Home > Most Popular > Girls of Fate and Fury (Girls of Paper and Fire #3)

Girls of Fate and Fury (Girls of Paper and Fire #3)
Author:Natasha Ngan

Girls of Fate and Fury (Girls of Paper and Fire #3)

Natasha Ngan



ONE


WREN


THWACK!

The smack of a hundred oak staffs colliding at the same time reverberated through the training pavilion. It was earsplittingly loud, echoing off the round walls, as though the pavilion were a giant drum and the warriors within it living batons, all beating to the same fierce rhythm.

Wren’s muscles were on fire. Sand from the pit’s floor whipped her cheeks as she danced and spun her bo with split-second precision, locked in formation with one of the Hanno warriors. Wren’s father had ordered her to monitor the drill, not participate in it, but Wren craved distraction. She needed to move, to fight, to feel the reassuring, body-shocking crack of a weapon meeting another.

This she could do.

This she could control.

“Hyah! Kyah!”

Her sparring partner yelled with each movement while Wren parried in silence.

Sweat dripped from Wren’s face. She didn’t usually perspire so much when she fought, but she wasn’t in her Xia state, her magic keeping her cool the same way normal shaman magic was warming. And it was hot in the pavilion. The circular wall was made of woven bamboo, and it trapped the midday heat. Light lanced in through the gaps, flickering over one hundred focused faces.

There’d always been drills and battle practice. Ketai Hanno, Wren’s father and leader of the Hannos, Ikhara’s most powerful Paper clan, liked to keep his army prepared. But since war had been declared, there was an extra sense of urgency.

An attack was imminent. What wasn’t sure was who would strike the first blow. Ketai, or the King?

Locked in rhythm with the soldier, Wren was fully absorbed in each swing of her staff despite the pain of her month-old injury—or perhaps because of it. It roared in her lower back and hips, her own silent battle cry. The sensation was deep, more a weight than anything, as though her sacrum were made of steel instead of bone.

Pain wasn’t new to Wren. She’d been forged with it through her father’s and Shifu Caen’s training sessions from as early as she could remember. And though she was healed each time afterward quickly enough, magic didn’t erase memories, and the memories associated with this pain were infinitely worse than the pain itself.

They were memories of demon roars and blood on desert sands.

Of what was left once the screams and sword-clash faded to nothing.

Of a carpet of bodies—yet one even more terrible in its absence.

Lei.

Her name was the echo to Wren’s every heartbeat. It was both bright and dark, both wonderful and unbearable, both Wren’s strength and her deepest agony.

It was why she couldn’t stand by watching this afternoon’s drill and not do something. Watching only reminded her how useless she’d been that night in the Janese deserts a month ago, and she couldn’t stand it. Her father and their doctors and shamans had ordered Wren to rest due to her injury. But rest and sleep were the last things Wren wanted. She knew who she’d find the moment she closed her eyes. And she knew the pain she’d feel once she woke to find the girl she was dreaming of not there.

Crammed in with one hundred moving bodies, Wren licked the sweat from her lips and pushed her partner on, losing herself in the rush of her staff.

As the warriors turned, switching into a new formation, Wren caught sight of a figure watching from the viewing gallery—where she herself should currently be. She had just enough time to register her father’s disapproval before his shout rang out.

“Halt!”

At once, the pit fell still. The soldiers dipped their heads respectfully, weapons lowered, panting hard. Only Wren kept her neck tall, locked onto her father’s inimitable stare.

“Lady Wren,” he called in a good-natured tone, leaning forward to grip the railing. “How is drill monitoring going? Well, I hope?”

A few tentative laughs rippled through the hall.

Wren swiped a rolled sleeve across her brow. She forced her expression to remain impassive, though now she’d stopped moving her injury was screaming more fiercely than ever, exhaustion rattling her bones. “Your warriors are so well trained my guidance is hardly needed, Father,” she replied. “I thought I may as well get a little practice in myself.”

Ketai gave a generous laugh. “A good idea, daughter. Might I join?”

He launched himself over the balcony without waiting for a reply. Then, tucking the hem of his long changpao shirt into the waistband of his trousers, he strode forward through the sea of parting soldiers.

Wren’s sparring partner waited until Ketai reached them near the center of the pit before offering her training bo to him with a bow.

“Thank you, Amrati,” he demurred, turning a twinkling smile upon her.

Wren had to hand it to him. No one could fault the way her father made his clan members feel seen. While the Demon King ruled with fear and intimidation, Ketai Hanno commanded with grace, charisma, and a warm, true affection that sometimes felt just like love.

Wren held her father’s gaze as they moved into position. His smile, moments ago so easy, now had a twist to its edges. Ever since her broken group arrived back, he’d been tenser, anger and disappointment running under his calm, friendly surface.

It hadn’t been the triumphant return any of them had wished for. In fact, the outcome of the journey with Lei, Caen, Merrin, Nitta, Bo, and Hiro to gather the allegiance of three of the most important demon clans in Ikhara had been worse than any of them could have ever predicted. Not only had they lost one of their most important alliances—the White Wing—after their clan leader Lady Dunya was usurped in a coup by her own daughter Qanna, but Qanna had then convinced Merrin to betray their group by giving the King their location.

None of them had expected it. Wren, who’d grown up with Merrin right here in the fort, wouldn’t have believed it herself if she hadn’t seen with her own eyes how his grief over Bo’s death had twisted his heart, coupled with his repulsion at Wren’s drive to win the war at any cost. All of which had led to that awful battle in Jana.

A bloodied desert.

Moonlight upon a sea of bodies.

Merrin, Nitta, Lei—vanished.

The White Wing had been integral to Ketai’s war plans. Since the coup, its remaining clan members still loyal to Qanna’s mother, Lady Dunya, were imprisoned in their own palace. Ketai was determined to free them. Yet no matter how many different ways they approached a rescue during their war councils, it always came down to one thing: they couldn’t reach them without bird demons of their own. The Cloud Palace was almost impossible to access on foot, and with Merrin still missing, they had no means to reach it by air.