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Authors: Candace Knoebel

Embracing the Flames

BOOK: Embracing the Flames
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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.

Embracing the Flames. Copyright © 2013 by Candace Knoebel.
Edited by Kate Wright. Cover by www.ravven.com.
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, visit http://www.48fourteen.com.

ISBN-13: 978-1-937546-17-5

ISBN-10: 1937546179

Born in Flames Trilogy

Born in Flames, Book I

Embracing the Flames, Book II

From the Embers, Book III

For all of my friends and family who have loved and supported me along this wild and crazy ride called life. For all of my Little Flames who stand by me and continue to be AWESOME. For all the amazing book bloggers who support and cherish authors. For my wonderful publisher. Thank you for taking a chance on me and being so patient and kind. You continue to inspire me to be better. And especially for my mother, my best friends, my children, and my husband who make living my dreams possible.

I love you all.

Prologue

I WAS CONCEALED IN A cloak of shadows as I crept down the long and narrow corridor. Even the stars were hidden, veiled by a swirling mass of clouds that churned outside the open-arched windows.

Something was wrong in the Hall of Knowledge. The lurking shadows were proof of that.

I followed the sliver of light that peeked out from under the only door at the end of the hall. The arctic bite of the stone floor sent chills up my spine, goose bumps leaving their mark along my skin.

Voices drifted along the breeze coming through the windows lining the ever-winding hallway. I was almost to the end. Fear coiled itself around my composure. What was on the other side of that door?

Shadows of the footsteps behind the door cast ghostly shapes upon the floor as I inched forward. A pair of the pacing feet stopped mid-stride and turned, now quickly moving towards the door. As the steps neared, the shadows seemed to crawl closer and closer in my direction, threatening to swallow me whole.

I nimbly took a step back into the cover of darkness as my breath caught in my throat. My heart pounded behind my chest erratically.
Had I been heard?

The knob began to turn, and I squeezed my eyes as tight as they would go, bracing myself for the terror that would surely come if I were found. But the door didn’t open. Instead, the feet shuffled hastily away.

I let the breath I had been holding out in a silent rush as my heart began to steady itself. My shirtsleeve caught the beaded sweat along my brow.
Now or never
, I told myself.

A few steps more and I stood right outside the door, my sleeve now soaked with my fear. I put my back to the wall and mercilessly pressed my ear up against it, straining to understand the awful screeching of voices.

Now, if I hadn’t been possessed by the white light that always seemed to save me in the nick of time, then I wouldn’t have been able to make out what was being said. In fact, I would have doubled over in pain from the sound of their voices. The sound of The Fates’ voices was like a metal rake grinding across another piece of metal.

And that’s how they liked it. The Ancients were the only race able to understand them. A blessed curse, Astral always said. He was one of the fifty, created specifically to write the Oraculuses of mortal men. But Astral couldn’t help me now.

With heat building between my ear and the wall, I finally focused in on a voice.

“What have you done?” asked one of the brothers.

“What needed to be done, Saeth. We are not to create from ourselves. You have broken the decree.” His voice rose as he continued. “How could you have given a piece of yourself? It’s repulsive and offends everything we stand for. Do you not remember the fate of our beloved fifth brother?”

“Castian, please,” said another brother, a voice lighter than the previous two.

“Not now, Arcadia,” said Castian.

A dry, monotonous voice cut in. “What’s done is done, Castian, and cannot be changed, brother.”

“I agree with Maison,” said Saeth.

“Indeed, for then things would proceed in your favor,” said Castian, his tone laced with scorn. “Your son cannot know that you have sired him, for if he does, then everything we have created will have been for nothing.”

“He’s right, Saeth. No one can know what you have done,” Arcadia conceded. “The fate of the realms won’t hold up against what Zordon has been prophesized to achieve. Astral has already begun his Oraculus.”

Defeat poured out of Saeth’s voice when he replied. “What must I do to correct this? You can’t expect me to undo what I have done. We cannot interfere with the living, and breaking another rule to erase my mistake won’t rectify the situation. Nor will sacrificing me as we have done our fifth brother.”

“No,” Castian slowly dragged out his words, “it won’t. Maison, go tell Astral to cease his duties,” he commanded.

“Castian, you can’t possibly…”

But Castian interrupted him. “I can and I will. Tell him to stop. What’s written is written and will not be changed. That rule will remain pure. But the unwritten will be given to another. One who will be deemed Saeth’s son’s equal. One right to a wrong.”

“The soul ripped in half…that sounds like an excellent idea,” Arcadia said in delight, clapping his hands.

“Who will this other be? And who will create this so called equal,” sneered Saeth.

I felt my hand reach for the door, controlled by the spirit that possessed me. I didn’t want to open it because I didn’t want them to know that I was listening in, but what I wanted didn’t matter. This wasn’t really me. I was seeing through another’s eyes.

The light crept out and up the walls as the door swung open from the force of my hand. The four brothers looked over to me, shock written on all of their faces as they slowly stood like statues coming to life. “I think I have a solution,” said the female spirit possessing me, the voice of a thousand angels in one.

Chapter 1

Training Begins

“GET UP!” FENN SHOUTED ENCOURAGINGLY from behind me. I was face down, angrily spitting out blades of grass. The grainy feel of dirt mixed with sweat hid the heated color of my embarrassment.

How pleasant.

My palms itched with the need to punch Fenn and Astral for this cruel punishment. All I wanted was a cold swig of water. My muscles ached and my hands were beginning to form calluses from all the broken blisters.

I was a complete mess, and I was sure I was in hell.

We had begun our magic training shortly after my return and were now going on week five of the treacherous teaching. Astral was inexorable with his lessons. He said it was because our time was running short before we had to go before the Council. He also said that going before the Council is important.

I couldn’t disagree more.

I felt that every day we spent training, was a day we lost in stopping Zordon from his tirades. The last I heard, he and his men were headed north, scouring the lands for men to add to his ever-growing corrupt army. Something I should be doing as well if I am to prevent the fall of the Draconta.

To make matters worse, I had to learn the hard way that using Mage magic slowly drains a Mage of their energy. The energy drain can only be replenished with rest, and I really didn’t have a lot of time to spare.

To quote Astral, “Magic is energy, and it’s in every fiber of your being. The energy used to sustain life is the energy a Mage pulls from within to use magic.”

Right now, my fibers were screaming bloody murder.

Fenn cleared his throat to gain my attention. I considered faking being unconscious as I sighed into the grass. 

Instead, I jumped to my feet, dusting my hands off against my leather pants and immediately winced from the searing pain of my open blisters. I cursed them both under my breath and glared in their direction. I contemplated lighting rings of fire around them but quickly forgot the thought when Astral perked his eyebrow up at me in question.

Always in my head.

My hands were still laboriously adjusting to using a wooden staff during fight training. It was my weapon of choice, which I found myself regretting. Maybe daggers would better suit me.

Fenn walked up to me with pep in his step. Too much for my taste at the moment. “Why don’t you just shift?” he asked in a tone that implied it should be an obvious choice for me. “We’d be a better match then. The strength you have in your dragon form compliments my natural gift of strength.” He flexed his biceps, looking from them to me with a gloating smile.

I slammed my staff back on the weapon rack next to Fenn’s, trying very hard to control my irritation. It wasn’t his fault that my dragon side heightened my emotions. Or that there was a darkness in my soul.

I glanced over at the gleaming daggers that reflected the sunlight, taunting me to give them a try.
Tomorrow
, I thought.

I looked back at Fenn who was wearing a crooked smile and huffed. His smile had a way of simmering the uncontrollable flame inside of me. He was right; we would be better matched in my dragon form.

I hated it when he was right.

Astral stood patiently waiting, his smugly wise eyes smiling in agreement with Fenn. Neither of them understood what it was like to not be in complete control of yourself.

A ripple of anger coursed through me like a shock wave, causing my shoulders to shudder — something that was happening more often than not lately.

“Because I can’t CONTROL HER!” I felt energy building in my palm. “Occidium!” I shouted, throwing my energy in Fenn’s direction.

A hint of satisfaction played upon my lips as Fenn flew backwards. He wasn’t expecting that. Now he would be the one picking grass from his pearly whites.

I heard a round of clapping to my left. “Your powers are growing stronger,” Astral commended as he nodded sagely. He slowly walked over to me, his hands tucked behind his back. His long white braid swayed with each heavy step he took. “But you must learn to control your temper.”

I leveled my gaze on him. “My temper or the side of me that takes after Zordon?”

He stared at me for a moment before swiftly changing subjects. Fueling the discussion about my intensifying connection to Zordon wasn’t on his agenda. “Do you feel ready for the final test next week?”

“I’ve been practicing day and night so I’d better be ready for it,” I said with a snort. “I can’t call myself a real Mage until I am granted a title, right?”

Fenn finally landed with a thud yards away from us, cursing. I bit my lip, trying to hide my smile. I should feel ashamed for finding pleasure in this, but the burning blisters on my hands countered the thought.

Astral looked at me, slightly shaking his head.

“I can’t disappoint my father,” I continued, in my best serious voice. “He talks very animatedly about his time before the Council all the time. He believes I will pass with flying colors.” I tried to sound enthusiastic about it even though, truth be told, I could care less about the title.

“It is a rite of passage, Aurora,” Astral said quietly, tugging at his silver beard in thought.

Always reading my thoughts.

He chuckled as if agreeing with me and then continued. “Of course Myrdinn is excited. His little girl is becoming a woman, a woman who will have a respectable title amongst the Magium race.” He said this as if it was definitely going to happen.

I was glad he had faith.

He jerked his head over to me, his dulled eyes now glowing fiercely blue. “One of these days you are going to believe in yourself. Today would be as good a day as any to start.” The slight irritation in his voice made me cringe inwardly.

“I’m trying,” I started to say, but was cut off by him.

“Have you been studying the books I gave you?” He looked at me expectantly, letting his eyes revert back to their normal blue color. My feeble response slipped under the radar.

I perked up. “I’ve read about a chapter a night in the Book of Magic. I’m almost finished with it.”

“And?”

“And so far, besides learning a bunch of new spells, I’ve come to realize that no matter how good I am at magic, it can’t help me control my dragon side.” Disappointment flooded my voice. “A title isn’t going to fix that. I’m different from everyone else.” My shoulders slightly slumped over.

He looked down at me. “You must keep your chin up and your shoulders back, Aurora.” Without thought, I stood a little straighter. “Fear will only pull you away from what you are truly capable of. Believe that you can, and you will. It’s as simple as that.” His tone was full of surety.

I shrugged. “I guess so.”

Fenn glared at me from across the field. He dusted off his pride and then wove a portal, appearing inches from my face.

“Good job,” he said icily, keeping the menace lacing his words under tight restraint.

I lightly punched him in his shoulder without bothering to hide my boastful smile. “And now we’re even.”

He stiffened, ignoring my tease. “If she’s done acting like a child now,” he said with heavy emphasis to Astral while staring intently at me, “can you please make her shift? She needs to try. She hasn’t tried in over a week.”

“Hey!” I hissed in astonishment, this time punching him harder in the shoulder.

He turned back around to face me, staring at me in a mixture of disbelief and annoyance. “Rory, listen, you aren’t going to get any better at controlling her if you keep hiding in your human form.”

He was patronizing me and I didn’t like it one bit, even if he was right. I sighed and stared past him, refusing to meet his narrowed eyes. I could feel the need for my dragon to break free, but the fear of being replaced by her was far greater. I clenched my fists, welcoming the sting from my blisters.

“I will not let you become lost,” Astral pressed, stepping forward. He lowered his voice, as if making his next words a private conversation for only us to hear. “You need to try again. Shift.”

I sucked in a deep breath. “Fine,” I muttered pathetically.

Fenn rubbed his hands together. “It's about time. Let’s do this.” Sheer determination floated off his words.

I scowled at him, my lips pressed thin.

“Fenn, please stand back,” Astral insisted, shooing him back with his large hands. “She needs her space if she is to properly shift. And I will need my space if I am to help her through it.”

I grimaced.

The smile vanished from Fenn’s face as he hobbled backwards. His eyes smoldered with strength. “You can do this. I’ll be right here.”

I couldn’t help myself. “Gee, thanks.”

Astral’s hands rested on my shoulders. “Let’s try something different this time. When you shift, I will remain in your mind so that I can see what is happening. This will also help me guide you away from where you say you are being pushed. When you feel my energy, I want you to use as much as you can to strengthen yourself.”

My cheeks reddened. “You’re not going to be able to help me fight every battle like this, Astral,” I said through clenched teeth. “What good is it if I can’t do it on my own?” I hated feeling helpless and weak. I thought by accepting who I was, it would get easier, but it’s only proved more strenuous.

He tilted his head, compassion pulling his lips into a soft smile. “It will help me understand what is going wrong, Aurora. You are the first of your kind. Books will be written about you. Be the legend you are meant to be.” His glowing eyes twinkled with the knowledge of the unknown. How could I not trust him?

“Fine,” I agreed resolutely.

I closed my eyes and focused on shifting. Scales raced along my skin as my muscles filled out. Talons stretched out from my fingertips and toes. I flexed my hands and then doubled over as my tail protruded out my back end. My clothes ripped as my wings broke free and extended out, slightly shadowing Fenn and Astral.

I opened my ruby-red eyes and saw the mystified look in Fenn’s eyes, the same look he always wore when I shifted. I thought back to the first time I had ever shifted in front of him.

“You’re just a muscular, reptilian version of yourself, Rory,” he said as he reached out and ran a hand through my hair. He leaned forward, softly kissing me as his hands ran down my scaled arms and pulled me into him.

Such a small, simple act had meant so much.

I turned away from them both, ignoring the connection my pride had with my tear ducts, and tried to remain focused with every inch of air I climbed.

So far, I was still here, still in control.

I spiraled in the faint breeze and inhaled deeply. All of my senses were enhanced—a perk that came with being a dragon. I zoomed in on Fenn. I could smell his fresh, musky scent and was reminded of home. Not our new home, but our old one—the apartment back in Hawaii. My heart ached for Mily, our foster mother. I hoped she didn’t miss us too much.

They were both staring up at me, hands shielding their eyes from the sun I hovered in front of. “I’m ready to begin,” I called down to them. I tried to hide my wariness as heat trailed out in curls from my nostrils.

“Try hitting her with something small,” Astral instructed Fenn, his voice sounding like it was right next to me even though I was high in the sky.

I zoomed in on Fenn again, bracing myself for his attack. I sensed his energy building within him as his palms began to glow. Every muscle in my body tightened with anticipation as the scent of his magic surrounded me — a fresh bar of soap mixed with a summer’s salty breeze.

“Temparo!” he shouted, hurling his blue energy towards me. It was the controlling spell that we had learned a few days back. My senses were so keen I could see the spell coming towards me as if it were in slow motion. I jumped to the side, the spell flying past me and down into a tree with a crackling smack. The wood splintered out from the force leaving a wide scorch mark in its wake.

Fenn boastfully smiled as his eyebrows rose, taunting me to challenge him. My heart flittered a little. He was proud of me and that made me feel momentarily invincible.

“Again!” Astral said delightfully.

“Immoblatio!” Fenn tossed. I easily dodged it again, watching the spell slowly hurl by me. My wings fluttered, a rush of power surging throughout me as I headed for the ground. Being in the air gave me the advantage against his physical attacks. I wanted more. I needed to know that I could do it on my own.

I mocked his earlier taunting smile as I let my feet touch the ground. “Let’s try something harder,” I said daringly. “No holding back.”

A shadow of a smile grew on Fenn’s face.

“I feel good and I want to see what I can really do.” I hoped that I could keep things under control. I didn’t want his smile to vanish.

I backed up a few steps and stared at my clawed feet, inhaling deeply. It was important that I remained focused so I could stay in control. And so I could keep Fenn off guard.

“Pellum Descendum,” I chanted, throwing the knock-back spell at Fenn. He ducked just in time, pulling my legs out from under me at the same time. I wavered, and my wings fluttered, catching my fall and lifting me a foot off the ground.

BOOK: Embracing the Flames
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