Please welcome Emily Victoria with
This Golden Flame
an Inkyard Press title
An Ember in the Ashes meets Mask of Shadows in Emily Victoria's #ownvoices debut YA fantasy, This Golden Flame, in which asexual Karis, a servant to the mysterious Scriptorium, accidentally awakens long-dormant automaton Alix, initiating an epic adventure full of magic, rebellion, and finding where you truly belong.
Orphaned and forced to serve her country’s ruling group of scribes, Karis wants nothing more than to find her brother, long ago shipped away. But family bonds don’t matter to the Scriptorium, whose sole focus is unlocking the magic of an ancient automaton army.
In her search for her brother, Karis does the seemingly impossible?she awakens a hidden automaton. Intelligent, with a conscience of his own, Alix has no idea why he was made. Or why his father?their nation’s greatest traitor?once tried to destroy the automatons.
Suddenly, the Scriptorium isn’t just trying to control Karis; it’s hunting her. Together with Alix, Karis must find her brother…and the secret that’s held her country in its power for centuries.
The hallways of the Tallis Scriptorium are always so black at night. Statues and busts loom out of the dark and ribbed columns stretch down from the roof like pale fingers. I’ve taken my sandals off, twined their laces together, and hung them off my shoulder where they can’t make any noise, and the cold of the floor leeches through the soles of my feet. I pull my himation tighter around me, the rustling of the cloak a bare whisper. If this were day, I would hear the quiet scratch of reed pens against parchment in the study rooms to the east, the droning buzz of a master’s lecture from the hall. But in the night, it’s so stiflingly quiet. Like a tomb.
Even after seven years I’m still not used to it. To the quiet. The dark. Back on Heretis, the island I grew up on, there was always noise, always light, even in the run-down streets my brother and I haunted, where not many could afford oil for their lamps. Here on Tallis, the black is deep and somber, every door locked and every shutter latched firmly shut, as if the masters fear thieves who might lurk out there in the wilderness and the night.
If only they knew the thieves were already inside.
I slink down the shadowy hall, my eyes straining to navigate the black, even though it isn’t really the dark that’s a risk. Being out of bed this late would earn me a lashing, but at least that’s all I’d get. The true risk is in anyone dis- covering what I stole: the ledger currently clasped to my chest, its leather cover warm beneath my fingers. I can’t even say what the punishment for this would be, because as far as I know no one’s ever been impudent enough to try it.
At least not before me, and I prefer the term reckless.
I reach the west hall. Giving a quick glance up and down the silent corridor, I lift the latch on the closest window, wincing as it squeaks. I push the shutters open and night air brushes my skin.
The chilled marble of the windowsill stings against my legs as I swing over and drop into a crouch in the deep shadows by the edge of the building. From far off I can make out the sound of the waves crashing against the cliffs, the sharp tang of seawater hanging in the air. I take a deep breath, trying to trap the taste of it in my lungs.
I look across the dark courtyard to one of the smallest buildings. Despite its size, it’s all marble with a full colonnade around its edges and elaborate moldings of masters and ledgers and automatons in the frieze running along the edge of its roof, darkened now with shadows.
The Hall of Records.
The second watch rings across the complex. I allow my- self a smile. Perfect. There shouldn’t be a patrol anywhere near here right now. I take off across the courtyard, bare feet pounding the packed dirt, not slowing until I slip past the colonnade. Bars of moonlight glow against the floor, stretching from the pillars that surround the open atrium I stand in. The back of the space is lost in the gloom, but it’s impossible to miss the glimmer of gold, too vivid and bright to be anything but Scriptwork.
I pad silently over, avoiding the strips of moonlight and sticking to the shadows. As if the night sky will tell on me. Details swim from the dark: olivewood doors stretching high above my head, framed with brass and cut with flourishes and curls; the seal of bronze plastered to their center; and the rune carved deep into the metal, a tangle of thick golden strokes, bent around each other as if in a knot. A lock rune. The most complicated rune on this island.
I run my fingers over the ridges of the lines, warm and tingling beneath my skin despite the night air. The truth is, I’m not even supposed to know Scriptwork, at least no more than what’s needed to climb automatons and make rubbings of the runes. The actual work of study is done by the masters and the aristoi scholars who come to study on Tallis. We orphans are only here for grunt labor. The Scriptmasters barely believe we can think for ourselves, never mind do something like this.
Lock runes are tricky. You have to understand which strokes engraved into the seal are part of the base rune and which have been added by that particular Scriptmaster. Then you have to replicate it perfectly in a ledger, all in the right order. Runes have rules, some of which haven’t even been discovered yet, and we were certainly never al- lowed to study them.
But just because a crotchety old master wasn’t going to teach me didn’t mean I wasn’t going to learn.
The light’s just enough to let me see the ledger as I flip it open to the last page, the golden glow spilling over the rough stretch of parchment. I pull out the stub of charcoal from my belt pocket. Once I draw a line, there’s no changing my mind. I’ll have to sneak the ledger back eventually, and lines will only mean evidence, since trying to tear a page out will just be more obvious. If this doesn’t work, I’ll have taken all this risk for nothing.
Only then I think of Matthias. It’s been seven years since they shipped my older brother away, all because he tried to defend me against them. Because they decided he would be too troublesome to keep. Behind these doors is the only record on the whole of this island that can tell me where he was sent.
And I am getting through tonight.
I dash off the first of the lines on the page. It comes off black and bold and perfect.
That’s when I hear voices. Low. Serious.
There shouldn’t be a patrol here, not at this time of night. Which means I’m either not as observant as I think or I’m real unlucky.
As soon as they enter the courtyard, I won’t be able to get back to the window, not without them noticing. A hint of panic thrums beneath my skin, telling me to leave now, while I still can. But then I look down at the parchment, the rune already started. They can’t catch me if I’m already inside the Hall.
As soon as I have the idea, I know it’s a terrible one. I suppose that fits me perfectly.
I bend over the ledger and keep going. The lines unfurl across the parchment as the rune takes shape, each line in the proper order and form. Excitement curls around my heart, even as the voices come closer. I’m doing it.
The rune is finished. I look up at the seal on the door, waiting for the golden line to cut it in half, to let me through.
The seconds pound through my head. No. I look down at the page, at this rune that looks exactly like the one on the door. I’m sure I did it right. Why isn’t it working?
One of the soldiers speaks again, their voice close. Too close.
I’m out of time.
I bite down my curse and dash away from the glow of the rune, toward the courtyard. Maybe I can still get across. I’ve just reached the colonnade when the soldiers step into view through the main gates. There are two of them, a man and a woman, their red chitons dark enough it’s hard to make them out. Short gladius swords are strapped to their hips. They’re coming closer.
There’s one other way to my quarters, through a door I can possibly sneak to by circling the back of the buildings. A door that always stays unlocked because it’s used by the patrols themselves to get inside.
I jam the ledger into a fold in my himation and run, sticking close to the wall that surrounds the Scriptorium complex. I can see the door I need ahead, nestled at the back of the acolytes’ quarters.
I’m reaching out when it swings open toward me. I stumble back, off balance, and a hand from behind me clamps around my upper arm.
I jam my elbow back at whoever has me, but they’re quick. An arm scoops me around the waist and jerks me behind the closest pillar, right as another two soldiers step out the door. I snap my head up at whoever has me, and catch a glimpse of a trainee’s red sash. Of tousled dark hair and deep green eyes, currently narrowed to order me to shut up.
I go still, both of us hidden in the narrow space between the pillar and the building. It throws me back, to years ago, when I wasn’t the only one sneaking out at nights. When this picture of him and me was as natural as breathing.
The footsteps fade away.
I let out a breath. That was close. I know I shouldn’t, but I look back the way I came. Maybe now that Dane’s here, I could try again. Maybe he’d come with me.
But he doesn’t even give me the chance to ask. Before I can open my mouth, he grabs my hand and pulls me through the door. Our footsteps hush over the floor, two sets this time, and even though I can practically feel the exasperation wicking off of him, see the tension in his neck, I feel strangely relieved. At least he’s here.
He doesn’t stop until we reach the small linen storeroom near my quarters, piled high with coarse chitons. There’s a thin crack in the shutters, letting in just enough moonlight that I can see him. His hand is pressed over his eyes, obscuring most of his face, as if that’s enough to hold back whatever he’s thinking. Under different circumstances, that would have made me laugh.
“Karis.” His voice is that dangerous sort of calm that, as far as I know, is only reserved for me and only when I’ve done something incredibly reckless. “What in all of every- thing were you thinking?”
I fold my arms over my chest. “You don’t even know what I was doing.”
He drops his hand and glowers at me. It’s an expression I haven’t seen in a while. Not because I haven’t been doing reckless things. But because he hasn’t been around to no- tice. “I got back after the rest of the patrol and I saw you near the Hall of Records. I know what you were doing.”
I wince. I hadn’t even considered that the patrol might have been spread out. It was careless.
“What were you even hoping to achieve without a ledger?” He’s facing the moonlight. I’m not. I doubt he can make out my expression, but my silence must speak volumes.
He groans. “You didn’t.”
I reach into my himation, the cloth looped about my shoulders and waist, and pull out the ledger. “I’m going to return it.”
Dane shoves his hands through his hair, growling at the ceiling. “Of all the ill-thought, hardheaded, impulsive…”
Dane’s my best friend. My only friend really. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stand around while he verbally berates me to the roof. “You couldn’t have expected me not to try.”
“Try to do what? What exactly were your plans for this?”
He catches my wrist and holds it up, forcing me to look at the bronze bracelet suckered there like a malignant growth. A copy of the one he wears. That every orphan brought to this island wears.
And he’s right. I hate it, but he is. Even if I’d figured out the rune and written it perfectly, even if I’d gotten in and found exactly where Matthias had been sent, I would still be trapped here. Because of this hunk of metal around my wrist, this perfect circle with no clasp. As long as it’s attached to me, going anywhere near the beach will burn my bracelet’s identifying rune into their scrolls. They’d know exactly where I was and what I was doing. And there’d be no running from them then. There’s only one ledger that can unlock the bracelets, and it’s always with the head Scriptmaster. Not even I can steal that.
I meet Dane’s eyes over my hand, and for a moment I’m so achingly tired. I almost want to apologize, to tell him he’s right. Because maybe he is. Maybe I don’t want to spend my entire life fighting a battle I can’t win, when I couldn’t even open a door. Maybe the masters were right about me and I am exactly what they judge me to be.
Only then I think of Matthias. Of the way he looked the last time I saw him, the day he was dragged away. Me screaming. Him calling out my name as his hand was ripped from mine.
The truth is, it isn’t in me to quit. Not now, not ever. There are things I will not—cannot—concede, and my brother is at the top of that list.Emily Victoria lives on the Canadian prairies with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, works at her public library, and has just finished her Masters of Library and Information Studies.
Find out more on her website.
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