Authors: Adalyn Grace
Ikaeans have enchanted the torchlight, blanketing the crowded path beneath my balcony in dazzling shades of pinks, blues, and purples.
Hundreds of Visidians climb the steep cliffs from the beach’s shore up to where the celebration begins below the palace, some of them using paved pathways while those more adventurous weave in and out of rainbow eucalyptus and up the switchback, choking on jeers and quick breaths as they race one another. A group of Curmanan soldiers wait at the shore to help those who can’t or prefer not to make the climb. They lift children and families into the air and high up the northern cliffs to where the celebration awaits. They’re skilled enough with their levitation magic that it comes as easily as their breaths.
The steady thumping of the drums is more intense than it was earlier; every beat clatters my bones while the hollow
rattling of percussion fills my chest. The air pulses with energy and laughter, warm with the scent of richly spiced pork and roasted honey plums.
Every person—young and old—is out tonight. When the time comes for my performance, there will be no hiding from the eyes of Visidia.
“Isn’t it magnificent?” Yuriel asks. “It’s better than the theater out there, with all those fashions and magics. We should get the kingdom together like this more often.” My cousin sits on the corner of my canopy bed, lounging against a duvet of goose feathers as he picks at a platter full of lavish desserts. Sitting there, he looks almost like a goose himself, careful to keep anything that resembles chocolate away from the dyed pink peacock feathers that make up his eccentric suit, but sipping deeply from a crystal glass of plum-red wine all the same. I keep finding myself distracted by the startling brightness of his lavender eyes and the beautiful fluorescent-pink makeup that wings out from them.
“When I rule, I’ll bring the kingdom together for plenty of celebrations.” I step away from the balcony and draw the velvet curtains shut behind me. Saying it aloud heats my blood, making my skin prickle with anticipation for tonight.
In just a few hours, everything I’ve spent eighteen years working for will finally be mine.
My title as heir to Visidia. The opportunity to set sail and see my kingdom. The right to not only learn its secrets, but to command it.
“I’m glad to see you’re confident,” Yuriel says between gooey bites of frosted fudge. “I’ll hold you to that.”
Though Yuriel and I are both Montaras, our similarities end at the blood in our veins. With a father who is pale as powdered snow, my cousin’s skin is several shades lighter than my own copper brown. And while my hair is a mass of dark curls,
his, like all things in his hometown of Ikae, is extravagant. It’s the starkest shade of white, pure even at the roots. Where I’m tall and curved with muscle, he’s soft and delicate—a poster child for Ikae.
But our most distinctive difference is that despite his royal lineage, Yuriel cannot learn soul magic. He gave up that right when he was five years old and accidentally used enchantment magic to turn Aunt Kalea’s hair fluorescent green.
Though he was too young to be held responsible for this choice, it’s now a duty Aunt Kalea and I bear alone. If I’m not deemed a fit heir, then my people will move on to Aunt Kalea; the only remaining Montara left who has yet to claim a magic.
But that won’t happen. No one in my family has ever failed their performance, and I’ve dedicated too much of my life to be the first.
“Amora?” Mira appears from the connected parlor. Her irises are white and glazed over; the look of a Curmanan using mind speak. “Your parents are ready for you.” She blinks the blue back into her eyes. “When you’re ready, Casem will escort you to them.”
Yuriel wags his brows as I turn away to steal a final look at myself. The scratch on my cheek is hardly noticeable under layers of creams and powders. My crepe gown is made to be eye-catching—royal blue with a tight, structured top embroidered with thin gold whorls that accentuate my curves and illuminate the warmth of my copper skin. It’s tight in all the areas I can appreciate, and with my dark brown curls bundled loosely at the nape of my neck, the created effect is fierce.
Mira offers me a cloak that looks as though it’s been drenched in melted sapphires and dusted with starlight. She hooks it to my gown, just below the shoulders, and my breath catches. It glistens like the sun reflecting off dark water and
stains my fingertips with shimmer as I brush them across the soft fabric.
“You’ve truly outdone yourself,” I tell her, catching the proud smile she tries to mask.
“Ferrick’s a lucky man,” she says. “You look beautiful.”
My excitement shatters. With as much time as it took to fit me into this gown, I certainly ought to look beautiful. And I felt every bit of it before Mira mentioned Ferrick.
“Thank you,” I say briskly, trying to snuff out the thoughts of my soon-to-be fiancé. “I’m ready to see my parents.”
“Good luck!” Yuriel cheers as he pours himself another glass of wine. I leave him behind in my room, boots clicking against the marble floor as I follow Mira out the door. My guard, Casem, waits with his head tipped back against the wall.
As a Valukan, Casem’s able to manipulate the air around him. But Casem prefers weaponry over magic, and doesn’t often practice his skills. He proudly wears the uniform all royal guards and Visidian soldiers wear, regardless of which island they hail from: a striking royal-blue blazer and a shimmering sapphire cape threaded with silver stitching along the trim. The royal emblem of the skeletal eel gleams brightly on his cape as he dips into a bow upon spotting us, though his pale blue eyes linger on Mira longer than they do me. He’s like a walking honeycomb with his suntanned skin and sandy blond hair, and I swear that’s what he melts into every time he looks at her.
Perhaps one day they’ll work up the nerve to kiss and put an end to their constant longing.
“Do you two plan to enjoy the celebration?” I ask as we walk, thankful to have someone sober to talk to. “Or has my father put you both on duty?”
Their momentary silence is enough of an answer.
“I doubt I’ll be needed.” Casem looks over his shoulder, grinning at us. “But watching over you tonight is a privilege. Though, I admit … the roasting pork smells like it was cooked by the gods. I wouldn’t be opposed if you managed to stow away some extra food—”
“Casem!” Mira gasps, but the guard laughs and I smile at his gusto.
“I’ll tell the kitchen staff to set something aside,” I assure him as we ascend the stairs, my heart skipping beats as we approach the throne room.
The colossal double doors stare down at me, a looming presence that chills my bones. I pause before it, drawing a long breath as I take a moment to steady myself. Eighteen years, and this is finally happening.
Ornately carved with the map of the land we command, the entire kingdom of Visidia unfolds across the golden slabs, portrayed by a collection of islands inlaid with shimmering jewels. The island of soul magic and the capital of our kingdom, Arida is represented by a bright sapphire that sits proudly in the middle of the map.
My skin warms as I brush my finger across my home island, trailing straight above it to Yuriel’s home—Mornute, marked by rose beryl. A lavish, affluent island, full of stylish denizens who use their enchantment magic to have purple hair one day and pink the next. Mornute is well-known for not only its magic, but also for its lush mountainside vineyards. The island of enchantment produces and exports most of Visidia’s alcohol. Though their ale’s delicious, their wine is by far my favorite.
To the left is Casem and Mother’s home island of Valuka. Marked by a ruby, it’s where elemental magic is practiced. While Mother chose for her affinity to be water, those with Valukan magic may pick between wielding either earth, fire, water, or air.
Below Valuka is an island more elusive to me—Kerost, the island of time magic, portrayed with an amethyst. Though it’s impossible to manipulate time itself, those with this magic are able to change how bodies interact within time, slowing them down or speeding themselves up. We have soldiers and staff here at the palace who hail from all the islands, but it’s been ages since I’ve seen time magic in action. Father’s told me stories of how taxing that magic can be for its users, which is why it’s Visidia’s least practiced magic.
To the far right of Arida sits a thick emerald stone that marks the center of Suntosu, the island of restoration magic. Skilled healers often come to work for the kingdom, where they’re dispatched to healing wards all over Visidia, tasked to care for the sick and injured. But Suntosu is also the home of Ferrick, my fiancé, and for that reason I skim over the island quickly, not wanting to think about having to announce our engagement. I trail my finger upward instead, to the onyx that marks Curmana, the birthplace for many of our royal staff, including Mira. I think of the Curmanans I watched earlier, helping others up the cliffs.
But not all are skilled at levitation; some, like Mira, are skilled mind speakers who can communicate directly into another person’s mind without ever having to use her lips. Father’s employed several of them to work with the advisers on each island, and their magic is how we communicate with one another so swiftly. It’s also a great resource for the kingdom’s latest gossip.
When I go to pull my hand away, my thumb brushes over a tiny hole in the map, to the far south of Arida, and I bend to examine the hole that was once filled with a beautiful white opal.
Zudoh. An island that specializes in curse magic, banished from the kingdom when I was a child. I don’t know much
about their magic—just that it was used for protection. They could create barriers and charms that, when touched, would make people see strange things. But mostly the island was known for its advanced infrastructure and uniquely engineered wood that lent itself to producing our homes as well as our ships. As the southernmost island, its climate is the coldest of any. Winters in Zudoh are said to be harsh and full of snow and blizzards.
I don’t remember much about their banishment, as it happened when I was only seven years old. It’s a tender subject of conversation around the kingdom, often spoken of in whispers behind shut doors. Even Father doesn’t like to discuss it. Whenever I’ve pressed for details, he’s been quick to turn his shoulder and say that Zudoh doesn’t agree with the way the Montaras rule, and that they never will. Beyond that, everything I know about Zudoh’s banishment has been gleaned from keeping an ear to the kingdom’s gossip network.
I’ve heard that Zudoh’s advisers turned on Father during one of his visits to their island, and a fight ensued that left him severely injured. I vaguely remember a brief period when Father took a break from training me and I wasn’t allowed to see him. Back then I’d assumed he was busy; it wasn’t until years later that I connected the dots.
It’s infuriating, being expected to one day rule this kingdom, yet being treated like a child by having so much information kept secret “until I’m ready.”
That’s what I’m looking forward to tonight, more than anything. The moment my performance is over and I’m officially recognized as heir to the throne, I’ll demand to know everything there is to know about my kingdom. No longer will I have to wonder. No longer will Father be able to keep me holed up on Arida, telling me to keep practicing my magic. He’ll have to treat me with the respect the future queen deserves. I may
be one of the few possible heirs left, but I am not the fragile, breakable thing he believes me to be.
“Amora?” Mira’s voice draws me back.
Two palace guards flank my sides, each with a hand resting on the thick handles of the door, waiting.
I draw a breath. “Open them.”
The doors bring a rush of air as they part, knocking a few loose strands of curls free from their coil at my neck and into my eyes. My chest grows tight as my breaths quicken. I glance back at Casem and Mira, both of whom are on one knee with their heads bowed, then step inside.
The doors slam shut behind me.
There’s no need for light in the throne room. Torch- and starlight sneak through the open back wall and flood the cavernous space. Like everywhere else inside the palace, the floor is a striking white marble, though in here it’s partially covered by a thick sapphire rug laced with golden trim. At the edge of it, three thrones made from pearl and whalebone sit at the top of six black marble steps.
There will be four chairs, soon. Once married, Ferrick will sit beside me every time I hold council.
My palms sweat, but there’s no time to dwell on the invisible fourth chair. My parents stand before the two front thrones; the exposed panoramic balcony that overlooks Arida spreads out behind them. The enchanted torchlight that filters in illuminates their profiles and turns their bright smiles into miniature glowing moons.
“Amora.” Father speaks first. “You look beautiful.” There’s a table behind him, though I can’t see what’s on it.
The reality of what’s finally about to happen turns my legs into stone. Shakily I force them forward, step-by-step. Marble pillars loom tall beside me—there are four more between my parents and me. I count each as I move.
One more hour until I prove to Visidia that I’m meant to be their heir.
Two more hours until I’m engaged to a man I’ll never love.
Three more hours until I give the command to ready a ship to set sail tomorrow, and demand to know every secret about this kingdom that’s ever been kept from me.
Finally the nerves come, burrowing into me. Making me sweat.
At the bottom of the stairs I bow, and Father chuckles.
“Come, Amora,” he says. “Come sit.”
I swallow a lump in my throat and climb the steps too quickly as I start toward my chair—the one in the back. Mother grabs hold of my shoulders and turns me around.
“Not that one,” she whispers, pointing me instead toward the largest chair—the one meant for the High Animancer.
My heart is a monster that rages against my rib cage as Father takes hold of my arm and guides me into his seat.