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Chapter no 37 – ‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌ASKING FOR HELP

Nightbane (The Lightlark Saga Book 2)

“We found the ore,” Zed announced during their next meeting. He had been searching the Forgotten Mines for days, with Calder, navigating through their dangerous tunnels. Most of the passages had collapsed over time. His face turned from smug to wary as he looked at Isla. “We need your help,” he said simply.

Enya was peeling citrus fruit, the smell brightening the room. She raised an eyebrow, and Zed shot her a look.

He didn’t particularly like Isla. That much was clear. “With mining it?” she asked.

He nodded. “I tried using air, but the ores are almost impossible to move. But you . . .”

Control rock. Isla almost smiled, thinking how far she had come from glaring at the stone Oro had placed in front of her on Wild Isle. “Lead the way.”

Breathing was difficult in the mine. Zed kept having to move fresh air down deep into the tunnels, which only barely muted the smell of dirt, dust, and sulfur.

She held the fabric of her shirt over her nose. Zed walked in front of her, carrying an orb of fire he had gotten from Enya.

“I would say you get used to it,” Zed said. “But you don’t. Just feel lucky you haven’t been trapped down here for weeks.”

She suddenly felt extremely lucky.

They were mostly quiet as they walked. It was a mutual silence—both were happy not to speak to each other. After several minutes, though, she had a thought. “Why does everyone hate Soren?” She remembered how he had questioned her in front of the others, seemingly intent on proving her unworthy of being a ruler. “Beyond the obvious, I mean.”

Zed chuckled lightly. He looked over at her. She bet she looked ridiculous, half of her face hidden in her shirt. “He thinks Moonlings are superior to all other realms, and he acts like it. Under his guidance, healers closed their shops in the agora. Less Moonlings started visiting the Mainland at all. They became more closed off and guarded. He used the curses as an excuse to isolate their realm from the others.”

He was more awful than she had previously given him credit for. “If he believes that, then why did he stay? Wouldn’t he be happy to leave?”

“Perhaps he hates Nightshade more than he hates all of us,” Zed mused.

He shrugged a shoulder. “Or he stayed behind as Cleo’s spy.”

She didn’t trust Soren in the slightest, but something occurred to her. “Is

. . . is Soren a healer?”

Zed nodded, and hope felt like sparkling wine in her chest. He frowned. “You’re not seriously going to ask him to help you with the Vinderland.”

“That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” she said.

Zed finally stopped. He motioned to a wall, and all the rock looked the same, save for a tiny flicker of color. She pressed her hand against it and closed her eyes. Beyond, she could feel it—ore buried deep within the wall. It would take concentration to ensure she wouldn’t completely bring the entire mine down atop them, but she felt confident she could extract it.

“You might want to make a shield with your wind,” she said, before her hand burst through the rock wall.

The entire tunnel trembled—rock fell from the ceiling and was deflected by a stream of wind above them. She felt around in the wall, looking for the bundle of ore. Her fingers broke through stone like a blade through butter. She finally gripped it and pulled her hand back through. “I think this is what you’re looking for,” she said. It was the first of many. It didn’t look very special, but Zed had explained that with a Starling’s energy and Sunling’s flames, it could be turned into the drek-defeating metal.

Zed stared at her, the wall, then the ore, eyebrow slightly raised. “That’s one way to do it,” he said.

Isla found Soren on Moon Isle, looking quite comfortable roaming the palace. She didn’t know if he was a spy or had his own agenda, but she would soon find out which side he was on.

He seemed pleased to see her, which only made her more suspicious. He scraped his ice cane against the floor with a sound that stabbed through her brain. She got straight to the point. “Which side are you on? Ours? Or Nightshade’s?”

Soren blinked at her. “I assumed it would be obvious by my presence, here on Lightlark.”

“Good,” she said. “Then you wouldn’t have any problem healing potential warriors for our fighting effort?”

Soren’s eyes narrowed. She tried to look as innocent as possible. “I . . . suppose not,” he said.

She smiled sweetly. “Great. Because . . . if you had said no . . . I would have had to assume you were a spy for Cleo, or somehow working against us.”

Soren smiled in the least friendly way possible. “Who am I healing?”

Isla found particular pleasure in his expression after she said the words, “The Vinderland.”

The hardest part about getting Soren to heal the warriors ended up being convincing the Vinderland not to kill him.

He showed her how to correctly steep the Wildling flower for tea without losing its healing properties, then began healing their sickness in conjunction with the elixir. The results weren’t immediate, but Isla was hopeful that enough of the warriors would be doing better in time to join her in battle.

She had extracted several ores for Zed. Later that night, Isla visited the Wildling newland and found Lynx waiting outside the woods for her.

Her lips twitched. “If I didn’t know any better, I would think you were worried about me,” she said.

Lynx made a sneezing sound that felt like a denial.

She stood in front of the creature and offered a slab of meat she had gotten from the kitchens.

He sniffed it . . . then, for once, accepted her gift. Progress, she told herself. It was progress.

When Lynx finished eating, she asked, “I’ve told you we are going to war. Will you fight with me?”

She searched his eyes for a response.

He bowed his head, almost all the way to the ground, and something inside her chest constricted at the clear yes.

So often, she had been betrayed. Put her trust somewhere dangerous. The fact that Lynx, who liked to pretend he didn’t care for her much, was willing to go to battle with her . . . it meant everything.

She threw her arms around his neck, and he let her hang there. He lifted his head, and she held on, legs dangling.

“We’ll get you armor made.” She was floating just inches from Lynx’s eye as she said, “First, though, I need to learn how to ride you.”

As the days before war dwindled, it became clear that there was not enough of anything—time, soldiers, resources, energy.

They sat at the round table again and planned their strategy. They had limited everything, which meant they needed to figure out how to be strategic—how to force Grim and his soldiers to fight exactly where they wanted them to.

They had crafted a map of the Mainland with the mysterious ash Isla had used before, on Sun Isle.

Oro and Zed had been arguing for hours about where they would have the best advantage.

“Here, over the mines,” Zed was saying. “We can have warriors in the tunnels. It could work as a trench.”

“It would work well for the Nightshades, who could demolish the ground and bury our forces alive,” Oro said.

“How about between the Singing Mountains? Nightshades don’t know how to fight in mountainous terrain.”

“Sunlings don’t either.”

In the end, they agreed the best place to fight was on the west side of the Mainland, in the space between the agora and Mainland castle. That way, the Mainland woods would naturally frame their fighting area, along with the Starling walls and Wildling defensive nature.

“Can you manage to cover that much territory?” Zed asked. “In nine days?”

“Yes,” she said, because there was no other option.

At night, she practiced riding on Lynx. She fell off so much, they had started moving their lessons to the river. The leopard was tall enough that

he could easily walk through even its deeper parts, and Isla wouldn’t risk a serious injury every time she fell.

She fell a lot.

Each time, Lynx looked at her in a way that could only be interpreted as unimpressed, and then he would fish her out of the water with his great teeth and throw her on his back again.

If only they had more time, she thought. The days were slipping through her fingers.

She needed to get the Wildlings on Lightlark, to start coating its surface in poisonous plants. She needed to start portaling civilians onto the newlands. That alone would take days and much of her energy.

She needed a shortcut.

She needed to remember something useful.

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