Edge of Pathos (The Conjurors Series Book 4)

BOOK: Edge of Pathos (The Conjurors Series Book 4)
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Edge of Pathos

The Conjurors Series

By

Kristen Pham

Copyright © 2015 by Kristen Pham

 

Chapter 1

Valerie and Henry
walked together to Babylon, not saying a word. She carried an urn with the
ashes of the fallen flowers from her father’s garden, since they couldn’t bury
his body.

Henry’s mind had been
shut tightly against her in the three weeks since Oberon had died, but now, for
the first time, some of his emotions leaked out. At the taste of his grief,
Valerie couldn’t repress a little sob. Henry gripped her hand.

“He’s with Mom, in
the ether,” Valerie said when she was sure her voice wouldn’t shake.

“If you believe in
that stuff,” Henry said.

Valerie didn’t
reply, but she did believe. She had been at her father’s side when a burst of
power had been released into the universe at his death. He was somewhere, or
everywhere, and that thought was the only thing that kept her grief from
crippling her on some days.

Henry pulled aside a
screen of vines, and they stepped into the most stunning spot in the universe.
But its beauty was the painful kind, a reminder of times too sweet to last,
like when their father had locked this place away from the world so it could be
his private Eden with their mother.

They walked up the
tiers of flowers and stopped at the top, where the view overlooked a huge lake.
Valerie opened the urn, and the ashes drifted out.

“He might not have
been perfect, but he was ours. He tried,” Henry said, pressing his lips
together as if that would stop a deep, unnamed emotion within him from
escaping.

“Goodbye, Daddy,”
Valerie whispered, not bothering to wipe her tears.

Then she let herself
sob for the first time since Oberon’s death a few days ago. Henry held her as
her body curled in on itself. He shook with tears of his own, and through their
connection, Valerie knew that he was reliving the loss of his dad on Earth,
Joe.

Finally, their tears
dried up. Valerie was hollowed out, but drained of the poisonous grief that
sucked all of the joy out of her soul.

“We’ll have time to
grieve again,” Henry said. “When all this is over.”

Valerie
couldn’t meet his eyes as she replied. “Maybe, if we survive. But for now, back
to war.”

Valerie’s life was
barely recognizable from what it had looked like even a month before, when
she’d been strategizing and preparing for battle. Now, there was no time for planning,
only fighting. Not that she was complaining.

Fighting was easy,
numbing, even with Earth’s rules binding her magic. Lucky for her, there was no
shortage of opportunities to wear herself out hitting and slashing through the
legions of Fractus who had emerged like cockroaches since the barrier between
Earth and the Globe had been shattered, and travel between the two worlds was
as easy as breathing, for those who knew how.

Today, she was in a
remote town in Chile, leading a small team of soldiers from her army, the Fist,
in a standoff with about a dozen Fractus. Cyrus was by her side, as well, and
they fought back-to-back.

Valerie punched a
Fractus in the gut with the speed and grace of a leopard. He fell, smacking his
head into the hard asphalt of the road on which they fought, but as he did, he
slashed at her leg with a broken piece of glass, and blood ran down her shin.
Before he could get another thrust in, she jammed her heel into a sensitive
spot in his neck, and he was instantly unconscious.

Blood ran down her
leg into her shoe, and the pain was too sharp to ignore. She could keep going,
but she wouldn’t bet her soldiers’ lives on it.

“Fall back!” she
called, struggling to her feet.

The four soldiers
who fought with her today, all ex-Knights who had chosen not to follow Reaper,
began to retreat.

“No, keep fighting!
We got this,” Cyrus said, ducking as a tall man slashed at him with a pair of
knives. The only reason he didn’t hit his mark was because Cyrus was blinding
him by bending light.

Her soldiers shot
her glances, their confusion evident.

“What’s the call
here?” Alex, one of her Knights, asked.

Before Valerie could
answer, one of the Fractus leaped at Alex. With the accuracy born of a thousand
throws, Valerie hurled her sword, Pathos, at Alex’s attacker, pinning his shirt
to a nearby tree.

“Fall back!” Valerie
commanded.

She expertly kicked
Cyrus’s attacker in the head. As the Fractus fell, she turned to Cyrus. “Not
another word from you.”

“Your mistake,”
Cyrus said, his face red, but he followed as Valerie and her soldiers moved
together.

Valerie’s whole body
felt like lead now that the adrenaline of the fight was subsiding. Being on
Earth brought back her old sickness every time she returned, but with so many Fractus
attacks on Earth, she couldn’t afford to stay on the Globe full time.

Valerie, Cyrus, and
the rest of her soldiers were close enough to grip hands. She squeezed a rock
in her pocket, and a sensation passed over her like stepping through a bubble.

When she opened her
eyes, she was in the garden outside of her house on the Globe with Cyrus and
the Knights. She dropped her rock into the flowerbed next to the door, which
was where it had come from in the first place. Now that the Byways had been
destroyed, all anyone needed to travel between worlds was something from the
planet they were traveling to. It didn’t need to be charmed with magic or even
be a special object—any old rock would do.

Which was why Reaper
was having no trouble sending his army to Earth in droves.

“Good work,” Valerie
said to her soldiers. “They won’t be attacking that city again today. I’ll have
Chisisi send a team back tonight to make sure.”

“But we don’t know
what those Fractus were there for! We should have captured one and made him
talk,” Cyrus insisted.

“You can go home,”
Valerie said to the Knights, choosing not to respond to Cyrus’s words.

Alex raised an
eyebrow before following her fellow Knights into the woods. When they were out
of earshot, Valerie turned to Cyrus, forcing herself to suck in a calming
breath so she didn’t start yelling at him.

“Never do that
again,” Valerie said.

“Admit it, you made
the wrong call,” Cyrus said.

“Alex could have
been killed! You confused my soldiers. Don’t make me pull you off of active
fighting duty.”

“Fine, maybe I
shouldn’t have disagreed with you right on the field,” Cyrus huffed. “But we
could have taken those guys. I think they were out in the middle of nowhere for
a reason.”

“Do you think the
charm that binds magic on Earth was nearby?” Valerie asked, unable to keep the
disbelief out of her voice. “Wouldn’t it be somewhere a little more impressive,
like the Great Wall of China?”

“It makes more sense
for it to be somewhere out of the way,” Cyrus argued, his tone defensive.

Henry’s mind connected
with hers, and he burst out the front door.

“You’re hurt!” Henry
said, his eyes roving over her, looking for an injury.

Cyrus stepped back,
scanning her until he saw her bleeding leg. “You never said—I didn’t know!”

“It’s nothing,” Valerie
said, pulling up her pant leg.

Cyrus knelt beside
her, and his touch was gentle as he probed the wound.

“At least it wasn’t
made using one of the Fractus’s new black weapons,” he said. He looked up, and
all of the arrogance was wiped from his expression. “This was why you had us
fall back. You did make the right call.”

Valerie nodded. “It
was a piece of glass. It’ll be fine.”

“It can still get
infected,” Henry said.

Valerie fought the
urge to snap at them both that their attention was making her claustrophobic,
but she bit the inside of her cheek. Her father would have told her that she
needed to behave like a leader at all times, and leaders don’t whine.

“I’m going to go
clean it,” she said, shrugging off their attention as subtly as she could.

“I know you’re
tired, but Skye wants to see you tonight. He says it’s important,” Henry said,
and his worry for her seeped through their mental connection.

She
nodded, shutting her mind to his anxiety. She’d been doing that a lot lately,
because adding Henry’s stress and grief to her own was overpowering.

An hour later,
Valerie left her house and began walking to The Horseshoe, mercifully alone.
Cyrus had returned home to shower and rest.

The woods around
her, once lush, were now brittle and brown. The closer she got to The
Horseshoe, the worse it became. Al, the Grand Master of the Stewardship Guild
and a member of the Fractus, had used his Guild’s power to send a massive
drought to Silva, the capital city in Arden.

The result was that
everything that had once been alive and green was dying. Water was hard to come
by, as lakes that had once glittered now receded. It was an effective attack,
because for the first time, Conjurors across the country were forced to make
sacrifices.

It had always been a
land of plenty—magic made accessing food, water, and every kind of necessity a
given. No one knew what it was to go without, but they were discovering it now.
Every person in Arden had a daily water ration, enough for a shower and
drinking water. And if they didn’t find a way to make it rain soon, even those
rations would have to be cut back.

Going without
something that most people considered a requirement for survival wasn’t new to
Valerie, but it hurt to see the cracked lips of the kids playing in the dusty
streets. If she’d done a better job of convincing the Grand Masters not to
follow Reaper, none of this would be happening.

She was distracted
from her guilt as a tall centaur trotted out of the Relations Guild in her
direction. Skye’s mane looked like it needed a good wash, but his bearing was
as regal as ever. Her friend and mentor, Gideon, jogged beside him.

“We’re losing ground
to the Fractus in the fringes of Silva,” Skye said, skipping the pleasantries
and getting straight to the point. “What’s slowing us down is your policy of
avoiding kill attacks. I’m not saying we should unnecessarily slaughter the
Fractus, but we can’t always take them prisoner.”

“I know that,”
Valerie said, her mind spinning as she remembered the faces of the soldiers in
her army who had died in the recent battles. “I wouldn’t ask anyone to die
rather than fight back.”

“Sometimes, we must
be willing to kill our enemies even when it is not in immediate self-defense,”
Skye said.

“That’s not the
policy that we agreed on when we formed the Fist,” Gideon said, naming
Valerie’s army of supporters from around the Globe. Valerie could see from the
stiffness of his stance that this was an argument he’d had with Skye before.

“You have to look at
the broader perspective,” Skye said, ignoring Gideon and speaking directly to
Valerie. “They’re shooting lightning at us from a mile away and people are
dying. We need to combat them with an equally effective weapon.”

“We don’t have
anything like that, even if I were willing to use it,” Valerie said.

“That’s what I
wanted to talk to you about. Leo and Cyrus have an idea for a weapon that could
send bursts of magic at the speed of light that would kill enemies instantly,”
Skye said.

“They said it was
possible when you asked, not that they recommended using such a weapon,” Gideon
added, his lips forming a hard line.

Cyrus had been
working with the Weapons Guild on creating weapons infused with light, but he
hadn’t mentioned anything about new ways to kill Fractus at a distance. Was
that why he’d vanished instead of accompanying her to meet with Skye? He had to
know what her reaction would be.

Valerie’s face
hardened as she met Skye’s eyes. “We’re not changing our policy. We take
prisoners when possible and kill only when absolutely necessary. Otherwise,
what makes us different from Reaper? He thinks he’s doing the right thing, too,
sacrificing a few to save the many.”

Gideon’s eyes
connected with hers, and he gave her a small nod of approval. The tension in
Valerie’s shoulders eased a notch.

“Don’t compare me to
that madman,” Skye snapped, and Valerie could see that his nerves were as
frayed as her own.

She took a breath
and shook her head. “Of course not. Excuse the insult. But there must be a better
way. What if Cyrus and the lightweavers create arrows of light that can be shot
into enemy lines? That wouldn’t be fatal, but it might weaken their weapons.”

Skye nodded slowly.
“That would be something.”

“And how about the
work that the Glamour Guild is doing to disguise our army?” Valerie continued.

Skye
launched into an overview of the effectiveness of various tactics they were
employing, and Valerie nearly sighed with relief that the argument over new
weapons to kill the Fractus was over—for now.

BOOK: Edge of Pathos (The Conjurors Series Book 4)
8.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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