In darkness when the night surrounds, I bear the Light in me.
“Quick,” Nyalesee shouted. “Lay her on a bench.”
Camden raced across the room and lowered Eledra’s body to the wood.
Nyalesee rushed to his side. Light sprang out of her palms and formed small, radiant spheres. Shadows danced on the edges of the sanctuary as Nyalesee moved..
Harra stood frozen, eyes wide, mouth agape. “Her light’s so dim…”
“Camden, what happened?” Nyalesee asked, her gaze fixed on the injured woman. “What sort of wounds are we dealing with?”
“Bandits on the road from Aulivar, Devoted.”
Lyllithe ran to Camden and grabbed his arm. “Where is my father? Is he—“
“Marten is coming,” Camden replied. He laid his hand over hers. “Wounded, but he will recover. They struck him hard, knocked him out. We drove them off, killed two. I left Josephine with Marten when we were in sight of the Woodwall. She will help him get here.”
At least Father is safe. Jo can handle herself.
The thought gave little comfort while Lyllithe looked down at her mother’s body.
Nyalesee examined Eledra’s wounds. The Devoted grimaced, and she glanced up at Lyllithe. “Harra, go see to Marten,” Nyalesee said over her shoulder.
The order jarred Harra into motion, but she moved instead to Nyalesee’s side. “Perhaps you need my help to heal Eledra’s—”
“I need you to obey,” Nyalesee cut in. “See to the Eldest. This woman is beyond our aid.”
Harra opened her mouth to speak, then snapped it shut at a withering glare from the senior Devoted. Her head dipped slightly. “As you wish.”
Camden hung back, hands folded, eyes cast down. Lyllithe thought she heard him praying. What can a Soulforged do in times like this, she wondered.
Nyalesee grabbed Lyllithe’s arm and pulled her close. “Child, I cannot heal her unassisted.”
Lyllithe choked. Hope and confusion swirled in her chest. “But you just sent Harra to—”
“She and I together could not treat these wounds,” Nyalesee said. “Not with the noonday sun shining down on us.”
“Then why do you need me? I’m not even Marked, I’m hardly—”
“Forget all that.” Nyalesee’s grip tightened on Lyllithe’s sleeve. “Forget the Test, the script—forget the rules. You are able. You’ve healed wounds before.”
Lyllithe shook her head, and Nyalesee continued. “Maybe it’s your elemental heritage, or maybe just the grace of Aulis. But you are stronger than any of the Devoted here, stronger I deem than any two combined.” Nyalesee’s eyes held Lyllithe’s gaze. “When properly moved.”
Lyllithe fumbled for words, but none seemed right.
The Devoted reached out. “Take my hand. Perhaps I can spark your ability to minister.”
Nyalesee guided Lyllithe’s hand toward Eledra. Her palm rested on her mother’s chest. The fabric felt damp and cold like mud in winter. So much blood. She’s not breathing.
“Close your eyes,” Nyalesee said.
Lyllithe obeyed. There’s no heartbeat.
“The Light is life, and your light is pure,” the Devoted whispered. “There is strength in purity. There is brilliance. See it, draw it in and release it. Like breathing.”
Part of Lyllithe’s mind followed the calming instructions. But her fears conjured up an image of the dim sanctuary during the Test, and Harra’s smug sneer. Lyllithe saw her father’s downcast face last year when she failed. She heard the laughter of younger girls who were Marked on their first attempt.
“There’s a faint ember left,” Nyalesee said. Lyllithe opened her eyes.
“Do you feel that, child? I can breathe on it, and keep Eledra alive. But I haven’t the strength to restore her.”
A soft orange light appeared underneath Eledra’s skin. It flickered and waned.
“Now, girl! Heal her.”
Her mind fought doubts and despair. But Lyllithe grasped for the Light and took hold. Her hands glowed white on Eledra’s robes. Breathe. Live. Be healed.
Nyalesee gasped. “That’s it, dear,” she said, then whispered, “so much power.”
Unreliable potential is useless, the doubting voice insisted.
Lyllithe gritted her teeth with the effort. More of the Light. Mother, you have to live.
The doors of the sanctuary opened. A slender blonde woman in armor slipped in with Marten, his arm draped over her shoulder. She helped him to a bench, then stood beside her father Camden.
Father is well, Lyllithe thought. Josephine, my friend, I owe you once again.
Harra entered last and stormed toward the healers. Her voice bellowed in the dim chamber. “What is the meaning of this, Nyalesee?”
Lyllithe ignored the stares between the two Devoted. Eledra lay still. No pulse. No movement. No breathing. Nyalesee’s words repeated in Lyllithe’s mind: She is beyond our aid.
The Devoted’s hand squeezed Lyllithe’s arm once more. “Do not doubt. Light shines brightest in darkest night.”
At that, Lyllithe cast down fear and focused her complete attention on healing.
Mother, you have to breathe. She strained as she pulled on more Light. I’ll help you breathe. Lyllithe pushed air into Eledra’s lungs with the Light’s power. She drew the air out through the mouth, then forced fresh air back in.
Marten cried out, “She’s breathing!”
The heart has to beat. Lyllithe redirected some of her power and reached with it into Eledra’s chest. The energy wrapped around Eledra’s heart and squeezed every few seconds. Lyllithe sensed blood flow throughout the body. You’re going to have to take over from me here, Mother. Live.
Nyalesee said something, but Lyllithe paid no heed. Open your eyes, get up, be whole once more. Eledra remained still, though her chest rose and fell as Lyllithe pushed in breaths.
Open your eyes, Mother. Lyllithe directed two wisps of power toward Eledra’s eyelids. They snapped open, but the eyes stared blank at the ceiling.
Muscles strained in Lyllithe’s neck and arms. In her eyes, a web of rainbow strands connected her outstretched hands to Eledra’s body. Lyllithe drew even more on the source of power. Get up. You can’t die. With the Light at her disposal, she tugged at muscles and tendons in Eledra’s arms and legs, commanding motion.
Eledra’s body jerked. Rough movements brought her upright. No light shone in her eyes. The orange glow behind her skin vanished.
Marten stood and collapsed. Lyllithe heard him weeping.
Nyalesee yelled for Lyllithe to stop.
This is not the end, Aulis grant me grace. Blinding light burst from her hands. Purple spots filled her vision. There’s more power out there. I can almost reach it.
Child, let me go.
Not Nyalesee’s voice. Not Lyllithe’s own thought.
The faint voice answered. You cannot heal an empty shell. Let me pass.
Lyllithe looked again at the body before her. Eledra’s corpse shook and shuddered. Air hissed in and out of cold lungs, forced by Lyllithe’s efforts. Eledra’s disheveled brown hair hung limp, matted with blood that oozed from wounds whenever Lyllithe squeezed the heart with her power. The body turned so that the faded green eyes faced her.
Oh Light, I’m going to be sick. What have I done?
The brilliance Lyllithe summoned vanished, and darkness conquered the sanctuary in a snap. Lyllithe fell to the ground and retched beside the body of her mother.
Marten sobbed in the shadows.
Nyalesee knelt and put a hand on Lyllithe’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, child, so very sorry. I hoped, I dared to believe that maybe—”
She snatched the loose sleeve of Lyllithe’s robe and yanked her right arm from the ground. A soft blue light pierced the shadows around the dais.
Lyllithe looked at the back of her hand. A symbol shone like a rune etched in the skin: a sunrise above a vertical line with two branches holding up the horizon. The churning sea of shock and turmoil in her mind threatened to drown her. A Gracemark? Now? With both Light and Strength?
Lyllithe’s hands grasped Nyalesee’s shoulders in desperation.
Nyalesee only stared at the Mark.
Harra watched, brow furrowed.
“What is this,” Lyllithe demanded. “What does this mean?”