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Element of Life: Order of the Elements Book 5 (Ebook)

Element of Life: Order of the Elements Book 5 (Ebook)

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Book 5 of 5: Order of the Elements

 

I'm Liv Cartwright, nerd, D&D fan, and newly minted Spirit Element.

The Death King might have got his wish and convinced me to work for him, but the rest of his Court is on the brink of staging a mutiny. With an old enemy back and the Order under new management, it's up to me and the rest of the Elemental Soldiers to help the Death King face up to a legion of threats.

Including someone I hoped never to see again.

It's time for the spirit mages to make a final stand against an impossible foe or see a repeat of the last spirit war. After all, everyone knows there's a good reason nobody survived last time.

Spirit mages who step out of line pay the price with their souls.

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If there was one guarantee in my life, it was that the Order of the Elements would always show up in my life whenever I least wanted them to.

I might have been grateful for the mundane intrusion, considering my recent return from within the jaws of death, but that didn’t mean I had to look at the two Order members who entered Devon’s shop that morning with anything other than wary disdain. Especially when one of them was my former nemesis, Judith French, and the second was a shifter called Femi who’d been her backup when she’d tried to have me arrested.

“You’ve come to the wrong shop.” I reached for the pouch at my waist, prepared to employ a cantrip or two if they refused to leave. “We don’t do business with Order lackeys.”

“I’m not,” she said. “We’re not with the Order, I mean. We don’t work for them anymore.”

I raised a brow. “And I’m in the running to be the next Death King.”

“It’s true,” she said defensively. “I know you and I haven’t always got along, but I’m not lying. Both of us decided to leave the Order at the same time.”

“What do you want me to say, congratulations?” Did she have nothing better to do than to come into our shop and try to get me to fall for her bullshit? “Sure you weren’t fired?”

That was the only reason I could think of for Judith to willingly leave the organisation she’d devoted her entire life to serving. She’d happily let her job become her personality, and I couldn’t imagine her throwing it all away of her own accord.

Admittedly, she wasn’t dressed in the smart casual office wear she usually wore when the Order sent her to hassle us, while her lank dark hair looked as though she hadn’t washed it in days. A far cry from the polished exterior she’d worn the last time I’d seen her in the Order’s base, guarding one of their top-secret labs. As for me, I wore my usual jeans and nerdy T-shirt rather than the armoured uniform of one of the Death King’s guards, a position I’d never officially given up despite my return to relative normality. I’d prefer for Judith not to upend my fragile new life by bringing the Order’s security on her tail.

“I wasn’t fired.” Judith’s face flushed. “I’m telling the truth.”

“Right.” Why was I wasting my time talking to these people? Judith and her friends had had it out for me since our days at the academy, especially after I’d ended up on trial for learning illegal spirit magic and had lost a huge chunk of my memories as a consequence. She’d seen to it that I made a nice collection of fresh unpleasant memories in the months and years afterwards, and even if she had left the Order, I was the last person she’d seek advice from, and the feeling was mutual.

“We oppose Mr Holland’s new position in the upper room,” said Femi. 

Judith nodded. “We want him fired and jailed for breaking the Order’s laws.”

“Tell that to the upper room, not me.” I kept my tone disinterested, though her words made my heart skip a beat. Did she finally see sense? “I don’t work for the Order anymore.”

“Neither do I, for the most part,” said Devon from behind me. “They don’t listen to me unless they want to buy cantrips from me, and I’ve never said a word to the upper room in my life. Did you actually hand in your notice and officially quit?”

“Well…” Judith faltered.

I tilted my head. “You didn’t. So you’re still reporting to the Order.”

“We aren’t,” she insisted. “We’re still Order members because otherwise they’d hunt us down and demand an explanation, but we’re working against them from within.”

Hmm. Perhaps it wasn’t surprising that some of the Order’s members had begun to question how things were run, given that Mr Holland had seized his position through illegal means, but that didn’t mean I could trust any of them as far as I could throw them.

“That’s a risky decision to make,” I said. “You saw what happens to people who get in Holland’s way.”

“We saw,” said Femi. “In London. We weren’t invited to the gathering, but if we had been, we’d both be dead.”

Judith’s mouth pressed together. “We saw it on the news. It was horrific. But… but the Death King got out, didn’t he?”

Hmm. Seeing the carnage of the explosion at the Order’s event might have been a wakeup call, if they hadn’t believed the public story, but both of them must know they had no way to stand up to the spirit mages now controlling the Order’s highest ranks. The one person who might be able to help them was the Death King, which was likely the real reason they’d picked me to come to for advice.

“I was there, too,” I said. “I barely escaped with my life, and yet as far as I’m aware, it’s the spirit mages who took the blame for the attack, despite the fact that it wasn’t them who were responsible.”

“I know it wasn’t,” said Judith. “It was him. Holland.” 

Not just him. Holland wasn’t a spirit mage, and he was merely a figurehead placed in control of Birmingham’s Order branch so nobody would unearth the real culprits behind the attacks. 

Namely: Hawker, a former lich… and Dirk Alban, my old mentor.

“Look,” Devon said. “As thrilled as I am that you’ve finally realised the obvious, that doesn’t mean we need another target painted on our backs. If you want to plot against the Order from the inside, you’ll need a lot more allies, and you’ll need somewhere to hang out which isn’t our house.” 

“We already have one,” said Femi. “We’ve been meeting up at Carla He’s place.”

My brows shot up. “Is that why she and Craig have stopped coming to D&D night?”

At least they’d had the sense not to draw more attention to Devon and me, though I didn’t appreciate Judith recruiting my friends to risk their necks alongside her when she had about as much experience at espionage as I had at professional skydiving. 

Thankfully, at that moment, my phone buzzed in my pocket. “I have to take this call.”

I pushed open the door to the back room and walked through, accepting the call as I closed the door behind me.

“Liv?” Mum’s voice came from the other end. 

“Hey, Mum,” I said. “How’s Elise?”

“She’s great,” Mum responded. “She’s baby-proofing the house. I haven’t had to do that for a long while.”

Mum had had me at a young age, before she and Dad had split up, and while she’d met and married Elise when I was a teenager, I hadn’t known of their plans to have any more kids until fairly recently. Her wife’s upcoming offspring might have been a delightful surprise if it wasn’t for my worry that my future sibling might find themselves saddled with the same issues I had. Magic wasn’t always genetic, and my spirit magic had been self-taught besides, but I still couldn’t guarantee their safety as long as Alban and Hawker were at large. No matter how hard I tried to keep my family away from the weirdness that comprised the majority of my life, it always seemed to find them anyway. 

Mum and I chatted for a few minutes about everyday topics of little consequence, then I excused myself once I was sure Judith and her friend had gone. I re-joined Devon in the shop, where she glowered at me. “Thanks for leaving me alone with them. I had to promise to take Judith’s phone number down in order to get rid of her.”

“What’s going on with Judith?” I picked up the paper on which she’d scribbled her number. “I’m not sure even she knows what she’s getting herself into.”

“That’s her problem,” Devon said. “Never mind her. Let’s get on with prepping for D&D night.”

“Now we’re talking.”

* * *

A few hours later, our game night kicked off. We had a smaller group than usual, with the newer addition of Bria, the Death King’s Fire Element and the second of the Elemental Soldiers to join our campaign. Opposite her sat Ryan, the Air Element, next to Trix, my elf friend and the only member of our original group present aside from Devon and me. Meanwhile, Dex, my fire sprite sidekick, flew around playing NPCs and causing sparks to dance across the board whenever we needed to increase the tension.

Bria scowled when she rolled a natural one at a critical moment and face-planted instead of striking the enemy. She’d learned the rules pretty fast, considering she’d been born in the Parallel and had never even picked up a die before Dex had strong-armed her into joining our group. Without three of our other members—two of whom had apparently gone off to join Judith’s ill-conceived attempt at a vigilante group working against the Order from the inside—we’d had to adjust our campaign, but Devon was a good improviser and gave everyone a fair shot. It was also a way to exercise my lucky dice—which had earned the nickname because of a particularly fortuitous streak during our first campaign—and to thoroughly forget the Order and its associated bullshit. 

After we paused the game for the night, the others travelled through the node on top of our house and back into the Parallel. Devon, meanwhile, started to clear away the discarded takeout cartons around the game board. “Aren’t you going back to the castle?”

“In a bit.” I helped her tidy up, wondering if it was worth telling the Death King about Judith’s visit earlier. I hadn’t mentioned it to the others, but maybe he could offer me advice on whether I could make use of having allies within the Order. It wasn’t like he’d never done the same himself, after all.

“Thought you were gonna convince the Death King to join our group,” Devon said. “Go on, I’ll clean up the rest. I know you want to see him.”

“Cheers.” I grabbed my coat along with my Parallel bag and the pouch containing my cantrips. Then I hopped through the node, passing through the invisible current of light through the middle of our living room and landing in the muddy area near the fence circling the Death King’s castle. 

Outside the gates, I spotted Bria and Trix talking to one another, but they parted ways before I caught them up. Bria entered the castle’s grounds, while the elf remained outside. He gave a smile and wave when he saw me. 

“What were you talking to Bria about?” I asked Trix.

He shrugged. “Oh, not much.”

“You don’t have to keep secrets from me,” I said to the elf. “You know you can trust me, right? I don’t tell tales.” 

Trix drew in a breath. “Okay… I’m trying to find the elves.”

“The elves?” I blinked. “You mean aside from your friends?”

“There aren’t many of us left,” he said, “but the Death King thinks they would make good allies.”

“He has a point,” I said. “You’re friendly with the other elves in Arcadia, aren’t you?”

“Yes, and Bria is going to help, too,” he told me. “It’ll be good for her to get in contact with her kin.”

“Her…” I trailed off. “She’s an elf.”

Of course. It’d taken me way too long to realise Bria wasn’t fully human, but she had a hell of a lot more secrets than she let on. Not that I was one to talk, but still. An elf?

“Yes… half elf and half human,” said Trix. “She didn’t tell you?”

“Must have missed that one.” The clues seemed obvious in retrospect, from her speed and stealth to the fact that she shared so little of her own history. “I’m guessing the Death King knows.”

“He knew before I did.”

That figured. At least Bria hadn’t been recruiting the elf to join some shady scheme, because it wouldn’t be a wise idea to attract the annoyance of the Death King’s Air Element. Last I’d heard, Ryan had every intention of asking the elf out on a date. “All right. I’ll see you in a bit, Trix. Be careful, okay?” 

After Trix had departed, I entered the darkened grounds through the gate and approached the castle. I didn’t need to knock anymore, so I pushed open the oak doors and stepped into the entrance hall. 

The Death King waited for me on the dais at the back. It wasn’t immediately obvious he wasn’t a lich wearing an illusion of his own face, not when he’d always worn the same outfit which covered him from head to toe even when he’d been dead. Only subtle differences stood out, like the fact that he no longer floated above the ground, and there was a solidness to his presence which hadn’t been there before. It was late at night, but he still wore the full armour and long coat of the King of the Dead, but it was Greyson Beaumont who looked back at me from his eyes, and he didn’t hesitate for an instant before striding up and taking my hand, pulling me against him. 

“Ow,” I said, when we broke apart. “I didn’t notice how spiky that uniform of yours is before.”

“It’s protective armour,” he said. “It wouldn’t do much good if it was made of feathers.”

I poked him in the chest. “You didn’t even need armour as a lich.”

“No, but it looks impressive.”

I snorted. “Were you always this conceited?”

“I’ve been dead a long time.” He slid a hand up the side of my face. “Give me the chance to enjoy being alive again.”

I knew the feeling. Not only had I recently been dead myself, but everyone had thought the curse on the former House of Spirit had been irreversible, and none more so than their leader. That he’d been granted a second chance at life was a miracle I wouldn’t easily forget.

“Are you enjoying it?” I asked.

He searched my face. “You sound surprised.”

“I thought you were struggling to adjust.” As a lich, my emotions had been dampened and I’d felt disconnected from my very self, but I’d only endured that existence for a short time. For the Death King, it’d been years, and after his return to life, he’d spent a week hiding from public view, believing his fellow liches would displace him at the first opportunity. Needless to say, I’d talked some sense into him, but I’d suspected he’d take a while to fully adjust to being human again.

“My other liches have been difficult to deal with, but there are upsides.” His fingers brushed behind my ear, causing warmth to pool inside me. At the same time, a question nudged at the back of my mind. Had we done this before? I couldn’t remember the details. He’d implied liches could theoretically have sexual relationships with non-liches if they were good enough at conjuring up an illusion of a human form, but I’d lost my memories before he’d become King of the Dead. We hadn’t exactly ended our relationship on a good note, considering the secrets we’d been keeping had led to both of our untimely deaths. Really, I should have known from studying Shakespearean tragedies at the Order’s academy that that would end badly. 

“What is it?” he asked. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that there’s still a lot I don’t remember,” I said. “About us, I mean.”

Greyson tilted his head. “Have you remembered any more since you came back?”

“No.” The occasional glimpses I’d had into my past had stopped after my return to life, and I hadn’t had any new recollections about our shared history. We’d been close to one another, I knew, yet it seemed I hadn’t told him about my gift for spirit magic, and he hadn’t told me his days were numbered and always had been. Every spirit mage born into the House of Spirit invariably turned into a lich, but Dirk Alban had learned magic independently and had killed the last Death King in an attempt to return the spirit mages to supremacy. He’d also trained me to be his successor, but I’d turned on him at the last minute, ripping out his soul and nearly dying in the process. In saving my life, Greyson had given up his own and became the new Death King, and he’d believed that change would be permanent.

Ten years later and the miracle that had saved both of us had also returned my dead mentor to life again. Dirk Alban’s soul had remained bound to an amulet which the vampires had stolen from the scene of his death, but Hawker had managed to steal it back and resurrect its owner. Now all three of us were locked into the same conflict again, and my lack of insight into my own history made it difficult not to worry that this battle would end the same as the last one. 

“Nothing?” he said.

I shook my head. “Maybe I need another near-death experience in order to remember.”

His brow crinkled. “I’d rather keep those to a minimum.”

“Guess I could always ask Judith,” I said. “She showed up at our shop earlier claiming she left the Order and that she believes me. Mad, eh?”

“She’s had a change of heart, has she?” he said. “I’m not surprised.”

“I am,” I said. “I can’t believe she expected me to help her plot against the Order from the inside.”

“Maybe she didn’t know who else to ask,” he said. 

“That’s depressing as shit,” I told him. “If you ask me, she’s trying to find a way of absolving herself of any blame for all the crap she did to me at the academy. That, I wish I could forget.”

His expression turned preoccupied. “I can’t say I know her reasons, but it might be that knowing what Holland did weighed too heavily on her conscience.”

Hmm. “How are the other liches dealing with the situation, then?” 

“With great impatience,” he said. “Some of them, anyway. The majority had long resigned themselves to living under the curse, but with my return to life coupled with Hawker’s attempts to lure them away… they’re restless and angry.”

“I figured.” It wasn’t Greyson’s fault he’d been hit by a cantrip which would have brought him to a permanent end if I hadn’t seen to it that he’d returned to life instead, with the side effect of freeing him from the curse which bound the entire House of Spirit. But the other liches didn’t necessarily see it that way. “They’re just going to have to wait their turn.”

“Yes…” He lifted his head, looking around the hall. Then his gaze sharpened.

“What is it?” I asked. 

“Someone’s attacking the castle,” said Greyson.

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