Spiritum – Chapter Fourteen

14.

The silver ball rested among the folds of the quilt and refused to move, no matter how long and hard Iona stared at it.

After she finally tore herself from her spot on the hillside, Iona made for her room as fast as she could, making it through the academy’s front doors only minutes before curfew was due to begin. She ignored the receptionist when asked if she was alright and ran all the way to her room where she threw herself on her bed and cried into her pillow for what seemed like hours. By the time she was done, Iona wondered if she would ever be able to cry again.

She tried to go to sleep but whenever she closed her eyes she saw her sister’s face and heard the words that cut like razor blades. It is your fault. They’re dead because of you. You killed them. They cut deeper every time Iona recalled them. Llannaeia had always been a hard and bitter young woman but that was something else entirely. It made Iona wonder, what could have happened to make her so cruel?

Realizing that she was in for a long night, Iona decided that she might as well use the time productively. She also needed something to take her mind off Llannaeia. Just as she’d done that morning, Iona sat cross-legged atop the covers and stared at the metal ball, nothing but her bedside lamp for light. She tried her hardest to concentrate but that turned out to be far easier said than done. Her conversation with her sister replayed inside her head on an endless loop. All Iona could think about was the hate burning like fire in her eyes, how every word felt like a knife piercing her stomach and how she blamed her for all the pain and misfortune they’d suffered.

It didn’t take long for heartache to mutate into anger. Llannaeia had no right to speak to her like that. What happened to their parents wasn’t her fault, and she knew it. She’d refrained from saying it but Iona knew the real reason for her sister’s hatred, and it began long before they lost their parents. She’d always hated being the normal one. Ever since they were young, she’d envied her abilities and the attention they brought her. Nothing but petty jealousy. Llannaeia thought she was pathetic, but really she was the pathetic one. Always so angry because she had something she didn’t.

Iona’s eyes had dried out and begun to sting. Her cheeks were soaked; her head pounded like there was a rave going on inside it. But still, the ball didn’t move. Focusing on anything seemed impossible. Whenever Iona tried she was dragged back to that room. Every time she tried to close the door, her sister would knock it down. She couldn’t give up; she wouldn’t. Llannaeia thought she was pathetic, but she’d think again when she saw how powerful her little sister was. Someday she was going to be the most powerful arcanist who ever lived, and then she would think twice before she said anything like that to her ever again. Iona extended her arm in the hope it would act as a crutch to strengthen the connection between her and the ball. Sahel had always discouraged it. He said it wouldn’t help to develop her mental strength but Iona was willing to try just about anything to get what she wanted.

But the ball didn’t move.

Iona looked down, rubbed her eyes. It was hopeless. No way could she focus while she felt like this. She held her head in her hands and wept. Who was she kidding? She was pathetic. Nothing but a stupid girl blinded by stupid stories. She’d never be the most powerful arcanist to ever live, never achieve her dreams, never honour their parents’ sacrifice. She was so stupid. If only Llannaeia could see her now. How she’d laugh. 

Llannaeia.

The frustration began to mount again. A storm brewed inside Iona. Dark clouds formed; thunder rumbled. Her meeting with her sister had touched a nerve and awakened feelings she hadn’t felt in a very long time. She couldn’t let herself be defeated. If she did then it was all for nothing, their parents’ sacrifice meaningless. Iona couldn’t help but wonder if that was what Llannaeia would want, picturing her cruel smirk when she learned of her failure.

She looked back to the ball, let her rage flow. She wouldn’t let her sister infect her with her misery. Her eyes throbbed and her head felt like it was being sawn in half again, but she wouldn’t give up, nor would she allow herself any rest until she got what she wanted. Llannaeia always thought she was weak. She’d prove her wrong.

Something else caught Iona’s attention. She thought it was just her imagination, her tired mind playing tricks on her. But then her eyes widened with amazement, and horror. Her arm, it was glowing. It started at her hand and was barely noticeable. The skin was warm to the touch, like she was holding it close to an open fire. It was a nice feeling, at first. But then her skin got warmer, then hotter. Soon, it felt like her arm was in the fire itself. Iona leapt to her feet, panic overcoming her as she watched the skin get brighter and felt it burn hotter. The room was no longer dark, now bathed in a glow that made it seem like there was a bonfire raging at its centre. Iona screamed as loud as she could but no one came to her aid. Her flesh felt like it was being seared, the bones and veins dark beneath luminous skin. Her eyes expanded to the size of planets when she saw the flame appear at the tip of her index finger, then at her middle finger, then her ring finger. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She was on fire; her fingers were burning. Iona waved her arm to put the flames out, but it didn’t work. They only grew bigger, brighter and hotter. It hurt like nothing she’d ever felt, to the point she couldn’t think of anything else. The academy, the forest, her parents, Llannaiea; everything was gone.

What’s happening to me? Iona kept thinking. The flames grew and spread like they were crawling over deadwood, engulfing her hand that felt like it had been plunged into molten lava. Soon, her hand was gone completely, replaced with a fireball that deformed the air around it and sent it rippling. Iona swung her arm again, desperate to relieve the agony. This time, the flames shot from her hand and soared like a shooting star before crashing into the wall and splattering like molten metal. Iona could only watch, eyes bulging and mouth agape as the wall melted and a glowing portal into the room next door was left in its wake.

The metal cooled and the glow faded, and Iona was left in pitch darkness again. She’d knocked the lamp over as she flailed. It lay broken by her feet. Iona crept across the room. Only when she got close she realized the flames had melted all the way through to the other side. The edges glistened with warm embers. The pain was gone now. Her arm neither burned nor glowed. Iona hesitated before she looked, expecting to see only a mess of scorched flesh at the end of her arm or even just a blackened skeleton. She took a deep breath and looked down, surprised by what she saw. Not a single burn upon her skin nor any seared flesh to be seen. She could move and feel with it just fine. Iona flexed her fingers but felt nothing out of the ordinary. She had no explanation. She’d read about such things in the arcane legends, stories of arcanists commanding fire like it was an extension of their own bodies, but she’d never been taught anything like it. Iona thought, and then it started to make sense. Llannaeia, the anger she’d felt after she left the ship. Yes, it all made sense. The way it grew and burned inside her to the point she felt like she could explode. Now she felt many things: excited, terrified, but most of all, powerful. This was the kind of Arcana she wanted to learn, the kind of power she yearned for. It was almost intoxicating. She wanted to do it again but she never wanted to feel pain like that for as long as she lived. There had to be a way to eliminate it. Sahel would probably know more. She had so many questions for him. 

Sahel.

Iona’s heart sunk when she thought of her mentor, and remembered their earlier conversation. He was going to kill her.

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