Lisette sat on the parapet atop Heartwood Academy, her knees drawn up to her chest, her eyes fixed on the dark shapes of the distant mountains. Their jagged peaks, bare and barren, thrust into the sky. The wind that blew her hair about her face held a sharper, colder bite. The westering sun filled the fields of Carradia with gold.
It was a perfect spring evening, perfect for soaring in the sky, perfect for soaking up the glorious sunshine, but Lisette could no longer partake of it.
The darkened sun in her chest was an ever-present ache, a blow from which she might never recover. She longed to take in more light into herself, to banish away the darkness that had gathered inside her, but it was no use.
She could not dislodge that dark sphere nor drain it of its black energy.
And with it, she could no longer fly.
And so Lisette sat on the parapet, without the wings that were now useless to her, as if daring the drop below to intimidate her.
If she fell, she thought dully, she would probably survive. Sun mages didn’t die easily.
It was not a comforting thought.
The door to the rooftop opened. Lisette didn’t turn her head, didn’t turn to look at the newcomer until Kael leaned beside her, resting his arms on top of a higher segment.
Lisette looked at him out of eyes narrowed by the wind. “I suppose you’ve come to yell at me for letting Amber get hurt, even after I told you I’d look after her. You can’t coddle her forever, you know. She’s a Heartwood mage now.” Her words came out too sharpish, too shrewish. Hurling them at him didn’t make her feel any better. All she felt was small and cold and aching.
“I don’t like my friends getting hurt,” said Kael, “but I’m not blaming you for it.”
Lisette hunched a shoulder. “Then why are you here?”
“I got back today,” Kael went on, “and heard that Ainsley left the Headmaster’s office in tears after you accused her of stealing your brother and selling him to slavers.”
Lisette huffed. “That’s stupid.”
“I know it’s an exaggerated rumor,” Kael agreed, “but she was upset.”
“All I wanted to know was where she was two months ago. If her story about being away on a job checks out, then she has nothing to worry about, except that someone is using her face and Heartwood’s reputation to steal magical children from unsuspecting families.” Lisette’s voice cracked; she stopped and swallowed. “And if not…” Her lips pressed into a tight line.
Kael fixed his odd golden gaze on her. “You didn’t used to be so mistrustful of Heartwood students.”
“Well, yeah, maybe I should’ve been.” Lisette paused, then said, “I saw Ashe.”
Kael’s stare didn’t waver.
“He was working with the crew we fought up there, hired on to remove the traces of their operation. He’s caught up in shady stuff.” She hesitated, but Kael had always had good instincts. He’d been the first one of their generation of Heartwood students at the academy. For a while, it had just been him and Lisette and the older ones. In a way, Kael was almost a brother. “What did you think of Ashe, when he was here?”
“When he was here?” Kael shifted his gaze to look above her head, remembering. “I thought he wanted to be more part of things than he was.”
“Really?” said Lisette, skeptically. “He didn’t respond to friendly gestures.”
Kael shrugged. “It was just an impression. But I never thought he was bad when he was with us. Now? Who knows?”
“You didn’t like Tamsin much,” Lisette said. That had always puzzled and annoyed her.
“I didn’t dislike her. She was selfish and a bit of a show-off, but I didn’t think there was much harm in her. I just didn’t idolize her.”
Lisette gave a short laugh. “Unlike me, you mean.”
“There weren’t any other girls around. It made sense you’d latch on to her. And she is fond of you, you know.”
Lisette exhaled. The older girl had brought her charges back to Heartwood Academy, handling train tickets and meals with competence, but her air had been subdued. She hadn’t pressed excuses or explanations on Lisette, and their goodbyes cordial rather than warm. Lisette had been grateful for that.
Kael said quietly, “Master Zoya sent for Master Plumeira.”
“She’s the best one to help you cleanse your magic.”
Another pause. Then Lisette said, slowly, dragging the words out from the depths of her soul. “What if it doesn’t work? What if she can’t help me?”
There. The words were out, brought out from the darkness and into the light.
Kael looked at her. “You’ll adjust.”
“You mean shift my magic from light to…whatever this darkness is?” Lisette touched her chest and gave a shaky laugh. “I’ve had enough of sitting in dark cellars and caves to last me a lifetime.”
He shook his head. “I don’t know what’ll happen with your magic. But you will be fine. You’re strong, and when you’re not, you have us. It’ll be okay, Lisette.”
A band around Lisette’s heart loosened. She managed, “I don’t know where you get your baseless confidence from, but it’s reassuring right now.”
He grinned. “As long as it makes you feel better.”
“Naia changed her magic,” Lisette mused. “It seems to be working for her.” Doubt edged her voice. The bubbly Kaidan girl had, at times, an almost-manic quality to her voice, her laughter, since their return. And Amber would sometimes fall silent mid-sentence and stare off into space, her focus clearly turned inward.
We all went to the Spines, and we all came back changed. Lisette’s shoulders twitched. She thought about the people she’d gone with, the ones she’d encountered, and the ones who were absent. Amber and Naia, Tamsin and Ashe, her mother and Olina and Micah and Shade…
“I asked Ashe,” she said out loud, “about Shade.”
Kael didn’t visibly tense, but Lisette felt something sharpen in him. “Did you.”
“He said everything he had to say was in the report.” Lisette grimaced. “It was not a satisfying conversation.” She didn’t know why she was continuing to probe that old wound—with Kael of all people—but she plowed on, asking the question she hadn’t been able to face back then, “What did you find when you went to where it happened?”
“Nothing to disprove Ashe’s account.” Kael’s face was set, even a little bleak.
It was on the tip of Lisette’s tongue to ask, Was there something between you and Shade? The question had nagged at her from time to time in the six months before Shade’s death. She hadn’t broached the subject with Shade, because she wasn’t sure how ready she was to deal with a change in her friend group.
Despite how much of an almost-brother Kael was, she couldn’t ask him now. What would be the point?
Shade was dead, but Micah and others like him, kidnapped magical children, were still alive.
No matter how it much it had shaken her to revisit Cloud Village, to encounter Ashe in the forest, she couldn’t let herself be mired in the past. Micah was out there still. She had to find him, save him from the Red Dawn.
And to do so, Lisette had to get her magic back.
No matter what form it took.
Author’s Note: This epilogue wraps up the Cloud Village Arc. I enjoyed writing Kael and Lisette’s conversation and bringing out the fact they go a long way back. I think I need to see more of their sibling-like interactions!
Now that this arc is over, I’m shifting my attention back to my novel projects and back-burnering the next part of the Heartwood Chronicles. I’ll return to Amber’s storyline and bring back some things from the very first arc in Hopeswell. Don’t forget that the mysterious employer who tested her is still out there…
In the meantime, I’m hoping to write and post sporadic vignettes about Heartwood characters. Amber and Kael interactions are always fun, for example, and we haven’t seen Troi at all this arc. Now I have this mental image of him suffering through a meeting of the Kaidan Cultural Appreciation Club that Naia coaxed him into attending, ha ha. Also, Master Zoya existed as a character in my head long before Amber and co. showed up, and I’ve got stories about her life in her home country that I want to get on paper.
If you have any requests, let me know! And since this is the last episode of the arc, I would love to know what you enjoyed and what you’re hoping to see in future installments. If you’d like to support the serialization with a donation, you can do so using the form below. Thanks!