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Born of Aether

Born of Aether

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Audiobook narrated by Gabra Zackman. Listen to a sample:

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5x8 paperback

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tropes 'n details

  • kitsune, demon-hunter, demons, samurai, shapeshifting, yakuza
  • quest
  • action & adventure
  • set in Canada & Japan
  • generational mystery
  • full-length novel


They say if you tell a lie long enough, you'll eventually believe it, but Akiko will never forget who she really is.

Akiko Susumu is not what she seems. Her life as a normal teen living in a coastal Canadian town is a complete sham. The old man she lives with is not her grandfather, he's her captor. And Akiko isn't a teen. In fact, she isn't even human.

But Akiko isn't allowed to share the reality of her true nature with a single soul. Not even her three best friends know of the power she could wield, given the chance.

So, when she's sent back to her homeland to steal an ancient samurai sword, she jumps at the chance to secure her freedom, only to get caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse with the most dangerous crime syndicate in Japan.

Can Akiko escape with her life and her soul, or is true freedom as elusive as the Aether she was born from?

Born of Aether is a standalone story and the fourth book in The Elemental Origins, a series of captivating nonlinear YA urban fantasy novels. If powerful women, dangerous boys, and scary spirits intrigue you, you’ll love USA Today bestseller A.L. Knorr’s quest story.

Intro to Chapter One

Is there a limit to how many lies one person can tell? My life was so saturated with them that I was afraid to open my mouth for fear of ensnaring myself in one of Grandfather's falsehoods. They say that if you tell a lie for long enough, you'll eventually come to believe it. But that would never happen to me. It couldn't. I would never forget who I was, where I came from, and what had happened to me. It didn't matter how many lies Grandfather commanded me to tell, or what ridiculous story he had dripping from my lips to protect himself. I would always know the truth, and he couldn't change that.

The truth.

The truth was not that I was his granddaughter. I was his captive.

The truth was not that my family died in a plague that swept our village. I had been taken from my home against my will.

The truth was not that my mother was Japanese and my father was Canadian. Both of my parents were Japanese. Grandfather made up the lie to fabricate some connection to this land, to explain our presence in this country. 

The truth was not that I was a sixteen-year-old girl. I was nearly a century old.

The truth was not that I was human. I just looked like it.

I disliked walking home alone after school because these were the thoughts that most often clutched my mind. Normally, I walked home with Saxony every day, since we lived in the same neighborhood. But today she had a phone interview with the au pair agency she had applied with, so after saying goodbye to Targa and Georjayna, I had left Saltford High on my own. 

Though it was April, the weather was bitterly cold and gray. Snow and ice crusted the streets and bare branches reached up to condemn the cloudy sky. 

The suburb we lived in was quiet today. Very few cars passed me, and no one walked the sidewalks. It was too miserable outside for playing, and the playground I passed was abandoned.

Our bungalow was the second to last house on our street. Even from a distance it looked unwelcome. The windows were dark and the curtains drawn. I walked up our front yard, stepped up onto our small deck, and entered our coatroom.  

"I'm home," I called out in Japanese as I kicked off my boots. I pulled on my slippers and hung my parka on its hook.

"Akiko," came Grandfather's voice from the small front room. 

I poked my head around the corner. "I'm here," I repeated. "Need anything?"

"Sit," Grandfather said, gesturing to the couch across from his chair. His laptop was open and it sent a blue glow onto his lined face.

I frowned. When Grandfather asked me to sit, it usually meant he had something more complicated for me to do. He hadn't asked me to sit in years. Most of my commands these days were mere errands—groceries, translating something for him, mailing something at the post office, making dinner, doing laundry, cleaning the house, shoveling the front walk. I was the world’s most exotic house keeper. 

I sat and waited.

He steepled his withered hands and gazed at me from across the coffee table. "My name is Daichi Hotaka," he said.

My mouth dropped open. I could do nothing but stare. My heart began to pound. Something was going to change, something had happened. My mind raced. What had happened? Why, after all this time, was he finally telling me his name? My hands instantly felt ice-cold. I didn't know what to say, so all I did was wait, skin prickling with anticipation. With effort, I closed my mouth.

“I have been searching for something that was stolen from me many years ago.” Nothing about his countenance changed, but I could sense a vibration of excitement about him that I had never felt before. “I have finally found it.” 

He reached a hand out and spun the laptop to face me. 

My eyes dropped to the screen. It showed a video on YouTube entitled 'Ryozen Museum to Display Artifacts from the Bakamatsu Period. Early summer.' My eyes scanned the text below the video: The Ryozen Museum of History in Kyoto, Japan, specializes in the history of the Bakumatsu period and the Meiji Restoration. The museum is dedicated to the often violent events that brought an end to the Tokugawa regime at the climax of the Edo Period.

Daichi had frozen the screen on a closeup of a wooden rack carrying four samurai short swords. Three of them were in black sheaths, and one of them was in a blue sheath with some kind of pattern on it. He pointed a twisted finger at the short sword with the blue sheath. It looked like the design on the sheath might be of trees, but the screen was blurry so it was difficult to make out. 

"Bring me this wakizashi," he said.

My eyes widened and flew to his face. Had I heard him correctly? I swallowed hard, my mind a torrent of questions. This was more than just an errand. This was a mission, and probably an illegal one. "It is in Kyoto, Grandfather," I said. "You want me to go back to Japan?" A torrent of emotions crashed through me like a tsunami. After all this time, he was going to let me visit our homeland? Alone? We hadn’t been back in Japan since we left over a lifetime ago – me caged and in the form of a bird. Grandfather had never expressed a desire to go back, but then again, he rarely expressed desires more complex than hunger. I had long ago given up hope of setting foot in Japan again.

He nodded. "It will be on display soon, and not for very long." He placed his hands flat on his thighs and leaned forward. "The time for this is now. I have spent years looking for this sword. We may never have another chance.”

"I am to—" I paused, processing his command and what it meant. "Steal it?"

His eyes gleamed and he stared at me unblinking. He took a long slow breath and each moment that passed raised gooseflesh on my skin. "You bring me this wakizashi, and I will give you your freedom."

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