Guardians of the Boundary (The Conjurors Series Book 3)

BOOK: Guardians of the Boundary (The Conjurors Series Book 3)
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Guardians of the Boundary

The Conjurors Series

By

Kristen Pham

Copyright
© 2014 by Kristen Pham

 

Chapter 1

No matter how far or how long
Valerie ran, she couldn’t outpace her tortured memories. Ever since she’d
witnessed Midnight being torn apart cell by cell by Reaper, constant movement
had been the only thing that had kept her from breaking down.

She sprinted through the winding
streets of Silva, not realizing where she was headed until she was within sight
of Midnight’s cottage, which had once been her own home, too. With no one in
sight, Valerie collapsed on the doorstep, gasping for air and releasing the dry
sob that had been in her throat all morning.

A light flicked on inside the
dark house, and Valerie almost jumped in surprise. Midnight had no living
family. Who could be in her house? She stormed inside and stopped short at the
sight of Oleander, Midnight’s betrayer.

Without thinking, Valerie was
flooded with magic. Instantly, she was across the room, slamming her fist into
Oleander’s perfect little nose, breaking it. But Oleander was a Master in the
Guardians of the Boundary Guild, and she wasn’t easily taken down.

A pulse of electricity zinged
through Valerie’s body when Oleander gripped Valerie’s wrist, and she shook as
if she’d been shocked by a Taser. When she was released, Valerie dropped to the
ground. Oleander stared down at her with a satisfied smile. But the smile
vanished when Valerie kicked the Master Guardian’s knees with enough force to topple
her over.

Valerie straddled Oleander,
pinning her wrists with one hand so that she couldn’t shock her again and
slamming her other fist into Oleander’s face. She would have kept fighting, but
two strong arms dragged her away.

“You see? She’s a maniac! She
ought to be locked up,” Oleander said, holding her hand over her bloody nose.
Even bruised, Oleander was beautiful, her long blonde hair shining as if she’d
just come from filming a shampoo commercial instead of taking a savage beating.

“Valerie, control yourself,”
Skye said sternly. Valerie recognized the centaur from her meetings with the
Council, a powerful group of Grand Masters who were very influential in Arden’s
government.

“Do you know what she did? She
helped Reaper kill Midnight!” Valerie said, struggling to break free from his
grasp.

Oleander rolled her eyes.
“Midnight and I were like sisters. I would never hurt her.”

“She’s lying!” Valerie yelled, still
straining against Skye’s grasp. She was surprised he was strong enough to hold
her, flooded with magic as she was.

Skye’s eyes were troubled.
“There’s no proof that Midnight is dead. She’s missing. That’s why we’re here,
looking for clues. We intend to stop at nothing to rescue her.”

Valerie’s energy vanished as
quickly as it came. “She’s gone. I saw her die.”

Skye paled, and his eyes pierced
Oleander’s. “I know this girl, and she has always been an honorable young
woman.”

Oleander shifted uncomfortably
on her feet, but her voice remained strong. “I won’t listen to this. This girl ought
to be taken to the Justice Guild for what she’s done today.”

Before Skye or Valerie could
reply, Oleander stormed out of Midnight’s house, practically running away.

“She left quickly for one who
claims to be innocent of your charges,” Skye said, releasing Valerie and
folding his arms. “And you strike me as being in charge of your wits, though I
had my doubts with your foolish attack.”

“She deserved worse,” Valerie
said, a bit of her rage resurfacing.

“Perhaps. That’s why I’m
investigating her. I decided I could learn more if Oleander didn’t know of my
suspicions. I thought we might find evidence here of whatever happened to Midnight.”

“You won’t. Reaper turned
Midnight to dust before my eyes in her Guild office,” Valerie said, forcing her
eyes to remain dry for once.

But Skye’s eyes filled with
tears that he quickly blinked away. “I believe you. We have lost a good
Conjuror and a friend. She will be avenged.”

“I hope so. But I think things
are going to get worse before that happens,” Valerie said, dull certainty like
lead in her stomach.

“Then I hope we have someone who
can drive out the evil ones among us for good and lead us back to the way of
light,” Skye said, his tone loaded with meaning. He ducked his tall form under
the low doorframe and before leaving, turned back to face Valerie. “That person
will have my unwavering support, should she require it.”

Valerie knew she
should be galvanized that a Guild Grand Master as powerful and influential as
Skye thought she might lead the Conjurors to defeat Reaper and the Fractus who
followed him. Instead she felt as if the weight of the universe was on her
shoulders, and she couldn’t help but bow under it.

At breakfast the next morning
with her father and brother, Valerie decided not to share what had happened.
Their meals were awkward enough as they all tried to get to know each other
without adding her latest drama to the mix.

She picked at the pancakes that
Oberon had cooked up, ignoring the rubbery texture and the faint flavor of fish.
It had been a nice thought on her father’s part, and she tried not to think
about the last person who had made her pancakes. Midnight had somehow gotten
them just right.

“What did you learn at the
Empathy Guild yesterday, son?” Oberon asked Henry.

Henry dropped his fork with a clatter
and glared at Oberon.

“You don’t get to call me
son
,” Henry said
through gritted teeth. His expression softened a fraction as he turned to
Valerie. “I tried. But I can’t do this. I’m betraying my real dad. The one who
raised me and loved me my entire life.”

He threw down his napkin and
left the table, and, a little later, Valerie heard the front door shut quietly,
as if Henry was already trying to make up for his outburst.

“He doesn’t mean it, Dad,”
Valerie said.

Oberon reached across the table
and gripped her hand tightly. “Having the chance to know you and Henry is the
best thing that has ever happened to me. Any relationship Henry is willing to
bestow, I am grateful for.”

“You have me, Dad,” Valerie
whispered, so her voice wouldn’t crack.

“I am the luckiest of
fathers.”

After helping clean up
breakfast, Valerie headed to the Knights of Light, the Guild she apprenticed to
the year before, for personal training with her mentor, Gideon.

She walked beneath the arches at
the entrance of the Guild and immediately spotted Gideon in the back corner of
the courtyard. Some of the tension in her body eased.

He was practicing blocks,
punches, and thrusts with an imaginary opponent, like a dancer without a
partner. It was too early for anyone else to be out yet, so they had the space
to themselves.

Valerie waited at a respectful
distance until Gideon turned to her. He was tall and wiry, and every movement
bespoke his strength. He had decided not to develop his magical potential,
choosing instead to become one of the most powerful Conjurors on the Globe
through intense mental and physical exercises.

Gideon’s eyes crinkled as he
smiled at her. “Are you ready to train?”

“I don’t know,” Valerie replied.
There was no point in lying to Gideon. Since Midnight’s death, there were still
mornings she still had trouble getting out of bed, never mind training with her
mentor.

“It is better to start now,
while your grief is fresh and your defenses are vulnerable. If you can train
your mind to focus when it is at its weakest, you will be unstoppable when you
are strong,” Gideon said.

She’d always been weak when it
came to mental attacks, and Gideon promised to help her guard her mind.

“All right. How do we start?”

Gideon pulled a crystal from his
pocket and handed it to Valerie.

“This is a prepotent crystal,” he
explained. “It will allow me to use my will to command yours. It is a tool we
frequently use when training Knights, though usually we wait until they are ready
to become Masters in the Guild.”

“So it has the power to turn me
into your puppet?” Valerie asked dubiously.

“Only if you let me,” Gideon
said. “It is no different than when Sanguina manipulated your thoughts or Ani
used her siren song to bend you to her will. Magic that attempts to control
your mind finds your weaknesses and fears and uses them to distract you.”

“But what if my enemy’s magic is
too strong?”

“Anyone can fend off an attack
on their mind. Though I choose not to use my innate magic, my mind cannot
easily be touched. Even a Grand Master like Kellen may kill my body, but my
mind will always remain my own,” Gideon said gravely.

She swallowed her nerves. “Tell
me what to do.”

“You need to find a locus for
your thoughts. Something that you find unshakably strong and utterly peaceful.
Hold that thought in your mind, and it will be the peaceful eye in the
hurricane of magic. You can stay safe within it no matter what blows around
you,” Gideon explained.

Valerie’s mind was a blank. She
tried to think of something in her life that was a constant for her, but everything
seemed so fragile. Even her family could be ripped away by Reaper, who was
determined to bring the Fractus to Earth and would kill anyone who tried to
stop him.

“What do you use as a locus?”
Valerie asked Gideon.

He flashed a rare smile, one that
made him seem younger than the gray hair at his temples would suggest. “A tree
from my childhood. In my town, lovers carve their names on it for luck. Many
times, angry young Conjurors have tried to burn it down after a terrible
breakup, but somehow, the tree always survives. I myself once tried to cut it
down, but it bent the blade of my axe. It still grows to this day.”

“Why’d you try to cut it down?”
Valerie asked.

The smile disappeared from
Gideon’s face, replaced by the stern expression she recognized from his lessons
to her as an apprentice over the past year. “Focus, Valerie.”

Without warning, a spasm of pain
circled her head, and she knew that Gideon’s attack on her mind with the prepotent
crystal had begun.

She frantically searched for a
locus, but nothing came to mind. Flashes of horrible scenes from her foster
homes; Jet’s last moments alive before she let him die; and finally, Midnight
being tortured by Reaper all ripped through her mind. She was blinded by grief
and fear as Gideon’s crystal exploited the cracks in her mind that had been
formed by years of loneliness and grief.

The pressure on her head increased,
and she forced herself to open her eyes. She was on her knees. Gideon was in
complete control of her mind.

“Think of something you trust,
that makes you feel safe, and push back,” Gideon commanded.

“Stop,” she moaned, and Gideon
released his hold.

“I was using only the mildest
pulse of power from the crystal. What was your locus?” he asked her.

“I don’t have one,” she
admitted. Valerie gripped the hilt of Pathos for security, like she often did
when she felt threatened. The touch of the metal against her skin let her
regain a measure of peace, and it hit her that maybe she did have a locus after
all. She met Gideon’s eyes.

“Ready?” he asked her.

“Go,” Valerie said, and braced
herself for the onslaught of magic, an image of Pathos firmly in her mind.

Three hours later, Valerie was
sweating and exhausted, and she had only fended off a few of Gideon’s attacks.

“Again,” she said, her voice
hoarse. Gideon had been making her recite rhymes when he controlled her mind,
and her throat was scratchy.

“Enough for today,” Gideon said.

Valerie couldn’t read his
expression, but her gut told her that he was disappointed. “I can handle more,”
she insisted.

“Take a break and say hi to an
old friend?” a familiar voice cut through Valerie’s concentration.

For a split second, she thought
she was seeing Thai, her first love, standing in front of her, and a rush of excitement
made her want to tackle him with a hug, in spite of how he’d broken her heart.
But the boy quirked an eyebrow, and she realized that it was Tan, Thai’s clone.

“Tan, what are you doing here?”
Valerie asked with wary amazement. Tan hadn’t always been her biggest fan, and
the last she heard, he was living on Earth with Thai.

“I had to leave big bro behind
and strike out on my own,” Tan said, killing any hope Valerie had that Thai
might be on the Globe as well.

Gideon gently patted Valerie’s
shoulder, and she knew he was making his escape. “I’ll leave you and your
friend to catch up. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Gideon left without giving
Valerie a chance to protest.

“I’m hoping you can let bygones
be bygones. I know I said some awful things to you on Earth,” Tan said. “But
now that I’m here, I could really use a friend, and you’re the first person I
thought of.”

“I’m excited you’re here,”
Valerie replied, trying to shrug off the prickling sensation in her mind that
something wasn’t right. “What does Thai think about all this?”

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