Bind the Soul by Annette Marie


  She turned as the second jailor came at her. Three swift blows put him on the floor, moaning and half conscious.

  She stepped over him and reached for Ash. Sinking to her knees, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders.

  “Ash,” she whispered, clutching him. Unable to hold back any longer, she started to cry in earnest. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

  He turned his head, pressing his face against her neck as he once had when they had been trapped underground, minutes away from death. She squeezed him harder, wishing she could grab him and run. Run until they were a world away from this hell.

  Pounding footsteps announced Eisheth’s return. She burst into the room, Vejovis on her heels. He glanced over the room then rushed to Samael’s side. He dropped to his knees and pressed his hands to Raum’s unmoving form.

  “I slowed the bleeding,” Samael said. “Can you save him?”

  “Perhaps,” Vejovis grunted. “Get the others away. No distractions.”

  Samael rose. Blood stained his pants from the knees down and coated his hands. He turned and gave Piper a long look. She sank one hand into Ash’s hair, holding him to her. If she’d had access to a weapon, she would’ve tried to kill Samael on the spot, risks be damned.

  “Eisheth . . . escort Piper back to the bastille.” He looked at the jailors Piper had taken out. “Send some guards to return Ash as well.”

  He lifted his hand and looked at the Sahar dangling from its chain. Then he glanced at the wall splattered with Raum’s blood. For the first time, Piper noticed huge rents in the wood, great gashes interrupted by a narrow expanse of undamaged wood where Raum had stood.

  “I am surprised, Piper,” Samael said softly. “Raum is renowned for his exceptionally fast shielding reflexes. If he had been anyone else, you would have cut him into pieces. Still . . . your attack shattered his shield. I will be disappointed if he dies.” His stare cut through her, promising pain. “Very disappointed.” He flicked a glance at Eisheth.

  The woman came forward, rod held threateningly in one fist. It took all of Piper’s will to let Ash go. Before she stood, she pressed her cheek against his.

  “Hold on, Ash,” she whispered. “Don’t give up. Hold on, please.”

  Eisheth grabbed her arm and yanked her away. She let the woman shove her toward the door, walking sideways to keep her eyes on Ash. His stare rose to meet hers and didn’t waver until Eisheth propelled her out the door.

  He vanished from her view and she feared she had seen him for the last time.

  . . .

  Piper sat in her cell, arms around her knees, rocking gently back and forth in time with her breathing.

  Ash’s black eyes watched her from inside her head. She couldn’t stop seeing his ravaged body, the horrible collar around his neck. It was killing him. Vejovis had said as much. Samael was torturing him to death.

  She pressed her face to her knees and rocked faster. Ash writhing as Eisheth dug the rod into his stomach. Raum slumped on the floor in a pool of blood. She hadn’t meant to do that. Of all the daemons she’d met in this place, Raum was the one who had least deserved that—not that he wasn’t still her enemy. She just wished she’d been attacking Samael when the Sahar had gone off. He wasn’t as fast at shielding as Raum. Maybe she could have killed the Hades bastard.

  Samael might be angry over Raum’s injuries, but overall, he must’ve been pleased with her. A couple hours after Eisheth had dumped her back in her cell, some jailors had turned up. They’d taken her to a different area of the bastille where she’d gotten a shower, fresh jail clothes, and a meal. A quasi-doctor had put some sort of stinging cream on all her rat bites. A large canteen had been placed in her cell before they’d locked her in again—enough water to last her the night.

  She stopped rocking long enough to rub her thumb over the scab on her forearm—the spot where Micah had grabbed her at the gala and his stupid poky ring had jabbed her. In the shower, she’d noticed the mark for the first time: a red, pea-sized bruise around a small puncture mark. She’d had the quasi-doctor rub some of his anti-infection cream on it too but it hadn’t stung like the other cuts. She wasn’t sure what that meant. Maybe it was only a bruise.

  Sighing, she rested her chin on her knees. The rat-things dug at the blanket beneath her but she’d jammed it into the grate as tightly as possible. Closing her eyes, she tried to calm her thoughts enough to sleep. Who knew what tomorrow would bring?

  She was so scared of what was coming she could barely breathe.

  Samael now knew for certain she could use the Sahar. And yet, she wasn’t sure she’d actually used it. It had felt more like the Stone had used her. Just like last time, she hadn’t been trying to draw on it. She’d been trying to claw Raum’s eyes out. The Sahar had . . . mimicked her. Only with a thousand times the force.

  Was it her subconscious tapping the power, like Samael had suggested? Instinct? That might explain the mirror-like nature of the attack—a magic-fueled copy of her physical movements. But she didn’t know what magic was supposed to feel like. She still didn’t understand how she, having no magic, could use the Stone at all. Chances were that Samael didn’t know either. But he would keep working on her until he figured it out.

  What would happen tomorrow? Would he make her try again? Would Eisheth torture Ash again? Raum wouldn’t be there, even if Vejovis had managed to save him. Samael had to be somewhat concerned by what she’d done. What if Piper had turned the Stone’s magic on him? She sure wished she had.

  What if Ash wasn’t there? What if Samael had sent him away with Eisheth so she could keep torturing him into madness and then death? How long did he have left? She pressed both hands to her face. What was she supposed to do? Even if she could get to Ash, she couldn’t get the collar off him; as long as it was locked around him, he was helpless. And even if she got him away and got the collar off, Ash would still be trapped because his sister was Samael’s prisoner. Nothing would change.

  A soft tap on her cell door made her look up. Darkness pressed against her eyes. The sliding bolt hissed in the silence. It couldn’t be Raum again; if he were alive, he wouldn’t be in any shape for midnight jaunts to the dungeon. The door opened, then closed. She couldn’t see a damn thing.

  Light bloomed.

  Vejovis stood in her cell, a tiny spark of light hovering in his palm. He pressed a finger to his lips. She stared, heart pounding. He silently knelt in front of her.

  “Before you hope too much,” he whispered, “I cannot get you out.”

  Her lungs squeezed. She fought to breathe. “You can’t?”

  He briefly closed his eyes. “It took all my skill to avoid being seen. I am a healer, not a spy. I cannot make it back through the bastille with you.”

  She hunched her shoulders, enduring the second crushing wave of despair he had caused her. “Then why are you here?” she asked flatly.

  He smiled slightly. “I brought you a friend who can perhaps help you instead.”

  He opened one side of his jacket. A golden-eyed head poked out.

  “Zwi!”

  The dragonet chattered excitedly. She wiggled free and sprang onto Piper’s lap. She scooped Zwi into her arms as the little creature nuzzled her ecstatically, wings flapping.

  “I found her trying to get past the wards around Asphodel. I was able to smuggle her in.”

  Piper stroked Zwi’s silky mane, sniffling. “Thank you.”

  He nodded. “Piper . . . you must escape.”

  “I know that.”

  “No, I don’t think you understand.” His face hardened. “You have to get away from this place no matter who you must leave behind.”

  She stilled. Zwi curled up in her lap, crooning softly. “What do you mean?”

  “I mean if you have a chance to escape, you must take it. You can’t risk yourself for Ash.”

  Outrage made her go rigid. “If you think I’d—”

  “This isn’t about you,” he snapped. “It’s not about Ash either.
No single life is important here. Do you realize what happened today? You unlocked the Sahar Stone.”

  Apprehension trickled through her at his expression.

  “The Sahar hasn’t been used in almost five hundred years, ever since its creator slaughtered an entire town. Hundreds of innocents died. The Sahar is too powerful to be used. It is limitless. It is a weapon of mass destruction that shouldn’t exist.”

  “I know that but—”

  “It’s been harmless these last centuries because no one has been able to unlock it. But you have. Do you realize what that means?”

  They stared at each other.

  “It means,” he said slowly, “that you are now the weapon.”

  She couldn’t quite draw a full breath. “W-what?”

  “You are to the Sahar what a gun is to a bullet. The bullet is what kills people but it’s powerless without the gun.” His stare pinned her in place. “Samael will hold you close as his most prized possession. You will be his ultimate weapon. You can wield the Sahar, the only one who can. If he can’t use it, then he will train you to use it. He will torment and torture and abuse you until you are as obedient a slave as Raum, only a hundred times more powerful than any draconian.”

  She panted, trying not to faint. “No. No, I—I—He—”

  “You will be the one slaughtering hundreds of innocents at Samael’s command. With you, he will finally realize his ambitions. Samael is not satisfied with ruling one territory. He intends to rule the world. Maybe all three worlds. With the power of the Sahar at his disposal, through you, he will make his move. There will be war like you can’t even imagine.”

  He closed his eyes again, pain aging his face. “Piper, I am begging you. I am giving you a chance to save yourself against my better judgment.”

  Her brow furrowed.

  His eyes opened, black as night. “I almost killed you,” he whispered. “As soon as I saw what you’d done, I almost ended your life. Despite the effort I’ve invested in your survival, neither of our lives outweighs the promise of future death if Samael is allowed to use you to channel the Sahar’s destructive force.”

  He exhaled slowly, his expression hard. “Get out, Piper. Leave the Sahar; Samael can’t use it without you. Leave Ash; it’s too late for him. That monstrosity around his neck is driving him past the brink into madness. He’s beyond shaded now. You can’t save him. Get yourself away before it’s too late.”

  She stared, numb and horrified.

  Vejovis straightened. “I can’t stay long in the Underworld. I have to leave Asphodel or risk rousing Samael’s suspicions. I will, however, wait for you at Crow Crossing. Zwi knows the spot.” He stood carefully. “Twenty-four hours, Piper. That’s as long as I can wait. If you reach me there, I will get you out of the Underworld.”

  “But—but I don’t know—”

  “Do your best,” he murmured. “It’s half past midnight now. I will wait as long as I can. Good luck.”

  She watched him slip through the door as his light blinked out. The bolt slid into place. She sucked in a deep breath and then another. Panic simmered below the surface of her thoughts.

  Zwi made a soft sound, nudging Piper’s hand. She gathered the dragonet close.

  “What are we going to do, Zwi?” she whispered hoarsely.

  There was no answer in the dark silence.

  CHAPTER 11

  THE HOURS crawled by. Piper paced. She sat. She paced. No one came. She sipped her water, eventually finishing it. No one came.

  Zwi alternated between pacing and napping. Piper tried to come up with a plan. Failed miserably. She waited. She paced some more. Why hadn’t Samael summoned her? Wasn’t he anxious to resume his experimentation? What was he waiting for?

  Time was ticking away. Vejovis had given her twenty-four hours to reach him. If she didn’t, he would leave without her and she would never get out of the Underworld. She couldn’t allow Samael to turn her into a weapon. But she couldn’t stop him either. The past three days had taught her she was no match for Samael’s tactics. He could break her. She didn’t have Ash’s unyielding strength.

  Even Ash wasn’t immune. He was on the edge now. Maybe the damage done was already permanent. He hadn’t immediately recognized her. She wasn’t sure he’d known who she was even near the end. She knew from Miysis that shading could cause that, but Ash had been shaded before and he’d still recognized her. Maybe the weeks of torture had driven him mad.

  Vejovis’s words repeated over and over in her head. She had to escape. If she had the chance, she shouldn’t waste it trying to free anyone else. She had to leave Ash to his fate. Hundreds—maybe thousands—of lives depended on her escaping Samael’s grasp.

  Ash would tell her to save herself. He was too damn self-sacrificing. Even without the Sahar in the picture, he wouldn’t want her taking risks for him. Then again, if she did manage to save him, he probably wouldn’t complain. But what were the chances that she could pull off a rescue?

  Time dragged on, losing all meaning. She had no clue how long it had been since Vejovis had visited her. All she could do was wait. And worry. And pace.

  Finally, finally, the jailors returned. When their voices approached, she whirled toward the door. Darkness pressed in on her.

  “Zwi?” she whispered.

  The dragonet landed on her shoulder, mewling softly. Piper licked her lips. Save yourself, Vejovis had begged her. Save yourself.

  “Zwi, do you know where Ash is?”

  The dragonet whined unhappily. Either she didn’t know or she couldn’t reach him.

  “Do you know where Ash’s sister is?”

  A quick, affirmative chirp.

  Nerves made her stomach cramp. She touched Zwi’s head. “Hide, okay? Follow me but keep your distance. Stay out of Samael’s office. And don’t forget the pendant.”

  The dragonet rubbed her nose against Piper’s cheek then jumped off her shoulder. She clenched and unclenched her hands as the voices reached her door. She’d explained to the dragonet where the guards had put her things, including Lilith’s pendant. Piper had to return it or face the succubus’s wrath.

  The bolt clacked. The door slid open and sharp light pierced her eyes. She squinted.

  “Don’t just sit there,” the jailor barked. “Get up.”

  She jumped to her feet. “What time is it?”

  He scowled. “Past my dinner time. Get your ass out.”

  She went ahead of him into the dimly lit hall. Past dinner. It must be evening then. She had maybe four hours to reach Vejovis.

  The jailor jabbed her, urging her into motion. Other identical doors lined the corridor. She didn’t look back to make sure Zwi was following. Instead, she concentrated on the cold tiles under her bare feet. She wished she had shoes.

  Once again, she was taken to Samael’s office. She glanced once into his red eyes before dropping her gaze to the floor. Her heart pounded. He sat behind his desk. Such a harmless setting for a monster.

  “Piper.” He gestured toward the chair in front of his desk. When she was seated, he tapped his fingers thoughtfully on the polished wood. “We are going to discuss what happened yesterday.”

  She licked her lips nervously. No matter what he asked her, she needed to get her hands on the Sahar again.

  “What were you thinking about when you attacked Raum?” he asked.

  “I don’t know . . . He was trying to stop me.”

  “Were you intending to use magic when you attacked?”

  She shook her head.

  “Did you visualize your attack in terms of a spell?”

  Again, she shook her head.

  “What did you feel when you cast the magic?”

  She bit the inside of her cheek. “I don’t know. It sort of felt like electricity in my arm. It was hot.”

  “And did you feel a distinct pathway of power from the Sahar to your hand? Or inside your head?”

  “I—I’m not sure.” She had felt the power in her head, but Samael
didn’t need to know that. “It happened so fast.”

  His stare analyzed her. She clenched her hands around the edge of her seat.

  “I see,” he finally replied. “In that case, we will try again with the aim of recapturing the sensation you experienced yesterday. Come.”

  He stood and headed for the door to the sitting room. She followed, nerves twisting her guts into knots.

  In the sitting room, a notch of tension released. Ash wasn’t there. Neither was Raum or Eisheth. Instead, four men waited. They were dressed from head to toe in black and wore almost as many weapons as Raum usually did. Gold bands encircled their right biceps. Samael’s elite guards?

  Four pairs of red eyes watched her approach. Four reapers like Samael. Definitely bodyguards. Samael wanted people he trusted at his side before he handed her the Sahar again.

  Samael settled at the little table. Two guards positioned themselves on either side of him. When she sat, the other two guards moved to stand at her sides. Her hands shook.

  Samael once again produced the Sahar and set it on the table between them. Heart pounding, she carefully closed her fingers around it. Like before, it felt cool and mundane in her grip.

  “Begin,” Samael ordered.

  She closed her eyes and clenched her fist. The Sahar didn’t respond to willpower. It didn’t respond to emotion. She’d tried getting angry to spark a reaction from it with no success. Desperation didn’t stir it. It didn’t respond to anything except, it seemed, one thing.

  Violence.

  Both times the Stone had reacted, she had been trying to attack someone. She prayed she had it right. If not, her slapdash plan was shot and she might as well offer Samael her throat.

  Lowering her head, she tightened her fingers around the Sahar and closed her other hand over her fist. She thought about everything Samael had done to her. To Ash. Even to Raum. She let hatred and rage boil up inside her. She filled her entire body with the sick, rampant need to hurt the Hades bastard who had tortured her and Ash. Bloodthirsty rage clogged her mind.

  The Sahar burned like fire against her skin. Her thoughts cracked and twisted with that intangible, alien manifestation of power. She had to be fast, before they realized what she planned. She flung both hands up and caught a glimpse of Samael’s eyes going wide.

 
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