Book 3 in the Darkest Light Trilogy
Darkness Falls
“Imagine a future. A dark future, a future with blood, with war, with death. A future, that will come true, unless you stop it.”
“The Lord of the Dead is rising, and the rest of Underworld with him. He plans to rule the land, to have all as his slaves. He plans to start a war, a war in which we must fight, to keep this land free!”
They roared, yells of anger and indignation, at the thought of their land being held captive. Flash looked out over the courtyard, where Fire Elementals of all ages had gathered to hear her speak. She waited for the noise to die down, before she spoke again.
“My name is Ashia Darkstone, heiress to the Crystal Empire. I must defeat the Lord of the Dead, in order to claim my throne and restore the Crystal Empire to its former glory.”
Whispers broke out, including from her own friends, standing behind her on the castle battlements. The heir to the Crystal Empire? Nobody knew that such a person existed. As far as they knew, the Crystal Empire was gone, perhaps forever.
“But I cannot fight alone,” Flash continued, over the whispers. “I need an army. An army that is loyal, to me, or whoever may lead them. An army that is willing to make sacrifices, perhaps even the sacrifices of their own lives. I need an army that is brave, that they will walk into battle with courage. I need an army that contains the truest of true hearts.”
“And I ask you; will you be that army? Will you do whatever it takes, to defeat the Underworld? Will you fight with me, for the good of your country!”
Flash raised her sword into the air, the fires of the Mountain reflecting off its enchanted blade. Cheers erupted around, echoing off the jagged walls. She smiled, and they cheered louder. Those who owned them raised their swords up to her.
“I think it is needless to say that they will fight for you,” someone said from behind her.
Flash turned, sheathing her sword. “Thank you, Your Majesty,” she said, bowing.
King Obsidian quickly grabbed her arm. “I do not think you need to bow to me, Ashia Darkstone. If anything, it is I who should bow to you.” Flash blushed as the king bowed to her. Blaize glared as her father bowed. Obviously she did not think her father’s words true.
King Obsidian straightened, and their gazes met for a second. “Is it true,” he said after a moment, “that you are really the lost heir to the Crystal Empire? Joined by blood to the great Empress Merlinda?”
Flash nodded. “Yes, it is true. Empress Merlinda was my mother.”
“Was.” The king’s eyes saddened. “So, she has really passed, then. I’d thought- hoped that she was merely held captive.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “She was a great friend of mine. Our kingdoms traded often. I can only hope that I could do the same with you, after this war has ended.” He nodded to Flash, and strode off.
Flash turned to her friends, who were all watching her. “Well, it looks like we have an army.”
“So, you are not who you say you are,” Karruk said distrustfully. “Or, were you lying to our army?”
Flash winced. She had been dreading this conversation, ever since she had told the Fire Elementals who she was. “I wasn’t lying to anybody!” she said.
“But you can’t be two people!” Stella said. “Who are you, Ashia Darkstone, or Flash?”
“I am both,” she said.
Flash took out her sword. They all took a hasty step back, worried she would strike them down. But she lay her sword flat against her palms, and showed them the side that said Flash.
“I am Flash, though I am not the same Flash you first met. I have changed, in many ways. But you are still my friends, and I hope I am yours.” She flipped the sword, so that they could now see the side that said Ashia. “But I am also Ashia Darkstone, daughter of Empress Merlinda and heiress to the Crystal Empire. Memories of me were wiped from your minds, and the minds of everybody in this land, when I was taken by the Lord of the Dead and put in that cave.”
She sheathed her sword, and gazed at them. Except for Luna, they all looked amazed, but there was still a slight distrust. “It is your choice whether you believe me or not.”
“But why didn’t you tell us when we first met you?” Stella asked.
“I didn’t know,” Flash replied. “My memory was wiped too.”
“There’s more to this story, isn’t there?” Karruk said.
Flash nodded. “Yes. But it is not my story alone to tell. There is another, who is as much a part of this as I am. I will tell it with her, or not at all.”
“Who is she?” Stella asked.
“Someone who I hope you will meet, in time.” Flash felt a flicker of sadness. She still had not been able to contact Cynder. She did not even know if her sister still lived.
“You aren’t going to tell us any more, are you,” Blaize asked, anger simmering in her eyes. She resented Flash for not telling her story.
“Not yet,” Flash corrected. “I hope that someday I will be able to tell it to you.”
Flash stepped into the room Blaize’s father had so thoughtfully provided for her. She shut the door behind her, and slid down it until she was sitting on the floor. The anger she had felt when Smoulder died, and then again when she left the Underworld had simmered away, and was replaced by sadness, and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Sometimes Flash wanted to just shut the door on the entire world, and scream her heart out. But she had to keep strong, for everyone who depended on her, especially her friends.
She’d been trying so hard to keep her smile on for her friends; having at least one cheerful person, always smiling, helped more than she ever could have imagined. But, here, when she was alone, she could finally let her smile slip. She buried her head in her arms, and closed her eyes.
Flash ran down the narrow corridors of the Lord’s castle, Cynder right behind her. They arrived at the portal room, and Cynder stepped forward to open it. We’re going to make it! Flash thought. Cynder opened her mouth, about say the words to open the portal.
“I see you’re not as loyal to me as I thought.”
Flash whipped around. Not again! The Lord had Cynder in his hand. He was holding her up by the neck, and she was struggling for air, but still managing to scream. Flash stared at Cynder in horror, and the sound drained away around her, except for the sound of her own heartbeat. Then she realised that Cynder’s lips were moving, and all the sound came back in a rush.
“Flash, get out of here! Go! Leave me and go!” Cynder was screaming hoarsely.
“No! I won’t leave you!” Flash cried, but it was as if the words were coming from a stranger’s mouth.
“No, you won’t,” The Lord of the Dead agreed with her. He flung Cynder back against the wall, her head hitting the stone with a sickening crunch.
“Cynder!” Flash yelled, but again the voice sounded strange and far away, like it didn’t belong to her. She ran towards her sister, but she was pulled back by an iron grip. She turned to face Luna. “Let me go!” She struggled and pulled, then, realising it was no use, slumped against the floor, her eyes on her sister. “Cynder!” she sobbed, and the sound drained away again. The before she knew it, Luna was dragging her through the portal, and they were leaving Cynder behind, all alone at the mercy of the Lord. Flash reached out her hand towards her sister as the portal closed around her, crying out...
Flash sat bolt upright, then slumped back down, as she realised it was just a dream. She’d been having the same nightmare over and over again, and each time she left Cynder was harder than the last.
She stood, and stumbled over to the seat by the window. She collapsed into it, and stared out over the beautiful gardens below. They were full of plants, a lot of them unique to Fire Mountain. All Flash could think about was how much Cynder would have loved them. With a sad sigh, she closed her eyes, and tried to contact Cynder for what felt like the millionth time.
Cynder, are you there?
Flash sniffed, and a tear fell from her eye, dripping down her cheek.
If you can hear me, please respond. I just- I just need to know that you’re okay- that you’re alive, just something, tell me anything!.
Flash opened her eyes, brushed away the tear, and put on her bravest smile, ready to go back out. She stood up and took a pace towards the door.
Flash stumbled back and fell back down into the seat.
Cynder! Oh, thank goodness you’re alive! Flash could have sobbed in relief.
Listen, I’m okay for now. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Don’t worry about me too much. Flash blinked and smiled through her tears. Trust Cynder to try and joke to cheer her up.
Is the Lord trying to use you to get to me? Flash asked anxiously.
Yes, but don’t worry about it. I won’t tell him anything.
Tell him if you have to. I don’t want you to suffer because of me.
There was a pause.
Cynder? Flash asked cautiously.
Flash, you have to go. Cynder sounded worried.
What? Why? This is the first time I’ve talked to you since the Underworld. I don’t want to leave now.
Flash, just go! And promise you won’t try to contact me again!
I’m not going to do that!
Do it! Now!
Flash blinked, taken aback. Cynder had never sounded so angry or scared before, especially not with her. Something must be seriously wrong. She tried to break their link, but sudden, sharp, torturous pain shot through her. She fell to the ground, screaming. She could hear Cynder’s screams too, their voices mingling. The pain intensified, until Flash could stand it no longer and she blacked out.

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