Bind the Soul by Annette Marie

“Well,” she mumbled, “it was supposed to be productive. Didn’t work out that way though.”

  Miysis searched her face but didn’t press. Instead, he leaned back in his seat. “I’m curious. Why is Samael sending his henchmen to kidnap you?”

  “Hell if I know,” she snapped.

  He slid one finger along the collar around his neck. “Lie, Piper,” he breathed.

  Damn. She’d forgotten about his truth-seer ability. He’d clearly found a way to squeeze small touches of magic through the collar.

  “We can talk about that later,” he said. “Right now, I’d like to pick up our last conversation from where we left off.”

  She eyed him warily. “Where was that?”

  “Right after I convinced the prefects that you had nothing to do with the theft of the Sahar.”

  “You convinced them?”

  He smiled dangerously. “Yes. Do you think I’m unaware of the limitations of my abilities? I gave you an easy out.” Like his face, his melodic voice lost its fluid warmth, becoming crisper and cooler.

  “I never wanted the prefects involved,” he continued. “They’re corrupt, bungling fools. I offered an easy escape for you and Ashtaroth that would make you appear guiltless, intending all along to question you in detail once we were rid of the prefects.

  “But it didn’t work out like that.” He folded his arms. “You fell unconscious, and then Ashtaroth slipped away when no one was looking. Assuming I could interrogate you at any time, I took my men and went after Ashtaroth, but that slippery bastard vanished without a trace. By the time I returned to you, your father had retreated into the Consulate with all his newfound paranoia and banned me from seeing you. I wasn’t desperate enough then to invade the sanctity of the Consulate. But I’m getting desperate now. The Sahar has been missing for five weeks. My chances of finding it at this point are minimal at best.”

  He pressed both hands on the tabletop as he leaned toward her. “I want to know what really happened. The whole story.”

  She swallowed hard. “It’s not that I don’t want to tell you,” she admitted. “I’m afraid of what you’ll do to me once you know.”

  He relaxed slightly. “I can’t promise I’ll do nothing but I won’t punish you for deeds done. Petty revenge would accomplish nothing.”

  She nodded as anxiety flared in her belly. He said that now, but when he found out the Sahar had been in her pocket when they’d first met, he would be so pissed. Resigning herself to the inevitable, she took a deep breath and began the long tale.

  He listened silently, betraying no emotion as she revealed how her father had given her a ring box containing a mysterious silver stone. He nodded as she outlined the attack on the Consulate by the then-unknown Gaians and how the prefects had arrested her, Lyre, and Ash. His eyebrows drew together when she got to the part where they’d snuck into the medical center to talk to who she at the time had believed to be her uncle—though it had really been her father—and ran into two assassins waiting for Ash.

  “Why?” he asked. “Why would Samael send assassins to kill his favorite mercenary?”

  “I’ll get to that,” she told him and resumed the story. She explained how Vejovis had healed the mortally wounded Ash and how she and Lyre had stolen the Consulate’s records out of her father’s vault. She breezed through their visit to the Styx and the violence in the fight ring, focusing instead on Micah’s appearance.

  “This incubus stole it?” Miysis repeated with a growl. “But—”

  “Would you let me finish?” She glared at him until he shut his mouth.

  With a slight tremble in her voice, she told him what had happened next: Ash had revealed that he’d stolen the real Sahar and left her with a fake. All along, he’d been following Samael’s orders to steal the Stone before it could be returned to the Ras and destroyed.

  Miysis’s eyes went nearly black at the news that Samael had gone back on their families’ agreement. He took a deep breath. “Okay. So you still had the Sahar. What then?”

  Piper, Ash, and Lyre had tracked down the Gaians only to be captured. As she’d feared, Miysis’s jaw clenched when she got to the part where she had “rescued” him, with the Sahar in her pocket the whole time. After they’d separated, she’d rushed to save Ash and Lyre, only to end up buried with Ash under eight feet of earth when the cellar had collapsed.

  “I wondered if you were in the house when the explosives triggered,” Miysis mused. “How did you get out?”

  “Ash broke his dampening collar and—”

  “He broke it? How?”

  “I don’t know. I’d seen him do it before, but he was having trouble until I helped him calm down—”

  “He wasn’t calm? He was frightened?”

  She frowned. “Of course. We were buried alive.”

  “But you were in that tiny space with him.”

  “Yes.”

  “And he was panicking.”

  “Yes,” she exclaimed, annoyed. “That’s what I said.”

  Miysis looked at Lyre. “Can you explain this?”

  Lyre shook his head. “I have no freaking clue.”

  “What are you talking about?” she demanded.

  “You’re alive.”

  “I know I’m alive.”

  “You don’t understand,” Miysis said impatiently. “He should have killed you.”

  She went still. “What?”

  “He was panicking. He must have shaded. Unless, somehow, he didn’t?”

  “I—Well, it was dark so I can’t say . . . for sure.” She shifted uncomfortably. “But he’d lost hold of his glamour, so I’m pretty sure he shaded.”

  Lyre’s face paled. “You never mentioned that before.”

  “I—I don’t know. It didn’t seem that important.” She looked between them, trying to understand their reactions.

  Miysis exhaled sharply. “It’s only important in that it suggests Ashtaroth has the best self-control while shaded of any daemon I know. I would’ve killed you, either intentionally or accidentally.”

  He glanced at Lyre, who nodded his agreement.

  She stared at them, feeling cold.

  Miysis noticed her expression. “I don’t think you understand what shading is, Piper. It’s a defensive reaction. It evolved as our fight-or-flight response, though it can be triggered by anger as well. In that state, all that matters is self-preservation. Physical needs dominate. Little else even registers. We may not even recognize people we know while shaded. All we see are threats.”

  She remembered when Lilith had used her seduction magic on Lyre and Ash, sending both daemons into a spiral of lust that had shaded them within seconds. Lyre had looked at her with the eyes of a wolf. He hadn’t responded when she’d spoken to him. He hadn’t noticed or cared that he was scaring her. He wouldn’t have cared if he’d hurt her. It was Ash who’d regained his senses. He’d knocked Lyre away from her and confronted Lilith, ready to turn his rage on her instead.

  “It amazes me that Ashtaroth could restrain himself.” Miysis shook his head. “I can’t even imagine it.”

  “I don’t know,” she mumbled. “He was pretty coherent after he killed the choronzon too, even though he had no glamour then either.”

  “He killed the choronzon?”

  “He had no glamour?” Lyre repeated. “You never mentioned that either.”

  She blinked. “Uh. Let me finish the story, I guess.”

  She rushed through the last part of the tale, explaining how the harpies had stolen the Sahar from her before she’d reunited with Ash. She left out only two details: the harpies had revealed who had hired them, and Piper had killed most of them with the Sahar. Despite his desperation to find it, nothing good could come from Miysis knowing Samael had the Stone. The Ra and Hades families had nearly gone to war over the Sahar once already.

  “And then,” she concluded, “once Ash calmed me down and got me to set his wing, he put his glamour back in place and that’s when your guys showed up. The r
est is history.”

  Silence spread through the room. The two daemons stared at her. She shrank back. “What now?”

  “You set his wing?”

  “Why do you keep making me repeat myself?”

  Miysis rubbed a hand over his face. “How does he do it?”

  “Do what?”

  “Keep not killing you.”

  “The guy is a freaking machine,” Lyre said. He looked at Piper curiously. “What did you think of him?”

  “Without his glamour?” She swallowed. “You were right. He’s terrifying.”

  “That’s typical for draconians,” Miysis said absently. “Few Underworld castes have it.”

  Her brow furrowed. “Huh?”

  He focused again. “We call it the Nightmare Effect. It’s a self-defense mechanism. Draconians exude a sort of mental aura that triggers irrational fear in everyone in their vicinity. It’s manufactured terror but works as well as natural fear.”

  “Wait. So I wasn’t being a coward?”

  Lyre grinned. “Nope. He scares the shit out of me too. He can’t help it though. He’s not doing it on purpose.”

  “Overworld daemons have our own version,” Miysis added. “Underworlders, rather derisively, call it the Fairy Effect. It makes the daemon seem so beautiful and awe-inspiring that it dumbfounds everyone nearby.”

  Miysis sat back in his chair, serious again. “So harpies stole the Sahar from you. Anyone in the Underworld could have hired them. Even an Overworlder could have arranged for their services to throw off the scent.”

  She nodded, nerves trickling through her as his eyebrows drew together. If he thought about it, he would spot the holes in her story.

  “How did you know that draconian’s name?” she asked before he could think too much.

  “Raum? Hard not to. His reputation is as well known as Ashtaroth’s. Raum has been terrorizing haemons and daemons alike on Samael’s behalf for the last decade.”

  “How do you know so much about Ash?”

  “We’ve met before. The first two times were tense but . . . mostly uneventful. The third time we tried to kill each other. Our interactions haven’t been cordial since. What inspired you to shout queries about him to Raum?”

  Hopelessness doused her all over again. “No one’s seen him since he went back to the Hades estate.”

  Miysis shrugged, unconcerned. “He lives in Asphodel, doesn’t he?”

  Her eyebrows scrunched. “Where?”

  “Asphodel. The Hades family estate in the Underworld. It’s more of a small town than a single residence. Hundreds of daemons live there, including Ash.”

  She scowled. “Did you forget the part of my story where Samael sent assassins after him?”

  That gave him pause. He frowned as he put the pieces together. “If Ash failed to complete his mission and deliver the Sahar to Samael, and Samael ordered him killed for it, why did Ash go back?”

  She folded her arms to hide a shiver. “Probably for the same reason Raum has all the emotion of a brick wall.”

  Miysis threw her a questioning look.

  Lyre tapped his knuckles on the tabletop. “You must’ve heard the rumors, Miysis.”

  The Ra daemon leaned back and huffed softly. “That Samael has a personal army of brainwashed draconians? It’s nonsense. How can you call Ashtaroth brainwashed? He has more attitude than all my subordinates combined.”

  Piper pressed her lips together. “It’s true. He makes them obey with threats of torture.”

  Miysis sighed with exaggerated patience. “What makes them Samael’s slaves? Draconians don’t hold any territory. There are groups of them scattered throughout the Underworld. Just because a few dozen reside in Hades territory means nothing. They need to make a living like anyone else and the Hades have a lot of suitable work.”

  Doubt flickered through her. Could they be wrong?

  “On an individual level,” Miysis continued, “the average draconian is more powerful than the average reaper. Not by much, but enough that the Hades family was always resentful of the Taroths’ abilities.”

  The Hades family’s caste was known as reapers; she never knew draconians were more powerful. But a little extra magic didn’t make much of a difference when reapers outnumbered draconians by a ridiculous margin.

  “How could Samael control draconians, who can kill most of his generals?” Miysis concluded. “You’re leaping to the conclusion you fear most.”

  His logic made sense, but Piper’s gut told her he was wrong. Raum’s pitying stare, that look in his eyes that shoved her own naivety in her face, had only confirmed her suspicions.

  She remembered Ash slumped against a wall after Cottus had gored him. “Fucking boss,” he’d slurred. “Hate him.” When he’d revealed his theft of the Sahar and she’d thrown accusations of selfish greed at him, he’d replied, “You’ve already said it all, haven’t you? You have the whole story already. No need to consider the other side of it.” No one ever considered the other side. Ash’s deadly reputation as a spy and killer were because of Samael. Most of the daemon world hated him . . . and he couldn’t tell a single soul he’d never had a choice.

  From everything she’d seen of Ash, he feared neither pain nor death. There had to be some other chain that bound Ash to Samael’s commands. If she hadn’t known Ash’s sister to be dead for years, she would’ve wondered whether Samael was holding Ash’s family hostage. If Samael killed all draconians in their twenties, Ash wouldn’t have living parents.

  Something else was keeping Ash imprisoned. She needed to know what it was. If she were to free Ash from Samael once and for all, she had to have the whole story. How would she get close enough to interrogate Micah?

  She lifted her gaze to the influential, high-ranking Ra heir sitting across from her. He blinked at the sudden intensity of her stare.

  “Miysis,” she said sweetly, “are you busy tomorrow evening?”

  He hesitated before answering. “Yes.”

  She smiled. “You’re going to the Amity Gala . . . aren’t you?”

  His wary expression was the most beautiful sight she’d ever seen.

  . . .

  Fifteen minutes later, Miysis stalked out of the room in a swirl of bad temper. Piper stretched in her seat and smiled serenely at the ceiling.

  “Oh, you’re bad, Piper,” Lyre commented, one arm thrown over the back of his chair. The admiring note in his voice was obvious. “I can’t believe you told him Samael has the Sahar.”

  Guilt flitted through her but she shrugged it off. He would’ve found out sooner or later.

  “How else was I supposed to convince him to get me into the gala?” She tilted her head back to bring the incubus into view and pulled a face. “He didn’t think me saving him from the Gaians was worth a return favor.”

  “Well, we both know he was mostly just pretending to be their prisoner.”

  She scowled. “I suppose. But he didn’t have to be so grumpy about getting me into the gala.”

  “Can you blame him?” Lyre laughed. “Whoever he kicks out of his entourage to make room for you will be pissed. Not to mention the paperwork to get your name on the list.”

  She grinned. “But he’ll do it. He promised.”

  “Oh, he’ll keep his word.” The incubus smirked. “Though he’ll probably make things unpleasant for you.”

  “I don’t care if he makes me serve him drinks as long as I get inside.”

  His lips curved in a suggestive smile. “I’d let you serve me any day.”

  She rolled her eyes and sat up. “Are you ever going to stop doing that?”

  “No.”

  She frowned, seeing an opportunity to get the truth out there and no reason to wait—except for the awkwardness. And the small part of her that liked the naughty potential of allowing Lyre’s flirtations to continue.

  “Look, Lyre,” she said firmly, turning to face him. “I’m not going to sleep with you, okay? I’m never going to sleep with you. Daemons are
off my radar entirely. You’re wasting your efforts on me.”

  He leaned back. “Piper, I’m not sitting here because I’m angling for a score. And don’t think I take it personally that you keep saying no—even though I know you want to say yes.”

  She ignored that last bit and scrunched her face. “You’re never going to stop?”

  “Nope.”

  “But—”

  “Can’t do it. Might as well ask me to stop breathing.”

  “You cannot compare your sex drive to breathing—”

  He rolled his eyes. “Piper, you’re so naïve sometimes.”

  “I am not.”

  “You are.” He lifted a finger. “Ash will always be a deadly predator, Miysis will always be a manipulative tyrant, and I will always crave sex with any moderately young, moderately attractive female I spot. It’s our natures.”

  She blinked. Manipulative sounded exactly right, but . . . “Miysis is a tyrant?”

  “All family heads are. He’ll be a warlord someday. Never forget that.”

  “Actually,” Miysis said, reappearing in the doorway and looking as composed as ever, all signs of temper gone, “I won’t be the family head. My older sister will be.”

  Lyre’s mouth popped open. “Really? Then why are you a tyrant?”

  Miysis ignored him and gestured toward Piper. “The car is here. Let’s go.”

  She hopped up and hurried to follow him, grinning when Lyre winked. Miysis had generously offered to drive her home. She suspected he was afraid that Raum would kidnap her before she made it back to the Consulate and all his effort to get her on the gala list would go to waste.

  A sleek, black car idled outside the back doors. Of course Miysis had a luxury vehicle while any working automobile was hard to find. He held the door open for her. She waved goodbye to Lyre, who would follow on his borrowed motorbike, before sliding onto a cool leather seat. She tried hard not to look impressed. Stupid, wealthy daemon quasi-prince.

  Zwi jumped in as Miysis shut the door and the car rolled into motion. Miysis didn’t say much during the drive. She wasn’t sure whether he was annoyed at having to get her into the gala, ticked at her for hiding things from him, or furious that Samael had the Sahar. Probably all of the above.

 
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