Ignited in Darkness
by S. Alessandro Martinez
In a world where magic is punishable by torture and death, a mother will go to any lengths to protect her daughter. But will it be enough in the end?
Contact info for S. Alessandro Martinez
* Website – https://salessandromartinez.com/
* Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/salessandromartinezwriter/
* Twitter – https://twitter.com/@The_Morda_Shin/
Talya trudged through the dirty streets of Larluna, the ever-present briny stench wafting through the air from Kassymal Sea and from the large fish market that set up shop there every day. The sun was quickly sinking below the watery horizon beyond the sea, leaving behind a celestial canvas painted with flaming reds, bruised purples, and cosmic blues.
Her feet aching from wading barefoot through the shallow water at the sea’s edge all day collecting mussels to sell, Talya breathed a sigh of relief when she finally spied her home down the darkening lane. The small wooden hut she shared with her eleven-year-old daughter, Nevva, was by no means luxurious; rather it was drafty, cramped, and dirty. The knowledge that she would most likely never save enough coin to move her and Nevva to a better home weighed heavily on her spirit. This was the best she could do with Hektor gone.
As she neared the hut’s weathered door, Talya heard a soft giggle of mirth from within. Quickly she seized the handle and pushed the door inward. Hurrying inside, she saw Nevva kneeling down at the hearth, minute sparks—followed by tiny jets of fire—seemed to be erupting from the girl’s outstretched palm to ignite a small pile of kindling that lay on the iron grate, bright orange flames springing to life.
“Nevva!” Talya hissed in panic, promptly shutting the door behind her and rushing to her daughter.
“Mama!” Nevva cried out, startled by her mother’s voice. As Talya grabbed her arm, a stray spark landed on Nevva’s coarse, brown dress, smoldering briefly before she patted it out. Nevva stared at the black singe mark, noticeable even among the dozens of others already staining her clothing.
“Nevva, what have I repeatedly told you about casting magics?” Talya demanded, her voice an urgent whisper as if afraid a passerby might overhear her words. “What if you burned the house down? What if someone saw you?” She struggled to hide the naked fear in her words as tears welled up in the girl’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, mama,” Nevva murmured, wringing her sooty hands together nervously. “I…I just wanted to practice. I like conjuring.” Her large dark eyes lifted apologetically to meet Talya’s.
“I know,” Talya said with a weary sigh, her voice softening. She gathered Nevva in her arms and hugged her tightly, watching as the flames consumed the kindling. “But you know what happens to unregistered mages when they are caught. I can’t lose you.”
She felt her daughter’s slim body shudder against her, and heard the child choke back a quiet sob.
Talya never hid from the girl the fact that the King was utterly ruthless when it came to those who could wield magic. It was said, though Talya wasn’t sure she believed the story, that the Mother of Light herself had appeared before the King and declared that mages were to be culled like the beasts they were. For if allowed to flourish, magic would become a festering disease upon the land. Many sorceresses, witches, enchanters, conjurers, and wizards had fled to the West where others of their kind resided. Those unable to flee had been slaughtered, with a few being forced into registering with the Kingdom and into slavery, though if they refused, they were sentenced to torturous, agonizing deaths.
Nevva’s magic had begun to manifest at an early age. Hektor had promised Talya that he would figure out a way to keep them all safe. As a soldier of the Sun Guard, Hektor knew what horrors would befall Nevva if she were put into registration. Hektor had vowed he would never let the King get his hands on his child. But Hektor was no longer here to honor his vow. He had despised the King in secret, but had been a warrior of purest nobility and valor. He had saved the King’s life from an assassin many years ago, but it had cost him his own.
Many a night, Talya would lie awake and alone, staring into the darkness as desperate, angry thoughts roiled about in her head. How dare Hektor leave them like this? she demanded. How dare he leave them all alone by giving his life for the wretched King? In anguish, she would then cry herself to sleep, the guilt of cursing a dead man for his death creating an intolerable and bottomless emptiness within her heart.
Nevva brought her mother a steaming cup of tea as she sat herself before the warm, welcoming hearth, her feet finally thanking her for the rest. Talya sipped at the comforting tea, watching the skinny orange flames dancing atop the crackling logs Nevva had added to the fire.
When was the last time she had danced? she wondered idly. When was the last time she or Nevva had had fun? Back when Hektor had been alive…
“Mama,” Nevva suddenly said in a low whisper, bringing Talya back to grim reality.
“What is it?” Talya asked taking in the change in the child’s expression. Nevva stood motionless, her head tilted and a concerned look on her dirty face.
“Don’t you hear that?” her daughter breathed softly, her eyes unfocused, still listening for something.
Talya stood up quickly, nearly dropping the tea cup. She thought she heard something now that she listened. But what? It seemed to be a distant rumbling noise, growing steadily louder and closer…Marching feet?
Suddenly Talya’s breath caught in her throat and her eyes widened with dawning realization. Swiftly setting her cup of tea on the table, she crossed the room to the weathered front door, praying to the Twin Mothers that the noise wasn’t what it sounded like. Her heart began pounding so savagely that it drowned out everything else for a brief moment.
“Stay here,” she told Nevva as she grabbed a ragged shawl, wrapping it around her thin shoulders. Before Nevva could respond, Talya had stepped out into the frigid night and shut the door quietly behind her.
Nevva stood frozen to the spot, staring at the door, her back running with sweat from the heat of the fire behind her. Her body shook from the nervousness welling up within.
They couldn’t be out here again, could they? They were never out this far so often. She watched the closed door as if hoping to see through it.
Nevva didn’t realize she had been holding her breath and almost let out a scream as her mother stumbled back inside, quickly shutting the door, a frightened look on her lined face.
“Mama, w-what is it?” Nevva asked, her voice faltering, as if the words wanted to remain hidden inside her constricting throat. “It…It’s not them again, is it?”
“You have to hide,” was all her mother said in a tone that sent chills down Nevva’s spine despite the fire’s heat. Talya crouched down and dragged the large threadbare rug off the center of the floor, revealing the small trapdoor that led to the tiny crawlspace Hektor had constructed for such an emergency.
“By the twin Mothers,” Nevva began to sob, realizing her fears were correct.
“Nevva, I know you hate it down there,” Talya said, her voice urgent as she placed her hands gently on the crying girl’s cheeks. “But we can’t let them discover you. I can’t let them take you away.”
The sound of marching was growing louder by the moment. Nevva nodded solemnly, her body shivering, and she wiped the tears from her face with a scorched sleeve. She turned toward the fireplace and waved her arm in the pattern she had practiced many times before. She felt the exhilarating energy course through her, like an electric current emanating from her core. The flames died immediately, darkening the fireplace and filling it with shadows, as if it had not been illuminated for years. Nevva then waved her hand again, this time toward the oil lantern that swung on a rusty chain from the ceiling. It too went dark, as if a noiseless and unfelt wind had blown it out.
“Don’t make a sound,” Talya pleaded, holding her daughter’s eyes for a moment. “No matter what happens.” She then kissed the girl’s forehead and helped her down into the dark, claustrophobic hole. She swung the trapdoor shut as silently as she could, pulling the rug back in place to hide it.
The sound of the marching had stopped, and Talya could now distinctly hear voices out in the street. She sat at the small table and took a sip of her now-cold tea, her hands shaking, splashing droplets all over herself. She took comfort in the darkness that now enveloped her. Nevva was so clever. Perhaps the lack of light would provide enough doubt that anyone was home.
Several agonizing minutes passed by. Perhaps they would leave soon. Please, please just leave, Talya thought. Nevva had not made the slightest noise. She was such a wonderful girl, truly her father’s daughter. Talya felt a hot tear run down her cold cheek. She couldn’t lose Nevva to the King too.
Talya jumped from her seat, knocking over her cup, spilling what remained of the tea all over the table as an angry fist suddenly pounded on the front door, shaking it so violently that she feared it would come crashing down off its hinges. Talya stood in place, frozen into silence.
If the house is dark and noiseless, she thought, they’ll leave…Please…
Muffled voices seemed to be right outside the door now, saying something to each other. Talya couldn’t quite make out the words, but she got the feeling that they might just go away. She stood completely still in the dark room, as motionless as a statue, waiting.
Too late, Talya realized that her overturned tea cup had been slowly rolling, and had finally reached the table’s edge.
It did not stop.
Her heart seemed to skip a beat as it fell with exaggerated slowness, as if time had come to a grinding halt. She dove toward it, seeing her own movement in slowed time, but she wasn’t quick enough.
The mug, as well as the silence, shattered into pieces. Time swung back into full speed like cannon fire.
Just then, the door was violently kicked open. A tall, hulking brute of a man in gleaming white armor stepped inside. Four similarly outfitted men and women followed him through the door, a dozen other soldiers carrying torches visible outside. Talya slowly rose from where she had fallen on the floor, pulling herself to her feet. She could see the royal symbol of a radiant sun proudly emblazoned upon the soldiers’ breastplates, marking them unquestionably as Sun Knights.
The knight who had entered first stood two feet in front of her, not saying a word. As his silent glare lingered on her, Talya’s hands began to shake again, a bead of sweat running down her forehead.
After a few soundless seconds, that seemed to last for hours, the large man removed his helmet, revealing an ugly scarred face with a large brow, stringy black hair, and a large square jaw that looked as if it could bite through steel. He offered her a menacing grin, showing off his brown and uneven teeth before he spoke.
“We’re here for your daughter,” he said, a tone of malicious delight clear in his voice. The sound was like a knife scraping against glass, and Talya almost collapsed in terror.
“I don’t-“ she began in a small voice, but he quickly interrupted.
“There’s no point in hiding the truth,” the man snapped. “We know she’s here, and we know she is a mage!” His words felt like a physical assault on Talya, as if she had just been violently slapped. “And speaking of hiding, where is the little witch?” He slowly surveyed the tiny room, like a wolf searching for its prey.
Talya was frightened beyond words now. What was she going to do? She had seen the King’s men burn down homes in search of someone. Her entire body shivered like the last autumn leaf on a tree branch.
But before she could respond, another knight stepped forward, removing his helmet as well, revealing shaggy blond hair sticking to his sweaty forehead. Talya was stunned. He looked a few years older than last she had seen him, but she recognized him immediately.
“Petrus,” Talya choked out in a voice barely above a whisper. She had not seen him since…not since Hektor had been alive, when he had served with Petrus and the other Sun Knights.
“I’m sorry, Talya,” Petrus said, sorrow and regret coloring his words, his gray eyes never quite meeting hers. “You cannot hide what your daughter is any longer. There have been too many eyewitness reports of her using elemental magic. She has been…careless.”
“Elemental magic,” the brutish knight gasped theatrically. “How disgusting.” He turned to look at the others. “You hear that? Elemental magic! This one probably has kaythan blood in her. Or perhaps the child’s father…How absolutely sickening.” He barked a short grating laugh, that ended in a snork, and spat a large yellowish glob on the floor as the other knights laughed along with him.
“Please don’t take her away,” Talya said in a voice so quiet she wasn’t even sure she had uttered the words aloud. This couldn’t be happening. “She’s a good girl. She’s never hurt anyone! You can’t take her…” Ignoring the brute, she desperately tried to catch Petrus’ eye. He turned away.
“Of course we can,” the brutish knight sneered with his mocking grin. “It’s the King’s orders.” He turned away from Talya. “Come out, come out, kitty cat,” he called out in a tone that dripped with perverse hunger. There was no response. His eyes narrowed and his smile faded. “If you don’t come out, I’m going to slit your mother’s pretty little throat.”
“You can’t!” Petrus squawked, quickly turning shocked eyes at the brute.
Briefly closing her eyes, Talya prayed to the twin Mothers that her daughter would remain hidden, but at the man’s threat of violence, Nevva immediately shouted out from her hiding place, begging him not to harm her mother. The brute’s grin returned, and Talya could see triumph flash in his eyes.
The threadbare rug in the middle of the room began to rise upward, as if of its own volition. It was hurriedly thrust aside, and a small, slender figure climbed up from below, looking both defeated and terrified.
“I’m sorry, mama,” Nevva sobbed, her voice thick with fear as she looked at her mother. The soldiers in white armor quickly grabbed her, roughly forcing her into manacles and dragging her outside. Petrus and the lead knight followed.
“Petrus, please,” Talya pleaded in anguish, running outside and grabbing his arm. As he turned, she fell to her knees before him, staring up into his eyes.
“I can’t,” he replied mournfully, still unable to meet her gaze. “I am truly sorry. Hektor forgive me.” He pried her arms off of him and turned away to join his comrades.
“I almost forgot,” the brutish knight said, snapping his gloved fingers. He turned back to Talya, grabbing her and forcibly lifting her up off the ground by her arm, causing a wail of pain to escape her lips. He looked at her for a moment, as if examining an insect he’d found on his shoulder, and then viciously threw her back into the house as if she were a doll of rags. Taking another soldier’s sword, he barred the door with the weapon. He then shouted gleefully, “For harboring an unregistered user of magic, you have been condemned to death!”
“W-What?” Petrus sputtered out, choking on the word.
“No!” Nevva screamed out, she felt her stomach tying itself into a knot of panic as if she had swallowed an icy serpent that writhed about. “Leave her alone!”
“And you, Petrus,” the brutish knight said, ignoring the hysterical child, and taking the lit torch proffered by one of the other knights, “get to do the honors.” He then ordered two nearby soldiers to throw the buckets of pitch they were carrying onto the small house.
He handed Petrus the torch with the air of a man conferring a great honor.
Petrus stood there stunned, staring at the burning stick in his hand, hearing the pounding of his own heart in his head. He couldn’t do this, that heart told him. This woman was his friend’s wife. Had been his friend’s wife. Still…
“Do it, Petrus,” the brute demanded angrily, expelling the harsh words like venom. “Or I shall have you charged with insubordination, and abetting a mage.”
“Please, don’t!” Nevva screamed, struggling wildly, but vainly, against the heavy chains.
“Do it now!”
Petrus still hesitated, and he felt a crushing weight upon his shoulders. A cold drop of rain fell onto his face, though he didn’t seem to notice. He felt ripped apart by indecision and conflicting loyalties. He was a Sun Knight; this was his duty. But did he not also have a duty to friendship? He saw that other villagers had come warily out of their homes to observe the spectacle. Looking back at the tiny house, his eyes came to rest upon Talya’s pale face, visible through the window. Her face reflected a level of sadness he had never before witnesses, and averted his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Hektor,” Petrus whispered, and tossed the torch onto Talya’s roof.
“NO!” Nevva screamed ferociously, struggling to escape like a crazed berserker. The pitch that had been thrown upon the roof quickly caught fire, the light drizzle unable to quench the angry flames. In moments, the house was engulfed within a small inferno, and over the crackling of flames, Talya’s shrieks of agony were clearly audible from within the oven.
Petrus turned his back on the flames and walked with the brutish knight away toward the other soldiers as the skies opened up and the chill rain became a downpour. He stopped in front of Nevva, staring at her feet.
“Nevva,” he said, his eyes slowly moving upward to the face that reminded him so much of Hektor, “I am so sorr-“
His voice faltered and he took an involuntary step back. Nevva’s face was livid with hatred and fury, but it wasn’t her expression that caused Petrus’ body to erupt with gooseflesh and his breath to catch in his throat. He stood as if paralyzed, staring at Nevva’s eyes, which were glowing with an unnatural white light, as if a lightning storm were brewing within her skull.
“Magic!” one of the knights roared and unsheathed her sword, prompting many of the others to follow suit. But before they could do anything, a mighty crash of thunder blasted from above, as if the celestial heavens themselves had been rent open to unleash a deluge of pure hatred.
Suddenly, a flash of brilliantly white light momentarily blinded all those standing outside. It illuminated the entire village as if day had just burst instantly upon them all, an apocalyptic bomb of pure luminescence. All was silent for a fraction of a second, though it seemed to all caught within the blast like an age passed by in that fulgent onslaught.
Another deafening crash shook the very ground beneath them, as if a giant’s hammer had struck the world’s core.
Nevva opened the eyes she didn’t know she had shut, feeling like she was awakening from a dream. She had felt an energy swirling intensely inside of her like nothing she had ever experienced before. She looked through the downpour at the ground around her, seeing that it had turned to scorched glass. The manacles that had restrained her were now nothing more than charred marks on her wrists. Before her, all the knights lay fallen and motionless, steam rising from their blackened armor, and the overpowering odor of cooked flesh could be smelled despite the rain.
She saw the twisted form of Petrus lying at her feet, his blond hair singed black, and his eyes now only smoldering craters set within the burnt flesh of his once handsome face.
She felt confused…and strangely elated. Had…had she summoned the storm? She had never even considered wielding magic so powerful before.
Her head suddenly snapped up, as memory crashed back into her mind.
Nevva’s home was longer burned, the torrent of rain leaving only smoldering specks of heat.
She ran to the blackened front door and used all her strength to remove the sword that was barring her entry, barely noticing that she severely burned her hands on the hot steel. The charred door swung open, collapsing as it hit the wall.
She now saw her mother, lying curled on the remains of the rug. Shaking, Nevva knelt down in the wet ashes and gently caressed Talya’s burnt, lifeless face. Her anguished tears mixed with the incessant raindrops that fell through the ruined roof. She looked helplessly around. Her heart had been dashed to pieces. Her body shook uncontrollably as sobs consumed her, but it was a brief bout.
She took a deep, shuddering breath and lifted her face to the black sky. A scream of utter sorrow and of pure rage emanated from her mouth, and an earth-rumbling peal of thunder answered her. She slammed a fist to the floor again and again, and the ground shook angrily, as if something were ready to burst forth and consume the world. She could feel electric energy coursing through her veins; energy like she had never felt before; roiling, building, vivifying every cell in her body.
She would make the King pay dearly for this, she vowed. His life would become ruin. His body would break. His heart would know her sorrow.
Nevva again screamed her fury into the night as the house crumbled around her. A new black dawn was rising, and she would be a cleansing scourge upon this land.