Bind the Soul (Steel & Stone Book 2) by Annette Marie


  She slammed her fists down on the table.

  The room exploded.

  Force blasted out from her like a detonated bomb. The table and chairs disintegrated. The nearest wall blew outward. The floor shattered. She screamed as she dropped, crashing down on a pile of debris on the level below. Half the room above fell in with a horrendous crash. She curled into a ball, protecting her head as chunks of wood and furniture rained on her.

  When rubble finally stopped peppering her, she uncurled and looked around. She’d fallen into a library. Broken wood formed drifts and loose pages from torn books wafted about in a cloud of dust, obscuring the room.

  A male voice grunted in pain. Her heart leaped. She couldn’t see the daemon. Whether it was Samael or one of his guards, she didn’t know. She’d hoped to kill them all but they were tougher than she’d anticipated.

  Not waiting to find out who had made it through the blast alive, she clambered stiffly to her feet and slip-slid her way over the loose debris toward the door. Bursting out of the library, she ran. The Sahar pulsed in her fist. She panted, thinking calm thoughts. She didn’t want the Stone throwing off any more explosions. The last one had scared the crap out of her.

  She whipped around a corner and saw a dozen black-clad guards running toward her from twenty yards away. They shouted for her to freeze when they spotted her. She skidded, her dust-coated bare feet sliding on the tile floor. Clenching her jaw, she cocked her arm and punched the air with the hand holding the white-hot Sahar.

  Force boomed out. The walls on either side of the hall buckled. The guards, still halfway down the hall, were blasted backward, crashing violently into the wall at the other end of the corridor. She gaped, backpedalling as the cracked ceiling creaked ominously.

  “Holy shit,” she breathed. She looked at the glowing Sahar. “Too much!” she told it angrily, shaking her fist in pointless reprimand.

  A loud chatter made her look up. Zwi swooped in out of nowhere and landed neatly on her shoulder. Lilith’s pendant dangled from her mouth.

  “You’re amazing, Zwi,” she gushed. She took the necklace and quickly tied it around her wrist. No time to properly clasp it. She sprinted in the opposite direction from where the guards had come. Zwi dug in her claws to hold on.

  Piper reached a broad, deserted intersection of hallways. Breathing hard, she stopped. Her heart squeezed as she stared out the nearest window at the dark sky. Freedom, so close.

  “Zwi, take me to Ash’s sister. Let’s try to avoid people if we can.”

  The dragonet leaped from her shoulder and landed lightly on the floor. With a confident chirp, she took off running. Piper charged after her.

  Sorry, Vejovis. She was too selfish to leave Ash and his sister behind. No way could she live with the knowledge of her cowardice—no matter how many lives she might be dooming in the process.

  . . .

  The draconian compound was a low building on the far edge of Asphodel. Because she’d moved fast, Piper had made it most of the way before signs of pursuit appeared. Someone had sounded the alarm and the guards were organizing a search. Zwi helped her avoid most of them while Piper blasted the rest.

  The Sahar burned in her hand. She couldn’t control it. Each time she used it, the resulting attack increased in intensity. She was leaving a trail of destruction that would lead the guards right to her.

  The power pulsed through her body and filled her head like a balloon of otherness. One side of her mind was the normal her, but the other side was full of hate and rage and a gleeful lust for violence and destruction. That part got stronger every time she used the Sahar.

  She stood in the shadow of the compound, hands on her knees as she panted. Six daemons guarded the door. High, solid stone walls surrounded the building. Crisscrossing bars arched over the open, central courtyard like the top half of a birdcage. There had to be some sort of ward or shield over those bars to prevent sneaky dragonets from getting in and out.

  Zwi waited beside her, tail lashing back and forth. Piper squinted at the guards, then down at the Sahar. She sighed.

  The blast didn’t merely break the door; it shattered a massive hole in the wall. Piper tried not to look at the mangled bodies of the guards as she climbed through the rubble, but her brain automatically tallied the deaths and tacked them onto her conscience to be dealt with later. No doubt someone would have heard the explosion. The damn Sahar just didn’t do subtle. She had ten minutes, tops, to get in and out.

  “Lead the way, Zwi,” she called.

  The dragonet charged into the simple carpeted hallway. The building reminded Piper of the Consulate: a manor-like house combined with a hotel . . . a hotel with steel-enforced walls and barred windows. The rooms she ran through were empty. She encountered two more guards, but this time she didn’t use the Stone. She yanked the electric rod out of the first one’s hand and used it to down them both. It turned out that stabbing someone in the face with a rod-thing knocked them out on contact. They didn’t even scream.

  Zwi led her to a stairway. At the top was another hall lined with doors. Zwi ran past them all. At the end, a heavy steel door was bolted shut. Piper raised her fist to the door. The Sahar flashed with light.

  The entire building shook from the explosion. Piper ran through the dust and almost fell through a hole in the floor. Arms windmilling, she leaped across the gap and landed on the bottom step of the stairway beyond the now-melted door. The stairs spiraled upward. Another locked metal door met her at the top. Piper stopped in front of it, breathing hard. If she blasted this door, the stairs would probably collapse under her. She tucked the Sahar against her palm and formed hooked claws with two fingers.

  She slashed her hand in the direction of the door handle. White blades cut through the air and ripped cleanly through the steel. Piper shoved the door, and it swung open. She rushed into the room and came up short.

  It was a huge bedroom with a bed at one end, a sitting area in the middle, and a desk against the far wall. The whole place was a mess. It reminded her of her own room, with clothes and junk piled everywhere. Feminine clothes.

  “Hello?” she called hesitantly.

  Zwi chirruped loudly. Another chirrup answered and a small gray dragonet leaped from behind a sofa. Its bright gold eyes were nearly glowing as it squealed in delight. Zwi trilled happily and ran to meet the other dragonet. They tackled each other and rolled across the floor like exuberant puppies.

  “Zwi?” a voice exclaimed.

  Piper looked around. A girl popped up from behind the same sofa, her eyes wide. A hot swoop of jealousy made Piper flinch. The girl was beautiful. Long raven hair fell almost to her waist, thick, straight, and shining. Her large, wide-set eyes were a vivid blue, set in delicate, china-doll features. She was petite and willowy, and her shocked expression was adorable.

  Then those eyes snapped to Piper and hardened. Her face went smooth and cold, stiff with suspicion. In half a second, she had gone from a cute adolescent to a composed and confident young adult. The girl had to be close to her own age.

  “Who are you?” the daemon girl asked coolly.

  “Piper,” she snapped, suddenly impatient. “You’re Ash’s sister, right?”

  Her expression flashed back to surprise. “How do you know that? No one knows that.”

  “Long story,” she said. “You want out of here?”

  The girl folded her arms. “No.”

  Piper froze in place. She’d never given Ash’s sister much thought, what she would be like, whether she’d take after her brother—or whether she’d be a defeated zombie like Raum.

  “You—you don’t want to escape?”

  The girl’s face went even colder. “Since you know Ash is my brother, you should know I have no intention of leaving him here to die.”

  Piper sagged in relief. “Obviously we’re not leaving him! We’re getting him next, but you need to come too or he won’t want to escape.”

  The girl narrowed her eyes. “How do you plan to
free Ash? Do you even know where he is?”

  Piper lifted her hand and let the Sahar, still glowing brightly, dangle from its chain. “Yes, I know. And the Sahar Stone solves the ‘how’ part of the equation.”

  The girl stared at the Stone. Then she smiled tightly, hope painfully clear on her face. She sprang over the sofa with unreal grace.

  “Zala, quit fooling around. We have work to do.” She turned to Piper. “Do you have anything more to your plan, other than grabbing Ash and running like hell?”

  “Um . . . not really. There’s someone waiting to help us at Crow Crossing though.”

  The girl frowned. “Okay. Well, you need different clothes. You stand out like a cupid at an incubus orgy.”

  Piper looked at her hideous orange uniform.

  “Over here. Quickly.” The girl darted to her dresser and pulled a drawer open. She tossed an armful of clothes aside. “My clothes won’t fit you. Unless—” She pulled out black leggings. “These are stretchy. Try them.”

  Piper took the tights. Better than orange. She dropped her pants and wrestled the leggings on. The girl passed her a white shirt with off-the-shoulder sleeves that probably hung off her tiny frame.

  “Do you have a sports bra or something?” Piper asked.

  The girl passed over a black one. Piper turned around and dumped her horrible prison shirt on the floor. She pulled on the bra and heard a seam pop. Wincing, she glanced down. Her boobs looked one deep breath away from popping out. She grimaced and pulled on the shirt. It fit, but the off-the-shoulder style failed to hide half the black bra. Whatever.

  “Here. These are too big. They might fit you.”

  Piper accepted the cut-off jean shorts and yanked them on over the leggings. Thankfully, she got the button done up—barely. She turned around to face the girl, who eyed her critically.

  “You’ll do.” She brushed two hands over her fitted black jeans and long-sleeved, see-through black sweater, layered over a lacy red camisole. The red matched the red strip of silk woven around a lock of her long hair. She glanced down. “You need shoes.”

  “We don’t have time,” Piper said, glancing fearfully at the door.

  “You can’t run anywhere without shoes.” She darted through a door and into what was presumably a walk-in closet, and came out with black hiking boots. “Biggest shoes I have.”

  She tossed them over and grabbed a pair of leather boots for herself.

  Piper stuffed her feet in the shoes and quickly laced them up. “Let’s go.”

  “One more thing.” The girl ducked back into the closet and returned with a backpack over one shoulder and a belt of weapons in her hand—two guns, a sheathed sword, and assorted daggers. “Ash helped Zala sneak these in for me. Want something?”

  “Hell yes. Gun and a knife?”

  They split up the weapons and the girl gave Piper a belt to strap hers to. Piper took a moment to wrap the Sahar’s chain tightly around the opposite wrist from Lilith’s pendant, leaving enough slack to hold the Stone against her palm.

  “Look, uh—what’s your name?” Piper asked.

  “Seiya.”

  “Seiya. Do you know how to use those?” She nodded at her weapons belt.

  Seiya gave Piper a scathing look. “Of course I know how. Don’t worry about me, human.”

  “Haemon,” Piper corrected sharply.

  Seiya shrugged, effectively saying it made no difference. Apparently, the girl hadn’t learned much tact under Samael’s cultured tutelage.

  “Let’s go,” Piper muttered. Zwi and Zala ran ahead of her as she charged down the stairs. She leaped the gap in the floor and dropped into a neat roll to absorb the momentum. God, it felt good to be wearing real clothes. And shoes. Even if they hurt her feet.

  “Holy hell.” Seiya sprang lightly across the pit. “Go overboard much?”

  “The Sahar is a little hard to control, okay?” Piper growled.

  “I can see that.” Seiya glanced at the wreckage. “Where is Ash?”

  “He’s in this big, low building in a corner of the estate with three symmetrical mountain peaks directly behind it.”

  Seiya thought for a second. “The Chrysalis building.”

  “The what?”

  “Chrysalis is the largest company owned by Hades. They develop and sell all kinds of magical technologies—a lot of it really nasty.” Her face went cold and hard again. “Eisheth is mine. That bitch owes me for my brother.”

  Piper said nothing. If she saw Eisheth first, she wouldn’t hold back. “Do you know about the collar on Ash?” she asked.

  Seiya nodded. Her tough façade cracked as fear crossed her face. “We have to save him.”

  “We will,” Piper said fiercely. Or die trying. Urgency made her heart pound. “Come on.”

  They made it halfway back to the front doors before the guards caught up. Zwi and Zala herded them back before the troop spotted them. Piper and Seiya ducked into an empty parlor.

  Piper frowned at the deserted room. “Where is everyone?”

  “There aren’t many of us left,” Seiya whispered. “The others must be hiding upstairs. I’m sure everyone hid when you blasted down the front door. They probably thought you were Samael or one of the others in a bad mood.”

  Piper turned toward the window. “Stand behind me,” she said.

  Letting the violence within rule, she threw her fist toward the window.

  The force of the concussion knocked her backward into Seiya and they both hit the wall. The whole building trembled. Shouts echoed from somewhere near the front door. Piper didn’t wait for the dust to settle. She leaped up, grabbed Seiya’s hand, and dove out into the night. The entire wall was gone.

  “Whoa,” Seiya breathed, looking over her shoulder at the damage.

  “Hurry!”

  Seiya whistled. “Zala!”

  The dragonet landed in front of them. Black flames engulfed its body, then burst outward and died away. A horse-sized, snarling dragon had taken the dragonet’s place. It spread its massive wings.

  Seiya pushed her toward the dragon. “Get on, Piper.”

  Heart pounding, Piper pulled herself onto the dragon’s smooth back. Zwi jumped on behind her, grumbling loudly. Zala took two running steps and bounded into the air, wings beating hard. Piper grabbed the dragon’s mane before she slid off backward and craned over her shoulder to see Seiya, who was still on the ground. The girl’s body shimmered as her glamour disappeared.

  Black wings spread wide and Seiya leaped into the air. She ascended quickly, flashing past Zala as she rose another fifteen feet above them. Piper gaped.

  “I’ll try to hide us,” Seiya called down, her draconian voice sending a shiver down Piper’s spine. “Watch for danger. As fast as you can, Zala!”

  The air sizzled with power as Seiya wove a cloaking spell. Piper clutched the Sahar, wishing she could help. Maybe if she’d known how to use magic herself, but at this point, she was relying on the Stone to perform the magic—and all it seemed capable of was mass destruction. The disconcerting duality in her head was getting worse. She felt as though another person were in her head, someone feral and full of rage, trying to push her out of the way.

  She craned her neck, scanning the ground between beats of Zala’s wings. There were people running everywhere but none looked up. Smoke rose from the main house. When had that happened? She tried to remember whether her explosion had started a fire.

  Zala banked toward the far building where the draconian youth had looked when she’d asked him about Ash. Please let the boy be right. Raum’s reaction suggested he had been. She looked down again, squinting for signs of—

  “Look out!” she screamed.

  Zala swerved—but not fast enough—as a blast of blue light shot for them. It hit the dragon’s back leg. Zala roared in pain, wings beating frantically. Piper strained to spot their attacker.

  “On the roof,” Seiya yelled from above.

  Piper twisted. Behind them, a group of guards we
re standing on the roof of the draconian compound. Clenching her teeth and hoping for the best, Piper punched out her fist holding the Sahar.

  Thunder shattered the air. The rooftop exploded in a ball of fire.

  Piper’s heart leaped into her throat as she snatched her hand back. Oh God. Please let her not have hurt any of the draconians inside. The Sahar was expanding its repertoire, adding fire to its blasts of power. Was it because Piper had noticed the smoke and had been thinking about fire?

  “Piper!” Seiya yelled in disbelief.

  “I’m sorry,” she cried. “I can’t control it!”

  Zala folded her wings and dove for the roof of Chrysalis. Piper held on for dear life as they dropped. The dragon landed with a heavy thump and immediately buckled. Piper slid off, staggering away on shaky legs.

  “Zala!” Seiya landed beside the dragon.

  Piper got a brief glimpse of her true form—very similar to Ash, in a black outfit with dark scales running along her cheekbones. She only had two horns on each side of her head instead of Ash’s three. Glamour shimmered back over her form as she rushed to check her dragon’s injured leg. An open wound wept blood from the large muscle in the dragon’s hindquarter.

  “Damn it,” Seiya said. “I have to try to heal her. You’ll have to get Ash.”

  “W-what?”

  “Go get him! Bring him up here. I have to patch up Zala.”

  “I—right. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

  Seiya nodded curtly, panic shimmering in her eyes. “Hurry.”

  Piper ran across the rooftop. At the far end, a trapdoor opened to a ladder. Zwi leaped in ahead of her. Piper climbed down as fast as she could, landing on a metal catwalk. Below, a huge room full of humming equipment and pipes stretched in twisting maze. Piper ran along the catwalk, following Zwi. The dragonet led her to a metal door. Piper used the Sahar to slice open the lock, and the entire door fell apart in pieces. She clenched her teeth against the twisting wrongness in her head. She didn’t know how much longer she dared to use the Sahar. It was out of control.

 
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