They had been joined. One of six had won. A ruler’s familial line had come to an end. The original offense had been committed again.
And on the hundredth day of the Centennial, the island did not vanish beneath the storm.
Isla had not emerged from her room. She only returned to the Wildling realm once, to inject power into the ground, saving it and her people from total ruin. She didn’t know how to use her power yet, but it had been simple. Digging her hands into the ground. Releasing part of herself into its soil. The change had been immediate. Shocking.
Then she had returned to the Mainland castle, using her starstick. She spent her days curled in her tub, the hot water substituting for tears, because she found she had none left. She was empty.
Celeste. Her best and only friend. Hadn’t been a friend at all.
Grim. A year’s worth of forgotten memories. And some she remembered. Huddled together in the rain. Her body pressed against the same glass that had then shattered and sliced her in a thousand places.
She knew now that Ella had never been working against her. The Starling kept her updated through the door of her chamber. Through her, she learned that Cleo had cut away the bridge to Moon Isle, separating her territory from the Mainland. Isla didn’t know what that would mean, what she was planning . . . but it couldn’t be good.
Azul had been seen on the beach, watching as the cursed storm finally cleared. Apparently, the storm had held the souls of those killed by the curses. Those were the whispers she had once heard. The bodies trapped inside had supposedly walked just a few steps as specters before disappearing to their peace before they reached shore.
Isla hoped the Skyling had finally gotten to see his husband one last time.
Azul had never been a danger to her—Oro had been right about that. She knew now he had simply been trying to stop Aurora, becoming suspicious of Celeste.
After two weeks spent in the darkness of her chambers, the curtains drawn, she had finally felt strong enough to brush her hair. Put on a dress. And walk outside. She stood on her balcony, staring down at the sun’s reflection on the sea, a golden yolk just like the heart of Lightlark. The enchantment they had spent so long looking for that had saved them all. Had saved her more than once.
It held unmatched power.
And so did she.
She still hadn’t tried to touch her abilities beyond giving some to the Wildling realm. Didn’t even know where she would start. She was worried that if she tried to pull just a thread of them, she would end up ripping a seam and they would all tumble out of her in a destructive flurry.
So, she had let them be. Even though she knew the time would come when they would need to be unleashed.
Grim had returned to Nightshade, scathed. Betrayed.
Isla couldn’t deny the sinking feeling in her stomach at his name returning to her thoughts. She hadn’t let herself look too closely at the shadows in her room. She kept towels over her mirrors, just in case, knowing Nightshades could use them to communicate. Sometimes she drank coffee late at night instead of falling into dreams that she now knew were memories.
Especially since, five days ago, she had heard a voice echo through her mind, just before she had opened her eyes.
Remember us, Heart. Remember it all.
You will remember.
And when you do—
You will come back to me.
Grim’s voice had spoken so clearly, it was as if he was sitting in her room. At the edge of her bed.
But when she had finally blinked her eyes open, gathering the covers to her sweating skin, she had found it empty.
With their curse broken, Nightshades would be stronger than they had been in five hundred years. She remembered with a swallow Grim’s demonstration of power in the rain. Remembered the words that had made chills snake down her spine . . . they did so now, again, though for a different reason.
I could open a black hole that would swallow the beach. I could turn the sea dark as ink and kill everything inside of it. I could demolish the castle, brick by brick, from where we stand. I could take you back to Nightshade lands with me right now.
Before, she had thought of his words as boasts. Declarations.
Now, they seemed like threats.
She braced herself against the railing, knocked out of her own mind as heat flooded her. It came from behind her.
They hadn’t spoken since he had helped her back to the castle. She had been a shivering mess in his arms, sobbing, screaming, Celeste’s eyes as she died seared into her mind. He had left food, tea, water, comfortable clothing at her door. But she had only ever opened it after he was far down the hall.
Her shoulders stiffened. She stared down at the sea, thrashing beneath her, all white caps and sapphire swirls.
“You’re not thinking of jumping again, are you?”
She whirled around and glared at him. “I did not jump. You made me fall.”
His eyes were serious. But his tone was all mock concern. “Did I?”
“Yes. You and your snooping.”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “I could hear you from my room. I went out to investigate. I’d hardly call that snooping.”
She tried to keep her glare in place. But as she studied his face, she blinked. She hadn’t ever seen him in the sun.
Oro’s amber eyes shined just as brightly as the heart had. His hair was sun spun into silk. The sharp edges of his face were highlighted in the light. His skin shined.
The dark circles below his eyes had disappeared. His cheeks looked far less sallow. The grayish blue had all vanished.
He was radiant.
Isla swallowed. “You were insufferable that night,” she said, her words coming out without any bite.
Oro took a step toward her. “So were you. Walking into dinner soaking wet, hair dripping. And all I could hear was your voice, ringing through my mind like a curse. I thought it was on purpose, that you were using your abilities to lure me. Then, you were so surly it seemed implausible that was your plan.” He frowned. “When you told me your secret, I was . . . taken aback.” He laughed without humor. “For centuries, I had shunned any meaningful connection. And when, for the first time, I began to feel something . . . it was for a Wildling that wasn’t even trying to beguile me.”
Oro was so close, she had to tilt her head up to meet his gaze.
For a moment, they looked at each other. He opened his mouth, then closed it. She did the same.
Didn’t know what to say.
“Isla,” he said, her name so soft on his lips. She saw her own emotions reflected in his eyes.
Confusion. Not knowing how it happened.
Just that it did.
Love was a strange thing. She wanted him in so many ways. Had for a while, though she had tried her best to deny it. More than anything, she trusted him.
Was that the basis of love?
She still wasn’t sure.
Isla reached a hand to his chest. Somewhere, she could feel his power, pulsing. An endless stream, gold and gleaming. Sunling, Skyling, Moonling, and Starling. When Isla had used the bondmaker, she had returned each ruler’s power, through the same bridge that had allowed her to take their abilities in the first place. Though she still had access.
There was no armor between her and Oro’s endless pool, since it went both ways. She could dip her hand in and take it all, if she wanted to. And he could do the same to her.
Oro closed his eyes briefly, as if he could feel her fingers running along the rivers of energy contained within him.
He mirrored her movement. And she wondered what he felt . . . for, when Isla had killed Aurora with the bondmaker, she had known exactly what she was doing. Not just getting her own power—and Oro’s and Grim’s—back, but also taking something from her. All her Starling ruler abilities. A loophole, to kill a ruler and their line, fulfill the prophecy and end the curses, while sparing the Starling realm.
Now, Isla had a Starling ruler’s power. And she didn’t want to begin to think of what that meant.
Oro pressed two fingers against her heart. Ran them lower, to the center of her chest.
A vine snaked its way across the balcony and bloomed a red rose.
Oro plucked it. Offered it to her.
She stared down at the flower. A rose with thorns, just like her. It was beautiful. Vicious.
Isla took it, then threw it over her shoulder, clean off the balcony. And stood on her toes so her forehead touched his.
Oro stilled. His eyes were amber and burning, nothing like the emptiness she had glimpsed the first day of the Centennial. He looked at her like she was the thing they had torn apart the island for, the heart he had been desperately trying to find all these years, the needle that had finally threaded him together.
Isla took a shaky breath.
Then she turned to face the sea.
Grim. He had wrecked her. And she had been reckless. Rushed in without thinking, without waiting.
She wouldn’t make that mistake again. Even though she trusted Oro—no one else but him.
Isla climbed onto the railing, the same way she had that first day of the Centennial, when she had sung the song that had drawn Oro out onto his own balcony. He was behind her, an endless source of heat, so close that when she leaned her head back, it rested against his chest.
Her feet kicked air, high above the churning sea. She looked up at him. “Don’t let me fall in.”
His eyes met hers. “Never,” he said.
Isla glared at him.
“Never again,” he amended.