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Emma L Adams

Arise: Legacy of Flames Book 2 (Paperback)

Arise: Legacy of Flames Book 2 (Paperback)

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Book 2 of 3: Legacy of Flames

Being a dragon shifter is no picnic. Being a fugitive is even harder. But after their audacious escape from the supernatural-hunting Orion League, Ember and her friends have to lie low.

Easier said than done when her sister lies in a magical coma, and the key to saving her is a rare item coveted by all supernaturals. In order to track down the item, Ember must once again team up with Astor, the ex-hunter who betrayed her once already. But there's more than one scheme at work beneath the streets of London, and if Ember fails to stop the League's latest plan, the hunters will drive the remaining shifters to extinction.

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“Help!” screamed the woman, clinging onto the lamp post with both hands. “The shadows are attacking me!”

A few years ago, hearing that phrase in the middle of London would have resulted in raised eyebrows, even from supernaturals. But times had changed. On the plus side, shifters, witches and mages were able to live out in the open without hiding what they were. On the minus side, dark and crawly monsters from Faerie were as common a sight as pigeons in Trafalgar Square. Oh, and dragon shifters were as hunted as ever. Thanks to the Orion League.

This monster, however, was kind of hard to see. Unseelie fae had some weird creatures, but a living shadow made entirely of tentacles might be the weirdest one I’d encountered. It had almost swamped the woman, who clung to the lamp post like a lifeline. I hesitated, holding up my iron knife. Iron would kill any faerie, even this sort, but I didn’t want to hurt the woman in the process. Carefully, I moved closer. On the woman’s other side, Becks stood in wait, ready to shift into cat form if need be. She and Will traded days watching over Cori, my sister, who’d been unconscious since we’d rescued her from the Orion League’s prison. So we had to fight monsters as a two-person team.

I moved in, then lunged, swiping at a tentacle. My iron knife cut right through it, and the creature turned on me. It was mostly made up of a giant mouth, and had already pulled the woman’s shoes and coat off. Greyish skin covered its shadowy surface. Ugh.

Moving on a combination of tentacles and suction cups, it advanced on me, failing to see Becks until she stabbed it from behind. I went in for the kill, not sure where to stab, but everywhere was a target for iron. The woman crawled away, whimpering—then screamed.

Something invisible held her off the ground. Oh no. Even shifters didn’t have the Sight, only people with faerie blood did. Which meant none of us could see the second attacker. I left the tentacled creature in a heap and jumped at the new enemy. My knife flew from my hands. The target appeared in a burst of light—a fey creature with hook-like hands, coming at my throat.

I raised my own hands in defence, where they immediately turned into red-scaled claws, and caught the creature’s hand before it reached my neck. Twisting, I pulled the creature off the woman with both hands. My claws found its throat, and it went limp.

The woman pointed at me, gaping. Oh, crap. My claws. I’d been trying—trying—not to use them. As a dragon shifter—the only one in London, aside from my sister—keeping a low profile was kind of essential. Especially as I’d been all over the local news a few weeks ago. I’d hoped the story had been overshadowed by the latest faerie attacks. Gargoyle gangs brawling in Soho. Kraken in the Thames. A chimera in Green Park. But not a peep about the Orion League. I knew better than to think they’d disbanded. No, they’d taken their depravity elsewhere. They, and their leader, Malkin, wanted my blood. Not just because I was a dragon shifter, but because I’d escaped the Orion Stronghold, their most notorious prison.

I’d successfully saved my sister, Cori, but she’d been in a coma as a result of whatever her captors had done, and hadn’t woken up yet. My constant state of nervousness about her plight led to things like this happening. I concentrated for several seconds before my claws turned back into regular human hands. The woman might not conclude I was a dragon shifter right away, but no other type of shifter had red scales.

“Nice,” said Becks, after she’d turned from a black-and-brown tabby back into a five-foot human with deep tanned skin and hair that looked like she’d dyed it in an ombré black-brown effect but was actually her natural colour. “Now let’s get those things in the bag.”

Easier said than done. Shoving a mass of tentacles and dead skin into a bin bag was trickier than it looked. Add in the half-invisible winged thingymajig and it took several minutes to wrestle the beasts into the bags and seal them. The woman thanked us, handing a ten pound note to Becks. “For your trouble.”

She didn’t look at me. Freaked out by the claws, I guessed. Not unusual for a non-supernatural human—that is, someone who until two years ago, didn’t know any of us existed. I tried not to feel too insulted. At least she hadn’t tried to hit me over the head with a fire extinguisher like one of our last clients did. And she’d given us a tip. 

I did my best to single-handedly drag the sack containing the mystery faerie, while Becks carried the bag of tentacles. Being Londoners, none of my friends could drive, and taking dead faeries on public transport or in taxis wasn’t allowed, for obvious reasons. So we had to walk twenty minutes to the nearest pickup spot. What the mercenaries’ clean-up crew did with the bodies, I absolutely did not want to know.

“What do you want to spend the extra tenner on?” asked Becks. “We can split it four ways or buy something all of us will use.”

“What, like weapons? Or decent food for once?” It’s not like Cori’s awake to enjoy it, said a cynical voice in my head which had been getting louder lately. 

We’d scraped together a living for the last two years through taking on odd jobs, since our old jobs had gone up in smoke along with half the city. Shifters had possibly even less chance of being hired than other supernaturals did, because in our transformed state, some of us looked too similar to the shape-changing faeries who’d invaded the Earth. The only way to prove ourselves trustworthy was to fight against the faeries who’d caused so much damage, and try not to get eaten in the process. After an anonymous tip-off had led the hunters right to us, we wouldn’t be following any more vague reports again, so we’d had to sign up to the Official Order of Mercenaries.

My arms were numb by the time we reached the pickup spot, an old warehouse that now belonged to the mages. The Mage Lords had ordered a long-term plan to get the monsters off the streets so people could leave their houses without being attacked, as part of their initiative to clean up the city. At least, that’s what it said on the fancy laminated posters all over the warehouse’s sides. Becks rolled her eyes at them. “It’s nice to see they’re taking an interest, but what about the humans who want us dead?”

“Nobody’s seen the League in weeks,” I reminded her. “Besides, I wouldn’t say that shadowy monster isn’t a real problem.”

“It keeps making noises even though it’s dead,” she said, depositing the bin bag in the designated area by the warehouse with a revolted look on her face. “Seriously. Where in the world is the pickup crew?”

“No clue.” I didn’t particularly want to go into the warehouse, because it smelled like a troll had curled up and died in it, then been left to rot for a week. Holding my breath, I peered around the front door. Then I withdrew my head, eyes watering with the stench. “Ugh. Has nobody bothered removing anything for the last few days?” There were a bunch of trucks outside, but none of them were stocked yet. Sighing, I left the dead faeries where they were. “Right. We’re going to the office. Honestly. I know watching a bunch of decomposing faeries isn’t a nice job, but if they stay there much longer, they’ll attract even more Unseelie.”

“True.” Becks joined me as we turned our backs. The chill of winter remained in the air even though it was March, and we had a long walk back. The buses were running infrequently now but nobody had cleaned the ghosts out of the Underground yet, so the tubes were on pause while necromancers took care of the rampant undead problem. London had a lot of rebuilding to do. So did the world.

It took fifteen minutes to reach the office of the Order of Mercenaries. I smirked at the fancy logo on the window. “Who designed that? Not the mages.”

“No clue.” Neither of us knew who actually ran the place, but we got by on anonymity here and didn’t want to draw attention. They advertised the jobs, we took them on and got the cash. Before the invasion, it’d been hard to get a job and keep it. Now, we had the same issue, but with added faeries. Humans adapted. Even dragon shifters. We kind of had to.

Old Harwood glared at us when we came in. He was a middle-aged guy with pasty skin like he’d never seen the sun, and thinning grey hair.

I gave him a smile, which he didn’t return. “We just dropped off the dead faeries at the warehouse. There were two of them, did you know?”

“No,” he said. Yeah, right. For some reason, the Order of Mercenaries attracted people who’d survived the invasion by sheer luck and didn’t want to risk their necks, so they’d taken on admin positions to make other people risk their necks instead. They were almost always unpleasant. Old Harwood wasn’t the worst boss I’d had, but the look he gave me, as though I were a common criminal, made my heart sink. Had something happened?

“What was your name again?”

“Caroline,” I said.

His gaze sharpened. “You said Alice before.”

“Alice Caroline,” I said. “I decided to change my name. Brave new world and all that.”

Shit. I’d taken him for the type who forgot everyone’s name five seconds after meeting them. My auburn hair was now jet black, thanks to hair dye, which made me a little less recognisable than before. Lucky the cameras which had snapped me in dragon form hadn’t recorded what my human form looked like, because it’d be much harder to evade attention. I’d always stayed under the radar, but I didn’t want anyone knowing my name, or where I lived. Or my friends. The hunters were at large, and too many people wanted me dead.

“Do you have your birth certificate?”

Well, shit. “No. Who carries their birth certificate around? Besides, I lost it. And my passport. My house was destroyed two years ago. There’s nothing left.”

A lie. I’d never had a birth certificate. The notebook I carried listed the 11th March as my date of birth and I assumed it was right, because I had no memories before I was twelve. Eleven years later, I still couldn’t remember anything. All I had was a notebook containing no details of my history. Just a guide on how to survive as a dragon shifter in a world that wanted me dead.

How I’d lost my memories, I didn’t know. Magic wasn’t my area of expertise, which might be a surprise to anyone who doesn’t know supernaturals. Shifters are basically shape-changers, with enhanced speed and strength compared to regular humans. Aside from the ability to turn into a dragon, I’m basically human.

Of the other supernaturals, necromancers could raise and calm the dead; mages had a single talent, like conjuring fire; and witches could use any kind of spell or potion, with a range of specialities. As for faeries… that was the branch of supernatural I knew the least about. Which was a pity, because they were the ones who’d invaded this realm. Not only that, my family had apparently been involved with them at some point. I couldn’t figure out any other reason the front pages in the notebook had been written in their language.

“Then apply for a new one,” said Old Harwood. “There’s a waiting list. Until then, you’re not permitted to take on work from this guild. There are too many people out to take the money and scarper. We’re running a business here.”

I clenched my jaw, my heart sinking. I understood the need for security: to keep the faeries out. And possibly the hunters, too. But the way he spoke made it sound like he wanted to keep me out. I hadn’t given away who I was. So why would he want us gone?

“Never mind,” I said. “We’ll go somewhere else. Can we have the payment for today?”

“As I said.” He crossed his arms. “We’re only hiring registered individuals.”

Damn him. “Okay, okay, we’ll sign. But we need the money today.” 

I wasn’t kidding. We were running low on supplies and Will hadn’t replenished his stock of witch ingredients enough to consider re-opening somewhere else. We’d lost our old premises in an attack from the League, and because it had belonged to his family, we had no backup. It was beyond possibility that we’d ever be able to get the money back, because the hunters were involved in all the local authorities. 

Plus, the house in question had been hidden by glamour up until the invasion, and hadn’t technically existed according to non-supernatural records. So we were stuck in a rented flat, and had to wait until the old shop had been decontaminated to even think about moving back. Considering the rest of the houses on Magic Avenue had also fallen victim to the hunters, the odds of us getting any customers were depressingly low.

I obediently added my name to the waiting list—my fake name, that is—in smudged handwriting which was almost unreadable. Becks did likewise, narrowing her eyes at Old Harwood. 

“Why do you need a list?” I asked him. “Who’s it for?”

“None of your concern.”

“Just curious. Is it the Mage Lords?”

Please say yes. The mages weren’t fans of shifters, but they didn’t want us dead. Unlike the hunters, who’d have very good reason to have everyone on record.

“The authorities,” said Old Harwood. “Get out. I have work to do.”

“Work like moving those dead faeries?” asked Becks. “Why are there so many at the warehouse? Aren’t they supposed to be taken outside the city?”

He loomed over us. “Get out.”

“But we did the freaking job!” Becks stood her ground, outrage flashing in her eyes.

“And you’re unregistered. If your applications come through, you’ll get your payment.”

“That’s such bullshit,” she exploded. “Nobody ever required a register to work before. We nearly got killed.”

“You know what you signed up for.”


“Leave it,” I muttered to Becks. “It’s not worth it.” Anything we did to draw attention to ourselves would make things worse for us later. We’d deliberately picked this outpost of the city’s mercenaries because it wasn’t near our current home, so nobody would be able to track us down. Having our names on record, even fake ones, was a risk I didn’t want to take. The authorities’ regulations intended to keep faeries away tended to exclude us, too. I’d been counting on getting some extra work through the guild, but it looked like I wouldn’t be that lucky. At least we had the extra money the woman had given us.

Becks huffed, but followed me outside. A few drops of rain were falling already, and I groaned at the thought of the long walk home. I wouldn’t fork out for bus fare with no job payment.

“Bullshit,” she growled to herself as we walked. “Who the hell makes those regulations?”

“It’s gotta be the Mage Lords,” I said, burying my hands in my pockets. “They can trace their ancestry back for a thousand years or more. They assume all supernaturals are the same and have nothing to hide.”

“Pfft. They’ve never had to live in hiding. I haven’t seen a mage in weeks, and they’re meant to be cleaning up this.” She waved a vague hand at the street, which was in a typical state of half-destroyed, half cleaned up. The wrecked shops had been cleared of broken glass and wood, the holes in the road filled in, but piles of rubble were visible on the next street. You were never far from the aftermath.

“It really doesn’t make sense,” I said. “Most humans wouldn’t sign up to go on monster-catching duty, not even if they were desperate. It’s a death sentence. Even going in without the Sight is risky.”

“Yeah. What are they doing, creating a supernatural registry?”

“Bloody hope not.”

Rain fell, soaking my hair and sliding down the back of my neck. I growled in annoyance.

“What I wouldn’t give to be underground,” Becks said.

“Me too.” Our tunnels were off limits now. Sort of. I mean, no hunters had shown up for three weeks, but they knew our haunts now. It was too dangerous to take the risk. For all I knew, they were the ones hiding underground. Yeah, right. They found it easy to blend in.

Anger churned inside me, at the League and at whoever was responsible for the latest development. I’d hoped to put some money aside to figure out how to wake Cori. It was clear what had put her to sleep was more than a sleeping draught. We depended on spells to keep her alive, spells which wouldn’t last much longer if we didn’t get more cash to buy them. If not for Will’s connections with other witches, we’d be screwed.

All this because a thousand years ago, the Orion League had decided all supernaturals, especially shifters, deserved to be wiped off the face of the earth. Why they hated dragons in particular so much was a mystery. Maybe because dragons are depicted as evil in a lot of Western culture. Maybe because they’re dicks. Shifters could be many things. Overprotective, stubborn, reckless, loyal to a fault. But I wasn’t evil. I didn’t believe that.

No matter what Malkin said.

I’d met one other dragon, and he was dead. The other dragon’s last words—find the moonbeam—were meaningless to me. And I hated that. I hated that he’d died, been killed, and I didn’t know what he’d meant. It was the only clue I had about my people. The people who’d brought me up, then sent my sister and me to London alone. From where, I hadn’t a clue. Rhea, a gargoyle shifter who ran a shelter for displaced shifters, had raised us without a question, even though she’d known what we were. Until she’d died fighting the hunters on the day the faeries came. Now, too many people knew the truth.

Okay, two people. Malkin, the deranged head of the Orion League, and Astor, the dick who’d betrayed us. I’d seen no signs of Malkin nor his Elite hunters in the three weeks since our escape from their jail. Some parts about how that had all gone down didn’t sit right with me. Firstly, they’d been on the brink of abandoning the jail anyway, and intended to leave us to suffocate in there unless we submitted to their plans. I’d thought their capture of Cori had caused them to change their plans, because dragon shifters were so rare. Then I’d found out they already had one, and our plan to sneak in had been anticipated. The fact that the hunters had hardly been heard of since then didn’t reassure me in the slightest. Malkin carried a hell of a grudge against me. Against all of us.

“What now?” Becks said dismally. “We can’t go back there. We’ll also have to come up with new names, and I’ve had enough of keeping track of aliases as it is.”

“Yeah, I’ll have to look at the local job centre.”

“We said no local stuff.”

“We probably won’t be sticking around,” I said. “The neighbours are already starting to ask questions. I’m sure they know about our other… guest.”

The guest in question was a half-faerie man who spent half his time shrieking at the wall and the other half muttering to himself in languages none of us knew. Faerie tongue, probably. Too bad we didn’t have a translator, because I needed a faerie to translate the notebook Cori and I had nearly lost in the Stronghold. We’d yet to find someone who could read it. Our companion hadn’t spoken a word to any of us since we’d freed him from captivity at Malkin’s hands. Apparently, the iron poisoning had driven him out of his mind. 

A shadow flickered in the corner of my eye, while a reflection passed through the nearest window—someone wearing black.

“Becks,” I whispered. “I think we’re being followed.”

“You’re shitting me.”

I jerked my head towards the window of the shop we’d just passed—or the part of glass which was still intact. A crack split across it, but the shape of a black-wearing figure was unmistakable considering there were so few other people around. Great. Looks like we’re getting into another unpaid fight after all.

My claws itched to come out, but I rested a hand on the knife at my belt instead. The hunters must know what I looked like, but I wasn’t sure our tail was one. He certainly moved like them, though—disappearing from sight as soon as I tried to get a closer look at his reflection in the glass. How I knew he was male, I wasn’t sure either. But a suspicion latched onto me. I motioned to Becks to slow down. The driving rain didn’t make it any easier to see, but if it was a real hunter, they might be carrying a gun. Running wouldn’t help.

I pushed sodden hair out of my eyes, anger burning brighter than ever. Dragons didn’t like water, and the curtains of rain masking my vision only served to make me more pissed off at the guy following us. When I slowed down, so did he. I wasn’t about to play tag in the pouring rain with a possible adversary, so I picked up speed again.

“What’re you doing?” Becks asked. “We have to aim for somewhere crowded and lose him.”

“He’s outnumbered,” I said. “Besides, I really want to punch someone.”

She snorted. “I’d like to scratch out that dude’s eyes, but seriously. If someone’s following us, it’s not for a good reason.”

“Maybe he’s offering us a job.”

“Maybe—” She broke off. “Never mind.”

“What?” I surreptitiously peeked over my shoulder, but he must know we were onto him by now. Thanks to the rain and the blurred reflections in the glass, all I saw was someone wearing black. Assassin gear. Or a necromancer, but there wasn’t a reason for a lone necromancer to be wandering around here. I weighed up my options then continued walking. When we were within distance of the nearest inhabited street, I stopped. Now people would be in hearing distance if he attacked. Not that it’d be much use—normal people couldn’t help us, after all.

He didn’t realise I’d stopped until his reflection passed in the glass of the opposite building. Then he did stop. I swung around, as he ducked into an alley.

My heart dived somewhere beneath the streets.

Why the hell is he following us? 

The person in question already knew where we lived. “Come on,” I said to Becks.

“He’s still following us,” she muttered as we picked up the pace again.

“I know. I’m gonna shut the door in his face.”

“Why not ask what he wants?”

I gave her a flat look. “You know why.”

“Didn’t think he knew where we worked. He’s not behind the guild’s new procedures, is he?”

“Nah. I doubt the League would take him back in.” I didn’t care if he heard us. I picked up speed, knowing it wouldn’t make a difference. Shifters were faster than normal humans, even hunters. But a certain branch of hunters—the Elites—had been given upgrades which made them slightly more than human. At any rate, he kept pace with us until we reached the flat. We’d rented the downstairs floor of what had once been a holiday rental, until the faeries’ arrival had stopped tourism in its tracks. I unlocked the door, my wet hands fumbling the key, and footsteps sounded behind me.

“Ember,” said a voice. It belonged to the last person I wanted to see—Astor, ex-hunter and the man who’d betrayed the last dragon shifter I’d met.

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