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Emma L Adams

Nemesis: The Alliance Series Book 2 (Paperback)

Nemesis: The Alliance Series Book 2 (Paperback)

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Book 2 of 6: The Alliance Series

It's hard to defend the Earth from deadly monsters when you suspect you might be one of them.

Discovering she's a walking magical weapon is just the beginning of Ada's problems. Her guardian thinks she's turned traitor, and her new boss at the Inter-World Alliance has put her on goblin-catching duty. With her family's livelihoods at stake, Ada must cooperate with the Alliance despite their obvious interest in exploiting her magical talent.

Kay, meanwhile, is thrown into the middle of political turmoil on a world split between humans and centaurs, as the centaur king's murder threatens to trigger a war with their magic-wielding human neighbours. To prevent a bloodbath reaching Earth's doorstep, Kay must help Markos find the real killer, and learn more about his own unpredictable magic in the process.

It isn't long before Ada and Kay's paths collide again as they face a conspiracy that could change the future of the Alliance…

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“Nobody told me the goblins would be invisible,” I said to Ms Weston.

This wasn’t the oddest conversation I’d ever had with my boss, but it was close. First ambassadorial mission and I’d managed to break my third communicator in a month, this time because it had fallen out of my pocket when chasing down a horde of ravegens, or goblins, as Earth people called them, from the world affectionately known as the cesspool of the Multiverse.

Ms Weston narrowed her eyes at me in her usual disapproving stare. “We’ll definitely look into that next time.” She rested her hands on her meticulously organised desk. “That blasted Campbell family… we need a reliable way to track down who they sold the bloodrock to. This is happening far too frequently.”

Yeah. It was inevitable, now the family who’d been in charge of the illegal bloodrock trade on Valeria were dead or imprisoned, that there’d be an upsurge of activity on the black market, but even I hadn’t guessed I’d spend my first week as Ambassador tracking down goblins across three universes only to find they’d got hold of a substance that could create a camouflage effect, and used it to cross Valeria and cause havoc. Admittedly, I’d always wanted to ride one of those hover bikes, so as far as first missions went, it could have been worse. But I hadn’t intended to crash it into a wall and break my communicator in the process.

Okay, perhaps it was typical of the way my luck usually went. For the past ten minutes, Ms Weston had lectured me about disrespect for Alliance technology—and offworld technology, come to that, considering the hover bike—and she was finally coming to the point where she remembered I had, technically, caught the culprits. Even if the Alliance had had to fork out for property damage.

“Anything else I should know about?” I asked. “Before the next job?”

Ms Weston sighed. “If you insist on getting into these situations, Kay, it might be an idea to look up how to operate Valerian transport beforehand.”

She had a point. Valeria prioritised style over a system that made sense. I did have an Earth motorcycle licence, not that I actually owned one—yet. I was planning on rectifying that now I had the full use of my hands again. A wyvern had destroyed my car, and I’d find a one-to-one fight with another more appealing than London’s public transport system. But assuming the same rules applied on another universe was never a wise idea. Valeria’s technology revolved around magic, and people continually found ways to use it to cause trouble. 

And I was a magnet for both.

Ms Weston turned and walked to the window, which overlooked London from the south of the Thames. Beyond the car park below, the river glittered amongst the towering office buildings, a markedly ordinary sight after Valeria’s capital. Now I’d been promoted to an Alliance Ambassador for Central, I’d be spending more time offworld than on Earth, which suited me just fine. Even with the invisible goblins. 

“Point taken,” I said. “I didn’t expect it to get out of hand so quickly.”

“Things have a habit of doing that wherever you’re involved, Kay. You didn’t use magic, did you?” She turned her scrutinising stare on me.

“No, I didn’t.” I knew better. Now the Balance had shifted back to normal, virtually all traces of magic on Earth had disappeared and the other worlds had stabilised, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t dangerous.

“We could do without the damages,” Ms Weston muttered. “Especially considering the recent refurbishment.”

“I’ll write a cheque in the Walker name,” I said.

For the first time since I’d worked here, Ms Weston looked genuinely surprised, which was saying something, considering we’d once been ambushed by a wyvern outside Central. “Do you think your father will mind the Walker accounts being charged for offworld property damage?”

“Honestly?” I said. “I doubt he’d notice.”

That, at least, was true.

“Very well,” she said. “Carl will give you a new communicator. Again.” She waved a hand in dismissal, and I left the office with the feeling of having narrowly avoided stepping off a cliff. 

* * *

“Do I really want to know what happened this time?” asked Carl, head of Central’s guards, as I met him in the guard office downstairs. The floor space in the office was the size of a cupboard, because the entire room was taken up by a large padlocked adamantine cabinet along the back wall containing weapons and any magic-related things that hadn’t yet been classified. A foot-long reptilian claw was mounted to the back of the door, which I strongly suspected belonged to the creature to which Carl owed the scar on his face.

“Would you believe me if I said it involved invisible goblins and a hover bike?” I asked.

“Because it’s you, Kay, I would. Try not to break this one.” He handed me another of the Alliance’s standard communication devices—advanced smartphones with offworld roaming, Internet and information storage on virtually every world in the Multiverse. On Earth, only Central’s archives had a more comprehensive store of information.

I made a note on the communicator to check out Valeria’s transport instructions as soon as possible, and pocketed the new device.

“Maybe the tech team should invest in wyvern-hide coverings for these,” I said.

“How did you break it, exactly?” asked Carl. “It didn’t involve magic, did it?”

“No.” Why did everyone keep asking that? Carl, unlike Ms Weston, was unaware of the unusual nature of my ability, though he knew I was one of the Alliance’s few magic-wielders, like him. “I crashed a hover bike.”

“And your communicator took the fall?”

“Pretty much.” I’d escaped lightly with a few bruises and caught both ravegens before they’d wreaked any more havoc. Not bad for a first mission, especially as I’d only been promoted two days ago.

And it had been two days since I’d last seen Ada. The distractingly pretty, fierce redheaded girl who’d caused the Alliance so much trouble and managed to both aggravate me beyond measure and impress me with her sheer goddamned stubbornness. She was starting work here tomorrow—well, evaluation—and considering the Alliance had almost cost her everything, it surprised me that she’d said yes so readily.

It surprised me even more that she’d kissed me. Damn if I hadn’t relived the moment a hundred times since. 

I’d thought she hated me, and I couldn’t say I blamed her. Thanks to the Alliance, she’d been turned into a weapon and nearly died. I’d convinced the council not to order their arrests, but her family had lost their livelihoods. The least I could do was get her a job, but I hadn’t had a clue how she’d take the offer. I’d half expected her to throw it back in my face.

Instead, she’d kissed me like I was the last source of oxygen on the planet, and for one brief moment, blanked out all the guilt and horror that had plagued me since the attack on Central—even before that.

“You’re back,” said a contemptuous voice from the hall as I turned to leave the guard office. Figured I’d run into Aric here. Aric had only two modes, self-satisfied and pissed off. Looked like the latter this time. He’d shaved his head military-style and stuck a metal stud through his ear, with the result that he looked more like a biker-gang dropout than a professional Alliance guard.

“Well observed,” I said.

“Heard you had some trouble with goblins.”

“And there I was, thinking you’d got past the stalking thing.”

“Piss off, Walker.”

“Eloquent as ever. I was just leaving, and you’re blocking the door.”

“Aric, quit stirring up trouble,” said Carl. “If you want a chance in hell of getting a promotion yourself, then acting like a dick isn’t doing you any favours.”

“He speaks sense,” I said, shouldering past. It took a herculean effort not to tread on his feet.

Aric had been an unwelcome presence ever since we’d both joined the Academy five years ago, and things had been even more strained since he’d set a wyvern loose in the Passages and almost got me and two other students killed. He was ever-so-slightly pissed off that I’d ended up at the centre of all the drama a few weeks ago and wound up getting a promotion out of it.

Talking to Aric always made me want to hit something, so I headed for the training complex after checking out. This was the place they tested new recruits, while the rest of us got in practise beating the crap out of monsters. Though the monsters weren’t real, the simulations worked as a substitute until they’d let me out into the Passages again. This was offworld tech with restricted access, advanced enough to simulate virtually any situation and with total sensory immersion. Which meant: when the virtual monsters hit back, it hurt.

And right now, if I admitted it, I was also trying to distract myself from thinking extremely inappropriate thoughts about a certain future colleague.

A field of virtual corpses later and I left the training complex slightly less aggravated, though that changed when I had to sidestep a contingent of junior guards who kept glancing at me and talking in low voices. I heard the words “Walker” and “hero”.

Oh, for god’s sake. Apparently, that one was still going around. I’d told everyone the Alliance-approved version of the story, in which Ada and I just happened to be there when the Campbells’ plan backfired, leaving them all dead. But rumours were hard to stamp out when I was the sole witness aside from Ada, and she hadn’t been around to tell her side of the story. I still wasn’t sure on parts of it. But in no way did it involve the word hero.

My communicator buzzed in my hand, and I flicked the touch screen to unlock it and accepted the call from my boss. Ms Weston never seemed to leave Central, especially in the last few weeks. There was always some crisis or other.

“We need you to go offworld, tomorrow,” she said, without preamble.

“Whereabouts?” I asked. Damn. I’d been intending to talk to Ada, because she didn’t have the code for this new communicator.

“Aglaia. You should speak to Markos. Aglaia’s in the middle of a crisis, and we urgently need an Ambassador to be there.”

“Isn’t Markos enough?”

“A non-Aglaian Ambassador. More than one. It seems the centaur king’s been assassinated.”

And there I was, thinking I’d be able to get through one day without someone mentioning murder.

“Damn,” I said, moving away from the guards so they wouldn’t overhear. “There’s no way they’ll let outsiders in.”

“It’s part of Alliance custom to oversee the change of leadership, as we’re a neutral force. I’m sure you already know Aglaia’s history with the Alliance.” 

“Unfortunately,” I said, with a glance at the dark shape of Central silhouetted against the perpetually-grey London sky. “Is Markos back on Aglaia, then?”

“He’ll give you the details.” There was a sound of papers being shuffled. “The peace treaty with the humans was due for renewal next week, so the timing makes it all worse. This could be perceived as an attempt to ignite old conflicts. At the very least, it will delay all plans, including consultations with the Alliance.”

“You need someone who speaks Aglaian, right?” I was hardly experienced in this kind of diplomacy. Least of all with a volatile, high-magic world.

“Not just that,” said Ms Weston. “We specifically need a magic-wielder. Just in case.”

What? “Are you sure? I was under the impression centaurs hated magic.” I retreated under the overhang outside the training complex. The last thing I wanted was anyone to hear me talking about magic.

“Yes, they do. But humans on Aglaia are all magic-wielders, and if it turns out one of them did have a hand in the centaur king’s death, then it’s better for us to be prepared. It goes without saying that you won’t be able to reveal you are a magic-wielder in front of the centaur contingent, but considering Earth’s lack of magic, they have no reason to suspect that you are.”

Yeah, that’s reassuring. “If you say so. The humans, though—they’ll be trained magic-wielders. We aren’t.”

No. What I knew of magic, I’d learned on instinct when fighting for my life. And I couldn’t forget that two streets away from here, it had almost caused a wave of destruction across London. Even the guards who’d fought in the Passages that day didn’t know just how close Central had come to being wiped out. For all I knew, they were the ones who’d started the stories. People needed to believe someone had had the situation in hand.

Ms Weston paused before saying, “Actually, magic-wielders on Aglaia are relatively peaceful, at least with each other.”

“It’s the centaurs I’m more concerned about,” I muttered. “Who else is going, aside from Markos?”

“A small team. You’ll meet here tomorrow at seven.”

“Right,” I said, resigned. Aglaia was hardly an opportunity to pass up, but it felt uncomfortably like the conspiracy scenario I’d ended up mired in at the Alliance a few weeks ago. Assassination, magic, and aggravated centaurs? Still, nobody signed up as an Ambassador purely for the Valerian hover bikes.

“Good,” said Ms Weston. “Best of luck. There are two aims. Reinstate a new monarch before certain disparate centaur groups take power, and find out who killed their leader, if possible.”

“I’m pretty sure most of that is up to them, not the Alliance. They don’t like humans meddling in their affairs.”

Ms Weston drew in a breath. “Well, given the circumstances… Markos will tell you. Essentially, you’ll be acting to stop a group of enraged centaurs from declaring war on humans.”

“Great,” I said. “No pressure?”

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