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Chapter no 25 – ‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌REVELATIONS

Nightbane (The Lightlark Saga Book 2)

“There is a sword.”

Isla recounted her memory to Oro. It was the first one that seemed remotely helpful. “He said I could help him find it. He said it was powerful.”

Oro’s brows came slightly together. “Do you know anything else about

it?”

“Not yet. But it might be the weapon the oracle says he has.” Oro nodded. “Then we need to find out what it does.”

By the end of the day, Oro had dozens of people in every library and

archive, searching for records of important swords.

Isla knew the answers would not be found in books but her own mind. She just needed to remember.

The Wildlings didn’t seem surprised at the idea of war.

“This is what we’ve always trained for,” Wren said. There were nods around her.

“You—you want to fight?” Isla asked, doing her best to siphon surprise out of her tone. This was not really their battle. Wildlings hadn’t been on Lightlark in five hundred years. None of her people had been alive before the curses. They had never even stepped foot on the island.

Asking them to potentially die protecting it seemed like a stretch. “Are you giving us a choice?” Wren asked.

Isla hesitated. Choice. She was their ruler. She could have ordered them. Should have, probably. Now, Grim had Moonling. Cleo had been building a legion. She had seen it herself during the Centennial, sneaking around the Moon Isle castle.

To defeat them, they would need as many warriors as they could get.

Still . . .

“Yes,” she said quickly. Once the word was out of her mouth, she couldn’t take it back. “You have a choice.” Isla studied her people. Some looked determined. Others looked wary. “I hadn’t been to Lightlark until a few months ago,” she said. “I could have returned here and ignored the threat on the island, but I know if Lightlark falls, so do we. Eventually, without that power . . . we will cease to exist. I see a future where we return and claim our isle again. I see a future where we use the power of the island to help regain everything we lost.” She paused. “Who will fight alongside me for that future?”

For a moment, no one moved a muscle, and Isla’s heart sank below her ribs. Wildlings were known to be among the best warriors. Without them—

One woman stepped forward. She had long hair tied into a braid and wore bracelets made from thorny vines.

Another. Another.

Then, an entire group.

Isla wanted to smile, she wanted to cry, but she did neither. She nodded sharply and thanked them.

“For those who will not fight, I ask for something critical.” She was honest with them. “Moonling joined Nightshade.” There were a few murmurs. “They took their healers with them. To keep this war from destroying us, we need as many healing elixirs as possible.”

“It’s not something that can be rushed,” Wren said. “We only have one small patch of the flower left.”

Isla knew that. “We’ll need to find more,” she said. “We will need to search every inch of the isle for it.” She sighed. “The elixir will be the difference between life and death. We need everyone available to learn how to extract it.”

Wren nodded.

She faced the rest of her people. “Grim is coming to destroy Lightlark.” Her vision echoed in her head, and her heart started beating faster, each beat like the chime of a clock. “We are in a race to save thousands of lives.”

Lynx was waiting for her in the woods outside the Wildling palace when she was done. Now that part of Wild Isle had been restored by her and Oro, she had contemplated bringing him to Lightlark.

With Nightshade approaching, however, she didn’t know if it was the best idea.

“War is coming,” Isla told him, wondering if he really could understand her. “I . . . I saw a vision a while ago. Of someone I used to care about, destroying the world . . .” She swallowed. “He’s Nightshade, like my father.”

Lynx’s gaze sharpened.

“You must have known him, right? My . . . dad?”

The leopard blinked, and Isla didn’t know if that was confirmation.

“The oracle said I’m the key. I’m the only one who can remember why he wants to destroy Lightlark, and how. I’m the only one who knows about the mysterious weapon he has. Some sword.” She sighed. It was nice talking to someone, even if she wasn’t sure he was listening. “I’m the only one who can open a door that has rejected me already, that is apparently extremely important in all of this.” She laughed without humor, and Lynx just stared at her. “You know what? After the Centennial, I truly believed things could not get any worse. I was wrong. I . . . I was wrong about a lot of things.”

Lynx didn’t care. She knew that. She made to turn around, to leave him to his business, when he stopped her, with a quick nuzzle of his head that nearly sent her off-balance.

She turned around and found his head bent low. She reached out with careful fingers, and he allowed her to pet down his nose. His eyes closed, and he made a thrumming sound in his chest.

Her bonded didn’t hate her. That was a relief. At least, he didn’t hate her today.

Perhaps, Isla thought, it meant she had proven herself as a Wildling.

Perhaps it meant she could finally open the vault.

Isla stood outside the hidden door. Voices echoed inside. It reminded her of being in the forest when her powers had first been released, a thousand mouths calling her forward. They were almost clear but muffled in meaning, like speaking underwater. She took another step and tried to listen. They became louder, more insistent.

A spark traveled up her spine, and she didn’t dare move too quickly, in case it broke the connection. This was it all along, she thought. All she

needed to do was connect to the vault, the same way Oro had taught her to form a link to her abilities. The same way she had begun to form a connection with Lynx.

Something in her recognized something in the hidden door. It pulled her forward, a hand gripping a thread behind her navel. It all felt so natural, so right, so fitting, just like the crown clicking into the lock, every twist and ridge lining up. Just like turning it, and pulling it—

Closed. It remained closed. It didn’t move an inch, not even a sliver of an opening, like before. No force threw her across the room.

Just . . . nothing.

Isla ripped her crown from the lock and almost hurled it across the room. They had twenty-six days. Twenty-six days before—

Her vision flashed in front of her eyes, and she could almost smell the burning. She could almost feel the ashes landing on her bare arms as they swept over her in torrents. She coughed like the cinders were in her throat again, choking her. Screams sounded in her ears, followed by howls from dreks—

Dreks. That was new. She hadn’t seen them in her vision before. They had suspected the drek attack was from Grim, but this was confirmation.

“We were right. He has dreks,” Isla told Oro. She could still hear their howls in her head. “Last time was a bloodbath. How could we stand a chance against that many? Their skin is nearly impenetrable.”

Oro sighed. “Ever since the first drek attack, I’ve had my best team looking for a special type of ore. It was mined a millennia ago and requires Sunling and Starling power to turn it to metal. When weapons were made from it, it’s said that they could pierce even the thickest hides.”

“Have any of those weapons survived?”

He shook his head. “If they did, none of us know where they are. We’ve already checked the castle’s reserves.”

So they would have to make new ones. “Who’s looking for the ore?

Have they had any progress?”

He looked at her. He seemed . . . almost nervous. “You’ve met Enya.

Now, it’s time for you to meet the rest of my friends.”

Just an hour later, Oro led Isla into a room located in a turret at the back of the Mainland castle, with massive, curved windows overlooking the sea.

A round table sat in its center, crafted from solid gold. It was a war strategy room. Oro walked to the windows and looked out at the horizon, in the direction of Nightshade.

Enya swept into the room at that moment. Her expression was pointed in concentration.

Two men who could not look more different walked in behind her. The only thing they shared was their significant height.

The much larger of the two was a Moonling. He had brown skin and a shock of white hair. His eyes were bright blue, framed by thick, dark lashes. He wore a sleeveless white tunic, and had the most muscled arms she had ever seen.

The other was Skyling. He was tall—though still shorter than the Moonling—and lean. He had dark hair that tinted blue in the light, pale skin, and sharp cheekbones.

He narrowed his eyes at Isla and said, “So. You’re the reason Oro doesn’t see us anymore.”

Enya gave him a look. “No, the reason he doesn’t see us anymore is because the last time we got together, you called him an uptight wretch and asked when the last time he bedded someone was.”

Isla raised an eyebrow. She glanced at Oro, who was glaring at his friends.

The Moonling sat down at the first available chair. “Well, he was

dying,” he said, shrugging. “He gets a partial pass on being a wretch.”

“How generous of you,” Oro said. He sighed and turned to Isla. “This is Calder.”

The Moonling spoke up. “Cal, mostly.” Despite looking like he could snap the table in half with his bare hands, there was something gentle about his demeanor. He had the kindest face she had ever seen.

“And Zed.” The Skyling glared at her. He was studying her far too intently. Far too suspiciously.

Calder beamed. “Pleased to finally meet you.” Isla took the hand he offered, her fingers laughably small next to his, and smiled weakly.

She shook her head. “I don’t understand. I thought—” “All Moonlings were like Cleo?”

She shrugged a shoulder.

He laughed, and it was a pleasant sound. “I can’t blame you, after everything that happened, but . . . some opposed her. We are few, but some of us stayed.”

“Like Soren.”

There was a collective groan at the sound of his name.

“Cleo never trusted me in the slightest, of course. I moved to Sun Isle just before she cut the bridge.”

Isla looked at the group and almost frowned. Enya was Sunling. She understood how she and Oro had become friends. But from what she had seen, realms didn’t often fraternize together. How—

“Wondering what we all have in common?” Enya asked casually. She nodded.

“Him.” Enya motioned to Oro.

Isla turned to him as he made his way to the front of the table. “You know that I was sent to train for years on each isle.” He nodded at Calder. “He was the first in his class—in most subjects, anyway.” He looked at Zed. “And he was the worst.”

Zed grinned as if relishing the fact.

“He would have been the best, if the lessons were on anything he was remotely interested in,” Enya muttered.

“What—what are you interested in?” she asked Zed, almost afraid to hear the answer.

“Thieving, for one,” he said.

Isla frowned. “Who do you steal from?” Zed nodded at Oro. “Him, mostly.”

Oro sighed. “Zed likes to prove the supposed inadequacy of my guards every few years. He started breaking into the castle when he was a child. My father would have banished him from the island if he hadn’t been my friend.”

“No,” Zed drawled. “He would have banished me, if he had actually been able to capture me.”

Enya rolled her eyes. “He’s the fastest Skyling in recent record, and rest assured, he will find an excuse to mention it at least three times during this conversation.”

Isla raised an eyebrow at Oro. “Even with five hundred years of extra practice, you still can’t beat him?”

Zed’s eyes sparkled. “Perhaps he could. Let’s check, Oro, shall we?” Cal leaned back in his chair, making the wood groan. “You’ll learn this,

but they are annoyingly competitive.”

Enya shook her head. “They are both annoying period, but Cal here has always preferred playing peacemaker to beating them both, even when they have definitely deserved it.”

Zed raised an eyebrow. “To beat me, Enya, he would have to—”

“Catch you, we get it,” she said, muttering something else under her breath. She shot a look at Isla. “See? I don’t exaggerate.”

By the time Zed turned back to face her, any amusement in his face had withered away. “So. You’re Nightshade.”

The air seemed sucked out of the room. Isla turned to Oro, who was staring at Zed like he was an enemy and not seemingly one of his oldest friends. “Zed,” he said darkly, the word a warning.

“He didn’t tell me,” Zed continued, ignoring Oro. “A forest turned to ash on Sky Isle. The place next to it looked like a damned palace garden. It wasn’t hard to put together.”

“Zed—” Oro said.

“I am Nightshade,” she said. The room went silent.

Zed leaned back in his chair and stared at her. For a moment, he almost looked impressed. “I wasn’t expecting you to admit it.”

Isla sat straighter. “It is what I am. I can’t control it more than you can control your dark-blue hair, or he can control the fact that he was born in a realm ruled by a witch.” She motioned to Calder.

Enya nodded. “It’s true,” she said, looking at Zed as if to scold him. “All of us were born different, in one way or another. It’s what brought us together.”

Calder shook his head. He tried to smile at Isla. “Ignore him. He’s just moody that Oro hasn’t been joining our weekly games. The teams aren’t even.”

“Games?” Isla wondered.

Calder’s grin grew. He opened his mouth, excited, but Oro stopped him. “Enough interrogating Isla and talk of games,” Oro said, setting his

hands on the table. He looked pointedly at his friends. “We are at war, or

have you all forgotten why I asked you to meet?”

That sobered the room.

Enya’s expression became focused again. “Oro and I have the Sunling forces set up. Most are rusty, but our numbers are strong, and they are training as we speak.”

“Do they need weapons?” Zed asked.

“No,” Enya said. “All can wield. It’s better they’re not weighed down by swords or armor.”

“Same for the flight force,” Zed said. He glanced at Oro. “Is Azul coming?”

Oro nodded. “He’s in a representative meeting, but he’ll be here soon.” He looked at Isla.

“Wildling warriors have volunteered. They can all wield and are training now. We have our own weapons.” She looked at Calder hopefully. “Are you a healer?”

Enya made a choking noise, and Calder gave his friend a look. He smiled sheepishly when he turned back to Isla. “Currently the best on Lightlark.”

“Because all the other healers are on Nightshade,” Zed said smoothly.

Isla’s smile faltered. Great. “We have healing elixir and are trying our best to make more of it. Starlings have volunteered to fight, but we see their best contribution as creating a shield around parts of the Mainland.”

Zed nodded. “Smart,” he admitted.

“I’m still trying to figure out how many talented wielders are on Star Isle, but I’m going to assume they’re limited.” She had asked Maren to get back to her with a list of the best, but so far she hadn’t received it. “So, the shield will be small, but it might mean we can reduce where Nightshade can attack.”

Calder nodded. “I can freeze parts of the sea around the island to limit where their ships are able to land too.”

“He’s not coming from the sea.” Dread churned in Isla’s stomach. Calder frowned. “You think he’ll arrive from the skies?”

“No.”

That was when she told them about Grim’s portaling flair. He and his army could appear anywhere, at any time. There would be no warning except for the one he had already given them.

Silence.

Zed paled even more. He bit out a curse word that almost perfectly encapsulated the situation.

“Exactly,” Oro said. “To have any chance at winning, we need to be smart. We need to be ready.”

“We need to find out why he’s coming to destroy Lightlark in the first place,” Zed said.

She agreed with him. All she had to do was remember. “Until we figure that out, Wildlings can work with the island’s topography,” she said. “We can cover the Mainland in barbs, or thorns, or poisonous plants, so they are forced to appear exactly where we want them.” She remembered a grain of something helpful from her memories. “Bog sand, even. It . . . traps anyone that steps in it.”

Oro nodded. He looked impressed. “We can fence them in.” “Exactly.”

Zed leaned back in his chair. “That won’t stop the winged beasts, though. We can only assume Grim will bring them.”

Dreks. Her gaze met Oro’s.

She knew she should probably tell them about her vision, but they were strangers. She couldn’t trust them with the knowledge of her and Grim’s history, or their memories . . .

It was a good thing Zed brought the creatures up first. He was right. She and the rest of the Wildlings could use nature to make the Mainland as uninhabitable as possible, but none of that stopped creatures that could fly.

“You haven’t been able to locate the ore yet?” Oro asked.

Zed shook his head. “We’re working on it, but the Forgotten Mines are tough to navigate, and the ores are almost impossible to extract. We should be able to get some soon, though.”

“We need that metal,” Enya said. “Making arrows for the Skylings should be the priority. They’ll be crucial in the air, so those creatures don’t pick us all off.”

Yes. The Skylings would be critical. Without them at the coronation, many more people would have died.

Just then, Azul rushed in, wind on his back. “Apologies. The meeting went . . . longer than anticipated.” Isla noticed Azul’s typically jovial tone was completely missing. His expression was grave. He didn’t even bother sitting down, before saying, “We have a problem.”

“My people want to leave Lightlark,” Azul said.

The world came to a halt. No one moved a muscle. Isla remembered how silent the Skyling representatives had been during their meeting.

No. They had already lost Moonling. They couldn’t lose another realm. Wildling and Starling were the smallest; even with her people fighting, it wasn’t enough—

“It’s decided?” Calder asked.

“Not yet. But there will be a vote soon, and it isn’t looking good.”

Oro’s eyes were raging amber. “We need you in the skies.” His hands were pressed firmly against the table.

“I know,” Azul said. “I want to fight. It is not my choice, however. My realm—”

“The island will fall,” Oro said, his voice rising. “You understand that would be the end of your people. One generation, maybe two, and then the power you draw from would dry up.”

Azul sighed. His eyes were bloodshot. He looked tired, like he had been up all night arguing with his representatives. “I know that, Oro,” he said. “I do. But in the end, it will be their decision.”

“How do we change it?” Enya said. “There has to be something they want. Something your realm needs.”

Azul shook his head. “I spoke to them for hours. I don’t think there’s any changing their mind. There will be debates. Then, a vote.” He didn’t look hopeful. Azul’s eyes were burning then, filled with meaning he hadn’t put into words, as he looked at them. “I’m sorry,” he said.

He left the room, and there was silence.

Heat swept across them all. Oro’s brow was pinched. He ran a hand down his face.

“If we lose Skyling, we lose the war,” Enya said. Her eyes were on the table. She was leaned back in her chair. “The winged beasts will decimate us, if Grim brings them, even if we do manage to find the special metal.”

“Then we can’t lose Skyling,” Zed said.

She threw her hands up. “You heard him, Skylings cannot be bought or bartered with. Nothing we have could convince them.”

Oro pressed two fingers against the side of his head. “The Skyling vote will take time. We have to operate under the assumption that we will lose the flight force and a large part of our legion.”

“We need more soldiers, then,” Zed said. He leaned farther back in his chair. “Calder and I already went to the corners of Lightlark. Gathered all the outside communities. Most have agreed to fight. Without Moonling and Skyling, it’s still not enough though, and we’ve exhausted our allies.”

A thought occurred to Isla. Oro’s eyes met hers as she said, “Then what if we turn to our enemies?”

“Which enemies?” Enya asked.

“The Vinderland.” The violent group they had encountered on their search for the heart of Lightlark.

“Absolutely not,” Oro said.

“We’re desperate, Oro,” she said. “We just likely lost another realm.” “We’re not that desperate,” he said through his teeth.

“We need more warriors. They are warriors.”

Oro shook his head, unbelieving. “Do I need to remind you that I watched them put an arrow through your heart?”

He didn’t need to remind her. She saw the angry mark in the mirror every time she got dressed. If it hadn’t been for the power of the heart of Lightlark, and Grim saving her, she would be dead.

Isla shrugged a shoulder. “That’s in the past. We need them now. And we have a common enemy. They already hate Moonlings, right? They’ll likely hate them more now that they’ve teamed up to destroy their home.”

“Who they hate most is Wildlings,” Oro said pointedly.

Isla knew that. Oro had told her during the Centennial that the Vinderland used to be Wildlings, far before the curses ever existed. She stood from her chair without breaking his gaze. “But I am not just Wildling,” she said. She was also Nightshade. The Vinderland were not the only people who lived in the shadows of the island. There were other night creatures they had encountered during the Centennial. Perhaps she could convince them to fight.

Remlar had said it before—she’s one of us. She had pushed her darkness down. Perhaps she could use it.

“No,” Oro said.

Isla stood her ground. “Are you telling me I can’t?”

A muscle in his jaw worked. “You are free to do as you wish,” he said. “But this is reckless.” His face softened. “We have time. We don’t know if we’re losing Skyling yet.”

At the end of the meeting, Enya stayed back with Isla. When Oro was out of earshot, she said, “He is blinded when it comes to you. He forgets his duty.” She placed a hand on her shoulder. “If you decide to go to the Vinderland for help, I will go with you.”

With Skyling likely gone, Isla’s memories became more important than ever. She trained with Remlar any chance she could. He taught her use of her shadows.

Now, he stopped in front of a tree. It was so wide five men would not be able to link hands and reach around it.

“This is a kingwood,” he said. “It takes hundreds of years for it to get this big. This one has seen all the Centennials, Egan’s rule, and even that of his father.”

Isla pressed a hand against it. The thread between it and her was clear.

Shining.

“Kill it.”

She blinked. “What?”

Remlar’s expression didn’t change. “Use your Nightshade powers. And kill it.”

“No.” Her answer was immediate. She was the ruler of Wildling. Her allegiance was to nature, not the darkness. She was here only to pry the memories from her mind.

Remlar raised an eyebrow. “Have you killed people before, Wildling?”

She thought about the Moonling nobles, blood puddling on the abandoned docks. Countless others who were hazy in her mind . . . almost masked. By time. By him.

“Yes.”

“Yet you won’t kill a tree?”

Isla glared at him. “The people I killed deserved it. This tree has done nothing. Who am I to end it? For the sake of . . . practice?”

Remlar frowned. “Practice? I thought you needed answers. Answers to how to save thousands of people. A tree is but a small sacrifice.”

“No,” she said again.

Remlar grinned. “You have killed countless plants. When I untangled your powers, you destroyed an entire forest.”

“That was an accident!”

“Does it change the fact that you are responsible for killing the woods?” Isla closed her eyes tightly. No. It didn’t.

Remlar sighed. “Nature is a flowing force,” he said. “You destroy one tree, you create another. Pick one flower, plant another. The ash it turns into becomes fertilizer for another. It is a never-ending turning of a wheel, and there is no ending, or beginning, just constant turning, turning, turning.”

“You’re not making any sense.”

“The tree does not care if you kill it,” he said. “It will return as something better, something different. Everything that is ruined—especially by your hand, especially here—is reclaimed, remade.”

Could that be true?

Remlar said it again. “Kill the tree. Leech it of its life . . . then create something new.”

Create something new. If Remlar was right, she wasn’t truly killing it

. . . just turning it into something different.

Isla placed her hand against the tree.

Shadows curled out of her chest, flowing through her, turning liquid. They unfolded, and expanded, until she tasted metal in her mouth, and then, through her fingers . . . there was energy. Not only pouring out . . . but pouring in. Something vital, flowing out of the tree, and into her.

It was delicious.

Like gulping water after a day in the desert, Isla was suddenly desperately parched. The bark cracked beneath her fingers, split, shriveled. Branches and leaves fell and were ash before they hit the ground. By the time she was done, all that remained of the tree was a skeleton.

Isla was gasping. She was too full, a glass overflowing. She made it one step before falling to her hands and knees.

Life exploded out of her.

Dozens of tiny trees, just saplings, burst from the ground, breaking through the dirt.

She flipped over to her back, breathing like she still couldn’t get enough air. Just a moment later, Remlar’s head and the tops of his wings were blocking her view of the sky.

“I was right, Wildling,” he said, sounding quite pleased with himself. She heard his voice before falling into another memory. “You are the only

person living who is able to turn death . . . into life.”

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