Authors: Candace Knoebel
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual events or people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Born in Flames. Copyright © 2012 by Candace Knoebel.
Edited by Kate Wright. Cover by
All rights reserved including the right to manufacture in any format, sell, or distribute copies of this book or portions of this book. For information, address 48fourteen, PO Box 17132, Sugar Land, TX 77496.
For my very best friend, Sonya. Without your unconditional support and talk-me-off-theledge ideas, I probably wouldn't have made it. For my wonderful mother and mother-inlaw, who have stood by me and supported all my quirks and dreams. And most importantly, for my understanding husband, for having patience and a new joke always on hand.
I love you all with all my heart.
THE CALL OF THE ORB was strong now that it rested in my hands. A song thrummed in my chest as I felt the veins in my neck beating wildly. Looking at it now, the change wasn’t as scary as I had thought it would be. Even with knowing that I could be staring my possible death in the face. The question was—would I be strong enough to sustain these powers given to me? Maybe I was just scared of The Fates choosing my destiny, or maybe I was scared that what was about to happen would forever change my life.
Either way, growing up I had always hoped that my life would mean something more than just being a foster child, but this, this was much bigger than anyone could imagine. And what lies ahead? Well if it’s anything compared to what I am going through now, then I expect my life to fall into a whole new level of crazy. And I think it may be just what I was looking for.
7 Years, 364 Days Earlier
THE NIGHT WAS STILL AS the pale moon shone through my tiny bedroom window. It was a full moon, one of the largest I had ever seen. Astral said it was a sign of something coming. But what was coming remained unanswered.
All life besides the midnight owl was sleeping—as I should have been—yet I lay there, waiting for the sun to tell me it was time to begin my daily routine.
The owl quivered, shaking off the dewy night as luminescent droplets fell to the mossy earth, then resumed picking at his feathers. We were one and the same, he and I—creatures of the night. Somehow things were easier for me at night, its quiet solitude a balm to my soul. Unfortunately though, I was still part human and expected to be up at the crack of dawn.
I kicked at my wrinkled covers feeling uncomfortably warm. Why did I have to defy the order of things? Wake, eat, school, sleep. That’s the way things are supposed to happen. Apparently my restless mind did things a little differently.
If only I had known then how drastically my life was about to change, I may have held onto this moment a bit longer and appreciated the quiet innocence that came with being ten years old. Maybe even appreciated the restlessness that I felt every night. Because even though it may not have been the proper routine to follow, it was my routine. Wake, eat, try to concentrate on learning my powers, and then claw my way to sleep.
But The Fates are funny like that. They don’t always wait around for you to decide when things should happen. Sometimes they interfere. At least that’s what happened in my case.
I turned from the lonely pallid moon, trying to find the safe haven of sleep by adjusting my rumpled pillow and snuggling up in my blanket in hopes that comfort would help push me into slumber. Of course this attempt didn’t prove to be helpful.
A sigh escaped my lips as I propped up onto my elbow in a huff and faced the burning candle resting on the end table next to my bed. The swaying flame always distracted me from my problem with insomnia, the ghostly shadow it cast moving as a pendulum marking the lost hours of sleep. It kept me company when everyone else was fortuned with dreams.
The flame danced for me under my control, a power that I had been blessed with from birth. If I wanted to be pessimistic, I could say the power was more like a curse, considering the destiny The Fates had laid out for me.
I reached out and placed my fingers to the flame, reveling in the feel of the biting tingle to my skin. The tiny flame moved up my arm, warming me through. Fire was the one stable element in my life, a constant burning that ignited my soul.
Another owl hooted in the distance and I smiled as I looked back to the one perched outside my window, returning the hunter’s call.
, I thought with a bit of jealously. Even the owl has a friend. If Astral were listening, he would tell me how selfish my thoughts were on such a lovely quiet night. The perks of having a trainer who can read your mind.
As if summoned by my thoughts, my door suddenly burst open. I shot straight up, turning to face the intruder as I pinched the wick to put out the flame and stabled the bouncing pendant on my neck. Astral’s glowing blue eyes shone through the darkened hallway, casting a dim glow.
“Aurora, come quick,” he urged with an extended hand. I rushed over to the door, noticing a tremble to his hands. Fear snaked its way into the pit of my stomach.
Reaching out, he grasped hold of my wrist and began pulling me down the hall towards the back door. “You must listen to everything I tell you.” He rushed on. “This will be our only chance at evading The Fates.” He kept his eyes forward, the dim blue glow chasing away the creeping shadows. All his magic was held in the illumination of his eyes—normally he didn’t let them glow. So why now?
“Why would we evade The Fates? Why are they here?” I asked, my bare feet slapping against the cold wood floor. I couldn’t fathom why we would need to hide from them.
don’t need to hide from them,
do,” he said with heavy emphasis, tugging harder in his haste. As the hall came to an end he made a sharp left to the back door, already reaching for the doorknob.
The crisp night air bit at my exposed skin when he pulled us outside. I snapped my finger, igniting a tiny flame and touched it to my shoulder. The small flame slid across my skin, instantly warming me and alleviating the gnawing chill.
“Aurora, you’re going to bring attention to yourself,” he scolded in a stern whisper. “We are trying to hide you from them, not give you away.” His ocean deep voice quivered in the silent night air, his words only confusing me more about the sudden urgency of what was happening.
He had always taught me that The Fates were to be respected as Gods. Not to fear them. They gave us the very breath in our lungs, the beating to our hearts. So why should I fear them now? Why would they want me, a mere infant to their existence? I knew I had a small moment of selfish thoughts, but I have lots of those and never before had they come after me for it.
“Where are you taking me?” I asked as his accelerated steps along the damp carpet of grass took us farther and farther away from the comfort of our home. My breath became irregular as my feet padded into the soft ground. Small beads of sweat began to break along my exposed skin, rolling towards the earth.
So much for needing fire for warmth. He was pulling me towards the woods behind our cottage, the woods that he had specifically told me to stay away from time and time again. I threw a worried glance over my shoulder back to my home. The lights were being turned on one by one, transforming our hidden house into a bright glowing gem in the witching hour. “They’re in our house?” I asked, panic rising and cracking my voice. This brought a punch of reality.
“Yes, they’re looking for you,” he stressed once again, tugging sharply on my arm. The pain from the tugging was hardly noticed due to the rapid fear that now pulsed inside of me.
A painfully loud screeching broke the gasping pants that tugged from my lungs, instantly tucking my curiosities about The Fates at bay as we neared the edge of the woods. It sounded like a thousand people having their souls unwillingly ripped from their bodies. What kind of creature could produce such a horrifying sound?
A line of sweat slid down my face, trailing past my ear. I found myself touching the wetness and using the radiance of the unusually close moon to make sure it wasn’t blood.
We were almost to the edge of the forest when the back door to our house slammed shut, echoing off the tree line. Another painful round of screeching followed suit.
Astral’s gaze darted behind us, searching for the noisy culprit. “Don’t look back,” he instructed. Worry clouded the usual strength his eyes held and bit at my composure. He glanced at me apologetically and said, “I should’ve seen this coming. I should’ve answered their summons. Your dragon form is a magnet for trouble.”
I didn’t know how to respond as we entered the inky darkness of the woods quietly, careful not to rouse the lurking shadows. The autumn leaves clung to my damp feet and calves, but the reassuring crunch of broken twigs that normally followed my step was gone. Astral was going through great lengths to keep us hidden by removing the sound of our steps. Even the beautiful radiance of his eyes had disappeared.
A sudden blast of white light illuminated the night behind us like an explosion of fireworks. Their voices—which Astral had described but I had never heard before tonight—once again shrieked loudly. Like jagged metal scraping along another piece of metal, exactly as he had said. I pictured the gates of hell opening up to swallow us whole.
I stumbled and grabbed onto a tree trunk to brace myself, fighting my body against the need to freeze in fear. A fit of shivers began as my hands defensively shot up to protect my abused ears. I silently prayed that my eardrums wouldn’t burst, my eyes pooling in pain from the torment.
Astral abruptly stopped and crouched down. He then spoke telepathically, “Get on my back. My enchantments won’t hold them off for long.”
I did as he said, thankful that he could speak inside my mind. Clinging to his neck, I held my breath as he ran at a supernatural speed, gliding through the misty night.
“Try not to make out the screeching sounds, Aurora, it’s not meant for such fragile ears,” he continued in my mind. I felt choked in fear by the idea of them catching up to us. Never before had I seen Astral so shaken. He was an Ancient, one who worked for The Fates, and wasn’t scared of anything. I just couldn’t imagine why The Fates would be so angry with me. Or even why they would want me to begin with.
The moonlight peeked through the thinning tree line like gleaming, hungry fingers anticipating their pray. Peering back, all I could see was the distant glowing house, a mere star in the vast gloomy night. Hope kicked in. Maybe we would get away.
“We’re here,” said Astral, jarring us to a stop. He let out a pent-up breath and then looked back to the forest, probing for The Fates.
I climbed off his back and found myself standing in a clearing, spinning in a slow circle to quickly survey my surroundings. I had never been on this side of the forest before. Massive black, mirrored stones, immense in their girth, made me feel like a speck in the crowded area. The shadows that preyed over us from the sneaky moon’s light only increased my discomfort.
I glanced around one last time, as if that might change the circumstance I was in, and then focused on something simple—the cold leaves still clinging to my feet.
I reached down to brush the leaves off, taking what sliver of control I could over the situation. “Where exactly is here?” I asked through short breaths. Dirt and rotted leaves stuck to my hands. I transferred the slimy mess to my pajama pants as an unstoppable shudder broke.
A swift wind carried the sound of limbs cracking and breaking under great strain from behind us. The familiar vibration of Astral’s deep voice began, chanting the ancient magic used for spells as his eyes illuminated brightly. “…Protegum…destructum…” My ears picked up bits and pieces of the old language he quickly weaved.
I turned, seeking out what he could be protecting us from. My heart raced wildly once again as a fresh dose of adrenaline shot through me. The thought of The Fates catching up to us, had frozen my body in place.
The trees began to move under Astral’s control, ready to punish whatever was coming. They weaved together to form a barricade, but it was short-lived as Gabe broke through it.
Sword at the ready, he was panting harder than my own anxious heart and covered in a mess of leaves. He sheathed his sword when he saw us, leather hissing as it accepted the blade. Placing both his hands on his knees, he took a moment to catch his breath, green eyes darting from Astral, to the forest behind him, and then to me.
“Sorry,” he spoke in between gasping breaths, “I didn’t mean to startle you, but your trees almost ate me. I thought you wanted me to get here as quickly as I could.” A wry smile appeared on his lips.
Astral’s eyes narrowed, his lips forming into a thin line.
Gabe’s smile vanished. He cleared his throat and said, “They’re closer than we’d like, but everything’s in place, sir. The full moon is almost at its peak.” He ran his hand through his golden hair. “Eve sent the boy over and is awaiting my arrival with word. I didn’t realize the corruption had gone this far. How many are involved?”
“Two out of the four Fates. I received word of their plan to take her life from an inside source just before they showed up. Without the other two stepping in, we can’t stop this.”
Gabe’s shoulders slumped over. “There’s no time to enlist their help now, is there?”
“They won’t interfere Gabe,” Astral answered helplessly. “They, unlike their deceitful brothers, uphold the laws of our realm.”
I felt my stomach churn as Astral’s words sank in. He said they wanted to end my life. He couldn’t have meant that.
Astral’s hand rested on my shoulder with a gentle, reassuring squeeze. With a protective growl he spoke, emphasizing each word carefully. “When it comes to her, I will do
to protect her. The Fates be damned.” I’d never heard him say anything negative about The Fates before.
Gabe’s hand shot out to Astral’s shoulder, head bowing to the ground. “I understand, old friend. That’s why we are doing everything we can to keep her safe. She is our salvation.” His voice was so gentle and understanding, it broke the tension of Astral’s grip on my shoulder.
“You’re right,” Astral admitted with a sigh. “My need to protect overwhelms me at times. Everything will be fine. As planned, we will give the Seer her pendant once she ports.” He sounded so sure, but his body language was all wrong. He was still standing protectively around me, almost crouching like a cat waiting to pounce. His eyes continued to pierce the forest line.
“They’re gaining ground quickly so time is of the essence. You should say your goodbyes now,” Gabe said grimly. He glanced back towards the forest. “I hope this works. It’s such a shame, both so young. I thought we would’ve had more time. I thought The Fates would’ve let the prophecy play itself out. The way it should be.”
“I feel they would have, but hunger for power broke two of The Fates. Sending her away will set the prophecy back on course.”
My scattered mind was scrambling to catch up. I felt nonexistent as they talked about me, shuddering underneath Astral’s steadied hands.
“Gabe said both? I thought they were only after me,” I said, pulling on Astral’s arm for attention.
“They are only after you. Not to worry. We’ve got it under control, little one,” Gabe answered for Astral.
Everything was happening so fast, too fast. I glanced back up at the bitter moon, the same moon that only a few moments before felt so serene. Now it watched as the rug was yanked out from under me, probably laughing at me for defying life’s routine.
We all flinched in alarm at the distant sound of movement disturbing the quiet forest life. “Get the portal ready, now!” Astral barked at Gabe, and then he turned towards me, facing the woods and bending down on one knee. Both his hands were planted on my shoulders as he spoke. “It will be a while before we meet again, my little flame. We have but moments left so listen closely. You are going to another realm of time. When you cross over, you will forget everything, but trust in me. When the time comes for you to return, if you choose, you will remember again.”
The urgency picked up as his words tumbled over one another in a rush to leave his lips. They were getting close, close enough to light up the darkened woods.
“What do you mean?” I asked, the familiar wetness brimming my eyes. “I want to stay and fight with you. You taught me not to run from fear. Not to be afraid of anything.” I spoke fiercely, but my body began to shake against my will as the sinking feeling in my stomach bottomed out. I paused, trying to gather myself, and then asked, “Why are they after me?” I didn’t know what to think or feel or even believe anymore.
Reading my mind like he so often had, he tried to justify his actions. “How could I expect you to understand? You’re but ten years old, and I am a fool for thinking that by ignoring The Fates, they would go away.”
He leaned in closer, madness lacing his sincerity.
“They want to take you away from me. They want to take away your right to follow your path. I can’t let that happen. I must protect you. You
His eyes wove around me and back to the forest. I saw the reflection of the white light inside the pupils of his glowing eyes. They were close behind me now, about to break the tree line.
Gabe’s apprehensive cough grabbed our attention. I hadn’t noticed him opening a portal, but there it sat in the middle of the clearing, whirling like a black hole.
Astral stood, moving one arm around to clasp firmly on my shoulder, and walked me towards it. “You promise I will see you again?” I asked. Many questions buzzed in my mind, but that was the most important.
“Sooner than later, little flame.” He pulled me close in a one-arm hug and winked. The screeching that I had heard earlier reverberated through the tree line, echoing in the night air and piercing my already wounded ears. Again my hands sought to cover them in protection.
Astral’s eyes lit up to their brilliant blue glow as they filled with sudden fear, his face paling to an opaque white offsetting the brilliance. “You’ll be safe, don’t worry. You have to go now,” he said, pushing me towards the portal.
Gabe was already moving towards the screeching as tree limbs cracked and the ground rumbled. A rush of sleepy animals bolted past me, running for their lives. Shouldn’t we follow? I tried to glance around Astral’s protective stance, but he prohibited me from seeing the action as Gabe’s cry of pain punctured what little bit of composure I had left.
Astral bent down and smiled a ghostly smile and then shoved me through. “Find the keys to return,” was the last thing I heard as the pendant on my neck shot to his hands, ripping the connection to my power.