Read The Girl Born of Smoke Online

Authors: Jessica Billings

Tags: #young adult, #magic, #epic fantasy, #wizard, #young adult fantasy, #high fantasy, #insanity, #fantasy, #fantasy romance, #clean romance, #best friends, #war, #friends into lovers

The Girl Born of Smoke

The Girl Born of Smoke

 

Jessica Billings

 

Published by Jessica Billings at
Smashwords

Copyright 2010 Jessica Billings

 

 

The Girl Born of
Smoke

 

 

 

 

Jessica Billings

C
hapter 1

 

Thin tendrils of smoke rose up from the
blackened ruins, twisting and coiling in the still air. A girl
stood before the wreckage, silently standing vigil until the last
flickers of flame exhausted themselves and vanished. The smoke
coalesced with the surrounding fog, creating a thick haze that
dimmed the sun’s rays and stung the girl’s eyes.

With a deep breath of resolve, she tilted
her head to listen to the sound of whispering, drifting forward on
the thick morning air. Straightening her shoulders, she turned away
from the blackened disaster to face the scattered groups of people,
barely visible in the hazy fog. The whispers, melting together into
a wordless drone, abruptly stopped when the people saw the girl
turn their way.

They shuffled uneasily as she walked slowly
past them, her bare feet plodding softly through the damp grass.
She kept her eyes staring fixedly on the ground in front of her,
refusing to meet their stares. Even so, she could feel their sharp
gaze on her in the heavy silence. She left the people behind, let
them be enveloped in the fog and fade away.

With her short dark hair falling in her
eyes, the girl quickened her pace as she heard the clink of metal,
muffled by the fog, yet seemingly loud in the otherwise silent
world. Hearing footsteps fall into step behind her, she broke out
into a trot, trying to calm her pounding heart. She fought the urge
to run, knowing the predator always chases its prey when it
bolts.

Dew collected on the tangled strands of her
hair and dripped in her eyes, stinging them with soot. Overhead, a
bird sung a short trill of warning. Nervously, she wiped her hand
across her face, blinking at the discomfort. In that moment of
distraction, her foot caught on an exposed root, sending her
hurtling forward. Instinctively, she threw her hands out in front
of her and caught herself on something soft and warm. The warmth of
life. Letting out a sharp cry, she tumbled to the ground, tangled
up in the other body. Fighting her way desperately to her feet, she
sprang back with eyes wide and arms raised defensively.

In front of her, a woman sat scowling on the
ground, rubbing her elbow. Beside her stood a man staring at the
girl in confusion. Instantly, she realized the two weren’t from her
town. Their brightly colored clothes stood out unnaturally against
the bleak scene. Frantically looking behind her, she saw her
follower had paused as well, but was watching carefully, a knife in
his grasp.

“I-I’m sorry,” the girl mumbled, edging
around the strangers.

“You need to learn to watch where you’re
going,” the woman growled, climbing to her feet and brushing the
dirt off her pants.

“You okay?” the man asked, concern etched in
his thick eyebrows.

The woman shrugged. “Fine. Don’t worry about
it.” She sidestepped around the girl without truly looking at
her.

“Wait.” The man grabbed her arm, halting her
step. His gray eyes narrowed as he took in the entire scene. “Who’s
that man? What’s going on?” he addressed the girl.

The girl began to back away slowly, putting
her head back down. “I’ve gotta go. You should leave, though. Go
back the way you came.”

The man released his hold on the woman and
put his hand under the girl’s chin, his calloused fingers lifting
her face to meet his gaze. Her eyes were wide and wild with fear.
She flinched at his touch. “You’re in trouble,” he said flatly.
“Tell me what’s going on.”

She gave a small shake of her head. “I
can’t. Not now. It’s dangerous here.” In one movement, she spun out
of his reach and walked swiftly away from the town, toward the
surrounding woods. Behind her, the man grabbed his companion’s arm
and dragged her after the girl. “Don’t run,” she murmured back at
them. “Running people get chased.”

Only when the pine needles crunched
underfoot did the girl give a sigh of relief and slow, glancing
back at the other two. “Thank you,” she said. “I dunno who you are,
but you should be okay now.” A breeze swept through the trees,
causing pine needles to rain down around them. She anxiously looked
behind the others, but saw no one in the confining fog. “I don’t
think they’ll follow us in here. This isn’t their territory.”

“What the hell is going on?” The woman
jerked her arm away from the man, scowling accusingly at the girl.
“Why are we running around like criminals?”

The girl averted her gaze and shrugged.
“It’s nothing. Just…just don’t go back there, ‘kay?”

The man sighed. “Let’s see if we can get a
straight answer out of you. What’s your name?”

She slowly met his eyes and hesitated for a
second. “Aurora.”

He shrugged. “Aurora then. I’m Kirian and
this is Roxanne.” He tipped his head in the woman’s direction.
“Look, I don’t really care why you’re in such a hurry to get out of
there, but that guy following you had a knife and I’m really in no
rush to deal with that.”

“Wait, he had a knife?” Roxanne interrupted,
her voice alarmed.

Kirian gave a deep sigh. “Yes, he did. Of
course you wouldn’t notice something like that. I swear you will be
the death of me, Roxanne.” She opened her mouth to say something
more, but he held up his hand and turned to Aurora. “You don’t have
to explain yourself to me, kid, but do you have somewhere to go?
Somewhere where guys with knives aren’t creeping around after
you?”

Despite his attempt to make her smile, her
expression remained stoic. “No, not really. I’ve never been
anywhere except Delobo.”

“Delobo. That’s the town back there?”

She nodded. “Yeah. I guess I figured I’d
just walk until I found somewhere to go.”

“Where’s your family?” he asked wearily.

Jaw clenched, she finally met his gaze,
raising herself to her full height and looking at him pointedly.
“Gone. They’re all gone now.”

Roxanne raised an eyebrow. “Well kid, it
took us over a day to walk to Delobo from the last town we stayed
in and we were using a map. And we were wearing shoes.”

Face flushing red, Aurora dipped her head
back down, staring at her bare feet. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll
figure it out on my own.”

Giving Roxanne an exasperated look, Kirian
laid a firm hand on Aurora’s shoulder. “We’re not just going to let
you wander off on your own, kid. At least let us show you to the
next town if you’re sure about this.”

“And here.” Roxanne swung her backpack off
her shoulders and dug inside for a moment, pulling out a pair of
sandals. “Here’re some extra sandals. You can have them.” She
noticed a glance of amusement from Kirian and her voice hardened.
“We can’t have some kid slowing us down, right?”

“Oh, okay.” Aurora took the sandals
hesitantly. “I don’t have any money to give you, though.”

Kirian groaned. “How exactly are you going
to survive on your own in a new town without any money?”

“I’ll figure something out!” she replied
indignantly.

“Let’s just get going.” Roxanne pulled out a
map, hauling her backpack on. “I want to get out of here. This
place is giving me the creeps.” Silently, she led the way through
the forest. The fog drifted among the trees, hiding the treetops
from view. It clung to their clothes and skin, creating a sheen of
dew. Other than their wet footsteps, the only sound came from birds
fluttering high above them, letting out abrupt three-note trills
occasionally.

“Where’re you guys from, anyway?” Aurora
asked, trailing behind the other two.

“Kain,” Roxanne replied with a hint of pride
in her voice. “We’ve been travelling around now for about two
months, but I guess we’ve got to go back eventually.”

“You’ve been dragging me around for two
months is more like it,” Kirian growled, petulantly picking at the
sleeves of his shirt which had plastered themselves wetly against
his skin. “Well I think you succeeded in reaching the most remote
areas of the world, at least. I bet this kid’s never even seen a
stranger before.”

Aurora shook her head, glancing nervously at
Roxanne. “No, there’s not really any reason for anyone to come to
Delobo.”

Roxanne narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know why
you came then, if you hated it so much. You could’ve just stayed in
Kain. I wouldn’t have cared.”

“I
had
to come to keep you out of
trouble, Roxi. Keep you from blundering blindly into stupid
situations, like the one back there.”

“I see,” she said coldly. She glanced back
at Aurora, who had lengthened the distance between them and trailed
along some distance behind, looking nervously between the two.
“Keep up, will you! We’ve got to hurry home for poor Kirian.”

Making no reply, Aurora walked slightly
faster, but kept a large gap between them. They walked in stony
silence through the morning as the fog slowly dissipated, leaving a
cold, cloudy sky above which threatened to begin raining at any
moment. The silence grew harder and denser, only pronounced more
deeply by the steady hum of insects in the trees.

“So, I was thinking,” Roxanne mused several
hours later as they blundered through the underbrush alongside the
steep bank of a river, looking for a spot to cross. Aurora winced
at the dangerous undertone of her voice. “I was thinking that if we
sidetracked a bit and crossed over the mountains, we could probably
walk home along the coast. I think it would be really-“

“No,” Kirian said sharply, cutting her off.
“We are not backtracking. I've had enough of this trip. We're going
home by the shortest, most direct route possible. I'm sick of
walking, I'm sick of all the bugs, and I'm sick of this entire
thing. When I agreed to go on a trip with you, I did not agree to
go wandering through the wilderness for months at a time. You've
drawn out this whole thing for way too long and it's time to go
home. Aren't you happy? You saw the world. Congratulations.”

Roxanne narrowed her eyes and stopped,
turning to face him. “Oh yeah, thanks a lot. No, you didn't agree
to go 'wandering through the wilderness,' you agreed to come with
me on the only vacation I've ever wanted to go on. I've been cooped
up in Kain my entire life and I just wanted to see what else is out
here. Yeah, so now I've seen a little bit. I guess that's good
enough then, isn't it? Let's hurry on home before poor Kirian gets
bitten by a bug.”

The sound of the river thundered below and
did nothing to ease the tension. Looking anxiously between the
other two, Aurora took a step back and felt her foot slip down as
she put her weight on it. She desperately tried to shift her weight
back to her other leg, but it was too late and she twisted her body
as she toppled backwards. With a shriek, she landed on her back and
began slipping down the slick rock. Slamming her hands down, she
tried to slow her fall, but the smooth rock grew mossier and she
quickly picked up speed.

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