Chapter 2 of
by Lauren Stinton
The path between the sea and the inn where they were staying was less than half a mile. Not a long distance. But by the time they staggered through the inn’s front door and stood dripping in the entryway, it was like they wore rain clouds instead of clothing.
Radiance looked down at her sandals and watched in fascination as the puddle around them grew wider and wider.
“Radiance,” Mr. Liam said, annoyance in his voice as he pulled his wet tunic away from his skin. “Please stop standing there and get upstairs to your room, so you can change your clothes. We aren’t going to wait for you for lunch today.” He wrung out the bottom of his tunic with both hands.
Radiance loved the feel of the water in her clothes. This was as cold as she ever got, when water was flush against her skin. She knew what fire was like and constantly felt its heat stirring inside her. Hers was a gift that never completely stopped working. But cold was different. It was very hard for her to find coldness.
Her sandals squished and left spots of water on the floor as she hurried into the dining room with the other schoolgirls. The stairs to the second floor stood in the corner next to a large brick fireplace. The air smelled heavily of garlic, fresh bread, and—
Radiance paused, her hand on the banister.
That was odd. She could smell the sea too.
The smell of salt was so strong that it was like the entire inn had been picked up and set right on the shore, with the waves lapping at the sand only a few feet away. The room hadn’t smelled like this earlier today. She was sure of it. Was there salt on her clothes from the wind? Wouldn’t that be lovely?
She grabbed the short sleeve of her dress and was pulling it toward her nose when she became aware of someone looking at her.
The man sat alone at a table against the far wall. The room was darker now than it had been yesterday at this time, because of the storm, so the lamps were all lit and the light made the man’s bald scalp look shiny. He didn’t have a single hair on the top of his head, but his beard was dark and thick.
He looked at her as if he knew her, but she found she didn’t mind his stare. He had the kind of eyes that instantly let her know he was nice to people. When he smiled at her, it made his beard move.
The smell of the sea grew stronger. She took a deep breath and smiled back at him.
Was he a flamemaker, like she was?
Maybe he was a flamemaker.
“Radiance,” Mr. Liam growled behind her. “If I have to say your name one more time—”
Radiance ran up the steps.
A few minutes later, wearing another dress that was unfortunately dry, Radiance walked down the steps and into the main room. Mr. Liam sat at the large table in the back, where the class had been taking all their meals. He had changed his tunic, and his hair stood up in all directions like a patch of grass.
Radiance glanced over at the other man—the flamemaker, she hoped—with the beard and the kind eyes. Once again she found him watching her. He lifted his hand and motioned to her, and she paused beside his table.
“Cousin,” he said.
It sounded like some kind of greeting, and she looked at him curiously. This was not her cousin—she didn’t have any cousins. At least, none she knew of. All her family had died a long time ago, when she was just a little girl.
He nodded toward Mr. Liam at the other table. “That is not your father.”
It didn’t sound like a question, but Radiance didn’t know what else to do with it, so she explained, “That’s my school teacher.”
A deep frown dropped across the man’s face. “You…go to a lander school?”
This man used strange words, didn’t he? It was almost like he thought he was talking to her in a different language, and she should naturally understand him. “No, it’s just a regular school,” she said.
He studied her.
She took another deep breath, trying to hold on to the smell of the sea in the air. Leaning forward a little, she asked in a hope-filled whisper, “Are you a flamemaker?”
None of her teachers were flamemakers, and there weren’t any flamemakers among the students either. She was the only one. If this man were a flamemaker, she would understand why he smiled, and the fire inside her would be very happy. Only fire could understand fire. Every other gift spoke different words.
Surprise flickered through the man’s eyes. “No. Certainly not.”
He spoke with such passion that she flinched. What? Didn’t he like flamemakers? Even Mr. Liam, who got annoyed with her sometimes, didn’t mind that she was a flamemaker.
“Why would you even say such a thing?” the man asked.
She couldn’t stop what happened next, even though she tried.
It was like fire itself, or maybe like the sea. Something dangerous and bigger than she was. Her heart started aching in that particular way it did, and she knew she was either going to start crying or set something on fire. Mr. Liam always told her sternly, “Control yourself,” but she didn’t know how.
The man started frowning again. He didn’t seem to have any idea why she wouldn’t like the way he talked to her, and the ache in her heart grew worse.
Before she did something she would have to apologize for, she turned quickly and walked away, her arms crossed over her chest, her shoulders bent. When her heart hurt, she couldn’t stand up straight or look people in the eyes, and sometimes when she cried, it came out as little drops of fire. Bad things might happen when she cried.
When she reached Mr. Liam’s table, she flopped down in her chair and stared at the empty cup in front of her. She knew some of the other girls were looking at her, but it was like she couldn’t see them. Fire flickered across her vision, coating everything in a red-orange glow. Heat curled through her belly.
Peace, she told herself sternly. That man doesn’t matter, and it’s been eight days since you cried. Eight! You’ve been doing so well! You’ve set nothing on fire. You haven’t burned anyone—not even one of those silly weathermakers. Don’t cry now. Don’t cry.
Mr. Liam’s voice broke through the fire haze. “Are you all right, Radiance?” His voice hardened slightly. “What did that man say to you?”
Mr. Liam was not a flamemaker. He wouldn’t understand.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said without looking at him and then did her best to think icy thoughts. She needed to cool down the fire inside her before it started destroying things.
It was hard to be a flamemaker sometimes.
Just wait until tonight, she thought, remembering the promise she’d made the sea. Everything will be better tonight.
And it was.
But not the way she thought.
– R –
Comment below or click here to find us on Facebook. The next chapter will (probably) be posted on Friday, a week from today. Sign up for our mailing list below so you won't miss an installment.
Copyright notice: © 2019 by Lauren Stinton. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.