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House of Fire: Parallel Magic Book 2 (Ebook)

House of Fire: Parallel Magic Book 2 (Ebook)

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Book 2 of 3: Parallel Magic


I'm Bria Kent, paranormal rogue and former inmate of the House of Fire. As the Death King's official Fire Element, my first order is to help my boss negotiate with the Houses of the Elements. Yeah, my former jailors. Nobody ever said this was an easy job.

All our negotiations go out the window when someone shows up dead, and my ex-best friend turns out to be the prime suspect. Worse, the deadly mages who raised me are on the loose, and I'm almost certain they're involved with the trouble brewing in the Houses.

With war on the horizon, the Family is all too ready to step in and take advantage of the chaos. And there's nothing they want more than for me to fight at their side…

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The first enemy I made as the Death King’s official Fire Element was a zombie horse named Neddie. 

The skeletal beast hissed and snapped its sharp teeth at me when I tried to climb onto its back. Its polished forehead reflected the weak sunlight from the overcast sky above, while a shadowy figure floated up to my side, laughing under her breath as I tried to mount the stubborn horse. 

“What’s the problem?” I said to Neddie.

“Probably scared you’ll set him on fire,” commented Harper.

I withdrew my hand before I lost a finger. “Good chance of it if he keeps biting me.”

Harper was a lich, a reanimated ghost of sorts whose soul was bound to an amulet in exchange for immortality. Nothing out of the ordinary for a castle full of similar shadowy beings without any visible features and reanimated skeletal wights that far outnumbered any living people. The zombie horses, though, I hadn’t expected.

Neddie snorted again and snapped his teeth inches from my hand. I gave him a glare. “Have it your way, then. I’ll find another steed.”

“Why do you need a horse, anyway?” asked Harper.

“I’m sick of getting mud on my boots,” I responded. “We can’t all wear nothing but a semi-transparent cloak and defy gravity. Besides, I like to know there’s an easy way out if I’m being chased.”

My first rule for living in the Parallel: always be ready to run. Or ride, as the case may be. If my steed cooperated, that is. The swamp was hard to traverse on foot, even wearing the new heavy black boots the Death King had given me. He’d also given me matching dark trousers and shirt, laced with armoured material which offered protection while being lightweight enough not to slow me down. I also wore a cloak lined with fiery crimson and embossed with the Death King’s symbol of four elemental symbols surrounded a skull. Kind of overkill, pun intended, but I looked actually intimidating for once in my life. It didn’t hurt that my dark brown hair was positively glossy after having access to adequate showering facilities for the first time in forever, while a disguise charm I wore around my neck hid my pointed ears and elven features. I hadn’t quite got used to showing my real face—old habits died hard—but it was nice to command a little respect for once.

Footsteps sounded and two people wearing armour like mine, a tall black woman and a tall Asian guy, walked into view. Felicity, the Water Element, gave Neddie the horse a confused look. “What are you doing, trying to tame him?”

“He doesn’t like fire mages,” said Cal, the Earth Element.

“Told you so,” said Harper. 

Neither of them appeared bothered at talking to a floating cloak without a face, but they’d lived here in the castle for years. Felicity had been nice to me so far, unlike the other Elemental Soldiers, but I knew better than to expect it last. I had secrets up to my eyeballs and a family which made the Death King’s denizens look like cuddly bunny rabbits.

My second rule for living in the Parallel: adapt to survive. And taking on the job from the Death King had been necessary for my survival, so I’d deal with the consequences.

I went looking for another horse, but Neddie didn’t like that. He cantered into my path and would have headbutted me across the swamp, had I not pivoted away at the last second. “What did I ever do to him?”

“Perhaps he senses nefarious intentions,” said Ryan, joining their fellow Elemental Soldiers outside the castle. The Air Element looked more intimidating than the rest of us put together, with a shaved head and broad shoulders under their armour.

“I haven’t got nefarious intentions,” I protested. “I’m risking my neck for His Lordship’s sake, you know.”

“You should have more respect for our master,” said the Air Element. 

A small humanoid fiery figure floated past and snorted loudly. “I have no respect for anyone, and His Deathly Highness still lets me guard his hall of souls.”

I felt an unexpected rush of gratitude towards Dex, which vanished when Neddie lunged out and knocked me flat on my arse, causing the fire sprite to burst into laughter. 

“The Death King wants you, by the way,” Dex said between snickers.

I lifted my head. “Did he mention why?”

“I assume he has a mission for you,” Felicity said. “I wouldn’t dawdle.”

I tried to get to my feet, only for Neddie to knock me backwards again. Harper burst out laughing. Her voice was colder and higher as a lich than it’d been as a human, which made a frankly disturbing backdrop as I climbed upright and ran towards the castle before the zombie horse could hit me again.

I entered via the back door and walked past the Elemental Soldiers’ quarters, which now included my new room. The Death King’s official Fire Element got some pretty swanky perks, and until recently, I’d never have believed I’d go from living in a hovel to an honest-to-god castle, even if it did belong to the King of the Dead. Not that I’d had much chance to enjoy the accommodations yet, because I’d spent most of the time waiting for the other shoe to drop. Or zombie horse, as the case may be.

After walking down the wide stone corridor, I pushed open the oak doors to the main hall and approached the wooden dais on which the Death King stood. Tall and cloaked in armour the colour of the night and with his face hidden by a dark mask, his very aura radiated menace. His voice was cold and echoing when he spoke.

“I need someone to go to the House of Fire,” he said, without preamble.

My heart missed a beat. “You want me to go to the House of Fire?”

“I was under the impression that you had contacts there,” he said.

“They also want me dead,” I said. “If I set foot in there, I’ll be deader than one of your liches. Several times over.”

He gave me a cold stare as though he didn’t appreciate the joke. It was kind of impressive how someone without a visible face could pull off any sort of expression, but he managed to. “This is your job. You signed up for it.”

Not really. I’d signed up to work as the Death King’s soldier, not his spy, especially where the House of Fire was concerned. Let’s just say we had an unpleasant history, the least of which was that they’d recently jailed Tay, my best friend. I’d felt that was the best outcome for her after she’d betrayed me, but it still hurt to know she’d put her own needs ahead of our friendship and my survival. She was probably safer behind bars than walking free, but that didn’t mean my presence there wouldn’t elevate the risk for both of us.

More to the point, this job was the first stable employment I’d ever had in my life and going back to the House of Fire might land me right back where I’d started. Admittedly, I’d fallen into the position by accident, but my third rule for living in the Parallel was to adapt to my surroundings. I hadn’t expected to be removed from the castle so soon.

“It’s my belief that the inferno cantrips used by the saboteurs during my Fire Element contest may have been developed by someone connected to the House of Fire,” the Death King added. “I can trust you to ask a few questions, can’t I?”

From the warning note underlaying his tone, I suspected that if I didn’t, I’d find myself envying Tay’s fate. “I have no idea whether anyone in the House of Fire might have been involved in creating those cantrips. Nobody I know there will tell me anything either way.”

“Then you’d better find a way to get through to them,” he said.

This dude made a soul-sucking phantom look reasonable. “I really don’t think this is going to work.”

“Then endeavour to speak to them and bring me a report on your progress, regardless of whether you’re successful or not,” he said. “Take your lich friend with you, if you like.”

I doubted Harper wanted to set foot near the Houses either, but I wouldn’t be able to argue further without risking drawing his ire and getting myself fired or worse. They said the Death King conscripted anyone who crossed him into his army of liches, and while he’d offered me this coveted job, the last person to wear the Fire Element’s armour had ended up turning traitor and having his soul ripped out as a punishment.

“I will, but don’t blame me if this goes wrong.” I turned to leave, and almost collided with a small humanoid fiery person on the way out. “Dex, want to come with me?”

“Where?” said the fire sprite. 

“The House of Fire.”

“I have to join Liv to help with her D&D game,” he said. “The House of Fire? That sounds like fun. What is it, a contest to see who can start the biggest bonfire?”

“D&D?” I said. “Oh, your Dungeons & Dragons game. How can you play? I mean, you don’t have hands.”

He made a sharp noise of indignation. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear you say that.” 

“Didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” I said. “The House of Fire, though, it’s hardly a party.” Especially if they did create those inferno cantrips. 

They hadn’t, though. I already knew the culprit, and it was someone who made a night in the House of Fire’s cells seem like a relaxing day at the beach.

Dex flew off, pouting, so I left the fire sprite and made my way out of the castle. I found Harper and Felicity beside Neddie, who seemed quite serene now I wasn’t trying to tame him.

“See?” said Felicity, petting him. “He’s harmless when you’re nice to him.”

“I was being nice,” I objected. “Nicer than the liches, I reckon. Anyway, I’m not gonna need a ride where I’m going.”

Even a transporter spell wouldn’t get me out of the House of Fire’s cells if they decided that I’d be better off joining Tay behind bars.

“What did the Death King want?” asked Harper, as Felicity vaulted onto the horse’s back and cantered away across the swampland.

“He needs someone to go to the House of Fire,” I said. “I know. He’s got it into his head that the people at the House know the origins of those inferno cantrips.”

“Ugh,” she said. “Count me out.”

“I wasn’t gonna ask you to come with me,” I said. “I know you hate that place.”

Not that I was keen on a trip down memory lane myself, but while I had an inkling I knew precisely who’d made those inferno cantrips, their location remained a mystery to me. On the other hand, the Houses were unlikely to know where they were hiding, either. After all, the people in question were the last prisoners known to have escaped the Houses’ strongholds, years after my own escape.

“You haven’t heard from the Spirit Agents?” she asked.

“Not yet, but I doubt they want to get involved in House drama,” I said. 

The Spirit Agents were independent mages allied to the Death King, since there were only Houses for the other four elements and not the spirit mages. I was pretty sure they’d want to know about the Death King sending me to the House of Fire, but I hadn’t lied when I’d said it was a waste of time. I’d go there, they’d shut the door in my face, and then I’d find something else to do instead after risking my dignity and my new job—not to mention the safety that came with it. As safe as it was possible to be in a castle of the dead, anyway.

As there was no sense in delaying, I checked I had enough cantrips on me and claimed a sword from the castle armoury. Then I walked out of the gates in front of the castle and headed for the gleaming node which stood alone in the swampland like a geyser of pure white light. when I stepped into the midst of the current of energy, the light soared above my head and blanketed the castle in a pale glow. In my mind’s eye, I fixed an image of the city of Elysium, my former home, and the location of both the Spirit Agents and the Houses of the Elements.

The swamp vanished in a flash of light, and I reappeared in a narrow alleyway. As the largest city in the part of the Parallel which overlapped with the UK, Elysium had been hit hard by the war thirty-odd years ago, and large parts of it had been destroyed and rebuilt. The four Houses were placed at intervals at each corner of a square in the very heart of the city, facing outwards as though the people who’d built them had intentionally wanted to avoid anyone having to look directly at the former Citadel of the Elements. I kept one eye on the towering obsidian shape as I made my way around the warren of streets until I found the right building.

The House of Fire stood on the southwest corner of the square, its bricks scorched with burn marks from escaped prisoners. A formidable structure several storeys high, it held several underground dungeons in addition to the floors above the surface. On the other side of the nodes dividing the two realms, London had a robust underground transport system. What did Elysium get? High-security prisons for mages who stepped out of line or otherwise ticked off the authorities. I’d done more than step out of line, though. I’d danced over the line a thousand times and even then, prison had been safer than where I’d grown up. That was partly why I’d stayed here in Elysium after walking free, and why I felt little fear that I’d find myself caged again. My old haunts had been miles north of here, and besides, nobody would be able to legally arrest me now I worked for the Court of the Dead.

Didn’t stop apprehension from locking around my chest as I walked up to the crimson door of the House of Fire and knocked. My heart hammered against my ribcage, old instincts urging me to get away, and I found myself wishing I’d persuaded Harper to come with me. As a lich, the guards would never have recognised her unless she spoke. But me? Everyone in this building knew my name.

Sure enough, the man who answered the door narrowed his eyes in recognition. “I know you. I never forget a face.”

I hadn’t forgotten his, either. Harris, security guard for the House of Fire and royal pain in the arse. Squat, flat-faced and with enough grease in his hair to put on a barbecue, he regarded me as though he’d happened upon a giant spider he wanted to crush beneath the heel of his boot.

“Good for you,” I said. “The Death King sent me. I’m here as his official Fire Element.”

“And I’m a vampire lord.”

Ha ha. I showed him the skull symbol imprinted on my crimson-lined cloak. “See that? It’s his logo.”

“What poor sap did you steal that from?”

“Wasn’t the former Fire Element once an inmate here before the Death King hired him?” I queried. “Is it hard to believe I followed in his path?”

The last Fire Element, Davies, had been saved from imprisonment in the House of Fire by the Death King, and had then thrown it back in his master’s face and betrayed him. For all I knew, maybe this was a kind of test to ensure I wouldn’t do the same.

“You’re not even a proper mage,” he said. “You’re a freak.”

Anger stirred, but I met his stare. “I wanted to talk to someone inside the House of Fire about a matter of importance to the Death King.”

“It better be bloody important, then,” he said. “Someone was murdered today. Nobody is allowed in.”

“Murdered?” I echoed. “Who?”

Not an inmate, surely. They didn’t exactly value their prisoners highly, especially people like me.

He tilted his head. “Weren’t you friends with that Tay girl? The one with the exploding magic?”

I tensed. “What of it?”

He gave a cold laugh. “She’s the one that done it.”

My blood turned to ice. “What? Tay didn’t do anything.”

“I beg to differ.” He leaned on the door frame, a leer twisting his mouth. “She’s the main suspect. She was found at the scene of the crime.”

“There has to be a mistake.” I took a step towards the door. “Can you let me in? I’ll talk to the man in charge. Maybe—”

“The man in charge is the one who died,” he said. “Chief jailor.”

“What?” No. He had to be lying. “You mean Zade?”

“The one and only.” His leer twisted into an expression that contained more anger than humour. “Your friend is doomed, Bria.”

Shit. His tone was dead serious. The former jailor of the House of Fire, who’d tormented me throughout my imprisonment, was dead.

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