Home > Ashes Reborn (Souls of Fire #4)

Ashes Reborn (Souls of Fire #4)
Author: Keri Arthur


   I raised my face to the sky and drew in the heat of the day. It ran through me like a river, a caress filled with warmth and sympathy, as if the sun were aware of my reason for being in this clearing out in the middle of nowhere.

   And maybe it was. It had witnessed me performing this ceremony far too many times in the past.

   I closed my eyes and ignored the tears trickling down my cheeks. Rory’s death was once again my fault. If he hadn’t been in Brooklyn with me, he’d still be alive.

   And if he hadn’t been there, that inner voice whispered, not only would it be you who was dead, but possibly Jackson and Sam as well.

   I hated that inner voice, if only because all too often it was right.

   Rory had died saving our asses, and I knew he wouldn’t be angry about that. He’d always had something of a hero complex, and had often said that if he had to go before his allotted one hundred years were up, he’d rather do it saving someone he loved.

   And he and I did love each other; hell, I couldn’t physically survive without him, nor he without me. But we weren’t in love, thanks to the curse that haunted all phoenixes—a curse that was said to have come from a witch after a phoenix lover had left her with little more than the ashes of broken promises and dreams.

   But it was a curse we could have ultimately lived with, if not for the fact that it came with one other kick in the teeth—that no matter whom we did fall in love with each lifetime, the relationship would end in ashes, just as the witch’s had.

   As far as I was aware, no phoenix had ever found a way to break the curse. I certainly wouldn’t—not in this lifetime, at any rate. Sam might have gotten as far as talking to me of late, but I doubted it would ever progress beyond that. Not given what he saw as my complete betrayal of his trust—even if he now understood the reasons for it.

   I drew in a deep breath and released it slowly, letting it wash the lingering wisps of regret and hurt from my mind. I needed to concentrate. The sun had almost reached its zenith, and that meant it was time to begin.

   I stripped and placed my clothes on the loose white tunic I’d brought here for Rory, and then kicked off my shoes. The slight breeze teased my skin, its touch chasing goose bumps across my body despite the sunshine.

   Within me, energy stirred, energy that was a part of me and yet separate. Rory’s soul, impatient for his rebirth. When phoenixes died—as Rory had in Brooklyn—their flesh became ashes that had to be called, and then retained, within the heat of a mate’s body. If for some reason that process didn’t happen, then there was no rebirth. And that, in turn, was a death sentence for the remaining partner, as phoenixes could only ever rise from their ashes through a spell performed by the mate.

   And there was also a time restriction on rebirth. It had to be done within five days of death, or the life and the fire of those ashes would die, and the spirit and energy would be returned to the earth mother, never to be reborn.

   It had been three days since Rory had passed. I was pushing it, time-wise—hence his impatience and, perhaps, a little fear. But I’d had no choice—the weather in Melbourne had been so bad, a fire would have struggled to remain alight. And while, as a phoenix, I could have kept the flames burning, I couldn’t afford to waste energy when I had no idea how much I’d need for the ceremony. Because no matter how long I’d been doing this, no rebirth was ever exactly the same.

   I brushed stray strands of red-gold hair out of my eyes as I moved into the center of the clearing and toward the square stack of wood I’d already piled there. The dry grass was harsh and scratchy underfoot, and the scent of eucalyptus teased my nostrils.

   It was a perfect day for resurrection.

   I reached down to the inner fires and called them to my fingers. As flames began to dance and shimmer across their tips, I stopped on the west side of the bonfire and raised my hands to the sky. Sparks plumed upward, glittering like red-gold diamonds against the blue of the sky.

   “By dragon’s light,” I intoned softly in a language so old only the gods or another phoenix would understand, “and the mother’s might, I beseech thee to protect all that surrounds me and the one I call from me.”

   As the words of the spell rolled across the silence, the air began to shimmer and spark with the colors of all creation. It was the heat of the day and the power of the mother, of the earth itself, rising to answer the call of protection.

   “Banish all that would do us wrong,” I continued. “Send them away, send them astray, never to pass this way. So mote it be.”

   The sparks I’d sent skyward began to fall gently down, but they never reached the ground, caught instead in the gentle hands of the shimmering light.

   I moved to the north section and repeated the spell. The shimmering net of sparks extended, and the hum of its power began to vibrate through my body. I echoed the process on the two remaining sides until the net had joined and my entire body pulsated to the tune of the power that now surrounded me.

   I faced the bonfire and again raised my face to the sky, watching for the precise moment the sun reached the pinnacle of its arc. Heat, energy, and sparks ran around me, through me, a force wanting to be used, needing to be used.

   Now, that inner voice said.

   I called to my flames, then stepped into the center of the bonfire. As flesh gave way to spirit and I became nothing but a being of fire, the wood around me burst into flame. I held out my hands and raised the fire to greater heights, until it burned with a white-hot heat.

   It felt like home.

   Felt like rebirth.

   “I beseech the dragon that gives life, and the mother that nurtures us all, to release the soul that resides within.”

   The words were lost in the roar of the flames, but they were not unheard. The ground began to tremble, as if the earth itself were preparing for birth.

   “Let the ashes of life be renewed; give him hope and bless him with love, and let him stand beside me once more. By the grace of the mother, and the will of the dragon, so mote it be.”

   As the last word was said, power tore up my legs and through the rest of my body, the sheer force of it momentarily stretching my spirit to the upper limits of survivability. Specks of luminescent ash began to peel away from these overstretched strands, gently at first but rapidly increasing, until it became a storm of light and ash. As the heat of the flames, the force of the earth, and the brightness of the day reached a crescendo of power, the motes began to condense and find form, alternating between our three forms—fire, firebird, and flesh—until what the earth and the day held in their grip was the spirit I’d spent aeons with.


   I thanked the earth mother and the dragon in the sky for their generosity and the gift of life, and then reversed the spell, this time moving from south to west. The wall of energy and sparks shimmered briefly, then began to dissipate, the energy returning to the mother and the fiery sparks drifting skyward as they burned out and disappeared. Nothing was left but the bonfire and the fiery outline of the adult male curled up in a fetal position in the middle of it.

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