me.” I pushed through the mass of bodies until I came face-to-face with him.
Phoenixflies fluttered in my stomach.
were perfect,” Nolan said.
heart beat faster. “You saw it?”
tucked my hair behind my ear. “Could you tell who I was?”
course I recognized you,” he said. “You were the best dancer there.”
laughed and tugged his arm to lead him away from the stage. “Now I know you’re
lying. Breanna’s our best dancer, and Shayla might be better than me.”
didn’t notice that,” he said. “I just noticed you.”
cheeks were surely bright red. I took his hand. “Come on,” I said. “Let’s look
was always a risk, walking around the festival with Nolan, but with all the
Fintan focused on making the festival grand, no one had ever noticed me walking
with an outsider. Or if they noticed, they didn’t say anything. We’d done it on
many occasions since we’d first met as children at this very festival.
I still kept an eye out for my mama. I didn’t want to explain Nolan to her
yet—not until I’d figured out how to get his family readmitted to the clan.
worried all the time.
knew that Nolan and I were very good friends—I didn’t keep much from Papa. But
he didn’t know about my dream to bring Nolan’s family back into the clan. Some
hopes were too fragile to speak aloud.
and I cut through the crowd to the edge of the festival, past the smell of
roasting meat, past the booths selling trinkets and potions made from ash, and
past a storyweaver enrapturing the crowd with the help of fiery strands that
flowed from his fingers. Someday, I vowed, I would practice that level of
vision unfurled in my mind, of Nolan and I taking our mage tests together, of
entertaining the festival attendees with magecraft side by side. Then I rolled
my eyes at my own thoughts. The council would never let me do magecraft in the
festival—but they couldn’t stop me from learning in secret. And I wouldn’t
stop. I was too drawn to the magic. The elemental fire serenaded me, begging me
to plumb its depths.
we reached a quiet spot, far from most of the festivalgoers, we sat together at
one of the long tables, right next to a glass jar full of
fireflies. The insects faded in and out, glowing one moment and invisible the
next in the dark.
yards away, a mage suspended a ball of flame in the air to the delight of a
thronging crowd of children. He moved the position of his hands, and the ball
elongated and took shape, becoming a fiery dragonbeast.
Fintan told stories about two kinds of dragons. The first, the dragonbeasts,
which had the cunning of a person and the personality of a cat, were great
lizards that flew and breathed fire. They hadn’t been seen in a thousand years,
some stories said. The elders said there had never been any such beast. But I
didn’t believe them.
second kind of dragon were warriors, who wielded the fire with incredible
power, bonded to it in a truer, deeper way than our most talented mages could
ever hope to be. The dragon-warriors had vanished from the earth around the
same time the dragonbeasts did. If the
stories were to be believed.
chuckled. No point mourning something I’d never see.
children squealed, and I took Nolan’s hand.
your favorite part of all this?” I asked.
rolled my eyes. “Be serious.”
thought that should be obvious. Seeing you dance.”
that,” I said. “You’d come to the festival even if you didn’t know me, wouldn’t
ran a hand through his sandy hair. “It feels like home, I guess. I mean, don’t
get me wrong, my papa’s always made a good life for us. Home is with him and my
sister and my brothers, as well as the people my papa takes under his wing. There’s
usually a few of those at any one time. But it’d be nice to have a community,
you know? Something like this where we’re all working together for a greater
purpose. I mean, I guess my papa . . .” He fell silent.
elbowed him. “What?”
shook his head. “Nothing. Sorry. Just thinking. I . . . I guess I just love
seeing all the beauty. Everything that the Fintan have built. Even though I
wasn’t raised here, it’s where I come from. I want to belong here.”
want that for you too.”
put his arm around me, and I leaned my head against his shoulder. “I know you
do, Kyla. It just can’t be. The council won’t allow it. I know that. Deep down,
I think you do too.”
the distance, the first of the sky lanterns rose up from the earth to kiss the sky.
Though Fintan fire blazed in every color imaginable, we used only golden-white,
blue, and purple flame in the lanterns.
always took my breath away.
lanterns rose into the air, the thin paper globes held aloft by the heat of the
flame. They glimmered as if a thousand stars had come down to greet us and were
now returning to the heavens.
“This is my favorite part,” Nolan
whispered. “Besides seeing you dance.”
too.” We sat there, in the silence of that perfect moment, for a long time. I
thanked the eternal flame that such bliss existed in the world.
the lanterns burned through their fuel and fell dark, sinking from the sky in
soft, silent waves, I focused my gaze on the glassed-in fireflies. “You know
I’m not an optimist by nature, Nolan. It’s not that I have blind faith that
everything will work out. It’s just . . .”
That I won’t give up until
what?” he asked.
. . . I’m determined to see it through. And you know I don’t give up on
anything I put my mind to.”
Brannan, what are you doing?” screeched a voice behind me.
About the Author
Catherine Jones Payne is a Seattle native who loves the written word, international travel, crashing waves, and good coffee. Her earliest memory involves pulling up a rolling chair to her parents’ old DOS computer—while wearing a tiara, naturally—and tapping out a story of kidnapped princesses. By day she’s the managing editor of Quill Pen Editorial and the editor of Splickety Magazine. She lives in Waco, TX with her historian husband, Brendan, and their cats, Mildred and Minerva.