Authors: Kit Grindstaff
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2013 by Kit Grindstaff
Jacket art copyright © 2013 by Chris Rahn
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of
Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The flame in the mist / Kit Grindstaff. — 1st ed.
Summary: Thirteen-year-old Jemma finds herself in a race for her life when she discovers an ancient prophecy that reveals the truth about her past and an unimaginably great and dangerous destiny—to defeat the evil Agromonds and restore peace and sunlight to Anglavia.
[1. Magic—Fiction. 2. Prophecy—Fiction. 3. Fate and fatalism—Fiction.
4. Fantasy.] I. Title.
PZ7.G88448F1 2013 [Fic]—dc23 2012004546
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For Jemima and Oliver,
who make my world a brighter place
“Help me—help!” A weary voice from outside. A fist, hammering on the door.
The boy turned from the fire and the potion he was stirring. Who would call at this hour, before dawn had yet dusted the town rooves? He ran to the door and flung it open.
A girl stood on the step. She was wild-haired and filthy, silken robes hanging in rags from her small frame. She could not have seen more than twelve winters, perhaps thirteen. The same as he.
“Help me, I beg of thee,” said she, breathless as a hunted fawn, “for I know not where else to turn.…” In her black eyes, he saw the horrors she had witnessed: the killings, the terrors of her flight—
He clamped down his thoughts to prevent himself from seeing more, and reached out his hand. As she took it, he noticed the Stone hanging around her neck, its blue-green blaze promising magic. But the gold crest embroidered on the shoulder pouch she carried made his heart freeze.
The Agromond crest. The girl was an Agromond.
She saw him looking, and turned the pouch around to hide the crest. “I have no more use for my family’s evil ways,” she whispered. “That part of my life have I left at the castle. Would that thou believ’st me!”
Everything about the girl told him she spoke the truth. Her eyes. Her aura. The softness of her touch.
“I believe you,” he said. “Come. Warm yourself by our hearth.”
The instant she stepped over the threshold, Visions tumbled through his head. He saw all that her Gifts would now bring to the service of healing and Light, instead of to the Agromonds and their Darkness. And he also saw the terrible events that would unfold because of her betrayal of her family. Greater poverty. Greater misery. The Mist spreading, covering the sun. The Agromonds, meting out their fury on the Anglavian people for generations to come.
Then far, far in the future, another girl flickered into his mind’s eye. One with fiery-colored hair like his own. One through whom the Agromonds would attempt to take out their greatest revenge, and achieve their greatest gain. Yet she would also be a danger to them—
His Vision clouded. He could not see the outcome. But he wished fervently that there was something he could do to help her. For he knew in his bones that she would be the only hope for peace and prosperity to reign once more.
“The Fire One,” he murmured as he settled his beautiful, ragged guest by the hearth. “Thus shall this future one be known.”
He glanced out of the window and saw tendrils of Mist snaking through the streets, contaminating the light of dawn.
“No!” Jemma’s eyelids sprang open. That dream again. Always the same urgency, the same terror, the children’s voices calling her,
Jemma—help us, help!
This time, though, something had changed. She strained to remember what was different, but the fragmented details flew around her head like startled sparrows, too fast to catch.
Gradually, her heartbeat slowed, and she sat up, blinking her small, stone-walled room into focus. Though it wasn’t yet light, she had eyesight like an owl’s and could easily see the carved chest opposite her bed, the rickety chair under the window. On the wardrobe door hung the gray woolen dress, stiff and obedient, that Marsh had ironed the night before. Beneath it, a pair of black leather shoes sat on the floor like two lurking beetles. Her best clothes, reminding her: it was Mord-day, the day of her family’s weekly Offerings to their dark Ancestors. As if that weren’t bad enough, today’s Ceremony was to be special, to prepare for her thirteenth birthday tomorrow. She groaned, and slid out of bed.
The air was colder than usual, and she went to the window to close it. “Vile Mist,” she muttered, gazing out at the swirling gray. “I wish you would go away!” Wind swayed the pine tops.
, it seemed to whisper.
Something needled her memory, other whispers from her dream:
You’re mine—all mine!
She slammed the window shut.
“I am a Fire Warrioress, the fiercest in the land!” she gasped. “Evil, evil, go away, cast out by my hand!” The secret incantation she’d made up when she was six and had first seen her flame-red hair in the mirror usually bolstered her, but today the words felt empty and powerless. She gulped down her unease, then noticed a scrabbling sound moving up the chair and onto the window-sill. Four ruby dots glinted at her; two whiskered snouts twitched in the dim, dawn light.
“Hello, Noodle, hello, Pie.” Jemma picked up the rats and held them to her chest. “You’re as nervous as I am today, aren’t you?”
Noodle and Pie quivered, and Jemma held them tighter, feeling their tiny heartbeats flutter in her hands. She kissed their heads, remembering the first time they’d appeared two years ago, when she’d been feeling particularly gloomy. Golden-haired rats, unlike any she’d ever seen—they were special, that was obvious. They had cheered her up then, and had been cheering her up ever since.
Noodle licked her nose, his gaze flickering to the door. Footsteps approached.
“Marsh, already?” said Jemma. “That’s odd. It can’t be eight o’clock yet.”
The rats scampered down Jemma’s nightshirt, hopped to the floor, and skittered under the chest. The door creaked open and the lamp-lit face of a small, middle-aged woman peered in.
“Marsh!” Jemma’s heart lifted as always to see her erstwhile nurse. “You’re early!”
“Shhh!” Marsh shot a glance over her shoulder, then bustled into the room, closed the door, and put her lamp on the chest. She gave Jemma an uncharacteristically quick hug, her plump cheek warm against Jemma’s, then took both her hands. “Listen, pet, careful-like. You must come to my room, tonight. No matter what.”
“Tonight? But you know how tired the Ceremonies make me—”
“Jus’ do it, Jem. It’s important.”
Nerves paddled Jemma’s stomach. Normally, she loved sneaking up to Marsh’s tower room after dark and listening to her stories, but clearly this was different. What could be so pressing? Outside, wind whistled through the pines. “Thirteen,” she murmured. “It’s something to do with my birthday, isn’t it? Something— Oh!” All at once, images crashed into her head.
“What is it, Jem?” Marsh fixed Jemma’s gaze. “That dream you keep havin’?”
“Yes. No. I mean, yes. There’s the Mist as usual, and the screams, but there’s more to it … a woman’s voice, singing in the background … so beautiful! I’ve dreamed about it before, I think, but never remembered till today. Then … a man. Young. Dressed like in olden times, but ragged and desperate-looking, and … he’s coming through the Mist to
me!” More images came, faster and clearer. “The screams are getting louder … everything’s going dark—and the Mist! So thick, and sticky! It’s sort of hissing, saying,
Sweet Thirteen! You’re mine! Sweet Thirteen!
Marsh, it was horrible! I felt as though the Mist wanted to