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       Birth of Chaos (Age of Magic: Wish Quartet Book 3), p.1

           Elise Kova
 
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Birth of Chaos (Age of Magic: Wish Quartet Book 3)


  Birth of Chaos

  Wish Quartet Book Three

  Elise Kova

  Lynn Larsh

  Contents

  Copyright Page

  A Letter from the Authors

  Dedication Page

  Map of the Society’s Mansion

  Map of North America (2057)

  1. Life on a Leash

  2. Too Soon

  3. The Bone Carver

  4. Complicit Survival

  BTCOTS NOTES 1

  5. A Single Eye

  6. Palm, Meet Desk

  7. Special Place

  BTCOTS NOTES 2

  8. Breakdown

  9. Wood Grain

  BTCOTS NOTES 3

  10. Springtide Pillars

  11. Fletcher

  12. Wanting In

  BTCOTS NOTES 4

  13. Nowhere Safe

  14. You Again

  15. Trade

  16. Signatures

  BTCOTS NOTES 5

  17. Only From Me

  18. Will It Break

  19. Age of Gods

  20. Off the Wish

  21. The Final Pieces

  BTCOTS NOTES 6

  22. Comfort

  23. Dark Water

  24. Pan’s Room

  25. Finally

  26. The Clock Reaches Zero

  27. Fragmented Data

  28. Dragonback

  29. Far From Over

  Age of Magic (Wish Quartet, #4)

  About the Author: Elise Kova

  About the Author: Lynn Larsh

  Also by Elise Kova

  This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, and events in this book are the products of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the authors.

  Published by Silver Wing Press

  Copyright © 2018 by Elise Kova

  All rights reserved. Neither this book, nor any parts within it may be sold or reproduced in any form without permission.

  Cover Artwork by Elise Kova

  Editing by Rebecca Faith Editorial

  eISBN: 9781642371154

  Print ISBN: 9781642371147

  A Letter from the Authors

  On behalf of Lynn and Elise, thank you so much for reading our book! Your support enables us to continue to weave stories that we hope you enjoy for years to come.

  We also hope that you secured your copy of this book legally.

  Did you know that the unauthorized reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work is illegal? Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by fines and federal imprisonment.

  Make sure all your books come from a verified retailer, publisher, or the author themselves, and not an illegal download site. Do your part to help protect authors so we can keep making the stories you love.

  To find all retailers where you can obtain a physical or digital copy of this work legally, please visit Elise’s website: http://elisekova.com/

  for those still discovering who they truly are

  Chapter 1

  Life on a Leash

  Just outside of time and space, in a small corner of a magically constructed and brilliantly lavish mansion, Josephina Espinosa sat with her knees pulled to her chest, arms folded on top, and head rested between.

  She didn’t cry. She didn’t speak. She barely breathed as she listened to the silence of the room—the deafening, overwhelming silence. The lack of sound was louder than any scream of rage or sob of loss that she could hope make. It was a void filled with hurt and heartache that nothing, not even the members of the Society, could bridge.

  The recreation room seemed to cling to its lost occupant just as fiercely, the scent memory of Nico soaked into the walls, the floor—the last remnants of their Italian painter. There were the smoky echoes of the fire that had crackled in the hearth she’d leaned on while he’d painted, and where she’d kept her vigil since he’d died. There was the warm, earthy, almost mineral aroma of his oil paints, now dried and cracked on his palette. Then there was the sweet roasted edge of espresso stained on the inside of a forgotten cup.

  Jo flipped her wrist, looking at the dull illumination of the hours she’d amassed since joining the Society. Nico had deserved more time, but all that was left of it now was the cracked face of a watch.

  So Jo sat, just trying to breathe, to imprint his memory on her mind and lungs. She would not forget. She couldn’t let herself forget. No matter what happened, she would remember Nico and his sacrifice. Her heart would cling to his memory as the room clung to his scent.

  But the anger that simmered in her stomach stewed over another memory: the fact that Pan had taken him from them in the most heartless way possible.

  Jo remembered that fact with vivid precision. She remembered it when she finally left Nico’s memorial, and remembered still all the way back to her room. She remembered it as she lay in her bed, alone, and succumbed to the memory in vivid, waking dreams of squeezing the rainbow-haired woman until she popped and oozed all her secrets.

  The next day, Jo repeated the process: rouse from a restless few hours of non-sleep, sit amidst the memories of Nico, return to her room to stare at the ceiling and fantasize over candy-colored revenge. Because she did not want to let herself come anywhere close to sleep.

  The last time sleep had come, even if it had been forced upon her in a cataclysmic magical shift, Nico had been taken from them. Before then, it was the start of that impossible wish, when Snow had rewound time itself. The world now felt all too fragile—close her eyes for longer than a blink and she couldn’t be sure what state it would be in when she opened them again.

  So she didn’t close her eyes. She went about her business with all the precision of a shampoo bottle: lather, rinse, repeat. All but forgetting that there were other members in the Society, others who were hurting just as bad, if not worse, than she.

  On the third day, Jo roused from her muddled thoughts and dark delights, and headed down the long hall to the Four-Way, and then to the common room—a slight deviation to the routine.

  The sun had just crested over the mountains beyond the pool when Jo entered, casting first light on both her and the man straight out of the 1920s. He leaned against the counter, one hand flipping his nickel absently as he nibbled on a piece of toast, eyes pointed at the TV as it ran quietly on the other side of the room.

  It was the news in Japan and, as it had been for nearly a week now, all was blindingly, annoyingly well.

  “Morning,” Jo mumbled, crossing over to go about making herself a cup of coffee, even if it seemed unnaturally cruel to have such a simple luxury right now.

  Wayne tensed at her proximity. Perhaps she had been wrong to venture onto common ground, and the time for the Society’s seclusion was not yet over. While she didn’t immediately snap at him or feel the overwhelming desire to shove him aside (a small victory compared to her mood a few days ago), she didn’t get the sense that the feeling was mutual.

  “Nice of you to show your face,” Wayne mumbled. Jo tried to keep herself from snapping. He’d known Nico longer than she had—they all had. It’d take the rest of the Society more time.

  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She grabbed the coffee pot a little too roughly, brown liquid sloshing about to the point of nearly spilling out. The action helped keep her hands busy, which also helped prevent her from actually striking the man. Even improved, her mental state was still fragile at best; this was not the time to test her mood.

  “You’ve been h
oled up in the rec room for days now.”

  “So?”

  Wane shrugged.

  Jo should’ve stopped there. “Has there been a wish?”

  “No.”

  “Did you need me?”

  “Need you? Who would need you?” he fired back, not even looking at her.

  “The hell does that mean?” Jo abandoned the coffee, leaning against the counter.

  “You’re trouble.” Wayne finished his toast and wiped his hands on his trousers.

  Jo narrowed her eyes. “If I recall correctly, you like my trouble.”

  “When it’s not getting one of the team killed.” He finally looked at her.

  “Excuse me?” she whispered, deathly quiet. Getting one of them killed?

  “Just a suspicion.” The attention was short lived, as Wayne’s gaze wandered away. He wouldn’t even give her the decency of direct eye contact as he levied his accusations.

  “You’re not smart enough to play cryptic.” Unlike Snow. He was another ghost who had not been seen since Nico’s death. “Shit or get off the pot, Wayne. What are you getting at?”

  “Exactly what it sounds like.” There was no “doll” at the end, making the statement come across even harsher than his tone. “You don’t exactly have the best track record.”

  “I have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about.” Her current theory was that grief was making him mad. “Yuusuke? That was one time. And I messed up once on the last wish, but otherwise I’ve had a pretty good track record,” she said defensively.

  “Like that supposedly good track record means anything when your screw-up ends with one of our team dead.”

  Jo’s hand flew like a bullet, striking out for his wrist, but instead her fingers curled around the man’s bicep and she twisted him to face her, gave him a small shake. “Is that what you’ve been doing this whole time? Cooped up in your room, blaming this on me?”

  Wayne opened his mouth to speak, but Jo could tell by the expression on his face that she wasn’t going to like what he had to say. So instead, she just continued talking.

  “Yeah, all right, Wayne, I messed up. But you know what? We all did. None of us was good enough, not even you,” Jo seethed. “Don’t pin this on me to try to make yourself feel better. Don’t make me out to be your scapegoat.” She’d been doing enough of beating herself up on her own. She really didn’t need someone else to do it.

  “Fine, yeah, we all messed up.” He jerked away from her, straightening to look as far down on her as he could. “But you know what? This isn’t about making you out as a scapegoat. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the past few days, connecting the dots, and everything’s gone to shit since you arrived.” Jo opened her mouth to counter, but it was his turn not to let her speak. “We’ve had more wishes, back to back, than ever before. I wouldn’t be surprised if we got one tomorrow. We used to be able to go a whole decade without one before you got here. And then this last one? We’ve never had one so impossible to grant as a mass evacuation in such a short window of time. I’ve never even seen Snow rewind time up-front for a wish.”

  “I want this life at the end of a leash no more than you do. I’d rather see us free of it.” It was the one thing that had resounded in her, over and over until it replaced the silence: destroy everything. Break the cycle they were trapped in. It had been her sole cohesive thought amid her grief. “So you can’t blame all that on me.” A quietness had overtaken her. Jo’s mind was on overdrive, heightened by the confrontation.

  “If the shoe fits,” he shot back.

  “At least I make an effort.”

  “What?” Wayne blinked, startled at the sudden shift.

  “You heard me,” Jo pressed. “At least I make an effort. I’m always out there, trying to help, trying to do more, brainstorming, and, yeah, owning up to failures when I make them. Shocker that if you put yourself out there, you mess up now and then. But what do you do with your time? No, don’t answer, I think we already know.”

  “In the last wish—”

  “In the last wish you made a bet to get people to look at a machine. Anyone could’ve made that happen if we had to. Some smart talking would’ve done it, no magic needed.” She remembered that day. It was the same day he’d rejected her advances and the mere idea of physical intimacy had another avenue unfurling before her—a clarity she’d never seen before about the man. It was a guess, one that she was unnaturally sure she was right about. “You do as little as possible because you’re afraid, Wayne Davis. You’re afraid of doing too much, of stepping too far, and ruining the little stasis you have here.”

  “And what’s wrong with that?” He was defensive. She could hear it in his voice. He tried to turn away, but this time Jo managed to wrap a tight grip around his wrist. She should stop now; she could feel the wavering in him.

  She should’ve done a lot of things differently in those first few days following Nico’s death though.

  “Because you’ll do nothing, and lose someone you love. Again.”

  Wayne’s eyes widened so large that she wondered how they didn’t fall from their sockets. “How did you . . .” he whispered. “Who told you?”

  Jo didn’t know what chord she’d struck, but it vibrated at such a magical frequency that she knew if she tightened it a little more, it’d snap. So she listened to the note, and twisted. “No one had to tell me—it’s so blatantly obvious. You’re afraid of having nothing and no one. So whenever you have anything, you make the least amount of effort possible, just enough to keep it, but not enough to really put yourself out there. Because if you put in that much effort, you just might become vulnerable. You just might get hurt. But surprise, Wayne. People need more than your half-assed attempt at connection. So it’s no surprise that she left you for—”

  “Stop!” he roared, smacking the mug Jo had set out for coffee and sending it flying across the room.

  It shattered, and the sound broke whatever trance had come over her. Jo blinked, startled; she couldn’t figure out how she’d gotten here. What had she even been saying?

  Who was the “she” that Jo had been so confident about a moment ago? Jo tried to find the same mental pathways she’d explored, but they were gone, shrouded. She had no idea how she’d jumped to those conclusions.

  Wayne panted softly. She felt his pulse racing under her hand, and Jo quickly relinquished him, stepping away. Her eyes dropped to her toes and her shoulders slumped.

  “I’m sorry, Wayne, I—” she whispered. He said nothing, he barely moved. “ —I don’t know what . . .” Jo buried her face in her hand. How could she have done such a thing? What had come over her?

  “I threw the first punch,” he muttered, almost apologetically. “Let’s just forget all about it.” There was a firmness to his voice that drew her eyes back to his face. Jo saw the unspoken words. “It” had nothing to do with the argument, but rather, whatever it was that she had been pursuing.

  “Yeah, okay,” Jo whispered. “We can forget about it . . .”

  “Good. We’re square, then.” Wayne’s shoulder barely clipped hers as he started for the door.

  A sinking feeling of wrongness overtook her. The longer she stayed in the Society, the more volatile everything became. The mansion and Jo were like two chemicals that should never meet. But they had been mixed, and now Jo had to figure out how to handle the explosive reaction before it put everything around her into meltdown.

  Perhaps Wayne had been right after all.

  She turned to stop him, to apologize. She wanted to tell him sorry, for real, and that she wanted to find a way out of the Society together. But her voice froze in her throat just as Wayne had seemingly frozen in his tracks.

  For in the doorway stood a tall, silver-haired man.

  Jo tensed at the sight of Snow, searching his face and taking him in. He looked as he always had, primped and polished in a way that not even Wayne could achieve with his suits or Eslar with his unnatural grace. He was a stark contrast to
the room’s other two occupants, rumpled and hunched. It was as if the man was trying to be a paragon of composure—untouchable to the rest of them in the throes of their grief. Gone was the man who had shared one last breakfast with them as a team.

  Distant once more.

  Jo barely recognized him as the lover she’d come to know in what now almost seemed like a distant dream. She worked to squelch the hope trying to flare in her chest at the mere sight of him because she knew better, she knew he was not here to be a balm to them.

  He was here for the last thing any of them wanted, something Jo recognized with terrifying clarity. And as if to prove her silent worries true, Snow wasted no time in addressing her and Wayne with exactly the nightmare written all over his face.

  “Gather the team and meet me in the briefing room in five,” he said. Jo searched for a tremor in his tone, a crack in his facade, anything, but his face was as blank and hollow as his voice.

  The silence that followed those words was like the silence in the aftermath of an explosion.

  “Are you kidding me?” Wayne blew up with a shout. “Have you no decency?”

  “Nico’s been dead for barely a week, and you think you can just ask us to keep going?” Her heart felt like it was crumbling, her stomach dropping at the momentary flash of pain on Snow’s face that gave way quickly to a complete lack of emotion. Yet it didn’t stop the almost dizzying frustration. “No more, Snow, please. Just stop this for a minute, can’t you? At least give us all time to grieve.”

 
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