When Lydia discovers on her eighteenth birthday that she is destined to marry King Gabriel of Imarnia, her whole life is turned upside down. Using her unique fire powers and years of training, Lydia tries to resist fate at every turn.
But King Gabriel has other plans…
Age Rating: 18+
The Flames that Bind Us by Suri Sabri is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.
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You are hereby summoned to the Seeing Mountain by the Watchers of Fate.
Make haste and tell no one of this letter.
The future of all Ignolia depends upon it.
We await your arrival…
No mortal man had ever stepped foot within the ancient cave and lived to tell the tale. Luckily for Lucius, he was no mere mortal.
The old wizard descended deeper into the darkness, trailing his gloved fingers along the rocky walls, examining the charcoal drawings depicting his world’s history.
Imagery of kings and queens, mages and werewolves…
He recognized one of the figures, he thought. A little black heroic smudge facing what appeared to be…a dragon.
Lucius bit back a snort, pulling out his flask and taking a long, hearty gulp. It’d been many years since Lucius was that wizard. He was only here now because the Watchers of Fate had demanded his presence.
The three powerful witch sisters were not to be trifled with. No one had come to this mountain in centuries. And the reason for this letter, this invitation…it puzzled Lucius.
He hadn’t been performing magic for decades. What could they possibly want with an old drunk like him?
The dark pathway twisted and turned until, at last, Lucius saw it: an opening into a large cavern, illuminated by strange glowing stalactites above.
It was a throne room, Lucius realized. Sitting upon three identical marble thrones were three identical women.
The sacred sisters.
The seeing witches.
The Watchers of Fate.
The one in the middle, who he guessed was Severina, slowly stood up. She had silky white hair that reached her knees. Her skin was the color of dark honey and her lips an even darker shade. Her silver robes hugged her slender, ethereal frame.
Although she was identical to her sisters, there was an authority to her tone that told Lucius she was in charge.
“It has been a long time since we’ve seen you…” Severina said.
They had never met, of course, but the Watchers of Fate could see anyone anywhere in the kingdom. In the present, past, or future.
Lucius smiled with a grimace. “I have been busy.”
He noticed then why he was squinting. The witch on the right was holding a bright white orb full of incandescent energy.
It was the only source of light in the cave. It was magnificent and terrifying at once, as if even the slightest movement might cause it to explode.
Severina continued, “My sisters and I have something urgent to share with you.”
“If it is a quest,” Lucius said, shaking his head, “you know, there are other, younger magicians better suited—”
“This order does not come from us, Lucius,” Severina cut him off.
“But from the Gods…”
At this, Lucius went deathly quiet. The will of the Gods was never to be questioned. Still, Lucius didn’t like the sound of it. The last time the Gods interfered in mortal affairs, a century-long war had been the result.
A war in which Lucius had lost too much.
“What could the Gods possibly want from me?” he asked.
Severina turned to her sister holding the orb and nodded. All at once, the witches closed their eyes, hummed in unison, and the orb rose mid-air…
Lucius felt the hair on his arms stand on end. Never in his life had he felt a magic as powerful as this.
The orb began to shake wildly mid-air, growing brighter and brighter, as if it was about to detonate. Lucius held up a hand to shield his eyes.
Finally, the orb floated to rest on a stone altar and, with a deafening crack, split open, leaving only a white melting substance…
“Behold, Lucius,” Severina whispered. “Your quest.”
Within the milky substance oozing off the altar, there was a small pink shape. And now a strange sound echoed off the walls of the ancient cave.
The sound of a baby’s cry.
There, lying on the hard surface, born from the orb itself, was an infant. Lucius couldn’t believe his eyes as he took a shaky step toward it.
“Why…?” he stuttered. “Who…?”
“She is no ordinary child, Lucius,” Severina said. “She is a Slifer.”
That was the last word Lucius ever expected to hear. A Slifer?! They were mere myth, he thought. Wizards who could control one of the four elements of nature.
That elemental power was something only Gods could do…
“What do you expect me to do with her?” he asked.
The last time he’d seen a child, it had ended with heartbreak. Hearing the sound of this one’s cries, seeing her innocent little body…it unsettled him to his core.
“Hold her, Lucius,” Severina demanded.
He reluctantly picked the child up and looked down at her.
“You will guard her. Nurture her. For eighteen years. Until the fateful day when her destiny will become intertwined with the King’s.”
So that was why she was so important. Lucius shook his head. He couldn’t possibly raise a child. What were these witches and the Gods thinking?!
“I know this must be hard for you,” Severina said knowingly. “But you must do it, Lucius. For Ingolia. For your people.”
Lucius looked once more at the child. He promised himself then and there he would do as the Gods demanded, but he would not grow attached.
She would be his apprentice, nothing more.
He would call her…Lydia, for it seemed a wholly unremarkable name. And for a child of destiny such as this, the appearance of normalcy would be most important.
“Do you see what she is, Lucius?” Severina asked. “Her true power?”
The baby gazed up at him with big innocent eyes. They were the color of flames, a mixture of gold, red, and orange. The fiery shades swirled and danced almost like real flames, glowing unnaturally.
“Fire,” Lucius whispered. “She will burn the world if I’m not careful.”
“That’s right,” Severina said, nodding solemnly. “You hold the destiny of our world, Lucius. The daughter of flames.”
EIGHTEEN YEARS LATER…
“Focus your senses, Lydia! Aim with precision!”
Although she could hear a man’s distant voice, Lydia only saw darkness. Emptiness. And in the void, a long, thin wooden post began to take shape.
“You mustn’t be stiff! The magic will only bind if you are at ease…”
She curled her fingers into a fist, trying to drown out his drunken advice. His slurs were only making her angrier.
Maybe that would help.
Already, Lydia could feel the hot steam slithering between her fingers.
A pop and a sizzling sound followed. Lydia didn’t need to open her eyes to recognize the orange fire enveloping her entire fist.
It was working. She could do this!
“Do not waver! Unleash your power, Lydia! NOW!”
Damn it, old man! She wasn’t wavering until he’d had to mention it. Now, as she flung the fireball through the air, she snapped open her eyes, and…
The ball of flames flew just past the wooden post, singeing the wood, but hardly burning it. The fire blew out mid-air with a deflated fizzle.
Enraged, Lydia turned to chastise her guardian, but he wasn’t even paying attention. Lying on the grass beneath a tree was the once-great magician Lucius Voltaire.
Lydia’s guardian and only family.
Lucius was guzzling what was left of a cheap bottle of elven rum, neck craned back, oblivious.
“Seriously?!” she asked, crossing her arms with a glare.
At this, he turned to consider her, bleary-eyed. “You’re not practicing enough, kid. What can I say?”
Lydia hated when he called her kid. It was so condescending.
“Maybe if you actually trained me instead of drinking all the time…”
“Excuses, excuses,” he said, waving his hand and taking another gulp.
His jade-colored eyes flashed with sudden sober intensity. “I told you not to call me that!”
Lydia smiled. This was the one way she knew how to get a rise out of him. “What’s the matter? You’re nine-hundred-and-eighteen years old anyway!”
The truth was, even though he’d raised her, he’d always instructed Lydia to call him Lucius. Why? He would never say. But every year, around October—on Lydia’s birthday, to be exact—he’d get a lot drunker than usual.
Lydia’s eighteenth birthday.
“If you ask me, you did great, Lydia.”
Lydia looked down to see Lux curling around her foot. He was a black cat with piercing yellow eyes and a sociable side. After all, the feline could talk.
“Thanks, Lux,” Lydia said with a sigh. “But you also think fish goes perfectly well with cake.”
He jumped into Lydia’s arms and nuzzled against her as she scratched behind his ears. Lux had been her best friend since she was five years old. She’d found him in the back alley behind a potion merchant’s shop.
Lydia assumed Lux must have had a sip of something magical to give him the power of speech. But she’d never asked him.
“So, what are we doing for your birthday?” he purred affectionately.
“Good question, Lux,” Lydia said, turning to Lucius. “Any ideas, Grandpa?”
But she was surprised by the tormented expression on the old wizard’s face. It looked like he was hiding something deeply and profoundly painful.
“Go get ready for school,” he muttered.
Then, he got up and left Lydia and her cat alone in the backyard. She petted Lux’s head.
“That’s all right, Lux. We’ll come up with something.”
“You’re eighteen! It’s a big deal.”
Lydia nodded. Perhaps. But why was it such a big deal to Lucius?
Their house was on top of a hill in a town called Vera, on the outskirts of the Imarnian Kingdom. From Lydia’s bedroom window, she could see the towers of the faraway palace.
The palace where the King, Gabriel James Imarnia, lived and ruled.
The most handsome man in the world.
Or so they said.
The truth was, Lydia knew very little about the King herself. But she’d always been curious. He was three-hundred-and-thirty-nine years old apparently, but because of his wizard magic, looked no older than twenty-eight.
And he had never married for some reason. So, he was still without a Queen.
Sometimes, Lydia would find sealed letters between the King and Lucius and wonder what they could possibly be corresponding about. Lucius hadn’t been practicing magic for years other than to train her how to use her Slifer powers.
So, what was that about?
She got dressed, putting on her hideous school uniform—a dull, long, gray pinafore, with a white short-sleeved shirt and an even uglier red and gray bow tie—and tried to add a bit of glamor by throwing on as many bracelets as possible.
Even though she had to wear the same outfit as everyone else in school, everyone knew she was different.
From her olive skin to her hair, streaked with fiery reds and deep blacks, Lydia had always stood out.
Her eyes, alight with fire, told everyone in town that she was a Slifer, whether she wanted them to know or not. At least the mark on her wrist, two intertwined glowing S’s, she could hide with sleeves or accessories.
Mostly, people looked at her strange because of the drunk wizard who happened to be her guardian. Lucius had always made her promise to save her virginity.
Why? Honestly, after all these years, Lydia had grown tired of even asking. But she’d obeyed with the hope she might one day understand.
When she was finally ready, Lydia ran downstairs with Lux bounding behind her.
“Okay, we’re ready!”
“Good,” Lucius grumbled, holding out a hand. “I’m in a hurry. So…”
Lydia knew the drill. When Lucius didn’t feel like traveling on foot, he would teleport them wherever they needed to go. She took his hand and opened her bag so Lux could jump in.
“Let’s go,” she said.
With a sudden whirl, the world spun around them, and they were transported.
Lydia blinked, adjusting to her new surroundings, then frowned.
“Grandpa…” she said, confused. “Where…?”
“I told you not to call me that,” he said, stern.
He turned a corner and Lydia quickly followed, shocked to see the massive gates of the Imarnian palace before them. What were they doing here?
“Maybe it’s a surprise!” Lux purred from Lydia’s bag. “For your birthday!”
“Lucius,” she said, using the name he preferred. “Will you tell me what’s going on?”
Lucius turned and sighed, eyes cast downward. “There’s something I need to tell you, Lydia. Something I should have told you years ago…”
Now, Lydia felt her stomach tightening into a knot. Whatever was coming wasn’t good. That much, she could tell.
“What is it, Lucius?” she asked in barely a whisper.
He turned to consider the palace. “Years ago, I was told by three powerful witches that this day would come. The day when yours and the King’s fates would become intertwined. On your eighteenth birthday.”
“Intertwined?” Lydia asked, head spinning. “What does that mean?”
He turned to consider her, his green eyes brimming with unkempt emotion.
“Lydia, today…you are to be claimed by the King.”
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Somewhere out there, among the denizens of his sprawling kingdom, was the girl Gabriel was supposed to claim. He’d been King for more than three centuries, and yet somehow, he had never found her.
Today, Gabriel would finally meet the Slifer. So, why wasn’t he happy?
“Gabriel, are you all right?”
Gabriel turned to see his second-in-command and best friend, Aero, beside him. He sighed, shaking his head, knowing he’d been caught in the act. He was at the top of the tallest rampart in his kingdom, wearing a brooding look Aero had come to know well.
“Fine, Aero,” he said. “I just needed to clear my head.”
“You’re thinking about her again, aren’t you?” Aero asked. “The girl?”
“How can I not, Aero? Today is her eighteenth birthday.”
The Watchers of Fate had warned Gabriel years ago that this day would come. Although he had no idea who she was, Severina’s words continued to haunt him.
“The girl is destined to protect you. To save you…and your kingdom.”
He shook his head, disgusted. Since when did Gabriel need protecting? He was one of the most powerful wizards in all of Ignolia! What power could some teenage girl possibly possess that would be able to save him?
What made this girl so special?
“You have that look about you, Gabriel,” Aero warned. “The dark look.”
Gabriel laughed bitterly. “Funny, isn’t it? I rule a kingdom so bright and beautiful it’s blinding to the eye. And yet, my heart and magic…they’re full of darkness.”
Aero shivered. He had seen Gabriel conjure shadows before. He knew what his King was capable of…and what dangers these shadows posed to his soul.
“Come, Gabriel,” Aero said at last, breaking the foreboding silence that had descended over them. “Your sister has been asking after you. She’s meeting with the masses today in preparation for the ceremony and suggests you join.”
“Suggests, huh?” Gabriel said with a sigh. “Just what I need.”
But Aero nudged his ribs with a wink and a sly smile. “We both know who really rules the kingdom, Gabriel. Better hurry.”
Gabriel laughed despite himself. “Lis doesn’t take no for an answer, that’s true. But watch yourself, Aero.”
“There’s the King I know.”
Gabriel cherished Aero for his humor. No matter how dark the day seemed, his master of arms always managed to bring a smile to his face.
“All right, all right,” he said, following Aero. “Let’s go see Lis.”
It’d been a while since Gabriel had been out among his people. Maybe being on the ground instead of high up in his ivory tower was exactly what he needed.
Anyway, if he was away from the palace, he wouldn’t have to meet the Slifer girl.
For that, the King was willing to go anywhere.
Lydia still couldn’t believe what Lucius had just told her. Standing outside the palace gates, she stared at her guardian in disbelief.
Be claimed by the King?!
Surely, Lucius was joking. But his saddened jade eyes, hunched posture, and hand shakily reaching for his flask told her otherwise.
“I am sorry I never told you, Lydia,” he said solemnly. “I feared if you knew, the secret would eventually get out, and…”
“And you would be in danger! You can hardly make a fireball, let alone defend yourself. I needed to train you first.”
Lucius took a sip of his rum. Lydia, so outraged, so completely and totally shocked by this revelation, smacked the flask from his hand to the cobblestone floor.
“I can’t believe you!” she cried. “All these years, you’ve been keeping this to yourself, and…and…”
Lydia didn’t have words. Her mouth was suddenly dry. The air, impossible to breathe. It felt like the world as she’d always known it was collapsing around her.
“It is not my will, Lydia,” Lucius tried to explain. “The Gods demand it. Only when you two are bonded will the kingdom be safe.”
“It all makes sense,” she said, backing away and shaking her head. “Your ridiculous rules. Your training. You were…fattening me up like a cow for the slaughter.”
“It’s not like that—”
“Saving my virginity so the King could take it?! Teaching me to use my powers for his benefit?!”
“Is that so wrong?”
All Lydia had ever wanted was to be a great, powerful wizard one day. Like Lucius once was, according to legend. Now, she was supposed to be claimed. A kept woman. A pawn in some chess game being played by forces beyond her imagination.
It was all too much.
“Lydia, please,” he said. “I didn’t do this to hurt you. You…you’re like family to me.”
The word “family” forced Lucius to grimace involuntarily. Why he’d always kept such a distance between them, why he’d always hated her calling him Grandpa, Lydia never understood. But now, it all made sense.
Because, one day, Lucius knew he would have to cast her away.
Lydia felt Lux shivering in her bag, the poor cat caught in the middle of the strangest confrontation ever.
“Lydia…” she heard him mew diminutively. “What does all this mean?”
She didn’t know what to say. For all she knew, entering that palace would mean the end of her friendship with Lux. What kind of King allowed a talking cat a seat at the table?
She backed away further from Lucius, and his eyes widened.
“Lydia, don’t…” he said, reaching a hand toward her. “You mustn't go. This is your destiny!”
But Lydia wasn’t going to listen to one more word out of the old wizard’s lying mouth.
“You don’t control me anymore, Lucius,” she said.
And with that, Lydia turned and fled from the palace, dashing into the bustling streets of Imarnia, while Lucius’s voice called after her.
Lydia wandered through the city’s old historical quarter hardly seeing anything, her eyes were so blurry with tears. Lux crawled out of the bag and curled around her neck, purring softly, trying to comfort her.
Although this earned her some odd looks from passersby, Lydia didn’t care. She was grateful to have her furry friend.
Anyway, she was used to getting strange looks. Her fiery eyes were the farthest thing from normal. The cost of being a fire Slifer.
She thought again of Lucius and all the secrets he’d kept from her. The idea that she, of all people, was destined to protect the King of Imarnia…it was just too much to process.
She felt like she might burst into tears all over again when Lux nuzzled her cheek.
“Lydia, look around you…” he said in awe. “This place is amazing.”
Lux was right. Lydia had never ventured so far from her little town. Seeing the capital in all its glory was almost enough to take her mind off all the day’s drama. Almost.
“What…what are those?” Lydia asked, pointing.
A large, expensive carriage was passing them by, led by the strangest animals Lydia had ever seen. They were like horses, but white, with fat blue stripes.
At the sight of them, Lux’s eyes widened, and on instinct, he scurried back into the bag.
“Don’t be afraid, Lux,” Lydia said, giggling. “They don’t bite.”
She remembered their names now. Moxars. She’d learned about them in elementary school. Children were playing nearby, and shoppers were going in and out of boutiques, arms full of bags and purchases.
Everything about this city felt alive.
Lydia sat beside a stone-carved fountain and admired its beauty. Streams of water shot from the mouth of a silver phoenix. Lydia remembered what she’d once learned…that when Imarnia was founded, the God Azareth had bestowed upon the king a phoenix just like this.
Lydia wondered if this was mere legend, or if there was some truth to it. After all, that’s how people had once talked about Slifers.
As if they were pure fantasy. The stuff of fairytales.
And yet, here was Lydia, whose very existence proved them wrong.
“Lux,” she said. “Do you think—?”
But she never got to finish that sentence because, all of a sudden, the beauty and calm of Imarnia’s historical quarter was broken by a high-pitched scream.
“All I’m saying, brother, is that this girl by your side could be good for you.”
It took all of Gabriel’s willpower not to roll his eyes. Lis, his sister, was in the middle of one of her famous lectures as they toured the townships. Guards surrounded them, keeping the common folk at a safe distance.
“Lis,” he said with a sigh, “just for once, could we talk about anything but my love life?”
“Or lack thereof,” she teased. “Today is a big day, Gabriel. You should be excited.”
The King was about to respond with his own barbed comeback when a commotion up ahead distracted him.
“What is that?” Lis asked, frowning.
The guards drew closer, urging them to enter the carriage. But now, Gabriel was curious, too. As he pushed through the crowd, he saw something that made his eyes widen in shock.
A chase was on in the middle of the historical quarter. And no ordinary chase. A thief was barreling through a marketplace, sprinting for his life, as authorities ran after him.
But high above, a young woman was flying—yes, flying!—using some sort of elemental power to propel her skyward.
Gabriel’s mouth dropped in disbelief as the girl raised a hand, conjured a ball of fire, and threw it with all her might.
The flames burst right in front of the thief, creating a wall of fire and stopping him in his tracks.
He scurried to a halt and held up his hands in terror as she descended.
Now, Gabriel could see the fire was swirling in her eyes as well. They were the most beautiful and haunting eyes he’d ever seen.
“Drop it,” she said, and the thief complied, dropping his bag of stolen jewelry at her feet. Only when it was done did the girl breathe and realize a massive crowd was watching her. Eyes were everywhere.
Including his. The King’s.
Their eyes locked.
Lydia had never achieved so much with her Slifer powers before in her life. It was as if another spirit had taken control of her body and she’d just been along for the ride.
Not now, though. Now, she was Lydia again. And staring at her, surrounded by a whole battalion of royal guards, was a tall, dark, mysterious man in the most decorated outfit Lydia had ever seen.
Everyone gasped and bowed at the sight of him.
He had a broad chin and a hard jawline with high cheekbones. His skin was pale and flawless. His nose, straight. His pink lips, full. His eyes were hard, piercing, and a color Lydia had never seen before. They were the gray of clouds after a thunderstorm.
But something about his aura was dark and shadowy…which only made him more handsome. In fact, Lydia realized, he was by far the most handsome man she had ever seen.
When their eyes met, it was as if the strongest, most magnetic bond had snapped into place. It felt like destiny had literally brought them together.
But who was he?
“Your Highness,” a familiar voice rang out.
She turned to see Lucius running up, out of breath. Did he just say…Highness?!
Lucius turned to her, and as if reading her mind, nodded. “Lydia, allow me to introduce you to King Gabriel.”
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