rulers of realm sacrificed themselves in exchange for a prophecy that was promised to be the key to breaking the curses. Terra and Poppy claimed her own ancestor had been the one to lead the sacrifices, the first to die.

True or not, Isla could never imagine the strength it must have taken to give up their lives for the chance at their people’s salvation. The power the six injected into the island and transferred to their realms made the Centennial possible. Every hundred years, for a hundred days, the six realms were given a chance to save themselves, because of that sacrifice.

The prophecy to break the curses had three parts, which had been interpreted in several ways throughout the centuries. One was clear. For the curses to be eradicated, one of the six rulers had to die. It was why the Centennial was such a risky affair, feared and prepared for, why Terra had trained Isla to fight since the time she could walk.

Isla’s sudden death by drowning might have been the first step to fulfilling the prophecy. But for some reason, the person on the balcony wanted to keep her alive.


Bells rang through the castle, making Isla almost jump out of her skin.

She counted them, then cursed.

For the first dinner, she was supposed to have spent an hour on her hair, arranging it in a complicated design atop her head. She was supposed to choose the perfect gown, rub rose-scented lotion on her skin until it gleamed, and apply her makeup with precision, using tools she had learned to wield just as expertly as her throwing blades. All things Poppy had drilled into her.

Instead, she combed her wet hair with her fingers and almost slipped in the trail it made, threw on the first gown she could get her hands on, put on a pair of silk slippers, and grabbed her crown at the last moment, placing it haphazardly on her head as she tore through the door.

And almost ran into the same Starling girl as before. Her tiny mouth was open in shock, and she put her hands up on instinct, shielding from an attack. “This way . . . Isla.”

A dozen hallways later, the doors to the dining hall opened, and everyone turned to look at her.

Isla wished she was a Nightshade, just so she could disappear. Celeste sat back in her chair, eyebrows raised.

Azul put down the goblet he was holding.

Cleo regarded her with even more disdain than before. In her rush, Isla had grabbed one of her most brazen dresses, one she had been instructed to wear far later in the game. The bones of the bodice were visible, the panels nearly sheer. The skirt had a slit that ran up her leg, to the top of her thigh. Her cape was green lace, attached to a dipping neckline.

Grim looked amused, eyeing her every step in a way that made her flush, mortified.

There was someone else at the head of the table. The same person who had been watching her sing—who must have both saved her and abandoned her.

Oro, king of Lightlark, ruler of Sunlings. He had hair like woven gold, eyes as amber and hollow as honeycomb. Mean eyes that pinned her in place. He frowned and nodded curtly at her in welcome, purely out of obligation.

Why had the king saved her?

Only to regard her so dismissively.

She returned the cold nod and took the empty seat at his side, cursing whoever had placed her there.

Isla’s wet hair draped over her arm, dripping down her skin and onto the floor beside her in a puddle. Her body shook slightly, freezing, the flimsy, practically fabric-less excuse of a gown doing absolutely nothing to warm her.

The taunting voice was back: Are you ready, Isla?



Of course she wasn’t. How had she been foolish enough to accept the Centennial invitation? To walk directly into such a deadly game?

One of the six rulers had to die. As the youngest and least experienced, she would be a fool to believe it wouldn’t be her. Especially when she had nearly died twice already, less than a day into the ceremony.

If she was smart, she would leave that night, using her starstick.

If she wanted to live, she would abandon the island, her realm, her people, her duty, and never look back. Lands beyond Lightlark and the newlands were largely unexplored. She had always wondered about them. It would be risky traveling beyond them, but certainly not more dangerous than the Centennial . . .

She couldn’t. Not if she ever wished to be truly free. Her curse would never allow her to have the full life she wanted, with the people she cared about most. Terra. Poppy. Celeste.

If all went to plan, she would never have to be hidden away like a secret again. She would never feel ashamed about who she was. She could lead her people to prosperity and travel the newlands at will, visiting Celeste whenever she wanted to.

Isla had spent countless hours of her life studying other people, guessing at their motivations.

Freedom was hers.

Oro studied her dripping hair, and he had the nerve to smile. “I know our seas are irresistible . . . but please, in the future, do limit your swims to earlier in the evening so as not to keep the rest of us waiting.” He raised his chin slightly. The crown atop his head was gold and gleaming, its spikes sharp enough to draw blood. “Very rude—though perhaps my expectations of your realm were too high to begin with.”

Cleo’s eyes glittered with amusement, relishing the red that Isla could feel spreading across her cheeks. “A swim in that sea, at this hour? She

certainly is a wild pet. Even a Moonling wouldn’t think to do such a thing during the Centennial. Only a fool would.”

Wild. Pet. Fool. The Moonling had managed to insert multiple jabs in just a few short sentences.

“Certainly not on a full moon,” Isla said smoothly, the words slipping out before she could stop herself.


Silverware clattered together somewhere across the room.

Moonlings’ curse meant that every full moon, the sea claimed dozens of lives from their realm, drowning anyone who found themselves too close to the coast. It made faraway trade nearly impossible, made living near the ocean a danger, and had completely crippled the Moonlings’ economy.

Isla regretted her words immediately. The way Cleo’s eyes narrowed, right at her, like an arrow marking its target, made her feel like she had just officially made her first enemy.

Before anyone could say another word, a plate was placed in front of Isla. On it sat a bleeding heart.

“Sourced from the worst of our prisons,” Oro said smoothly. “A murderer of women.”

It took all of Isla’s will to smile warmly at him. “How kind of you. However, I prefer to eat in private. Some find it . . . disturbing.” She looked around for the Starling who had led her to the dining hall. “Could I have this sent to my room for later?”

“Nonsense,” Oro said. He stared down at the heart, then at Isla. “Eat.”

She could feel everyone’s gaze on her. It had been a while since they had encountered a Wildling. Isla carefully took her fork and knife, nodded graciously at her host, and cut a piece of the heart, blood pooling out of it, filling her plate. She breathed in the metallic sent.

Then she took a bite.



Grim roughly placed his goblet of wine down onto the table. “Isla, as much as the blood on your lips suits you, I sense my good friend Azul’s distaste for Wildling . . . pleasures.” Indeed, the Skyling, though clearly trying to be polite, looked ill. Grim motioned for the staff. “Please send this to her quarters.”

He spoke as if this was his castle, not Oro’s. The Sunling ruler blinked but did not stop the Skyling boy from taking Isla’s plate away. “Weak

stomach, Grimshaw?”

The Nightshade grinned, the dimple returning. “We all have our weaknesses, Oro,” he said. “I’m counting on them.”

Somehow, Isla made it through the rest of the dinner without having to excuse herself.

Then she spent the night retching blood.

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