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Borderline Suspect

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Capo ducked into their line of sight, pulling their attention from the expectant sea of scarlet, white, and gold that flooded the festival square. From behind his back he produced two thin metal sticks, one for each of them, and held them out with a wink.

"You're to lead the finale."

"How? What is this?" Omare asked curiously, spinning it between his fingers.

Jimaya accepted hers with a nod of thanks. A faint smile pulled at the edges of her lips.

There was a brazier at the closest corner of their dias and Jimaya held the tip in the flame. The sparkler burst to life in a shower of gold, and Omare's gasp of recognition was lost to the swell of anticipation from the crowd below. It grew to a thunderous cheer when Jimaya turned to her brother and lit his in turn. The light flared between them, and on Omare's other side, Yujin held out her own sparkler for him to light, beaming.

Bit by bit the tiny pinpricks of light multiplied, first for the royal family, then among the courtiers a few steps below, until it reached the crowd and swept through the festival square. Celebrants gathered in throngs to light their sparklers at once from the flame of others, and so the light spread, on and on and on, exponential, until it covered every inch of the square in a rolling, glimmering blanket of light, enough to outnumber the stars making their first winking appearances overhead. Only in the momentary flares of light was it possible to tell who was who – Imperialist, Denborn, Mountain tribesman, Forest dweller. In the brilliance of the collective blaze, all Jimaya could see was the silhouette of the whole.

She looked to her brother, reached for his hand, and squeezed. Two ruling years gone. Omare grinned and yanked their joined hands up overhead, flinging their arms wide to the crowd, a grateful embrace big enough to unite them all.

On a balcony overlooking the square, a lone sparkler flared out and died. It caught Jimaya's eye and she squinted to make out its owner. A figure played the spent sparkler between his fingers for a moment, then let it drop into the crowd below. It landed among countless other discarded sticks as their ephemeral lights began to fade one by one.

Jimaya stared. Maybe it was the distance, maybe it was the smoke-hazy twilight, but she could swear the figure was watching her back. He shifted, perhaps to place his hand over his heart, then tossed his hair over his shoulder and disappeared.