Paradise Chapter 5
- Paradise Burning Chapter 1
Sequel to Spark into Flame. Sky and Ember land on a beautiful world for their honeymoon, but soon their paradise is shattered by the unthinkable....
- Paradise Burning Chapter 2
Sky and Ember arrive at the island
- Paradise Burning Chapter 3
Ember begins to teach Sky how to use her lightning
- Paradise Burning Chapter 4
Ember teaches Sky how to use her lightning
He stepped back, and tears glistened on his face, but he didn’t wipe them away. He held her hands instead. “Would you like me to show you the secret place now?”
“I should keep practicing.”
“You need a break.”
“I need to keep going. I need to learn as much as I can.”
“We have plenty of time. I don’t want you to feel any kind of pressure on your honeymoon.”
“But—if we want to be all that we are together—I mean, I’m even afraid to touch you—“
Sadness flickered across his eyes, and he drew his hands away from hers.
“Ember—I didn’t mean—It’s not you. It’s because of me. This is our honeymoon and we’re supposed to be able to—I’m ruining it.”
“Oh, Sky, you’re not ruining anything.” He took her hand in both of his. “I don’t want you to be stressed out. Just enjoy yourself. We don’t have to rush into anything.”
“We only have two weeks! I’ve got to learn control by the time your scars are healed.”
“We have more than two weeks. We have a lifetime.”
“But we won’t ever have this time together, all to ourselves. It’s special. I want to make it special for you.” Her throat tightened. “That means—giving you everything I have.”
“This—just this—” he squeezed her hand gently—“is more than enough. Don’t worry. Your lightning is a part of you. It’ll work, it just takes time. Besides, by the time our scars are healed, I’ll be dying for your touch and I won’t care if it hurts.”
“I care. I can’t—” her voice caught; she finished in a whisper—“be like him.”
“My lightning will protect me from yours, now that I know that yours is enough to protect you. And—a woman’s lightning doesn’t hurt the man as much. It kind of works the opposite, actually. It doesn’t travel to a single point, but flows all over her body—unless she deliberately channels it into him. A man, as you know, has to deliberately channel it away or—it does some pretty horrible internal damage.” A rosy blush spread across his golden-brown cheeks. “Anyway, we both need to work on control. I need to be absolutely sure I will never hurt you again, like I did—was that only last night?” Guilt flashed across his face, and he dropped his eyes. “We have about a week till our scars are healed. That gives us plenty of time to practice, and still have enough time to explore and have fun… and then—” He looked at her—“if you’ll have me—I don’t think I’ll want to do much more than be with you, as much as I can, after we’ve been apart for so long.”
“It will take a week for me to learn to channel my lightning away from you?”
“We can concentrate on that, if you want. There’s no guarantee, till we try it….”
A horrible thought struck her. “When you’re channeling your lightning away from me, you won’t be protected. What if I can’t control? Please, don’t make me hurt you.”
“I won’t. But—Sky—I have a feeling I won’t care by that point.”
“It could give you scars all over again!”
“Scars from you are better than kisses from anyone else.”
“We’ll work it out when the time comes. I don’t want to avoid something beautiful just because we’re afraid.”
“You don’t want to hurt me. I’m just trying to do the same thing for you.”
“It’s different. You have been hurt so much—I am a spoiled prince, remember.” He smiled. “I need to get toughened up a bit.”
“I don’t want you to have to experience any pain. You don’t deserve it. You’ve already experienced too much, from your uncle and my—father.”
“I don’t want to make you do something you’re uncomfortable with. If that includes hurting me, we won’t do it. I…don’t particularly like pain myself—but I don’t want to keep myself from you. Pain doesn’t matter compared to what you can give to me. If it’s my feelings you’re worried about—you can set them aside. Otherwise, we will just wait until you’re confident. We don’t have to make love the rest of our lives if you don’t want to. But…I don’t want us to miss out on anything wonderful. I want to learn new ways to please you, my Sky.” He swept his hand gently over her cheek.
“I can’t keep myself from you, but I can’t hurt you. I suppose…training can wait for now, though.”
“I can teach you as we go along. We’ll take breaks and then go back to it. Soon, using your lightning will be second nature.”
He looked out at the sea, the sun gilding his sculpted features. “We’ll go in the car. Unless you want to take some wings.”
Heat flooded her cheeks. “I…don’t know how to fly.”
“Oh. I’m sorry—I didn’t know.” He had an almost pitying look in his eyes, and she didn’t blame him. In a way, she felt worse about this than the lightning. Even though it was technically artificial, flying was just as intrinsic to being Nobility as lightning.
“My father didn’t feel I was worth wasting wings on.”
Ember’s fists clenched. “How dare he take so much from you. Your mother and brothers didn’t…?”
“My brothers couldn’t care less about me. My mother…well, she could never defy him, or he’d hurt her.”
He slid his hand down over her cheek, brushing the strand of loose hair back from her face. “You are free now. If you want, I can teach you how to fly. It isn’t hard.”
Fear trembled through her. To be above the ground, nothing beneath her—it frightened her. She would have to get over it eventually, but she didn’t have the energy to confront more of her inadequacies at the moment. “I’d rather not, not right now anyway.”
She followed him back to the car. The Ms were standing on either side of it like statues, but they moved as Ember approached and bowed at the waist. One was built in the form of a man; it had light brown hair and steel-gray eyes. The other looked like a woman; it had long purple hair and eyes as black as obsidian. They both wore the uniform of the Royalty’s personal guard—black with red trim and a gold insignia on the left shoulder. Sky had never been comfortable with Ms; there was something unsettling in the cold emotionlessness of their eyes and the subtly artificial way that they moved. They were programmed to never hurt their masters, but still she was always aware of the fact that they had the strength to tear even a Royal limb from limb. And if her father had ordered it, they would not have hesitated to kill her or hurt her in unnatural ways….
She shrugged off a shiver. They were Ember’s, and they would not harm her. They would probably even protect her if she were in danger. Otherwise, she might as well ignore them and not let them spoil her day.
The Ms followed them inside and Sky sat down on the copilot’s chair. Ember sat beside her and fed the car coordinates, then he ordered the female M to bring Sky some food.
I’m not hungry, she almost said, then realized she was. She hadn’t eaten since the day before, after all, and a lot had happened since then. She was just used to shutting off her desire for food, ignoring it, while she hid in her garden as long as she could, even days sometimes, so she could avoid running into her father. She’d feed on flowers, on fruits, and the fountains that ran through the garden. Otherwise, beauty was her only sustenance.
The M handed Sky a tray. On it was a flower with iridescent petals that shimmered in the light. She had never seen a more beautiful flower. Little button-shaped orange mushrooms surrounded it, pulsing with a faint glow, along with slices of purple cheese and little white cakes.
“What is it?” she asked as the car lifted into the air.
“It’s a kastata’i—a Mirage Flower. It’s edible.”
“I don’t know if I want to eat something so beautiful!”
“Just admire it if you want. But it’s surprisingly good. The rest of the things are from the car—the mushrooms are from Eclipse, the cheese from Ice, and the cakes from our own world.”
“They’re not…ambrosia, are they?” She could hardly bring herself to say the word.
“Well, this is a Royal car, so they probably are.”
She almost tossed the tray from her lap with revulsion. Her hands trembled.
He leaped to his feet. “What’s wrong?”
“Ambrosia is…what my father used to call me when—” She choked. Her father’s face flashed against her eyes, and he leered down at her as he climbed onto the bed and tilted his head as if she were some delectable treat that he would tear apart for the pleasure of it—
Her stomach churned and she fought the horrible sick feeling.
Ember swept the tray out of her hands. He strode to the back of the car and threw the cakes in the dispenser. Then he sat back down beside her and handed her the tray. “I’m sorry. I never should have given them to you.”
“You couldn’t have known. It’s supposed to taste amazing, but it always makes me sick.”
“Another birthright he’s taken away from you.”
“I—felt so free of him, after—stabbing him. I thought being here would be a new start. But he’s still there, in the shadows of my mind—maybe I’ll never be totally free. I just hate that he’s ruined so much. I can’t fly with you, I can’t make love because I can’t control my lightning, and now—this flower—he spoiled something so beautiful and good.”
“We don’t have to let him spoil it. Don’t think about him any more than you have to. If he’s in the shadows—we’ll stay in the light.”
He was right. She’d plunged into the shadows when she’d asked Ember to hurt her. Even if she could not tear out the memories as easily as she’d stabbed Strike, at least she did not have to dwell on them. Live in the light. Block anything dark out, as much as she could—which would be easy to do in this place, with Ember.
She didn’t want to ruin his time here any more than she had. She didn’t want to drag him down into the endless darkness that pulled at her mind.
He picked up the flower from the tray and tugged off one of the petals. “Here. Try it.” He held the petal between them and she leaned forward and snatched it up between her teeth, then slid it into her mouth. Sweet nectar burst across her tongue from the petal’s base. Its soft surface melted like cloud candy.
“I knew you’d love it.”
“It’s worth taking apart its beauty.” She tugged off a petal and lifted it toward his mouth and he took it, his eyes closing as he did so, his long lashes shadowing his cheek. Ah, how she longed to touch those beautiful lips, trace their contours.
As the car flew above the island, she glimpsed more of the black object along the horizon. “What’s that?”
He followed her gaze. “That’s Tisjajai.”
“Is it the mainland?”
“Well, there is no real mainland on Mirage—none of the landmasses are bigger than large islands. Dad’s over there, living among the natives and learning from them.”
“Justice is there?”
“We could visit him, if you want.”
“I really just want to be with you, and no one else.”
He smiled, dimples appearing in his cheeks. “Me too.”
They took turns tearing off petals off and feeding them to each other until the flower was just a calyx and stub of a stem. Then they ate the mushrooms and cheese. The car landed but she was so hungry she kept eating until the food was gone.
He took her hand and they stepped out of the car onto some flat gray rocks with rounded edges. A broad clear pool lay below, and lush bushes and trees surrounded it and leaned over the water as if to look into a mirror. Further down, the pool narrowed and turned into a river, the rushing of the water creating a melody of its own. Along the rock grew dense bushes covered with mirage flowers. She stepped toward them, lured by their beauty. As she did, the flowers vanished.
She stopped, astonished.
“They only allow certain birds and insects near them. Otherwise, they disappear.”
“I’ve never heard of a flower like that!”
“This is a land of many amazing things. Come. This isn’t the best part.” He led her around the narrow edge of the rock, and drooping bell-like flowers brushed her cheek and spilled warm droplets onto her skin. She laughed—it tickled—but she didn’t bother to brush the water away.
Around the bend, the rock broadened to reveal larger pool. Three waterfalls poured over a high cliff, splashing into seething foam. Mist rose in waves, and a rainbow shone across it.
They walked closer to the waterfall and tiny droplets misted her skin. Flowers clung to the cliff—red, gold, deep purple—facing the waterfall as if worshiping its beauty. Small palms and flowering bushes gathered around its base.
High, haunting notes trilled through the air. The ethereal melody seemed to come from another world, and pierced her soul with a longing for something she didn’t know.
“What is that?” she whispered.
“A takasa’i bird.”
The song changed directions; it seemed to come from the tallest palm.
She tried to catch a glimpse of it, in vain.
“I can’t see it.”
“They camouflage. A lot of creatures have evolved camouflage here—including the people.”
“Really?” She’d heard rumors of the mirages, but she’d thought they were an exaggeration.
“Well, some of them can. Others can disappear completely.”
“Wow. I wish I had that ability.”
“You would hide your beauty from me?”
She caressed his cheek. “Not from you.”
He kissed her lightly on the lips. Her fingers tingled warningly and she lifted her hand from his cheek, carefully so as not to startle him.
They walked closer to the waterfalls, the roar of their power thundering down over the cliff to rush past an indentation, almost a cave.
“I was thinking,” he said, above the roar of the falls. “If you like, we could build a retreat here, beneath the waterfall. Or on top of the cliff, if you want. Or anywhere else on the island. Built to your specifications. It’s your island, after all.”
“I kind of like it as it is. Without anything artificial. Like—we’re the first people, before civilization.”
“Do you want to go in the cave? We’ll have to go under the waterfall.”
“Is the water deep?”
“No—that’s the beauty of it. We can just walk through the waterfall like a doorway. Our own secret hideout.”
Shivers flooded over her skin. A secluded place—to be with him—not exposed on the beach, but safe in an impossibly beautiful, romantic place—it was almost too much to handle. Desire burst through her. Lightning skittered over her fingertips.
“Oh!” She lifted her hand. “I can’t go under the water like this.”
“Let the lightning flow back to the center of your being. It will settle where it’s most comfortable.”
She closed her eyes, willing her lightning to flow back inside of her. Instead it spilled over her hand, flashing into the air. Reacting with the mist from the falls, it bit into her skin. She cried out.
“Are you okay?” he said.
“Stay back! I might hurt you.”
“Here. Let me channel it away.” He held out his hand, flickering with lightning of his own.
Before she could reel away, he touched his lightning to hers, pulling it away from her and into himself. It snapped over his skin. Pain flashed across his eyes.
“It’s okay.” He gasped. New lightning scars laced over his hand.
“There’s too much water in the air. I—can’t control this at all.” She lifted her hand, horrified that she’d given him scars. That he’d had to take her own lightning on himself.
She wished that she’d never gotten so much lightning. To ruin this perfect place he’d been so excited to show her….
“We can come back when you have learned to control your lightning.”
They headed back to the car, and the Ms followed them inside. Then they flew back to the beach.
I will keep from hurting him again at all costs, she thought. I will bring up my past to suppress it if I have to. I’ll even stay away from him until I learn control.
They settled on the beach. Horses had gathered on the peninsula and were tearing up tufts of salt grass. Some of them scattered and ran to the peninsula’s point, and some jumped into the water and began swimming away. A few remained, though, including a young horse at the edge of the beach. It snorted, but stood its ground. It was golden with short curly hair on its neck and a short black tail.
“It’s yours if you want it.”
“I don’t want to take it from its home.” I don’t deserve something so beautiful.
She turned and walked along the beach to stand at the edge of the water. The waves crashed against the beach, splashing onto her dress. Wind plastered the fabric against her shins.
She turned to him. “You shouldn’t come near me.”
“You won’t hurt me.”
“I did!” She gestured to his hand. “If I’m near you—I might hurt you. Because I love you so much. But because I love you I can’t bear the thought of hurting you. So I have to go back.”
“Home. Until I can figure this out.”
“You can learn here.”
“I have to stay away from you. As long as it takes.” She turned back to the sea. Tears slid down her cheeks, golden sunlight blurring her eyes. “Maybe my lightning is too damaged to ever work right. If it is…maybe you should—” Her voice caught in her throat, and unbearable pain stabbed her heart—“leave me.”
He took her hands. Pulled her to him. He pressed his hand to her back and she leaned against his chest and tears flowed down onto his shirt. She tried to pull away, weakly, but he pressed her close to him and kissed her temple and gently cupped her cheek with his hand. “I love you. I will never love another. You are a part of me. If you leave me—it would be like tearing lightning out of my DNA.” He took her hands in his. “We’ll go back home, together, and we’ll find someone to teach you.” His eyes sparked. “My father. He’d know what to do! And he’s just over there.” Ember pointed to the island on the horizon. “Do you want to ask him?”
She nodded, half-numb.
But hope had awakened in her heart.
They climbed back into the car and Sky caught one last glimpse of the golden horse. Then they lifted into the air and flew over the ocean to Tisjajai.
- Paradise Chapter 6
Sky and Ember arrive at the inn on Tisjajai.