Chapter no 16 – ‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌REFLECTION

Nightbane (The Lightlark Saga Book 2)

Her mother. This leopard . . . was once bonded to her. Isla was losing a lot of blood, but she turned and looked the creature right in the eyes. For a moment, the disdain faded, and she saw only unfiltered sadness.

The cat grieved her mother. That was why it had chosen her.

“We need to get you healed,” Wren said. Other Wildlings rushed forward. There were calls for the healing elixir. “He’ll follow, don’t worry.”

Wren was right. Lynx remained by her side. He was so large he couldn’t fit through the doors of the palace, so she used her starstick to portal him into her room, which he didn’t like one bit. He made a disgruntled noise before he went to the corner, curled, and sat down, making the ground tremble and taking up a large portion of her space. Wren pulled the arrow out of his leg, then put healing elixir on it. Everyone left her to rest.

Through the darkness, Isla saw his bright-green eyes gleaming. Then, as they closed, the world went dark again.

The next morning, Isla portaled to Oro and said, “I need to show you something.” She took him back to the newland with her.

He now stood in her Wildling room, staring at the creature that was staring back, many feet above his head, baring its massive teeth.

“You have . . .” Oro was saying.

“An animal companion,” she said. “A bonded.” She motioned toward the great leopard. “His name is Lynx, apparently.”

“Right.” He reached out a hand, not seeming too concerned that the leopard could tear it off, and Isla watched as the leopard sniffed him. Tilted his head. Then leaned down, allowing himself to be petted between the eyes.

Isla was outraged. “He likes you more than he likes me!” she said. The leopard’s eyes slid to hers, unimpressed, before looking at Oro again.

Oro smiled, and the sight was so beautiful, her hurt all but shriveled up. “What an impressive creature,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like him.”

She frowned. “Not on Lightlark?”

He shook his head. “We have lions and tigers on Sun Isle, but none remotely this size.”

That seemed to please Lynx. He made an approving sound, and Isla shot him a glare. “I told you this morning how impressive you were, and you turned your back to me,” she said.

Lynx didn’t even bother looking at her.

She sighed. “He was my mother’s bonded, according to Wren.”

“Ah,” Oro said. He pressed his hand against Lynx’s lowered head. “You must miss her,” he said to the cat, and he made a thrumming noise.

Isla’s throat worked. She wished the cat could speak, so she could ask him all about her mother. Now, though, she had to think of the practical. “I don’t know what to do,” she admitted. “There’s nothing like these woods on Lightlark. I don’t want to trap him in a castle . . . if he even fits in the hallways.”

Lynx gave her a scathing look.

Fine. If he could understand her, let him decide. She stood in front of the leopard and said, “I can take you back with me, to the castle. Or I can leave you in this forest and come back to visit soon. I can start making a place for you on the island.”

Lynx stared at her for half a second, before turning toward the window.

His choice was clear.

A pang of disappointment shot through her chest, though she understood it was the right choice. She didn’t know why she was so surprised. Lynx had clearly chosen her out of obligation, not fondness.

Oro rubbed his hand down Lynx’s lowered head again before turning back to Isla. She watched him study the circles under her eyes. She had only slept a handful of hours last night. He sighed and said, “There’s something you should know.”

Upon their return to Lightlark, Azul and her Skyling guards were waiting. “The rebels were spotted,” he said.

Isla’s chest tightened, remembering the pain of that night, being swept away under the water, so helpless—

Never again. She could use her Wildling power now. She might not be invincible, but at least she had a fighting chance.

She also wasn’t alone. Ciel and Avel moved to her sides immediately. “Where exactly?” Oro demanded.

“Their whispers were heard by our spies, coming from Star Isle. We tracked them down from the sky, but they just . . . vanished. Underground. We found more tunnels, but they all had dead ends.”

Ella spoke from her place at the back of the throne room. “It’s true,” her attendant said. “I saw them for a moment. There are Starlings among them, I’m almost certain.”

“Who?” Oro demanded. Isla remembered his threat. He would string any of them up across the Bay of Teeth. “Give me names.”

Ella did not hesitate. “I didn’t recognize anyone specifically. They wore masks. They must have Starlings among them, though, because no one else knows about the tunnels in the crypts.”

Oro frowned. “Crypts?”

“They were built during the curses. To house the many dead. And hide us from the rest of the island.” Anger curled in Isla’s stomach as she remembered hearing about the abuse of the Starlings. “We kept them a secret, because of that. They’re the only reason some of us are still alive . . . and they’re the only way to get past the creatures that took over the east side of Star Isle.”

“What do you mean, creatures?” Isla asked.

“Monsters. No one goes there anymore, except through the tunnels to gather supplies. Anyone who goes too far . . . never returns.”

Guilt swirled in Isla’s stomach. She had been so focused on her powers and the Wildlings, she had abandoned the Starlings beyond asking Oro to send guards and provisions. She should have gone to Star Isle sooner. She should have made sure they were okay.

She wouldn’t waste another moment. “Ella. Will you send word to Maren? I’m going to Star Isle.”

“I’m going with you,” Oro said.

She turned to face him and said in a low voice, “I need to go alone.” He frowned.

“Not alone,” she clarified. “Ciel and Avel will be there.” Her Skyling warriors inched closer.

Isla imagined Oro would demand to speak to every Starling and interrogate them over any information about the rebels. That wasn’t what they needed. That wasn’t the way Isla wanted to first address her new people.

Oro nodded, but he didn’t look happy in the slightest. He turned to Azul. “Did your spies hear anything else about the rebels? Has anyone else been attacked? Threatened?”

Azul shook his head. “No one else.”

That couldn’t be true. Why only target her?

If what Ella said was correct, that there must be Starlings among the rebels . . . that didn’t make sense. They had hurt her. They could have killed her, which would have led to the deaths of all Wildlings and Starlings.

Something wasn’t adding up.

Isla caught up with Ella before she left the Mainland castle. She felt awkward asking her these questions, but she had to know. “Are the Starlings . . . are they disappointed that I’m their ruler now? Are they angry that I still haven’t visited?”

“No. They know you were attacked and that you’ve been busy since.” Isla frowned. “They must resent me, though. They must—”

Ella laughed. Isla didn’t think she had ever seen the Starling laugh before.

“Isla,” she said softly. “All of us grew up accepting that our lives would be short and likely miserable. Few of us had any dreams. Or goals. Or hope. You gave us a chance to live. To most of us, you are a god. A savior.”

As she walked back to her room to change into her training clothes, Isla repeated the words she had told herself in the Wildling newland woods. She was strong. She was the ruler of Wildling.

And the ruler of Starling.

Isla closed her wardrobe after getting a dress and froze.

In the mirror, there was Grim, standing in a full suit of armor. He held his helmet loosely in his hand. Ready for war.

She spun around and shot her arm out. A branch from the tree of her room snapped off, then sharpened into a blade. It stabbed right through the room.

But it was empty.

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