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


  They were forced down into the forest, flight too dangerous. Piper rode Zwi and Seiya rode Zala, the dragons running on foot through the ancient, alien woods. Ash ranged ahead of them, clearing the path and occasionally circling behind to check for pursuers. They raced through the mountain valleys toward their escape.

  Over the next two hours, Piper constantly worried about Ash, even though it was probably unnecessary. She knew he was tough. She knew he was skilled. Without glamour to hinder him, his daemon strength kept him going despite his weakened condition. It was no wonder Samael had put up with his rebellious attitude for so long. Ash went head-to-head with groups of professional soldiers and eliminated them and their tracking beasts with barely a scratch. Much of his success came down to his tendency to ambush them, but still. He was silent death.

  She knew he was ahead of them when Zwi’s head rose alertly, her attention on the small gap in the trees ahead. Piper shifted on the dragon’s back, wincing. Her leg muscles burned from the constant effort to stay balanced as Zwi went over the rough terrain.

  When they rode into the clearing, Ash was waiting for them at the other end. He sat casually on a rocky outcrop, elbow resting on one knee. His long, curved sword was propped beside him, the blood-smeared blade glinting in the moonlight—the same sword he’d used to kill the choronzon weeks ago. His wings were dark shadows against his back.

  Piper slid off Zwi’s back before the dragon had even stopped moving. She stumbled, her weary legs threatening to give. Zala brushed past her as Seiya jumped off the dragon’s back and strode toward her brother. Piper stayed where she was, keeping a solid twenty paces between her and Ash.

  Fear twisted her gut, sickening and choking.

  She knew it was manufactured terror. Miysis had explained Ash’s Nightmare Effect. It was a sort of aura that draconians threw off, solely to frighten the wits out of their enemies. They couldn’t direct the effect any more than they could suppress it. It was an unalterable part of what they were. That didn’t make the fear any less real for her.

  Seiya marched up to Ash and he turned to face her. Piper’s heart tried to clog her throat. Her memory hadn’t quite done justice to the way those black, armor-like scales, so similar to the dragons’, plated the tops of his arms and curled around his sides, leaving the planes of his chest and stomach bare. The beautiful yet sinister designs that patterned his skin where the scales ended. The three long horns that swept along either side of his head.

  His gaze slid past his sister and met Piper’s from across the clearing.

  Her muscles locked up as petrifying terror swept through her. Black eyes cut right through her. The narrow band of delicate scales that traced the tops of his cheekbones gave his face a malevolent cast. Menacing, dark designs coiled in the hollows of his cheeks.

  His attention shifted to his sister and he unfurled one dark, ribbed wing. Seiya leaned closer to examine it. Piper sucked in deep breaths. Not that scary. He wasn’t that scary. Hadn’t she faced him while he was shaded and out of control? She hadn’t felt fear like this even then. Hadn’t she seen true monsters in the Underworld, like the beast that had walked out of Samael’s office, hungering for her blood on sight?

  She concentrated on slow, even breaths as Seiya crouched to examine a tear in his wing. Other draconians must be immune to the Nightmare Effect; Seiya didn’t look remotely frightened. It took her ten minutes to heal the damage. Piper spent those minutes trying to get control over her fear. Build up immunity. Desensitize. Something. She reached the point where she was mostly calm while standing twenty paces away—as long as she didn’t look at him. The dragons wandered aimlessly around the clearing, sniffing idly at the grass, unintentionally mocking her efforts.

  By the time she dared look again, Ash had vanished into the trees and Seiya was brushing the leaves off her knees. The mad race through the mountains resumed. The farther they went, the fewer soldiers they encountered; Ash’s strategy of eliminating the tracking beasts seemed to be working.

  While they travelled, Seiya filled Piper in on certain daemon knowledge that they didn’t really like sharing with non-daemons. Mainly, how daemons crossed worlds.

  Flowing across Earth, the Underworld, and the Overworld were invisible rivers of power called ley lines. These currents were like the lifeblood of the planet, undetectable by most humans, but easy to find with magic. Ley lines were also the doorways between worlds.

  Somehow, the ley lines on both the Underworld and Overworld were connected to Earth’s ley lines—but not each other’s. If you went into a ley line on Earth, you could go to either daemon world. Crossing worlds, however, wasn’t like stepping through a doorway. Inside the ley lines, between the worlds, was the Void, the result of whatever spatial glitch had connected the worlds. Seiya described it as a slice of nothingness. Crossing the Void was harrowing and only one in three daemons could do it. Even fewer actually tried. It took a certain amount of magic and an extreme degree of mental fortitude to make it through. The Void tried to pull your mind apart. Only magic and willpower kept you together until you reached the other side.

  The Void was also where glamour was born.

  Piper already knew glamour was more than a visual illusion. No amount of visual trickery could make massive daemons in glamour fit in small spaces, nor would an illusion explain why Ash would look starved in his glamour form if it was only an illusion. Glamour and illusion were two completely different things. Illusion tricked the eye. Glamour tricked reality.

  When a daemon was in the Void, holding himself together with nothing but magic and stubbornness, the laws of physics got slippery. He still physically existed in the Void but only loosely, and that’s when he took on his glamour form. Seiya referred to it as being “given an Earthly form.” When the daemon came out of the Void, his true form was “folded” outside of reality. Skilled daemons could fold objects out too, which was how Ash had a huge sword only in his non-glamour form. Maintaining glamour required only a touch of magic compared to an illusion, but injury or distraction could cause a daemon to lose hold of it. Then reality would flip to the other fold.

  For Piper, the Void was an insurmountable obstacle; she couldn’t make the transition through the ley line and into the Void on her own. Ash would have to take her through, and for that she needed to be unconscious. The simpler the mind, or state of mind, the less it resisted, and the easier it was to hold together. Ash had taken Zwi through the Void countless times without difficulty, but a human being was a whole new challenge.

  Once in the Void, her survival depended entirely on Ash’s ability to hold both of them together. He would have to weave a huge amount of magic around her to tether her to him during the brief journey. As Raum had warned her, only a small percentage of daemons possessed the power necessary to carry another person—whether daemon or haemon—through the Void. Ash had been conserving his magic since they left the cabin in order to make the crucial leap through oblivion.

  He would need all the help he could get because even though he knew the theory behind carrying another person through, he’d never done it before. Piper really wished Seiya hadn’t told her that.

  When she and Seiya caught up to Ash, this time to leave the Underworld, he was waiting in full glamour in an unremarkable gully. Dark circles marred the skin under his eyes and he looked ready to keel over on the spot. Alarm leaped through her—he was going to take her through the Void like that? Half asleep on his feet?

  “How did you make out?” Seiya asked, slipping off of Zala’s back.

  Ash shrugged. “A few more scratches. Nothing serious. Can you bring Zwi through for me?”

  Seiya nodded.

  Piper’s heart clogged her throat. Already? They were going already?

  Ash turned toward her, gesturing for her to approach.

  She minced closer, eyeing the nondescript gully. “There’s a ley line here?”

  He nodded and held out his hand. Reluctantly, she placed hers in his. He pulled her closer until
she was nearly standing on his toes. Her heart hammered in her ears.

  “Piper.”

  She looked up and met his gray eyes.

  “Do you trust me?” he asked softly.

  She stared into his eyes, searching them. Trust. Did she? A month and a half ago, he had betrayed her. But after everything she’d seen and learned, she realized there was nothing to forgive.

  “Yes,” she said with a smile, suddenly feeling calmer.

  His lips curved in an answering smile and her stomach swooped at the lightness in his eyes, a flash of a serene kind of humor she’d never seen in him before.

  Before she could get beyond her surprise at his reaction—and hers—he lifted his other hand to cup her cheek. Tingles raced across her skin, spreading from the point of contact, as magic gently flowed into her mind on a wave of soothing darkness. The last thing she remembered was his arms closing protectively around her as she began to fall.

  . . .

  They came out of the ley line three hours from the Griffiths Consulate. The ley lines didn’t correspond with one another from planet to planet, so a daemon had to direct his exit to a specific spot. Ash had good aim; he’d gotten them as close to the Consulate as possible. But that still left them with a very long walk ahead.

  Piper trudged behind Seiya with Ash bringing up the rear. Tired wonder tickled her thoughts with every quick glance at the familiar shrubbery and every comforting whisper of the breeze through long grass. The old highway they followed was rough with cracks, holes, and invading plant life. Seiya had conjured a tiny light that hovered above them, just enough illumination to spot the shadowy holes waiting to sprain a careless ankle.

  The air smelled like home. Piper had feared she would never make it back. For a while, it had looked so hopeless. She would have to find Vejovis someday to thank him properly. They wouldn’t have escaped without his help.

  But she wouldn’t feel completely safe until she set foot in the Consulate. There they could recover in peace. She no longer had blind faith in the Consulate as a sanctuary—not when Raum had attacked her father and kidnapped her from the grounds—but it was the safest place she could think of.

  Beyond that, it was only a matter of time before Ash and Seiya went into hiding. Samael would probably never stop trying to kill Ash and recapture Seiya. He couldn’t afford to lose a draconian female capable of breeding, and he definitely couldn’t allow Ash to escape with so much inside knowledge about the Hades family.

  After a couple hours of walking, the pain in her feet overwhelmed her quiet awe at being back on Earth. The shoes Seiya had given her were too small and the blisters were terrible. She winced with each step. The darkness was unrelenting with no sign of dawn. The time of night was a mystery; who knew if the days and nights on Earth and the Underworld matched up.

  She was so focused on limping through each step that she didn’t notice Seiya had stopped. She jerked back before walking into the girl.

  “Are we there?” she mumbled, looking around.

  Seiya’s light only illuminated ten feet of darkness in any direction. The crumbling highway ran beneath her feet with no sign of the dirt road that led to the Consulate. They couldn’t be there already.

  “What—” she began.

  “Shh,” Ash breathed. He slowly turned, putting his back to her, shoulders tense. Zwi hung on his shoulder, growling softly. “We’re surrounded.”

  Fear made her stomach flip. She clamped her mouth shut on the questions fighting to be asked. Surrounded by whom? How many? Where?

  Figures appeared out of the darkness, shadowy outlines that cautiously approached them from all sides. Seiya’s light glinted off the blades of their weapons—long-handled halberds. Her light suddenly brightened as she added more power to it. The ambushers flinched but didn’t retreat. Dark uniforms that might have been red in better light made them look identical. Their militaristic bearing was unmistakable.

  A long silence stretched on as she, Ash, and Seiya stood immobile, waiting for the imminent attack, while the surrounding soldiers waited for . . . what?

  Two men standing across from Piper stepped aside, opening a space between them. A new figure stepped into the circle. Light glimmered on honey blond hair and caught on a pair of green eyes. She deflated as tension left her all at once.

  “Miysis!” she exclaimed in relief. “Where did you come from?”

  His gaze moved from her to Ash before stopping on Seiya.

  “Who are you?” Power thrummed in his voice but didn’t mask his cold hostility. Piper’s relief died as quickly as it had come to life. Maybe this wasn’t the friendly rescue party she’d been hoping for.

  “Who are you?” Seiya countered, equally cool.

  Piper glanced between them. The tension was thick enough to cut.

  “Uh,” she said into the silence. “Seiya, this is Miysis Ra. Miysis, this is Seiya, Ash’s sister.”

  “A Ra?” Seiya hissed, loathing twisting her features. Her hand slid toward her gun.

  Miysis’s soldiers lifted their weapons.

  “Hold, Seiya,” Ash murmured.

  She reluctantly dropped her hand.

  “Your sister?” Miysis asked Ash. “You’ve kept her existence well hidden.”

  “Not by choice.”

  They stared each other down. Piper didn’t understand what was going on. Miysis clearly wasn’t there to rescue her; he may have saved her from Raum and helped her into the gala, but he wasn’t an ally she could trust. Especially when he’d admitted he and Ash had tried to kill each other in the past. She didn’t know whether they were in danger. She cleared her throat to break the silence—again.

  “Miysis, uh . . .” She glanced around. “What are you doing here?”

  His attention turned to her, but his soldiers’ eyes were on Ash and Seiya. “Asphodel was attacked. Everyone is babbling about Ashtaroth’s escape.” His gaze shifted back to Ash. “Quinn claims you kidnapped his daughter.”

  Ash blinked and looked blankly at Piper.

  “It was Raum,” she said quickly. “He disguised himself as Ash since Samael was planning to kill Ash anyway.”

  “And where did Raum take you?” Miysis asked smoothly. His eyes gleamed.

  She swallowed. “The Underworld.”

  “I see. And did Ash rescue you?”

  “Not precisely.”

  Another long beat of silence.

  “Where is it?”

  She froze. “Where’s what?”

  He made an impatient sound. His eyes no longer glinted bright green; they’d gone black. “My spies reported an outrageous amount of destruction in Asphodel. Not even a draconian could have done it. Where is the Sahar?”

  She shot a panicked look at Ash. “I threw it in the canyon in Asphodel.”

  “Lie,” Miysis growled. “One more chance.”

  His soldiers shifted restlessly, halberd blades flashing in the light.

  She looked at Ash again. Dark circles bruised his eyes. He was exhausted. He’d used up his stamina escaping the Underworld and his magic getting her through the Void. He wasn’t up for another fight, especially one against an unknown number of Miysis’s best soldiers. Ras weren’t weak daemons.

  Taking a deep breath, she reached into her shirt and closed her fingers around the cool weight of the Stone. She opened her hand to show Miysis.

  “It’s here.” She snapped her hand closed as the circle of daemons tightened.

  Miysis stared greedily at her hand. “Give it to me.”

  “No.”

  His face went hard. “Give it to me or my men will take it from you.”

  Keeping her breaths deep and even, she mentally prepared to do murder again. The Ra family killed Hades daemons whenever they could, and in their eyes, Ash and Seiya were Hades daemons.

  “I’ll give it to you,” she said, “but not until me, Ash, and Seiya are inside the Consulate.”

  His jaw clenched. “You are not in a position to argue, Piper. I don’t want t
o hurt you. Give it to me now.”

  “If I give you the Stone, you’ll kill Ash and Seiya.”

  His patience was vanishing fast with the Sahar finally in his reach. His words came out in the growl. “I can kill them either way.”

  Ash casually pulled his wrap over the lower half of his face in anticipation of the coming fight. Seiya’s hand drifted toward her gun again.

  Piper stepped in front of them.

  “I can stop you,” she told Miysis, cursing the tremble in her voice. “I’m the one who blew up the bridge in Asphodel.”

  Miysis stared at her. “Impossible.”

  His truth-seeing magic told him she wasn’t lying but he still couldn’t believe it.

  She clenched her hand around the Stone. “I used the Sahar. Don’t make me use it on you.”

  The Ra daemon didn’t move. “You can’t use it.”

  “Is your truth magic not working?” she snapped. “I. Used. The Sahar.”

  “You can’t,” he repeated.

  She jerked her hand up, touching the power in the Sahar for just a second. It flashed bright white. Miysis and his soldiers reeled back, their fear obvious. Piper tried to look calm and confident as she struggled to put her thoughts back in order after the dose of rage from the Sahar.

  Miysis recovered, though his eyes remained wide. He exhaled slowly. “We will escort you and the draconians to the Consulate. Then you will give the Sahar to me.”

  She nodded. She dared not use it against them, not when it poisoned her mind so quickly now. Neither was she confident in her ability to take on however many soldiers waited beyond the circle of light. Trading the Sahar for their safety was the only solution she could see. She didn’t want to kill anyone anyway.

  Keeping the Stone tight in her fist, she nodded at Miysis. “Lead the way.”

  He gestured to his soldiers. They formed a column around her, Ash, and Seiya. As they began walking again, Piper was reminded of her blisters. Oww. It would be a long hour.

 
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