Firecracker: A Young Adult Fantasy
In love with one twin, bonded by fire to the other. Welcome to Arcturus Academy. 98% of fire magi who attempt the agonizing forbidden ritual known as The Burning don’t survive. Those who do… level up in ways undreamt of by the Unburned. I survived. Now I've got other problems. Headmaster Chaplin charges me with tutoring struggling student April, but when a bully targets April, I feel my control slipping. It doesn't help that he is my crush's evil twin, who--for reasons no one can explain--I share a powerful mage-bond with. It might be enough to push me into darkness. Will I emerge a hero or a fiend? Even I cannot say. Preorder Firecracker and let the sparks fly! Arcturus Academy is an action-adventure series of five books by a USA Today and Amazon best-selling author. Saxony is a strong female heroine swept into a world of dizzying plot twists, sweet romance and intriguing mythology, all woven against a backdrop of elemental magic. Perfect for fans of Kelley Armstrong, Maria V Snyder, and Shannon Mayer. If you like magical power plays, page-turning action, and the high of first love, then you’ll adore A.L. Knorr’s explosive series.
Release date: September 30, 2020
Publisher: Intellectually Promiscuous Press
Print pages: 388 pages
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Firecracker: A Young Adult Fantasy
Chapter One: A Secret Event
Clutching my invitation to my chest, I shuffled forward in line as the skinny student at the front bent to sign the non-disclosure agreement. The line began at the entrance to the academy’s training facility, or the fire-gym, as it was known, went over the lawn and followed the curve of the driveway.
I turned at the sound of my name and smiled as Gage sprinted past the dried-up monstrosity of a fountain in front of the academy’s main building. He looked as I remembered him, only better, if that was possible. Straight-backed, and clear-eyed, with a generous mouth and a strong jaw, Gage was plain beautiful.
Slipping into line, he shot an apologetic smile at the girl behind me. Her indignation melted into the dazed look of a teen girl from the sixties confronted with a real, live Beatle. Or how I imagined it, anyway.
“Fancy meeting you here.” Gage bumped my shoulder, his grin downright impish. “I’ve never seen so many mages in one place. It’s exciting to be with our kind, don’t you think?”
Gage bounced on his toes, making him look younger than his eighteen years. “I couldn’t believe it when Ryan said you’d be attending Arcturus as well. I thought you were a year behind us.”
“I am. Where is he anyway?”
At the mention of Gage’s identical, older-by-minutes twin, I craned my neck to look for him, my gut already twanging with distaste. Being an identical meant Ryan had the same beauty as Gage, but Ryan lacked Gage's transparency of emotion, the softness in the eyes. Where Gage was inquisitive looking, Ryan was wolfish.
As sweet and even-tempered as Gage was, Ryan camped out at the other end of the spectrum. He’d harassed me back in Saltford only a few weeks ago, wanting me to show him my mage-mark and insulting me when I refused. He’d acted like a cross between a yappy dog and a nosey neighbor. I’d left him in the dust when I sprinted away using my fire-power. It had been rather satisfying.
Gage jerked a thumb over his shoulder and rolled his eyes. “End of the line. We were almost late this morning because he couldn’t get his facial hair right.”
Leaning out past the row of students, I peered back. Ryan stood at the back with his hands jammed deep in his pockets and a bored look.
The only reason I noticed the kid in front of Ryan was because of how badly fitting his Arcturus Academy button-up shirt was. He wasn’t tall or broad, yet the buttons strained and the seams at the shoulders looked as though they would split if he bent over or stood up too straight. You’d think a properly fitting uniform on the weekend before school started would be an easy thing to manage. I hadn’t even picked up my uniform yet, how had this kid managed to shrink his top so badly already? I shook my head and my attention returned to Gage’s twin.
Next to Ryan stood a tough looking man with buzzed hair and a scar on his lip I could make out even from here. He was weather-worn and hard in the eyes but the generous lips reminded me of Gage.
“Is that your dad?” I’d thought the twins were more independent than that.
“Yeah.” Gage’s sullen tone said he’d thought so too. “He insisted on coming. Said he has something important to discuss with Basil.”
“The headmaster?” I gave Gage a look of surprise. “Oh yeah, I almost forgot Mr. Chaplin is your godfather. What’s so important?”
Gage shook his head and put a hand on my elbow as the line shuffled forward. “I don’t know but whatever it is, he’s keeping it from us. Ryan badgered Dad all the way here on the plane but he wouldn’t give. Must be big because Dad hasn’t been on a plane in years. He hates flying.”
I stepped forward and Gage dropped his hand. I almost missed the contact when it was gone. “Don’t he and your mom run an antique company? I thought part of their work involved flying around the world to find rare items.”
Gage shrugged. “Yeah, but she mostly goes on her own these days. After the shop burned down, they agreed dad should focus on rebuilding while mom continues to look for inventory. Enough about my family. Did you come with anyone?”
“No. My dad was here a few weeks ago to check out the school. No need for him to come back a second time.”
We were almost at the check-in table in front of the double doors.
“Cool, so you’ve been here before?” Gage looked impressed. “This is our first time. Well, not my dad’s. He was Basil’s first student.”
“No kidding.” More tidbits for Ryan to lord over me.
We stopped at a table where a twenty-something girl with an Arcturus Academy nametag on her lapel stood with a tablet in her hand. The handwritten scrawl on her tag was hard to make out.
“Nice to meet you, Krzp.” I kept my expression deadpan as I stepped up to the table.
“Kris P. Invitation, please.” Her voice and face were robotic.
“Can I call you Krispy?” I handed her my invitation, smiling.
She scanned the QR code printed on the back while giving me a fake, bright look. “Sure. If you want me to hate you.”
I cringed. This wasn’t the first time my attempt at humor backfired. My jokes were often hero or zero. Did I ever learn from the zeros? Nope.
The tablet made a little ping and she handed the card back. Turning the tablet to face me, she held out a stylus. “You read the non-disclosure agreement in its entirety before you came, yeah? As per the instructions in the email?”
Nodding, I took the stylus as she directed me where to sign. Does anyone ever read all the fine print in a legal document? Yawn.
I initialed inside the little box and she double checked it before hitting the submit button. She looked up with another plastic smile and waved me toward the doors. “Welcome to the Fire Fair, Saxony Cagney.”
“Thanks.” I stepped over the threshold and into the enclosed lobby between the front doors and the gym doors to wait for Gage. He followed shortly after, eyes lit with excitement.
“This is so cool.” He pushed the gym doors open. “After y … whoa.”
We stood just inside, admiring the view. I smiled at Gage’s expression as his gaze ping-ponged around.
“The main building makes you think the academy will be run down and moldy,” he mused, “but this is a tech-nerd’s wet dream. Look at all the … high-tech … stuff.”
Laughing, I took Gage by the hand to lead him to the observation boxes hanging over the main gym. As our skin made contact, a startling sensation of heat flared up my arm to my heart. It was as though our hands had become molten metal and fused together the moment they’d made contact, then the feeling eased away. He pulled me to a stop, hand tightening on mine. His eyes were round.
“What was that? Tell me you felt that.”
I grinned. “It was a mage-bond. You’ve never felt it before?”
He looked thoughtful. “Now that you mention it, maybe when I was really little. But I’d forgotten. What’s a mage-bond?” His surprise washed away and a sly look moved across his face. “Are we fated mates?”
I barked laughter and began to move again. People were filtering through the door behind us. “I’m not sure what it is exactly. I felt it when I shook Basil’s hand for the first time.”
“The first time … wait, we’ve never touched before?” Gage fell in step beside me, still holding my hand.
I wondered how long he’d hold it if I didn’t let go. Damn it, now we were in that awkward window, wondering which of us would let go first. I liked his touch, but people would think we were together. This was the first day the new students were all together. I didn’t want to put out the wrong idea. I relaxed my fingers a little and he took the cue and released me.
“I just touched your shoulder outside, didn’t I?” he asked as we neared the steps. Our footsteps were silent on the flame-retardant neoprene flooring.
A thirty-something mage at the bottom of the metal stairs gave us a nod as we approached. “Looks like you know where you’re going.”
“Been here before, thanks.” I smiled as we passed. Turning to Gage: “It has to be skin on skin contact.”
The mage overheard and made an exaggerated look of scandal, putting a splayed hand over his heart. “Kids don’t waste time these days.”
As we climbed the steps, I pointed out the features of the gym I was familiar with, my pulse jumping as the excitement of the Fire Fair caught in my blood. I recognized the electronic panel Basil had tested my strength on but there were more gadgets positioned around the gym than I’d seen last time.
I turned to Gage. “The whole gym is fireproofed. I can’t imagine what it cost Basil to outfit this place.”
“Geesh, where did he get the materials from? NASA?”
“Probably. Or maybe one of his supernatural friends invented them. I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“You call him Basil?”
“Mr. Chaplin, I should say.” Come to think of it, Basil hadn’t told me what to call him in front of other students. Probably best to err on the formal side.
Reaching the top of the steps, we passed a thick glass door propped open by a striking woman wearing an academy uniform: a black button-up with a school crest embroidered over the heart in gold thread, a dark red tie and a black and gray plaid skirt. A pair of knee-high biker boots gave her an edge. She was too old to be a student, though. She had to be either a teacher or a graduate.
“Sit anywhere you like in this pod, or in the next two. There’s room for everyone.” She gestured to the door across the observation pod leading to the next one.
We took the narrow metal walkway behind the last row of seats to the next door, since this pod was nearly full. It would be ideal if we could find two seats with no other empties around them. I didn’t fancy the idea of sitting with Ryan and his dad.
“How about there?” I pointed to the second row.
“You lead the way.”
Descending the steps dividing two sections, I excused myself as we squeezed past a thin girl wearing purple eyeliner, no other makeup, and pigtails. She looked up with a wobbly expression that I thought was supposed to be a smile.
“Come alone?” I plopped into the seat next to her, moving my knees aside to let Gage pass.
The girl nodded. She was so thin I could see the fearful swallow go down her spindle of a neck.
“I’m Saxony.” I held out my hand.
“April.” She grasped my fingertips with her own cold, clammy digits and gave some species of handshake. It was like holding a dead eel. I had to hide my surprise. Was she even a fire mage? Fire magi never had cold extremities. She dropped my hand and crossed her thin arms over her chest, a picture of insecurity.
“Are you a student here?” I settled back in my seat as I saw Krispy come into the gym and close the double doors. That was the last of the guests. The fair would be starting soon.
April nodded but didn’t look me in the eyes, preventing me from inspecting them for that telltale reflective glow.
Distracted by movement in my periphery, I looked back. My heart sank when Ryan entered the pod, followed by Mr. Wendig. They scanned for a place to sit. Lest their attention be drawn by my upturned face, I snapped front and slid down in my seat. There were empties right behind us. Closing my eyes, I mentally shooed Ryan away, wishing I was telepathic. I couldn’t help but peek covertly over my shoulder again, hiding behind my curtain of red curls.
They’d moved toward the central steps and were coming our way.
A pretty girl with heavy makeup and long brunette waves caught my eye. Well, her jaw did, as she chewed gum like she was trying to kill it. I tried a smile. She cocked a pierced eyebrow: what do you want? Popping her gum, she crossed her legs and tugged her miniskirt down in a half-hearted attempt to cover the long terrain of her toned, naked thighs. If the skirt were shorter, she may as well have worn a cummerbund.
Ryan and Mr. Wendig came down the steps, passing the dark-haired girl. When she spotted Ryan, she brightened. Bringing a hand—adorned with a fingerless glove—up to the side of her mouth she barked, “Oi!”
Ryan looked over with an amused and cocky half-smile.
The girl blew a bubble, popped it, then patted the empty seat next to her, batting her eyelashes like a living, breathing Betty Boop. Whoever she was, her priorities were clear.
Ryan took the seat next to her, leaving his dad to fend for himself.
“What are you staring at?” Gage turned to follow my gaze and saw Mr. Wendig. “Dad, over here.” He waved.
One out of two. I could live with that. I didn’t actually have anything against Chad Wendig, except that he’d fathered Ryan.
He made his way to the seat behind us. I didn’t miss the way Betty Boop’s gaze followed the twins’ dad, like a hungry cat stalking prey. I almost expected her to drool or pounce, maybe bite his neck. It appeared she wasn’t particular about age or marital status. Chad’s wedding ring was thick and shiny, obvious to anyone looking for it. As appalling as her behavior might be to many, I felt a grudging respect at her boldness. Back home among my friends and my temporal high school, I was considered the gutsy one—but even I wouldn’t flaunt my thoughts or my body like that.
The shenanigans inside the observation box vacated my mind when Basil entered the gym from a side door. He was in discussion with a blonde woman I recognized as Susan Palmer, one of the instructors. Mr. Chaplin looked as dapper as ever. The man knew how to dress. Were all aristocrats born with a suave fashion sense?
He wore a dark gray tweed suit with the Arcturus crest embroidered on the pocket. His Oxford wingtips were shined to perfection and his tie was free from wrinkles. His brown hair was coiffed the way it had been when my dad and I visited Arcturus, in a little surf wave. Black, thick-rimmed glasses gave him a studious look. Not that he needed any help looking studious. The man presented as a professional at the top of his game.
Basil exchanged a few last words with Susan before they parted ways. He stepped up to a black, lacquered podium.
“Good morning, ladies, gentlemen, mages. Welcome to the Fire Fair.” He directed his gaze at the observation boxes. I barely kept myself from waving at him like an idiot.
When I’d first met Basil and we’d shaken hands, my whole arm went smoking hot from my fingertips to my heart, just like it had with Gage. It was the first time I’d ever felt the mage-bond. I hoped Basil or one of the other instructors would cover the mage-bond in class because I was dying to understand what it meant. It definitely wasn’t fated mates—as Gage had joked—or anything like that. I didn’t have any sexual attraction to the headmaster, only enormous respect for the mage who’d founded Arcturus. It was he above all I wanted to please during my first year as a student here.
Something unusual linked me to Basil, and me to Gage, something powerful.
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