The Keeper's Flame (A Pandoran Novel, #2)

BOOK: The Keeper's Flame (A Pandoran Novel, #2)
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The Keeper's Flame

By Barbara Kloss

 

Copyright 2012 Barbara Kloss

All Rights Reserved

 

Cover art by Ben Kloss

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

 

Dedication

 

For my best friend, Ben, who kept the spark ignited.

I love you.

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Chapter 1 – Voices in the Night

Chapter 2 – The Dark Rider

Chapter 3 – My Dad, the Prince

Chapter 4 – Fleck

Chapter 5 – Promises Kept

Chapter 6 – Escape

Chapter 7 – Danton

Chapter 8 – Blood Ants

Chapter 9 – The Grand Ball

Chapter 10 – Alex

Chapter 11 – Desperate Measures

Chapter 12 – Swapping Serum

Chapter 13 – A Worthy Disguise

Chapter 14 – The Keeper's Flame

Chapter 15 – From Bad to Worse

Chapter 16 – The First Competition

Chapter 17 – Change of Plans

Chapter 18 – The Wall

Chapter 19 – The Non-Directional

Chapter 20 – Vera

Chapter 21 – Identities

Chapter 22 – The Shadowguard

Chapter 23 – Hell's Peak

Chapter 24 – Betrayal

Chapter 25 – An Unexpected Farewell

Chapter 26 – Hope

Chapter 27 – A Secret Mission

Acknowledgements

 

 

Chapter 1

Voices in the Night

 

 

“L
ady!” whispered a little voice.

My eyes fluttered open to the dark.

“Lady, wake up!” said the little voice again, more frantic this time.

Small, yet firm hands gripped my shoulder and shook it. With a soft moan, I rolled to my side and the hands let go. I could just make out his slight silhouette in the dark. I reached out and grabbed his little hand. Poor thing; he was trembling.

“Bad dreams again?” I yawned.

Fleck shook his head.

“No?” I propped myself up on my elbow. My eyes were beginning to adjust and I could now see two glittering eyes. I squeezed his hand. “What is it then?”

He gulped. “I…hear voices.”

“In the hall?”

He shook his head again and his bottom lip trembled.

“Where?” I asked.

“The closet.”

“You’re sure?”

He answered with an exaggerated nod. Fleck had been having nightmares ever since we’d arrived here, but I’d never seen him so shaken by them before.

“Want to get the light?” I asked, but before the words were even out of my mouth, a flame materialized on my bedside candle.

Fleck was whiter than my sheets and his hair was matted to his forehead. I brushed his hair back; he was burning up. “Hmm,” I said, “let’s go have a look.”

I wrapped my robe around myself, slipped into my slippers, and we stepped out into a dark corridor.

It was sometime between the hours when the day is in limbo, waiting for tomorrow. Everyone, and everything, was sleeping. Even the torches were nodding off, flames struggling to burn. The castle was menacing at night, like a great tomb, hiding centuries of secrets that felt safe to come forth once the living were asleep. And the secrets in this world, I’d come to realize, were never of the fortuitous kind.

Fleck’s little hand was sweaty in mine as we padded down the cold, dark hall. His room was in a tower not far from me, but nearer to the heart of the castle. My grandfather, the king, liked to keep him close.

Right before the door to Stefan’s room, we turned down a narrow corridor, wound up the spiral stone staircase, and reached his small, wooden door.

I turned to face Fleck, crouching beside him. His eyes were huge and frightened and his knobby legs were shaking so badly that I was surprised he could still stand. “Would you like to wait out here?” I asked.

He bit his lip and shook his head.

I held his gaze a moment before pressing my hand on the door. It opened with a loud
creeeeeak
, and the light from our candle diffused into the room.

Fleck’s room was always tidy, not because he kept it so, but because he didn’t own much to clutter it. He had a simple wooden desk and a simple wooden dresser, but his simple wooden bed was a disaster. The blankets were in a tangled heap on the floor, and the pillows were lying at odd angles on the opposite end of his bed. The window beside his bed hung open, his curtains fluttering in the gentle breeze. Directly across from his bed, on the opposite wall, was the door to his closet.

I looked back at Fleck, who gulped loudly. “Wait here,” I said.

He shook his head and squeezed my hand. He was trying so hard not to be afraid.

I squeezed his hand back. “Please? I need someone to stand guard and make sure no one’s coming.”

Fleck hesitated a moment and finally nodded. I smiled. “Thanks. Now, let’s see what
dares
disturb your slumber.” I dropped my voice low, and Fleck grinned. Some of the color was already coming back into his white cheeks.

The boards creaked beneath my feet as I crossed the room. I placed my hand on the doorknob—felt a rush of Fleck’s anxiety—and jerked the door open.

Nothing.

Just a small, empty square with two little cloaks hanging side by side. I scoured the floorboards, pressed my hand along the walls, patted down the cloaks, and once I’d searched every inch of the closet, I turned around and dusted my hands. “Whatever it was, I think you scared it away. They probably forgot whose room this was.” I grinned.

Fleck seemed to expand a little and took a shaky step into the room. His eyes watched the closet as if at any moment it would spring to life, and, when he was thus satisfied, he looked up at me and grinned his toothy grin.

I closed the door to his closet, picked up the heap of blankets from the floor and arranged them on his bed. I sat, patting the spot beside me. Fleck bounded to my side and leapt on the bed.

“Think you’ll be able to sleep now?” I asked.

He glanced at the closet and looked back at me. “I think so.”

I arranged his pillows and sighed. “I know. I don’t like this place either. It’s too cold.”

Fleck’s eyes widened. “You mean you don’t have winter where you’re from?”

I smiled, ruffling his hair. “No, we had winter, but we had better ways to keep warm. Like a heater.”

Fleck’s brow puckered. “What’s a heater?”

Funny, I guess he wouldn’t know what that was. “Well, it’s—”

A gust of wind ripped through the window, stealing the flame from my candle, and the room went dark. There was a chill to the air, one that turned my bones cold and froze my breath.

I didn’t like the winter here. Like everything else in this world, it had a spirit and it was a foreboding one. “Fleck, the candle.” I tried to keep my voice even as I shut the window.

The candle flickered to life. Fleck’s eyes lifted to mine and I thought they’d tremble, too, if they could.

“There, that’s better.” I forced a smile as I grabbed his hand and squeezed it gently. “That wind is so loud, no wonder you can’t sleep.”

He didn’t look convinced, and his eyes mistrustfully moved back to his closet. I couldn’t leave him here tonight, not all by himself. But he couldn’t stay with me.

“I have an idea,” I said. “Let’s see what Stefan’s doing.”

Fleck swallowed. “Sleeping?”

I held my hand out to him. “Sleeping is overrated. Come on.”

With one last glance at his closet, he slipped off the bed and bolted into the hall. I took one last look around his room and started pulling the door closed, but something made me pause—a slight shift in the air.

I heard them, then.

Whispers. Soft and low, fading in and out like a dream. Beckoning and pleading and…unearthly.

My skin crawled as I shut the door and spun around. Fleck was watching me. “You heard them, too.”

I took a deep breath and gripped his hand. We were down the steps and at Stefan’s door in no time. I knocked firmly and quietly, so as not to wake anyone else.

No answer.

I glanced down into Fleck’s frightened eyes and I knocked again. “Stef!” I whispered. “It’s me, open up!”

There was fumbling on the other side, a few muffled words, and his door creaked open. Stefan’s golden hair stuck out all over the place and his robe had been haphazardly thrown over his body. He squinted at the candle and used his hand to block the light.

“D, do you have any idea what time it is?” he moaned.

“No, actually.” I pushed his door open and dragged Fleck into his room after me.

Stefan grumbled something behind me and closed the door. A few candles in his room suddenly sparked to life. His arms were folded over his chest as he tried to look mad but couldn’t stop yawning.

“I’ve got a favor to ask,” I said.

“Couldn’t it wait un—” his word was broken with a yawn “—until tomorrow?”

I stared hard at him. “No.”

He eyed me a moment and then noticed Fleck, who had positioned half of himself behind my legs. When Stefan looked back at me, his frustration had evaporated.

“There’s something in Fleck’s room,” I said.

“What do you mean
something
?”

“Just what I said, something. I don’t know. I couldn’t find anything, but I—we heard whispers.”

“Are you
sure
this can’t wait until morning?” Stefan yawned and scratched his head.

I folded my arms.

Stefan looked between Fleck and me and finally sighed. “I’ll be right back.”

“Thanks,” I said.

He grabbed his baldric off a small table and left.

Fleck and I waited on his couch, watching the fire Fleck had created. It didn’t matter how close I sat to fires here; I could never get warm. The air was too cold and there was too much extra space.

It wasn’t long before Stefan returned and tossed his baldric aside. “All’s clear.”

“You didn’t hear anything?” I asked.

He shook his head.

“Did you even listen?”

“Daria.” He rolled his eyes. “That room is as quiet as a morgue.”

Fleck trembled beside me, and I made a face at Stefan.

“Er, I mean,” Stefan stammered, “sorry, but honestly I didn’t see anything.”

I continued to give Stefan “The Look,” and he promptly joined us by the fire and took a seat. Fleck kept shaking beside me and tried to stop himself by holding his knees, but they kept banging into each other.

“Does Master Antoni know?” Stefan asked.

Master Antoni had been working with Fleck ever since we’d arrived at the castle and was the only guild member I trusted. I shook my head. “This is the first time it’s happened—right?” I turned to Fleck.

Fleck bit his lip as he nodded.

Stefan looked thoughtful. “I will say,” his voice turned gentle, “that room is awfully cold. Too cold.” He looked at Fleck. “I think you should stay here for now, until I convince Father to find something more appropriate. You’ll catch cold up there.”

The gleam returned to Fleck’s eyes, and he grinned.

“You’ll have to sleep on the couch, though; will that be all right?” Stefan asked.

Fleck nodded, beaming.

“Great, then we can all”—he looked pointedly at me—“go to bed.”

I wrapped my arms around Fleck and squeezed him goodnight. He whispered “Thanks, lady” into my ear and then plopped back on the couch and shut his eyes. I pulled a blanket from Stefan’s dresser, laid it gently over Fleck, and Stefan escorted me to the door.

“You really heard something up there?” he whispered.

I glanced past him at Fleck, who was already talking in his sleep, and I nodded. “Not at first, but when we were leaving. Just whispers, but I don’t know where they were coming from.”

BOOK: The Keeper's Flame (A Pandoran Novel, #2)
11.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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