The Ancient One sat huddled beside her fire, poking at the last faintly glowing embers with a crooked stick.
“I am so old,” she grumbled.
It was true. She was indeed quite old—so old that when she calculated her age, it was not in years but in eons. How many centuries had passed since her fire had last burned bright? She had lost track. But what did it matter? Her vitality, her beauty, her brightness had faded ages ago, leaving this empty, withered husk in its place. No one remembered who she was, who she had been. She could hardly remember herself.
“Feh,” she said, throwing the stick into the fire. It blazed luminous against the coals but soon burned itself out. “I’ll never get it hot enough at this rate.”
There was something she needed to do. Something urgent. But she was so tired. It was easier to doze, and to dream; she dreamt of the Fire—its flames rising high, consuming her with their intense heat. The Ancient One saw herself falling, burning, then rising up effortlessly, the living embodiment of light and life, her youth and beauty restored. Then the vision faded, her purpose waning along with it, like the dying embers of her fire.
Perhaps she should get up, look for kindling. But movement had become so difficult. She felt as if every part of her body were turning to stone, and each breath she took might be her last. Like an old, neglected clock, she was winding down. She was dimly aware that when she arrived at her final tick, tock, tick . . . everything else would come to a halt as well. At times such as these, she wasn’t sure she cared. She dozed briefly and imagined the world slowing with her, stopping in its circular track—turning into a cold, dark lump of clay. Ending.
Being one with the universe has its disadvantages, she thought. There are simply too many responsibilities.
A spark flew from the hearth and onto the hem of her fraying robe. It glowed there for a moment, leaving only a little puff of smoke behind when it winked out. The Ancient One sniffed at the acrid smell of burning wool, so much like the smell of burning hair—or feathers. Then her eyes flew open. She remembered what she needed to do. The Fire must be lit! But not in this little hearth. No, what she needed was a bolt of lightning, a tempest to fan it into an inferno, and then a torrent to douse it when it had done its job. Then the Phoenix would rise once again and fly into the stars.
An ember popped, reminding her that time was running out.
The Ancient One forced herself to stand, a painstaking act completed in many small increments. She looked about, feeling the cooling draft of the hearth, the darkness, the hollowness in her bones.
“I hope it’s not too late,” she said.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Phoenix Rising #1: Elissa's Quest by Erica Verrillo. Copyright © 2007 by Erica Verrillo. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.