Chapter no 2 – ‌‌TRUTHS AND LIES

Nightbane (The Lightlark Saga Book 2)

“It rejected me,” Isla said. It didn’t make sense. The power called to her; she could feel it. So why had the door slammed closed again?

The king’s golden crown gleamed as he tilted his head back, studying her. He was standing as far from her place on the bed as the room allowed.

It didn’t matter. Even from feet away, she could sense the thread that tied them together. Something like love.

Something like power.

Oro finally spoke. “You’re not ready. I don’t think your crown is the only key. If it wasn’t meant to be easily opened, the vault’s door could be charmed to admit only a Wildling ruler.”

“I am a—”

“One who has mastered their abilities.” Oh.

Isla laughed. She couldn’t help it. Of course the island would continue to come up with ways to make her feel inadequate. At this point, it was like a game. “If that’s true, then I guess it will remain closed,” she said, staring intently at a spot on the wall. The only Wildling masters still alive were her guardians—and if she ever set eyes on them again, she would kill them for murdering her parents. And for all the lies they had fed her.

Silence came to a boil and spilled over. She could almost feel Oro’s concern in the air, a heat tinged in worry. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Of all the things she had been through, being swept across the room by a snobbish door was far from the worst.

She hated his concern, and she hated herself for the anger that had hardened inside her like a blade, that struck out at even something as innocent as worry. Lately, though, she couldn’t seem to control any of her emotions. Sometimes she woke up and didn’t have the energy to even get out of bed. Other times, she was so angry, she portaled to Wild Isle just to have a place to scream.

“I will teach you,” he said.

“You’re not a Wildling master.”

“No,” he admitted. “But I have mastered four realms’ powers. The abilities are different, but the execution is similar.” His voice was gentle, gentler than she deserved. “It was how I was able to use your power.”

It was how he was able to save her. She would have been boiled alive by the core of the island if Oro hadn’t used the bond between them to claim her powers in the Place of Mirrors. That had been the moment her feelings for him were revealed. The fact that he could access her abilities meant she loved him.

Though she didn’t even know what that—love—was. She had loved her guardians.

She had loved Celeste.

She had, at some point, loved Grim.

The vision. Death and darkness and decay. Was it a threat? A glimpse of the future?

The weight around her neck felt even heavier now. The necklace Grim had gifted her during the Centennial had been impossible to remove, and yes, she had tried. It had a clasp, but so far it had refused to open. It seemed there was no real way to take it off. Only she could feel it. Oro didn’t even know it existed.

Isla wondered if Grim was like that necklace—insistent and refusing to let her go. Would he kill people just to have her?

“I have to tell you something.” She considered keeping it to herself. If it had involved only her, she might have. She had broken the curses. She deserved more time to recover. Her cuts and bruises from the Centennial had disappeared, but some wounds were invisible and took far longer to heal than broken skin and bones. “In the Place of Mirrors . . . there was a vision.”

He frowned. “What did you see?”

“Death,” she said. “He—” She found herself unwilling to speak his name aloud, as if that alone might summon him from the shadows, bring him to life in more than just her mind. “He was surrounded by darkness. There were dead bodies everywhere. The shadows were reaching at me—” She winced. “It looked like . . . war.”

It looked like the end of the world.

Sharper heat swept through the room, the only sign of Oro’s anger. His smooth face remained expressionless. “He won’t stop until he has you.”

Isla shook her head. “I chose you . . . He feels betrayed. He might not even care about me anymore.” Oro didn’t look convinced. She closed her eyes. “Even if he did, do you think he would start a war over me? Risk his own people?”

“I think that is exactly what he would do,” Oro said, his gaze faraway, as if lost in thought. “Isla. You need to start your training, and not just to get into the vault.”

Training. That sounded like far too much effort, she decided, for a person who had to bargain with herself just to leave her room every day. She didn’t use to be like this. Training had been hammered into her like gemstones into a blade’s hilt. It was part of her very essence.

Now, she was just tired, more mentally than physically. All she wanted was time to recover, and why did even thinking that make her feel like the most selfish person on Lightlark?

Luckily, she had an excuse other than her own unwillingness. “You know I can’t.” As king, Oro was the last remaining Origin who could wield each of the remaining Lightlark powers—Skyling, Starling, Moonling, and Sunling. It was supposed to be impossible for anyone other than his line to be born with more than one ability. According to Aurora—whom she had once thought to be her best friend, Celeste—her Wildling and Nightshade gifts were tangled together in a way that made them largely useless unless a Nightshade released them. “My powers—”

“I have a plan for that.”

Of course he did. Her teeth stubbornly locked together. “I don’t have time to train. I have to get back to the Wildlings.”

“They will need you to be at your utmost strength.”

Why was he so set on her training? And why, truly, was she so against it? “It’s a distraction,” she tried. “I can learn later. After they’re taken care of. After we’ve figured out the Nightshade threat, if my vision is even real.”

“You have the power of a Starling ruler now, Isla,” Oro said gently.

When Isla killed Aurora, she had used an ancient relic called the bondmaker to steal all the Starling’s power. The action served as a loophole to fulfill the part of the prophecy that stated a ruler had to die to break the curses. A ruler’s power functioned as the life force of their people. All

Starlings would have died along with Aurora, if Isla hadn’t stolen that power.

Now, she was responsible for two realms, when she wasn’t even qualified to rule one.

“Your Wildling and Nightshade powers might have stayed dormant all this time,” he continued, “but this will not. The abilities are too great. If you don’t learn how to control them, they will control you.”

That seemed unlikely. In the last couple of days, she had casually tried to use her Starling powers. To move a quill. To make a burst of energy off her balcony. Nothing. She would have doubted that the bondmaker had even worked if the Starlings weren’t still alive.

“Isla,” Oro said, and the tender way he said her name dulled the defensive edges of her anger and pain, just a little.


He took a step, then another, until she was bathed in his warmth, even though he was still farther than she would have liked.

Oro studied her from the foot of her bed. “Say you’ll train with me. And mean it.”

“Fine,” she said quickly, just because she knew it was what he wanted to hear. Just because nowadays, she would do anything to stop thoughts about the Centennial and what had happened. “I’ll train with you. I mean it.”

“Your excitement is overwhelming,” he said flatly. “I am excited,” she said through her teeth.

His look sharpened. “You do realize I know you’re lying?”

Of course he did. That was his flair, the extra power rulers often carried from distant bloodlines. She imagined fate laughing at the irony of their pairing: a liar loved by someone who could sense the truth.

Instead of glaring at Oro, she was happy to turn the attention back to him. Curiosity made for the best distraction. Wasn’t that all life was, she reasoned, painful moments strung together by distractions? “What does it feel like?” she asked, sitting straighter on the bed.

The thin sleeve of her dress dipped down her shoulder. She watched him track its fall.

“What does what feel like?” he asked, eyes lingering on her newly bare shoulder.

Something thrummed in her chest. She hadn’t often noticed Oro staring at her. Until the moment when Aurora confirmed the king loved her, she hadn’t even thought he had liked her.

One of her bare legs ran the length of the bed, slowly, until her toe reached the floor. Her dress rode high up her thigh, and she could feel the heat of his eyes on her. She did the same with the other leg, until both feet were by the bedside.

He studied her, top to bottom, and suddenly the vault was forgotten. Her inadequacy—forgotten. The betrayals? Forgotten.

Part of Isla wondered if he was still just looking at her to see if she was okay, but no, no, it was far better to believe he was watching her for other reasons.

“When someone lies to you. What does it feel like?” She drifted over to him, barefoot, her back slightly sore from her rough landing. Her head pounded in pain, the wound just recently healed by her Wildling elixir, but she ignored it.

He remained very still as she stopped before him.

“Does it hurt?” She tilted her head. “Does anything really hurt you?”

The look he gave her made it clear he wasn’t going to answer the second question, so she tried the first again. “Do the lies hurt?”

Oro was so tall, he had to crane his neck down to look her right in the eyes. He reached out and ran his thumb across the divots of her crown. “It depends on who’s telling them.”

Guilt sank its teeth into her chest. The idea that her lies had hurt him inexplicably made her hurt as well.

Was that what it meant to love someone?

She had lied to him throughout the Centennial, but he had never lied to her. She knew that now for certain. He was the only person she trusted in the world, though she realized trusting anyone after what had happened was astronomically foolish.

Was that love?

Isla placed her hand on his chest and felt him stiffen. He was warm in a comforting way that made her want to feel his bare skin beneath her fingers. He did not move an inch as she got closer—and closer still.

They had barely talked about the connection between them, the undeniable thread. He had let her have her space. She had wanted to take

things slow. Not rush in, the way she had with Grim.

But at that moment, she didn’t want any space between them.

She stood on her toes, wanting to bridge the gap between her lips and his, finally, but no matter how long she stretched her neck, she couldn’t reach him.

Oro stared down at her and frowned. “Is this your attempt to distract me?”

Absolutely. She didn’t want to master her powers. She didn’t want to think about any of her newfound abilities. Once she started, she would have to think about things—and people—that had scarred her, perhaps beyond repair. “Yes. Let me?”

He lowered his head. His golden crown winked in the light.

Then his hands were on her waist. His fingers were long across her back; she arched into his touch. He grabbed her, so tightly she gasped—

But before she could wrap her legs around his waist, he carried her to the bed . . .

. . . and dropped her back onto the sheets.

By the time she made a sound of protest, he was at the door. “Rest, Isla,” he said. “The dinner is in a few hours.” She groaned. It was the first time representatives were all meeting, to discuss the aftermath of the curses. “Then, we’ll begin our training.”

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