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Born of Air

Born of Air

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tropes 'n details

  • air elemental (unique supernatural), telekinesis, telepathy
  • sweet romance
  • action & adventure
  • desert archaeology
  • set in Canada & Lybia
  • full-length novel

Synopsis

In a desert full of danger, the ancient sands whisper her name.

All Petra Kara wants in life is to study Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. And she's so close. She's got the grades, she's got the ambition. All she needs now is an outrageous sum of money and experience on an Old World archaeological excavation. If only she could find a way to get rid of her annoying low-grade telepathy. There's nothing Petra hates more than a cheat and a liar and it's too easy to cheat when you can read people's minds.

When Petra spies an ad for a volunteer position on an excavation to North Africa, she knows its meant for her. But there is more waiting for her in Libya than broken pottery and human remains. A heart-pounding race through the desert under a sky full of stars with Jesse, her sexy dig-mate and newfound crush, ends when Petra slides into an ancient cave-system with strange stones embedded in the walls.

That's where her life changes forever.

As her powers manifest, there are those who think they have a good reason to destroy her before she becomes too powerful.

Will she survive long enough to learn who she is and what she's really capable of?

Born of Air is the fifth book in The Elemental Origins Novels, a series of captivating YA urban fantasy stories which can be read in any order. If you love strong female protagonists and elemental magic, then you’ll love A.L. Knorr’s mystical desert adventure.

Intro to Chapter One

"Petra Kara. What a treat," Noel said, standing up from behind his desk as I walked in. "I was so pleased when I saw you had booked an appointment." He straightened his suit jacket and bounced a little on his toes.

I smiled at my old therapist. "Nice to see you too, Mr. Pierce." 

His office hadn't changed. Old wooden paneling covered in dusty paintings of ships and sunsets lined the walls, wherever there weren't bookshelves bursting with psychology titles. Tall warped windows with small, diamond-shaped panes blurred and rattled slightly at the rain beating down on them outside. The forest-green carpet was worn by years of feet scuffing across it, creating a lighter green path from the door, circling the space between the couches and chairs, around his desk, and out the door again. The smell of Old Spice cologne made me remember the young, scared kid I’d been when I first met Noel Pierce. He had been my assigned therapist throughout my years in foster care, and while I had resisted him at first, like most kids did, he had been patient with me. He'd come to earn my trust, and if I was really honest, I’d missed him since I'd become of legal age and left the system. 

He waved a hand and circled his desk, gesturing for me to sit in one of the plush chairs. "Please, don't go back to all that. We've been through too much for you to call me Mr. Pierce." 

He waited for me to sit, and then sat down facing me. He crossed one leg over the other and folded his hands in his lap. 

"Sure. Noel," I said, settling into a chair I was very familiar with. This meeting did feel a little bit different from when I’d been a minor. Instead of being a government-funded patient and ward of the childcare system, I was coming to Noel as a legal adult and paying for this session with my own money. I sure hoped it was worth it. 

The paper in my jeans pocket crinkled as I sat down. On it were the three bullet points I'd come to discuss today.

"You've been out of foster care for over a year now," Noel said. "You aren't obliged to come and see me any more." He peered over his wire-rimmed glasses at me.

"I know," I swallowed and cleared my throat. "But I need some help with something and you were the only person I could think to talk to." He was also the only person who was sworn to patient confidentiality. Noel was forbidden to spill the secrets I was about to share with him.

"Well." He spread his hands out, looking pleased. "I'm flattered. What's going on?" 

I knotted my fingers and put them on my lap, not quite sure how to begin. 

Sensing my hesitation, Noel offered, "Why don't you catch me up on the last eighteen months. I understand you're working at the Maritime History Museum?"

I nodded. "I started working there just after Christmas 2015 while finishing up high school. I still work there, but I've finally graduated from just ticket sales to ticket sales and tour groups." 

"Well," Noel nodded his approval. "This is wonderful. Well done, Petra."

"Thanks," I said, but I had to shove down the annoyance that threatened to rise whenever people patronized me. I didn’t bother mentioning that I had also started a dog-walking service. Exercising pets and working at the local museum was a far cry from where I wanted to be. "I had applied to Cambridge University—"

"I remember," Noel murmured.

I nodded. Of course he did. He was the one who had to listen to me cry on the phone after I'd been accepted into their Archaeology Undergrad program but couldn't go because there was no way I could afford it. Even with the scholarship I'd won and the savings that Beverly, my foster mom, had set aside for me before her death, I had still been dismally short of funds.

"I took the year off to work and save, and I'll be applying again in October," I explained. "For January 2018."

Noel frowned and rested his chin on a hand. "We have perfectly good schools here in Canada." 

"I know. But—"

"You want the best," he finished.

"I've been dreaming of Cambridge since I was a little girl. Stephen Hawking, David Attenborough, Alan Turing." I named off the famous alumni on my fingers. "Prince Zeid Bin Ra'ad, the Jordanian Prince and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights went there." I raised my eyebrows for emphasis. 

Noel was nodding. He already knew that my birth mother had been Jordanian. His expression said he didn't find the link very compelling.

"Not the least of which are Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Dorothy Garrod, and Winifred Lamb," I went on, my voice growing energized at the thought of following in the footsteps of these pioneering women of archaeology—my heroes and role models.

"Don't forget at least six known Soviet spies," Noel murmured over his fingers.

"Very funny.”

"But why, Petra?" Noel straightened. "Why is it so important to study at Cambridge? You could already be studying at any number of very good Canadian Universities as we speak. Your grades are top notch, at least from grade nine onwards. I'm certain if you applied for funding—"

"It has to be Cambridge. If there is one thing Beverly left me with," I said, my voice breaking over the name of my deceased foster mother and the only real parent I had ever known, "it's that I had to do whatever I chose to do to the best of my ability."

"I don't think she meant you had to go to the best school—" Noel injected.

"But I have the grades," I said, shifting forward in my seat. "I did get in. Money is the only problem, almost. I'm so close I can taste it!"

"All right, all right." Noel made patting motions on the air the way he did whenever I was getting too riled up. "Yes, okay. I understand. And congratulations on being accepted."

"Thank you," I said.

"So then, now what? What's your plan?"

"I have worked all during my gap year at the museum. I've been saving up and studying on my own—" And living in a drafty, tiny apartment on the seedy side of town, I added in my head. Where the pipes rattled in the winter like Jacob Marley with his chains, the windows leaked, and the smell of weed was ever present from my neighbors. 

"How much do you need?"

"About 20,000," I said.

"Oh," Noel sounded pleasantly surprised. I knew what he was thinking, and I didn't have to probe his mind to do it. Beverly had left me close to ten grand. If I'd been working and saving for a year, then it wasn't an unachievable sum.

"Pounds," I added.

"Oh." This time the tone was disappointed.

"Per year," I finished, with a slight wince.

He closed his eyes. "Petra," he began. "By the time you count your undergrad, and your master’s, a PhD could be a ten-year commitment.”

"I've already got a year and half's worth saved up," I interjected, speaking quickly.

"Almost?" he said, his face going still.

"What?"

"You said money is the only problem, almost," he reminded me. Noel might be slow to pick up on things, but it was guaranteed that he would pick them up.

"Well, there's also the matter of wanting to go on an Old World dig," I added, a little weakly. I began to play with the frayed threads at the rip in my Salvation Army jeans.  

“An Old World dig?”

“Cambridge doesn’t require dig experience, but I’m most interested in historical archaeology—archaeology with the aid of written documents. An Old World excavation on my resume would give me a huge boost.” Opportunities for international digs were out there, but most of them required payment for a place on the dig. I couldn’t afford that. Ideally, I would be able to find a dig on which I could volunteer.

"What's the problem?" Noel raised his eyebrows. “You’ve been a volunteer on excavations before.” 

"I have, but they were through Mr. Hatley, at the museum."

Noel laughed. "You make it sound like you were bored to tears. What's wrong with Mr. Hatley? He's a perfectly sound connection."

"Mr. Hatley arranges New World pre-historic digs. He's not like... David," I said, slowly, dropping my chin and leveling him with a meaningful look.

I watched the understanding cross his face like dawn sunlight sweeping across a landscape. "I can't do that, Petra," he said, his expression regretful.

"But I don't know anyone else who knows anyone," I said, putting my hands together in prayer. "Just a phone call, that's all I'm asking."

Noel sighed and his eyes closed briefly. I could almost hear him counting to five. Noel's brother David was an archaeologist and he was on a huge excavation right now, one I would give almost anything to be a part of. It wasn't the first time I had asked.

Sensing his hesitation, I pushed harder. "I can accept it if he says no. All I'm asking for is an opportunity to talk with him." I took a breath and added, "Or meet him."

Noel shook his head. "I'm truly sorry, Petra, you know I would do anything for you that was within my power."

"This is within your power." I tried to keep the pleading tone from my voice and failed. Miserably.

Noel folded his hands with obvious patience. "Petra, do you know where David is working right now?"

"East of Baghdad," I said without so much as a breath between his question and my answer.

Noel froze and blinked as though surprised that I knew. "Yes," he said, "and do I have to remind you where that is?" He peered at me from over the tops of his wire-rimmed spectacles.

"Iraq," I said, nonplussed. “He’s helping to salvage a site damaged by the Gulf War.”

Noel's voice went breathy, as though the meaning should be clear. "Yes." 

I let out a long breath, too. I did know exactly what he was saying. Iraq was one of the most war-torn and unstable countries to travel in right now. There was no way any team leader worth his salt would take a prospective student in the last year of her teens with him on an excavation, even if it was sanctioned by Iraqi antiquities. The thing was, I really didn't care about the danger. I cared about the history

"Why don't you talk to Mr. Hatley at the museum again," Noel suggested. "He'll have some other Canadian connections you can tap in to." His voice sounded overly delighted at this idea.

I frowned. "I'm not interested in digging up arrowheads and lithics.”

“Lithics?”

“The stone tools used by Paleo-Indians.” I leaned forward earnestly. “I want a real excavation. Something ancient. Something Phoenician, or Egyptian, or Neo-Punic." 

I looked at the clock on Noel's desk. Half my time was gone and I hadn't even gotten to the important stuff yet. One topic down, two to go. If he couldn't help me by connecting me to his brother, maybe he could help me with my other problems. I cleared my throat. "There's another issue that I wanted to talk to you about today. Two actually, but they're linked. I think."

Relieved, Noel retrieved a kerchief from his pocket and mopped his brow. "By all means. What's bothering you?"

My heart sped up but there was no backing down now. I was about to spill a secret I hadn't shared with anyone in my entire life, not even Beverly, and I had no idea how Noel was going to take it. My fingertips grew cool, even as my body temperature seemed to rise. I pulled at the collar of my t-shirt and took a breath.

"I can read minds."

"Sorry." Noel laughed. "I thought you said you could read minds." He coughed uncomfortably into a closed fist. "I must've misunderstood you. Could you repeat that please?"

"You didn't misunderstand.”

The air grew thick between us as we sat there looking at one another, me fighting the urge to dig at his thoughts. How was he reacting inside? Noel's face had become impassive. It was the kind of expression I'd seen on him before. He trusted me and knew that I wasn't a liar, yet he wasn't sure he could believe me. My heart sank. It wasn't the reaction I'd been hoping for. 

"You've never encountered a mind-reader before?" 

"Petra," he said, his face very still. "Telepathy is a pseudoscience. It has never been demonstrated to exist."

I frowned. "I know that. I have done my research. I was just hoping that maybe you had access to information that I don't. So, you don't know how I can get rid of it?" Great. I had spilled my secret for nothing. "Do you have any experience with telekinesis?" I added, taking another chance.

He blinked rapidly, like he'd gotten dust in his eyes. "Telekinesis is also a pseudoscience." He rubbed the bridge of his nose where his specs sat, like they were pinching him. It was a tell. He didn't believe me. My heart felt heavy. The one adult left in my life that I thought I could go to with anything was probably now questioning my sanity.

"Have you been under a lot of pressure lately?" he asked, hooking his interlaced fingers over a knee. 

"No more than usual." I sighed. I went to get up from the chair. "I guess we're done." As far as I was concerned, if Noel couldn't offer me any additional information about my condition, then I wasn't going to find what I needed here.

Noel got to his feet as well, and rather quickly for a portly chap. "Petra, please sit down. You can't drop a bomb on me like that and not explain. I promise, I will try to help you."

I sank back into my seat, hesitantly. I rubbed my hands together to warm them. Disappointment wormed its way into my gut. I tried not to let it show on my face. Noel was the only card I had to play; there was no one else that I could go to for help. 

"I knew it could be a mistake telling you," I said. "But I thought that you of all people might have some idea how to stop it. After all, you see all kinds come through here. People with all sorts of mental health problems."

He gave a chuckle. "Not like this. Why do you want to stop it?" Now he was mining for gold. Keep the patient talking. Psychology 101. 

I was game. It was what I'd come here for.

"Because it's annoying," I said. "The movies make telepathy out to be some sort of great power, something that's supposed to give you a one-up in this world. The reality of it is much different, let me tell you."

Noel scooted forward on the couch and propped an elbow on the arm of his chair. "What is the reality of it?"

I made a face and crossed my arms over my chest. "Do you have any idea how unintelligent most of humanity is? How selfish, simple, and vapid? I have no interest in sharing my mental real estate with someone else's idiotic thoughts." 

It had been agonizing as a child, before I had a strategy in place to protect my mind from other people's self-talk and mental images. The wall I had put up was better than it had ever been, but sometimes random thoughts not of my making would leak through, usurping my own thinking. 

"Other people's thoughts are almost never enlightening. They always take me backward. Do you have any idea how quickly I'll devolve if I go around picking up other people's mental garbage? It's like..." I paused, searching for the words to explain how it felt. "Pollution. Noise cluttering up a library that's supposed to be serene and peaceful. When I was a kid, I thought I was crazy. I was seven years old when I finally figured out what was wrong with me."

Noel’s face was alight with an expression of fascination, and I could almost believe that he believed me. "What happened? What happened to make you understand?"

"I was able to match up a random image that had popped into my head with the thoughts of the caseworker who was interviewing me," I explained. "We were supposed to be going over my report cards and talking about how well I was integrating into a new school. She'd ask me questions and I'd answer them. But whenever I began to talk, the image of a man wearing a navy uniform and black horn-rimmed glasses would materialize in my mind and completely derail me. I didn't know who he was. I had never seen him before. It was frightening." 

I didn't say it out loud to Noel, but it had gotten even worse when the man began to kiss me passionately and then swept me off my feet. Somewhere in the midst of the shock of all that weirdness, I could sense an underlying urgency and pleasure that didn't belong to me. I had been too young to understand it. 

"It wasn't until after the session was over," I continued, "and I watched the caseworker greet her husband in the parking lot, that I understood what I had been seeing." I shifted in my seat, folding my hands in my lap so I didn’t fidget. The memory still made me uncomfortable. "He had just gotten back from overseas and she had missed him terribly. She couldn't wait to see him, and her mind kept drifting to him during our conversation."

"That's very sweet." Noel’s expression was soppy.

"Not when you don't know what the hell is going on," I snapped.

He put his hands out. "Fair enough. Do the thoughts always come through in images?"

"Not always. Sometimes they come through as words. I guess it depends how the person is thinking in that moment."

"Could I ask you to show me?"

I knew that this would have to be part of it. "Okay," I said, already resigned. "Give me a moment."

Lifting the wall I had placed around my thoughts was a strange feeling, unpleasant. It was like my eyes had been focused on something very close to my face for hours and when I finally lifted them to the horizon, everything was horribly fuzzy. It might take a second or two for eyes to adjust and there might be a little vertigo to go along with it. But it took my brain longer than that to home in on his thoughts. I closed my eyes as my vision blurred. The old, familiar pain throbbed low at the base of my neck. "Are you ready for this?" I asked, opening my eyes.

Noel looked relaxed, interested, unconcerned. "Okay." He leaned back against his chair. "What am I thinking about?"

I received his stream of consciousness and images began to form into my head, creeping in at the edges at first. Then they expanded like balloons in the middle of my skull, fully formed and in technicolor. Apparently, Noel was thinking visually. 

"I see a rose garden." I closed my eyes. I couldn't help but smile at the beautiful image. "Looks like tea roses, mostly in pastels. They're at their peak and they must smell amazing. At the edge of the garden is an old stone railing with curved spindles and carved faces sitting on top. About a dozen of them, all with their backs to a very blue ocean." I opened my eyes. "Some of the faces are cracked and worn, missing their noses."

Noel's complexion had gone pale, dewy with sweat. He had to believe me now. He was clearly shaken.

"It's a beautiful place," I added, still smiling. "Where is it?" I tried not to feel smug at his reaction. At least now there was no doubt that I was telling the truth.

He tried to reply but it came out as a dry wisp of a word. He coughed to clear his throat and tried again. "Ravello, Italy," he said. "The Terrace of Infinity. It was once owned by Beckett, the poet."

"Lovely," I murmured. I was about to congratulate him on how steady his imagination held the place he was thinking of. Most people's minds skittered from seemingly random images, to random worries, out of control like a runaway elephant. But just as I opened my mouth, the image of the side of a black handgun came flying at my face and seemed to bounce off my forehead. The weapon was gripped by a meaty, masculine hand. As the gun made contact, there was a flash of red. While I didn't feel any physical pain, I jerked backward, startled, as I picked up the violent memory from Noel. 

"What was that?" I gripped the armrests of my chair, alarmed. Fear riddled the image with wavy lines, like heat coming off blacktop on a summer day. I had never seen terror warp a thought so badly. 

So, even Noel had trouble controlling his thoughts, as that was definitely something he wouldn't have wanted me to see. Thoughts were strange. If you try not to think of a giraffe, the first thing that will pop into your head is a giraffe. Obviously, Noel now believed me and the fear of me seeing one of his worst memories came rushing to the forefront of his mind. I'd picked it up precisely because he’d been afraid that I would.

"Stop, stop!" He put a hand out. His eyes were wide.

I slammed down the gate between my mind and his. The feeling of it was so violent, it jarred my molars. The foggy images filtering into my mind ceased. The dull pain at the base of my skull eased and disappeared, but my heart was pounding. 

That last thought I had picked up was the most shocking, disconcerting one I had ever picked up from anyone. Why was my mild-mannered therapist being beaten by a man with a gun? Fury flared hot and hard inside me and I had to take a deep breath. Noel wouldn't hurt a fly. This was another reason I didn't like to know other people's thoughts, especially if it was someone I cared about. If they were in some kind of trouble, I couldn't help but get involved. For all I knew, that thought was thirty years old and had long since been resolved. "Are you in some kind of trouble?" 

He shook his head as he pulled at his tie, loosening it from around his neck. "Don't worry about me," he wheezed. As though he were the one who could read minds, he added, "It's a very old memory. Resolved a long time ago." He was a little out of breath and wouldn't meet my eyes. "I apologize," he said. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you." He said this while shucking his suit jacket. Sweat circles darkened the fabric of his purple shirt. "Would you like a drink? I need a drink."

"Yes, please." Now that my mind was sealed, my heart was slowing down.

Noel went to the sideboard under the window and poured two glasses of water from the pitcher sitting there. I watched his hand shake and the water slosh. He returned to our little circle of furniture and handed me a glass.

"Thanks." I took it and drank. I set the glass on a coaster on the coffee table between us. 

"Can you still read my mind?" Noel crossed over to his chair, looking down at me. He tapped his fingers against his glass, nervously.

I frowned. His voice had a tremor I didn't like. He was afraid of me. "No, you asked me to stop and I did." Reading minds was an invasion of privacy at the deepest level. Doing it made me feel sick, not physically, aside from the dull headache, but emotionally sick. I felt like a criminal, a voyeur, someone with a serious mental health problem. 

He settled back in his chair, his shirt damp and his necktie gaping. The top two buttons of his shirt were undone. His eyes met mine for the first time, narrowing as he stared at me. His gaze was laced with suspicion. 

"I'm not." I held his gaze. Then I realized that my defensive words made it sound like I was. "I can tell by your face that you don't believe me. But I'm not. I swear on Beverly's memory." I put a hand over my heart.

His mouth twitched. "You don't have to do that. I believe you." His face relaxed and he took a kerchief from his chest pocket and mopped his brow. "How are you able to control it?"

"Years of practice." I relaxed as Noel relaxed, sitting back in my chair and letting my shoulders fall. "Mostly it involves not thinking about the fact that I can do it and genuinely not wanting to know what people are thinking. If I find myself wanting to know someone's thoughts, that's when it takes real effort. It's like holding up a stone dam with your bare hands. It’s tiring, and if you have to do it for a long time eventually some water will leak through. If that makes any sense."

Noel nodded, still pale. "It does. Why didn't you tell me earlier? Why now?"

"I don't like being looked at like I'm nuts. Not that you would." I put up a hand. "But most people would. And I'm not interested in having to prove myself. I just find I still have leakage sometimes. As I prepare to go into university, I'd like to get rid of it. You can imagine the battle of will that ensues during an exam," I explained. "It's the reason I always studied so hard. I didn't want to put myself in a position where I'd be tempted to cheat." I shrugged. "I was hoping you might have some experience with it from other patients. But I guess not."

"Sorry to disappoint you, Petra," Noel said. "This is a first for me." He took a breath. "And the telekinesis you mentioned?"

"Yes. What about it?"

Noel looked uncomfortable. "You have... you are..." He adjusted his glasses. "You have this ability, too?"

I nodded. "It's not as much of an issue, but I brought it up because I thought the two might be linked."

"Can you...?" He invited me to demonstrate with a gesture.

I nodded and picked up my glass, drained it of water and set it back on the table. On the wood this time, not the coaster. I sat back in my chair and folded my arms over my stomach. Without taking my eyes from Noel, I gave the glass a gentle mental shove at its base so it didn't tip over. 

My glass slid across the table and clinked into his.

Noel's hand flew to cover his mouth.

"Cheers," I said, trying to lighten the atmosphere.

Noel's gaze flew to my face. I watched him make an effort to get his shock under control, but his complexion was waxy and he was still sweating. The sound of his palm scraping against his stubble was loud and filled the room.

I sighed and glanced at the clock on his desk. "We're out of time." I got to my feet. "I hope I haven't ruffled you too much. I know you have another patient right after me."

"No, no." Noel made a ‘calm-down’ gesture. "I—I'm fine."

But he wasn't. It was plain on his face. No one needed telepathy to see how much I'd shaken him.

"I'm sorry, Noel," I said quietly. "If I had known..." I bounced a fist off my thigh, feeling awkward. "I wouldn't have..." I sighed. What else could I say? 

"It's fine, it's fine." Noel got to his feet as well. "I've just never seen anything like it. Would you like to make another appointment?" He followed me as I walked to the door. I plucked my rain jacket off the coatrack and picked up my purse. "There would be no charge. I'd really like to help you with this."

But he couldn't. He'd already shown me that. I gave him a smile but it felt stiff and unnatural on my face. "I don't think so. Thanks anyway." I reached for the door handle.

"Wait, Petra—" But he seemed to be out of words for now. Couldn't blame him. 

I opened the door. "Nice to see you again, Noel. I wish you well." I stepped out onto the landing and closed the door quietly behind me. As I stepped out of Noel’s office building and into the driving rain, I wondered if I was doomed to alienate anyone I ever let in. Sharing my true self seemed like an impossibility.

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