I dropped my magical defenses, allowing my luster to envelop me in a powerful light. Without the sun’s ready supply of energy, that meant using some of my precious resources.

“Holy crap.” Lea jumped out of her bed and squeezed against the far wall of the room.

Finally, some reaction. “It’s called luster.” I twirled to prove I wasn’t hiding a flashlight behind my back. “It’s a by-product of an Elonian’s affinity with light. Anyone sensitive to magic can see it unless I suppress it.”

In my mind, rows of thick bricks piled one on top of another around me, extinguishing my luster.

“A-are you an angel?” Her airless voice barely traveled the distance between us.

I kinked back my head and laughed. “Definitely not.”

She unglued herself from the wall and took a few steps toward her bed. “You said I’m an Elonian. Why don’t I shine?”

“You can’t see your own luster, but it’s there. Without the training to suppress it, you’re a living flame to the Shades. It’s the reason they call us Sparks. It’s also how they’ll identify you. You know, before they kill you.”

Lea picked up a sweater from the floor. Her focus went distant, no longer in this world. Something I’d said must have triggered a switch in her brain. Not a day too soon.

I trotted to the corner by the window and picked a collection of stuffed animals off the armchair. From the deep V between Lea’s brows, I concluded her thought processes weren’t going anywhere fast. Once the toys occupied the windowsill, neatly arranged by height, I sat.

With her dark lashes, a tiny nose and a sprinkling of freckles, she looked so young and so…Kindred. Unexpected sadness ripped through my chest. The misery pressed onto my diaphragm, making me feel like I was an evil monster come to chop up her innocence like next week’s firewood.

Even though she was predicted to be my ally through the dark days, she was still a total stranger. Yet her pale, elfin face stirred something in me, some glimmer of recognition, of familiarity even. My childhood friend Belinda had a similar innocence about her. She’d chew the end of her pen for hours while pondering her words. Her poems were meant to bring joy to a war-torn land. They burned with her when Galleo invaded her village.

Lea would not share Belinda’s fate. I’d see to that. By the end of her training, she’d be able to take on a whole battalion of Shades by herself. I squinted at her short stature and took a sobering breath. If not a battalion, then a group of ten.


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by Charlotte Yates, Washington Chronicler

A week ago, I caught up with one of key players in the events that fairly recently threatened to destroy Earth’s history. I’d been warned my interviewee was a geek, a little difficult to relate to, but the woman before me has girl-next-door written all over her. “Thank you, Miss Daniels, for taking the time to speak to me. I know you’re busy.”

“Busy doesn’t even cover it. But hey, call me Lea.” The twenty-five year old relaxes into her chair, sipping a cola. A soft breeze blows through the leaves of the large tree behind her, yet leaves her long, wavy hair curiously unruffled.

I fix my own ponytail in the nape of my neck with a rubber band, then move the tape recorder closer toward the young woman. “Could you summarize your experiences for those readers who aren’t familiar with your story?”

She releases the cheerful pink straw through which she’s been sucking the pale remnants of her soda. “Sure. Let me give you the trailer.” She sets down her glass on the round metal table between us and arranges her thumbs and index fingers into a rectangle before her eyes. “Cue loving parents playing Carcassone with their five-year-old daughter, sewing early seeds for a fan-girl mentality. Fifteen years later, a pale young woman poring over physics books while her friends are partying. Add another five years, enter basically that same woman, perhaps carrying fewer dreams and a few more pounds, who is set to embark on the most boring career path imaginable when POW!” She slices the air with the edge of her hand. “A tanned female Legolas — think Lord Of The Rings — steps into her life, tells her some crazy-ass story of prophecy and magic, and practically kidnaps her to some Wonderland.” She scratches the area between her eyes. “After that, things got kind of strange.”

A tall, blond man approaches, dressed, like Lea, head to toe in leather. I notice only with some delay who he is and leap to my feet. He rests his hand on Lea’s shoulder. “What about the handsome hero? Where does he come in?”

She frowns. “This is my story. I’m telling it my way.”

“Oh, touchy. Didn’t you have your morning coffee?”

“Do you remember making me coffee?”

“We have staff for that. Stop rolling your eyes at me. I’ll get you some.”

“Too hot. But I’d love a refill of cold caffeine.” She shakes her empty glass at him. He briefly peers at the deep blue sky as if searching for assistance, takes the glass and disappears inside.

Lea shrugs. “Sorry. My boyfriend thinks he’s above menial tasks like seeing to my every need. He’s a work in progress.” Her gaze grows distant. “Funny, really. I wasn’t always this secure around him. But some experiences, well, they shape you into a different version of yourself. You know what?” Her hand disappears into a tassled bag hanging off the back of her chair, and she produces a book, titled Divide and Conquer. “You really should read this for yourself.”


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