An ordinary girl. A rare power. A deadly game.
Don’t draw attention to yourself.
Fifteen-year-old Asha Olinger has abided by her sister’s rules her entire life. After discovering she wields a rare and destructive power, her quiet life is turned upside down. What is this darned ability of hers? Why does everyone keep telling her to stay away from the Queen of Althuria? And more importantly…
Who the heck is murdering girls at the Academy?
If she doesn’t find out soon… she might just be next.
Designed to thrill with its magic, mystery, and murder, Smoke and Spells is the first installment in the Althuria Chronicles coming-of-age fantasy series.
Targeted Age Group:: 14+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I've enjoyed reading and writing from a young age, as it allowed me to escape into new worlds simply by turning a page. That power was fascinating to me, and I wish to give others that wonder too.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My main character is meant to represent the underdog. She struggles through adversity and fights to stay alive despite all odds. A loner at first, she discovers the value of family and friendship through her adventures. She also has a strong moral compass.
My boots pound the brick roads of Althuria. The Arena and the Luminus Academy buildings glitter in the dark, majestic beasts towering behind me. My shift as a cleaner finished late, and the Arena spat me out long after the other weary workers.
As I pass the exotic food stalls, the smell of sweet Serasian spice mixes with the rank smell of garbage, creating a combination my nose will never get used to. It feels as if the squat, grubby buildings are staring at me as I scurry down the street. At this time of night, the illumination of a few small lanterns gives me little comfort.
A sound behind me reaches my ears: footsteps. My heart jumps, but I calm myself and look back. It’s a man wearing a scruffy work uniform. I can’t see the markings properly, but chances are it’s another Arena worker rushing to catch the last train.
I’m wrong—the worker turns into an alleyway and disappears. I’m alone again. But the feeling of unease creeping up my spine lingers. It grows stronger until I’m shaking.
I increase my pace.
Whenever I get this crawling sensation, it’s a sure sign that something bad is going to happen. This strong intuition has helped me before in avoiding accidents. Things like moving a glass away from the edge of the table just before my sister bumps into it or deciding to get to shelter moments before it rains. Even now, my feet slow inexplicably, and I avoid walking into a puddle of strange-smelling liquid.
I know better than to ignore the unease, so I examine my surroundings carefully. There aren’t many people out at this time of night. The stalls, booths, and shops are all closed.
Suddenly, a figure on a horse emerges from the shadows and blocks my way. I bite down a gasp and clutch my coat. The coins in my pocket clink gently. Then I see it’s a guard, slowing when he gets to me. His red uniform and scarred face catch the light as I glance up at him.
“What’s a young girl like you doing at this time of night?” he asks. Even his horse gives me a suspicious look.
“I work at the Arena. I finished late.”
His eyes narrow some more. “What d’you do?”
He leans forward and squints at my worn clothes and my dark skin. The wariness vanishes from his eyes, replaced by disgust.
“You’re a forest girl, aren’t you?” He spits at my tattered shoes. His voice seethes with hate. I nod and brace myself for more insults. Or worse. If he gets violent, there’s nothing I can do about it. Defending myself will only bring more pain.
My sister and I live in Althuria’s vast forests, coined Amberwood by its inhabitants long ago. Not that we have a choice to live there. I don’t enjoy running to catch a train every morning and night, but we can’t afford to stay in Althuria’s busiest city, Ellhoris.
“You lot disgust me,” he goes on.
I stay quiet, itching to get to the train station. Any word I say may antagonize him and delay me.
“You see anyone near the gate?” he asks.
I shake my head, growing more impatient. A spark of intrigue grows in my mind, wondering who the palace guard could be looking for, but I don’t dare question him.
“Asha!” a voice calls out.
The guard looks up. It’s Mrs. Turner, closing up the bakery. She waves, and I wave back, trying to keep my hand from shaking.
Wait for it, wait for it…
The guard turns away and digs his heels into the horse’s flank, muttering to himself. Relief shudders through my body.
“Hello, Mrs. Turner!” I say. I look back as another shadow flickers out of the corner of my eye. But when I glance back, no one’s there.
She looks at me with concern. “You know better than be out so late. Was that guard bothering you?”
“Nothing I can’t handle,” I lie.
I’ve heard the stories. I’ve seen how the Queen’s men walk around this city as if they own it. If Mrs. Turner wasn’t there…
I expel the thought. There’s no use dwelling on it any longer.
“Is Mr. Turner holding up well?” I ask, mustering a weak smile. “Are you managing the shop all right?”
“Ah, I manage. It’d be good to have him back on his feet. And when he does, you’ll eat my famous pastries, won’t you?”
Mrs. Turner has been running the bakery since her husband took a nasty fall and fractured his arm and hip. They called in proper healers, who magically stitched up his bones, and now Althea—my older sister, a nonmagical healer—takes care of him at the hospital. The last time she offered a pastry for free as a thank-you for Althea’s care, I turned it down. They’re struggling, especially with Mr. Turner’s recent injury. I can only imagine the kind of debt they owe now that they’ve gotten a certified magical healer. I’d feel guilty accepting the free treat.
“We’ll see about that pastry when he gets back,” I lie.
Mrs. Turner smiles and steps inside the bakery. “Goodnight, Asha. Be safe out there.”
I rush away, and once again, my boots find a rhythm on the bricks. Soon the distant light and glamour of Ellhoris fades away, transitioning into darker streets where even the smallest lanterns are snuffed out.
I’m terribly late, and the train leaves soon. I turn into an alleyway, a shortcut to the station. I curse out loud. Why do I have to live so far away? Why are the trains so slow to get to Ellhoris and back?
But I already know the answer. None of the wealthy folks running the train systems want to invest in air manipulators to work the engines. Why would they, anyway, when only commoners take the train? The train system is holding us hostage, I reckon. I’m always late for work in the morning and rushing to catch the train at night. Once, I was stranded at the station overnight, and Althea was furious. I was lucky to escape the wrath of the Queen’s Red Shields.
She works just as hard—if not harder—than I do, and the last thing I want to do is upset her.
The thought fuels me forward. I’m almost at the end of the alleyway when my ears pick up footsteps behind me. I freeze.
My entire body tenses. I whip my head around to see who it is—
A large hand clamps over my mouth, stifling my scream. The figure behind me is tall and rough, male for certain. I try to punch and push away from him, but he catches my hand and pulls it violently behind my back. My shoulder throbs in pain. I kick back and elbow him with my other arm, but he wraps his arm around my waist and pulls me closer, constricting my movements. My attacker is so close that his putrid smell fills my nostrils.
I twist around. He’s the same man I saw earlier, who I thought turned into a different alleyway. He must’ve backtracked and continued to follow me. His gray uniform is akin to my own, but a black mark on the shirt’s breast labels him as an Althurian miner.
“Coin on you, girl?” he growls, sniffing my hair. With his free hand, he pats me down. I thrash wildly, and my shirt tears.
“I–I don’t have anything.” My bottom lip quivers. My coins, a week’s pay of hard work, burn a hole through my pocket. They’re a few days’ worth of food.
That is, if I can hold on to them.
“Well, can’t leave with no coin, yeah?”
He jerks me around to face him and runs his hand down my side. When his fingers hit my pocket, he smiles, shoving his hand inside and retrieving the coins. I watch, helpless, as he counts them one by one and puts them in his own pocket. Then he looks back down at me, anger in his eyes.
“Is that all you got?” He leans closer, his sour breath making me gag. “You gotta pay me, or you’re no good to me.”
His fingers tighten, sliding to my hips. Pain explodes where he grips me too tight. My eyes sting. His yellowed teeth gleam, and there’s a murderous glint in his eyes. He’s enjoying my pain. He wants me to scream, knowing no one will come.
No, no, no. This can’t be happening.
The arm around my waist pulls me closer to him, and I lash out. My fist connects with his stomach. He groans. In a flash, a knife appears in his hand, and he presses it to my throat.
“Don’t move,” he says, breathing hard. “Or I’ll slit your throat.”
I can’t tell if he’s bluffing, so I stay still. I’ve never thought about how I’d die, but I’m not about to go down in this grimy alleyway.
Then a bark reaches my ears. I know that bark. Bruiser.
I tense. He shouldn’t be here. How did that darn dog find me? I envision this filthy man stabbing him, stripping him of his fur and storing him for meat.
Bruiser emerges from the shadows, dark fur blending in with the night, and lunges toward my attacker. He bites the man’s leg. Hard.
My attacker screams, and the knife slips, falling to the ground. Warm blood trickles down my collar, but it’s a scratch, nothing worse. The knife continues its pathway down, leaving a nasty slice in Bruiser’s ear. The man wails in agony as Bruiser lets go of his leg.
I use the adrenaline shooting through my veins to pick up the knife and run. Somehow, Bruiser manages to keep pace with me. If I board the train, we’ll be safe.
When I reach the train station, my heart soars. The gate is open, and the train waits for last-minute passengers. I glance behind. The man is limping toward me, the hem of pants soaked in blood, his jaw clenched tight. But the sight of his hands sends ice careening through my veins. The air around them swirls.
He’s a magic manipulator. Unlike me.
He has the advantage.
My breath catches in my throat as the gate slams closed and the lock snaps into place, barring me from my only escape. Definitely air magic. Clearly a weak form, as he seems to be conserving his energy. But it’s enough to block my escape route.
I panic, shaking the gate with all my strength. I hack at the lock with the knife, but it slips from my hand. Instead of falling, it hovers above my head, elevated by magic.
The man may be injured, but he’s making sure I can’t escape. Using magic is supposedly exhausting, but his anger seems to fuel his strength.
My stomach churns. I need to get past this gate. I need to get on the train and go home to Althea.
I need to live.
The thought ricochets through my mind.
I need to live.
The words seep into every inch of my being.
Everything goes black, and I float.
Only the gate and the knife in my hand remain visible. As if in a dream, the knife becomes tarnished and old, its wooden handle and blade crumbling. Before my eyes, the gate rots away, smudged metal turning to dust.
The image overpowers me. There’s a flash of blinding white light, and then I’m back at the train station. The gate and the knife disappear, leaving piles of dust at my feet.
I see you, a soft voice whispers like a breeze.
I turn around. There’s no one but the man standing behind me, frozen. His eyes widen in shock. Then they swirl purple again.
I don’t think. I run.
The train is leaving. I’ve never been a fast runner, but I find myself sprinting toward it in record time, Bruiser lagging behind. The rusted metal doors are just about to close when I rush into one of the tiny compartments. I force the conductor to hold the door open until Bruiser struggles in, then I collapse in a nearby seat. The conductor shoots me a glare, but I ignore it, overcome by euphoria.
But during the slow ride to Amberwood, my elation quickly fades, and my thoughts run wild.
Did you see anyone near the gate?
By now, the palace guard must have noticed the gate’s disappearance. Whatever happened to it and the knife, I know it’s not air, water, or fire magic. Not even ancient rune magic can destroy objects like that.
Dread unfurls inside me. I caused this destruction. Worse, someone was watching.
I see you.
I see you.
Those were the only words she could force out of her throat before heaving herself out of the void. She glanced at the Eternos dagger clutched in her fist, white gems gleaming in its hilt, and a smile leaped to her lips.
With this power, combined with her lutros magic—magic she had created, the only type that could counter the void’s might—it was forced to bow to her will. Finally, she had control over the void.
And with it, she had seen the truth. A void manipulator would come into power soon. Her vision of the future was blurry because the void fought her, but she knew the girl had flaming red hair. Hair that was rare in Althuria.
That girl…with that power…
If only she could get her hands on her. If only she could strip the power from her.
I see you, little girl.
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