Home > A Fate of Wrath & Flame (Fate & Flame #1)

A Fate of Wrath & Flame (Fate & Flame #1)
Author: K.A. Tucker


Prologue

 

 

1739

 

* * *

 

“It is time for me to die.” Sofie’s delicate hands slid up Elijah’s chest to slip behind his neck.

“And if you are wrong …” Unable to finish the sentence, his voice trailed off.

“I am not wrong!” she snapped. The copper-haired spitfire was always quick to temper.

He pulled away and moved to stand at a nearby window, to gaze upon the bustling nightlife beyond the castle walls. Rarely did he envy the commoners. Tonight, though, as he watched horse-drawn carriages roll along cobblestone streets, shuttling passengers home from frivolous celebrations and too much ale so they could hump their partners with reckless abandon, his jaw tightened with resentment. Why couldn’t his problems be so trivial?

Briefly, Elijah allowed his attention to stray to the square where the pyres beneath the charred remains of three women still smoldered. It had been the largest culling in the region yet, the flames stoked by the bishop in his fervent quest to save humanity from witchcraft. This time, the church cited the plague of vole that ravaged the year’s harvest as evidence of these women’s guilt. Next time, they would find proof of Satan’s wicked hand in a contagion that stole children, or a flood that drowned crops.

There was more truth to it than the portly bishop realized. But Elijah knew the church was motivated not by rooting out the cause of evil as much as its bid to maintain power in a time when a new house of worship was rising.

And this lunacy was spreading.

As Count of Montegarde, Elijah’s influence over the church was limited. Still, he could have stopped today’s massacre. He could have slipped into the yawning shadows of the bishop’s residence and snapped the neck of that sanctimonious prick leading the charge. But his untimely death would only stir inquiry and embolden the masses. Another would quickly ascend into his place, more women would perish atop a bed of flames, and soon attention would turn to these stone walls and the peculiar nobility who arrived overnight, staking claim.

From there, the whispers of heresy and evil would grow legs and teeth. It would be only a matter of time before a frenzied mob congregated outside the gates with pitchforks and swords, and Elijah and Sofie were forced to flee like rodents, to start anew elsewhere.

He knew this pattern well. He had lived it in one form or another many times over.

And so Elijah sat idly by within his comfortable castle and listened to the shrieks of the women as they burned.

Sofie glided over to his side and lifted a finger to push a stray lock of hair off his forehead. “I cannot exist like this anymore, hiding in the shadows and waiting for certain doom.”

“Do not worry about those zealots, my love.”

“Adele did not worry, and look what happened to her,” she reminded him somberly of her dearest friend who relocated to London, whose charred corpse Sofie wept beside last spring. He needed no reminding, though. That night, alight with raw fury, Sofie had razed the abbey responsible for Adele’s death, including its occupants, with nothing more than a flick of her wrist. In all his years on this earth, Elijah had never seen such power. It was both awe-inspiring and terrifying.

He had quickly ferried her sapped body away before too many witnesses could place her at the slaughter. Still, the last messages received from abroad were worrisome. The Casters’ Guild knew Sofie was behind the massacre and sought severe penance for her sedition. Meanwhile, the humans hunted for a witch with hair the color of the devil’s flame. Already, four victims matching her description had perished for her crime.

He could not fault Sofie for avenging Adele’s death. The two shared a childhood of dashing along Paris’s narrow passageways between lessons, and later, youthful nights dancing through the streets, enchanting suitors as much with their alluring beauty as their mettle. Sofie’s heart was ardent and her loyalty eternal. Unfortunately, when wounded, her emotions engulfed her need for self-preservation.

Elijah sighed. “Adele was not careful. Besides, I would never allow any harm to come to you.”

“And what of time? Will you stop that too?” Sofie knew where to aim her words to inflict the sharpest ache. “The madness calls to me even now, at this very moment. I do not know how much longer I can deny answering it.”

He flinched, dropping his gaze to the majestic oak in the courtyard garden, dressed for autumn, a scant breeze rustling its golden leaves. Winter’s bite hinted in the air. It would arrive within a fortnight, stripping the tree’s beauty and imposing rest upon the earth. Sofie despised that long, dreary period, but Elijah found comfort in the visible passage of time.

Beneath that leafy canopy was to be Sofie’s burial spot, if their fortunes did not change, though his preference was the crypt under the chapel where he could better guard her remains.

Would she even survive long enough to see the first snowfall?

It was unfathomable to him that this woman, not three decades old, with the glowing complexion of youth and childish wildness flowing through her veins, would soon slip from his grasp. But he knew this madness she spoke of was true. He had seen it take hold of another like her, many years ago, leaving nothing but a mumbling shell of the impressive elemental she once was, her hair chalk-white and sparse, her eyes worthless, her powers impotent. She passed her days as a prisoner of the guild, reciting nonsensical musings that the scribes recorded as prophecy.

Though he didn’t want to admit it, Elijah had begun to see worrisome signs in Sofie—listless stares, volatile mood swings, unintentional incantations that escaped her tongue. He could not bear to see Sofie become a husk of the vibrant woman he adored.

Of course, she had no plan to allow that to happen.

A man stumbled out of a tavern and fell to the ground in a drunken heap, directly in the path of two draft horses. Elijah’s eyes widened, the idea of witnessing someone trampled to death lifting his spirits. At least that human’s problem might rival his own tonight. He gripped the stone ledge in anticipation, watching the beasts’ hooves plodding toward the man’s limp body, seconds away from squashing his head as if it were a ripe melon. At the last moment, two men grabbed him by the heels and dragged him to safety. The horses cantered on into the night. Damn those good Samaritans.

Elijah scanned the streets for another person in a predicament worse than his own, knowing the chances were slim. His attention landed on a young couple in the midst of a lovers’ quarrel, one that quickly escalated from shouts and hand gestures to a swift knee to the man’s groin. The growing crowd of spectators erupted in laughter as the young man crumpled, writhing in pain. Despite his bitter mood, Elijah chuckled.

Sofie was not to be deterred, though. “Malachi has answered me, and we must act in haste. You have delayed this long enough.”

“When the guild finds out, they will kill us on principle,” he warned, as he had many times before. They had forbidden such perilous summons for good reason—an accord that had brought about peace after centuries of war between the casters and the immortals.

“What is done is done.” Her face was a mask of grim certainty. “If they find out, they may punish me. But if we don’t do this, I am dead either way.”

“And I shortly thereafter.” His eyes flickered to the ground beneath the oak tree once again. If she was wrong, the gravedigger would be burrowing two holes in that soil by the morn, for without Sofie, there was no point for Elijah to continue.

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