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Burning Bright

Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now lives in Wales with her husband and two sons, surrounded by mountains, castles, and coffee shops. She writes fun MG fantasy adventures, including The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, and also wildly romantic adult historical fantasies, including Snowspelled, Spellswept, Thornbound, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets. She has published nearly forty short stories for adults and teens in various magazines and anthologies. Find out more on her website: stephanieburgis.com.
"Just look what you've become since you left home!" Mara's cousin jabbed an accusatory finger at the colorful, cartoonish paintings of lions and tigers that lined the nursery walls. "All the magic you'd gathered, all your skills and your fortune--you were the strongest of our generation!--but you've let yourself sink into changing nappies and drawing twee little pictures for your children. Did you really think the rest of the family wouldn't notice? Did you not realize one of us would come and seize it all the very moment you stepped back and gave up your strength?"
Mara met her cousin's gaze over the heads of her sleeping children, just as she'd met it over a hundred family battles throughout their childhood as they'd been trained in the painful rules of their bloodline. "I didn't want it to be true anymore," she said quietly, "but, of course, you're right. Why do you think I created all those paintings?"
Her cousin blinked--then spun around, a hasty spell upon her lips.
Too late. The lions and tigers had already prowled silently out from their settings, tails swishing with anticipation in the darkness.
"I gave up nothing that ever mattered to me," Mara murmured ten minutes later, as the animals once again struck colorful poses on the walls. She stroked her children's soft hair to keep their dreams peaceful and safe and let out a long, shaky breath as she gazed at the bloodstains that would need to be cleaned from the nursery floor. "Since I left home, though, I've learned about true family... and that, I will never give up for anything."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, February 13th, 2020
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