THE WORLD HAD ENDED, and still, I stood in silence. Others were screaming, shouting my name. Yet. Silence. The world must have ended, because Rhodes was dead. The world had clearly ceased, because Easton had disappeared right in front of me. And if the world hadn’t ended, then perhaps this was a dream. It had to be a dream. I knew my dreams, knew they came at me from all sides, from all edges of the world, and pulled at me until there was nothing left. Yet this wasn’t a dream. I knew it in my soul. “Lyric?” I blinked at the voice, so soft when it was normally full of steel. I looked over at Aerwyna—Wyn—and swallowed. Her dark hair had come out of its braid, and she looked more disheveled than I’d ever seen her before. Between the two of us, it was usually me with my blonde hair out of sorts, my body covered in mud and blood.
Wyn was a warrior and yet had more grace and poise than most people I knew. Today, however, we both looked wrung-out—at least, she did. I felt as if I’d been beaten and bruised. And I felt lost. And now…now…I had nothing. No thoughts, no breath, no… “Lyric,” Wyn snapped, putting her hands on my shoulders and forcing me to focus on her and not on the nothingness threatening to overtake me. I shook myself out of my thoughts and looked at her. “I’m okay.” I whispered the word and held back a curse at the weakness I heard from my lips. I was not weak.
No one would allow me to be. “I’m okay,” I repeated. Wyn gave me a tight nod, even with her face pale and covered in cuts and ash. “Good. Because we need to figure out what to do next.” “Where did Easton go?” I asked, voicing the question that had been circling in my mind over the past five minutes as everyone around me moved to do other things. It didn’t make sense. Then again, nothing made sense anymore. The battle of the Water Estate was over, and the Lord of Water was dead, as were so many of his people—and ours. My friends from the Obscurité Kingdom, as well as those in the Lumière, who had fought by my side, were mostly unharmed, though only mostly.
We had lost so much, and I wasn’t sure what we were supposed to do next. I had known when I came back to the Maison realm—the realm that was not of the human world but sat upon it—that things would be different. That I would be different. I just hadn’t known it would be like this. When they told me I was a Spirit Priestess, the one that could unite the realm and help save everyone from impending doom, it hadn’t felt like this. I had thought I would be able to do something. This didn’t feel like anything. Instead, it felt as if I were two steps behind, trying to catch up with the world around me. Because the Lumière and the Obscurité were enemies, two sides of the realm that had been fighting for centuries. They’d fought before the Fall, the great battle that had taken their first two kings, the monarchs that ruled during the great war and had fractured the realm into pieces.
Now, it was five hundred years later, and I was a Spirit Priestess, the one who was supposed to somehow glue those pieces back together. That’s all they’d told me, everything I had seen. Except it didn’t make any sense. Because I was supposed to do this with the people who had helped me by my side. And now, the two most important ones were gone. Rhodes, the son of the Lord of Water, had died, sacrificing himself for me. Killed by his own father no less. He was gone, thrown off a cliff by Air Wielding infused with bone magic—the taboo powers created by the sacrifice of death—and had sunk to the bottom of the sea, surrounded by everything that had ruined us. He was gone, and I hadn’t had time to grieve. Because I had been forced to use all I had to take out the Lord of Water and protect everyone else.
To protect the realm itself. And when I thought we were safe, when I’d thought to grieve while holding on to the one person I thought I could love more than anything else in the world, Easton had been taken away from me, as well. Not killed, or stabbed through the heart like before, not thrown off a cliff like Rhodes. Just warped out of existence. I still didn’t understand. The fact that I could even think the words that he’d been stabbed in the heart before just told me how much we’d gone through over the past year plus. Yet it had all been for naught. He was gone. And I had no idea why. “Where is Easton?” I asked again, pulling myself from my convoluted thoughts.
There would be time to go over what had happened here on the battlefield later, moments to count our missing and our dead. There would be opportunity to mourn. Though first, I had to try and understand what had happened right in front of me. Because I had discovered just a few moments ago that Easton was my soulmate, the one person in the world who was meant for me. And I had thought he knew it, too. Then, something had come over his eyes, and he bluntly stated that I couldn’t be his. That he would never love me. And while it had hurt, had torn into my soul as if his words were a carving knife, I knew that something was wrong. Then, suddenly, he was tugged away, a rope of shadow and smoke pulling him from me. I had seen it.
Had felt it course through my veins as the elements I Wielded pushed at me for control. But I had never seen magic such as that. “I don’t know where Easton is. We’re going to figure it out. We need to get off this battlefield, and we have to make plans.” “I know. We need to go home.” I whispered the last word, and Wyn’s eyes widened as she nodded. “Home.” “To the Obscurité Court.
That’s home.” I had been born in the human realm. I hadn’t even known that the Maison realm existed for most of my life. Somehow, over the past months, the Obscurité Court had become home. Yes, those of the Lumière Kingdom had been the Maisons I met first. The ones who had drawn me close and befriended me. Rhodes and his sister, as well as a few others. Though it was the Obscurité Court, the one I had thought was home to my enemies for so long, that had proven to be my home. Those there had trained me, and they seemed to understand what I had to accomplish. Or maybe they just understood that I needed time to figure out the prophecy.
That was where I belonged now, even if I wasn’t sure it would always be the case. We needed to gather our forces. And we needed to leave. Rhodes sister came up to them then, her hair flowing in the wind, dirt covering her dress, though I’d never seen her dirty before in my life. “Okay, we’re going,” Rosamond said as she raised her chin. She was Rhodes’ sister, older by almost two centuries. It was odd to think that the Maisons could live for what felt like forever. And yet all of them that I’d met so far looked as if they were my age, either nineteen or in their twenties. Even their parents and the dead at our feet appeared young, as if no time had passed. Only those who lost their Wielding looked as if they aged.
I remembered an older woman from the caves, one who had been a Seer just like Rosamond. That woman had Seen herself saving me at the cost of her life many moons ago. She’d lost the rest of her Wielding thanks to the Fall and the two crystals that brought the realms together. The crystals were dying, and because of misuse by others, the realm was stripping the Wielding from its own people—their lives along with it. So, the woman had aged, and yet she had used her last bits of power, her remaining vestiges of life, to save me. I would never forget her, even if I hadn’t really known her. She had been one of the first steps to me realizing who I was, even if it didn’t feel like I had any answers anymore. “We’ve already planned,” Lanya, the Lady of Air said as she raised her chin. She was Rhodes’ and Rosamond’s grandmother, and stood next to the body of her fallen husband, the Lord of Air. She looked so strong, so graceful.
But I knew she was broken inside. Though not the same kind of shattered as I was because I didn’t have centuries of love and connection, all of which she had just lost. Nevertheless, she was strong, and if she could do this, then so could I. “I will go back to the Air territory and do what I can to collect the necessary forces and get us prepared for battle. Because this is only the beginning. It seems it’s always only the beginning.” “I will go with you,” Rosamond said. “Even though I’m the last of my line…” Rosamond’s voice broke as she said it, and Luken, an Air Wielder who had been best friends with Rhodes, reached out and gripped her hand. She squeezed it in return and gave him a sad smile. “Since I am the last of my line, I suppose I am the new Lady of Water.
However, with my uncle, I don’t know if that’s accurate. Regardless, I know I have to be with you. It’s time for me to go with you.” Their uncle, the king of the Lumière, had been fighting against the Obscurité for as long as he’d been ruler. Longer, since his father had been the old king, who had died during the Fall when the realm fractured. None of us knew exactly what side he was on. We had a feeling it wasn’t going to be on the side of good and fate, though. Because that was the problem with being a Spirit Priestess. Not everybody wanted me to fix the realm. Some liked the power they had, or didn’t believe I could do what the prophecy said.
And while I had doubts in my own abilities, I had seen too much to believe that I didn’t have at least something to do with bringing everyone back together again. “And, of course, I’ll be there, too,” Luken put in. And I knew he wasn’t just thinking about trying to protect Rosamond or even me. The love of his life had died in front of us only a year before. My best friend, Braelynn. She had come back as my Familiar, yet she wasn’t the girl she’d once been. Braelynn was currently in the Obscurité Kingdom with Easton’s uncles. I swallowed hard, trying to push all those thoughts back. I didn’t want to think about that. I just needed to put one foot in front of the other and get there.
And then I’d figure out what to do next. That was how I had been functioning for the past year or so. Longer if I thought about it. One step at a time, and then I would find my place. “We’re going back with you,” Teagan added, putting his arm around Wyn’s shoulders. Teagan was a Fire Wielder. In fact, he was the son of the Lord of Fire, a man I had met last year. He was Easton’s best friend, and a fellow warrior, along with Wyn. I looked down at the corpses and lost at our feet and noted that they had brought Arwin’s corpse with them. Arwin had died to protect me.
A young Earth Wielder who was just learning, but such a strong warrior. The plan was to bring his body back to the Obscurité Kingdom with us. There had been so much loss. But we would make it—we didn’t have a choice. “Okay, gather what you need…” I looked over and paused, my voice trailing off. I had forgotten that I’d burned everything to ash. It was me. My powers had done that. No one looked at me with disgust though, at least not among my friends. I could still remember the horror on the faces of those who were either against us or those outside of our core group that had been fighting for us.
Because I could now Wield four elements. Air, Earth, Water, and now, Fire. I’d found my fourth element. It had broken free from my soul deep down below the sea when Rhodes’ father had tried to drown me, Easton, and Rhodes by chaining us to the bones of those the Lord of Water had murdered over time. I had unlocked my fourth element under duress, and I couldn’t control it. Even now, I could feel all four of them competing for the top power—Water sometimes trickling from my fingertips with puffs of Air. The earth occasionally rattled beneath the soles of my feet, and I hoped that no one noticed, but I knew they did. And now, the Fire burned within me, hot spikes that licked at my skin from the inside. I knew if I weren’t careful, it would all come forth at once and maybe hurt someone I loved. It had already hurt so many people.
I had been a living flame, and I hadn’t been able to control it. I was supposed to be the Spirit Priestess, the one to save the world, but I couldn’t even save myself. Instead, I had been forced to lean on Easton, the one person who could soothe me enough that I could control all four elements at once. Now, he was gone. And I had no idea where he had been taken. I knew it had to be connected to what had been pulling us apart before. Maybe Wyn and Teagan and Easton’s uncles back in the Obscurité Kingdom would know. They had so much history between them that they had to at least have an inkling of what surrounded us every time we took a step toward victory. Perhaps I would get answers. It was past the time of secrecy and trying to keep me in the dark.
I needed to know. I couldn’t rely on Easton anymore. He was gone, and I had to figure out how to control my four elements by myself. Eventually, I would unlock the fifth. Spirit. The one that nobody really knew about. Because there were no more Spirit Wielders. They had all been murdered by the past kings or pulled from the realm. Some had run, and maybe that was how I came to be. Centuries ago, the old Spirit Wielders had come gone to the human realm and blended.
The only Spirit Wielders I knew were the ones from my dreams, and an old man who lived in a cave and spoke in riddles. How was I supposed to Wield five elements when I couldn’t control four, and it felt as if I couldn’t even handle one? “Lyric?” Wyn spoke again. This time, Rosamond moved closer to me and put her hands on my face. I looked into the Seer’s eyes, irises so much like Rhodes’ silver ones but just different enough. The soft brown of her skin was currently dusted in ash, and I knew it was my fault. When I broke, I had torn down the estate and the castle of the Water territory. No one had died. They had promised me that. Because Rosamond had Seen what I could do, Saw the destruction I would bring, and she had evacuated the building. We were all still covered in the remnants of what had been lost because of me.
“Pull yourself together, Lyric. You can break, but not here. Not now. Soon, we will be with those we need. And we will find the answers. For now, we must leave. We can take the bodies of those we need to with us, and my grandmother will bury the rest. We will remember them. All of them.” Her voice broke this time, and I reached out and hugged her close, her hands moving from my face to around my neck.
She had lost her mother, her brother, and her father all in a short period of time. And while my own heart hurt, I knew I couldn’t be selfish. It wasn’t just my pain here. It was the grief and agony of everyone else. We were broken, and yet we had survived the battle. We had won. And though we had lost many close to us, I had to remember that we came out victorious. As the others had said: we would fight, we would win—no matter the cost. Now, we had to look at what we lost and tally the price paid. “Okay, then.
Let’s go.” I didn’t really know what else to do, I wasn’t trained like they were, hadn’t had centuries to gain the experience and the knowledge for cleaning up after a battle like this. I did what Rosamond and Wyn told me to do and helped pack what was left. Soon, we had a group of people headed towards the Obscurité Court. It would be a long journey, mostly because we couldn’t use the magic of either of the crystals to go from one place to the other quickly. First, because we weren’t anywhere near the Obscurité Court and had no idea what the Lumière crystal even felt or looked like. Secondly, because the crystals themselves were dying, fading out of existence. Because of that, we couldn’t use their magic to create a portal like we were able to before. No, we would have to travel across the rest of the Water territory, through the northern Spirit territory, and then across the other side towards the Obscurité Court. We had traveled the opposite way to get here, and we would make our way back.
Minus Easton, Rhodes, and Arwin, but with a few Lumière survivors. And those of the Air territory that were coming at the Lady of Air’s insistence. “You need a healer, just in case. I’m giving you one. Take my people, even into the Obscurité Court. We aren’t just light and dark anymore,” she said. “We are those who want to save our realm, and those who don’t want change. Who fear survival.” We would figure it out. Everyone else had things to do, and though I did what I was supposed to and took orders, I still felt lost.
Where had Easton gone? Who had taken him? How were we supposed to find him? All of that spun through my mind, and my powers lurched, the Fire at my fingertips too much. No one was paying attention to me. Everyone was busy with what they needed to do so we could go home. So, I staggered away towards the cliff where Rhodes had fallen, and I let out the Fire. My hands were outstretched on either side of me, my elements seeping out of me as I tried to get myself under control. I knew others were probably watching, but that was fine. They needed to see who I was, what I was. Because I certainly didn’t have the answer. And then I looked down into the rocky crevice just below and saw a bone, a little pebble that had once been part of a person, although it was now coated in bone magic. I narrowed my eyes, wondering why it was floating on the surface, and then there was another, and another.
And then the answer flashed in my mind. Rhodes had taken the full brunt of an Air Wielder’s magic to the heart and had fallen off the cliff. But he had taken some of the magic-infused bones with him. I looked down, hardly able to believe what I was seeing. And then I screamed. Because the bones surrounded someone, and they had brought them to the surface. As I looked down, my scream ebbed, and I gasped, hope springing eternal even as I tried to temper its effect. And then the eyes of the man below opened, and the silver stunned.