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

  The world popped back in. She sucked in a hysterical breath, blinded by the return of the sun.

  “Hello again, Piper.”

  Her head jerked around even before she could see properly, the reaper’s arm still around her neck. Directly beside her was—a white horse’s shoulder? She looked up.

  Samael smiled faintly. His eyes glittered with a malevolent red sheen.

  She looked around desperately. She was on top of a massive piece of broken bridge. Great clouds of dust swirled everywhere, roiling like thick morning fog. She couldn’t see the base of the bridge where she’d just been. It had to be at least fifty yards away. The reaper had teleported her straight to Samael’s side.

  All around her, soldiers stood in silent readiness, waiting on Samael’s command. She couldn’t see her father or the others, but she heard their distant shouts. Somewhere, her father and Miysis were fighting for their lives against the reapers.

  “Piper,” Samael said almost gently. “How kind of you to return the Sahar to me.”

  She stared at him, reeling inside. His red eyes glinted like dark rubies and sudden cold determination washed away her fear. How much power could she summon at once? It took about ten seconds to build up enough magic for a really powerful attack, but that was eight seconds too many. There were half a dozen reaper bodyguards surrounding Samael. They would kill her before she could amass a huge quantity of power, and they could block a weaker blunt force attack.

  She had to try anyway. Inhaling harshly, she mentally reached for the Sahar’s power.

  Samael’s gaze flicked over her shoulder.

  Something sharp cut into her back. She arched away from it with a stifled scream as others seized her arms, holding her in place. The reaper behind her dug his dagger between her ribs, one hard thrust away from her heart.

  “Do not make me kill you prematurely,” Samael said coolly. “I suggest you restrain yourself.”

  She held perfectly still, panting from the pain and the strain of holding her body arched away from the deadly blade. She had to kill him. She had to do it now before—

  “Where is the Sahar?”

  Panic rose in her. She mentally grabbed for the Sahar’s power, preparing to hurl every last bit of it into his face.

  The reaper behind her pushed the dagger another inch into her back. She screamed as her concentration shattered.

  “Her left wrist,” Samael said. “It glowed.”

  She choked on a sob as someone started to cut through the leather armguard, scoring her arm. She made one last desperate snatch for power—and the reaper twisted the dagger. She screamed, arching up, head involuntarily snapping back. The morning sun blinded her, burning her eyes through the tears of pain.

  Something high above eclipsed the bright glare.

  A dark missile dropped from the sky where it had been hidden by the sun. Black wings flared. So fast no one could react, so fast Piper couldn’t even gasp, it slammed into her. Her arms were torn from the grips of her captors as she was plowed sideways into the stone beneath her. Pain ricocheted through her body and she almost didn’t realize her attacker had come down on top of her, crouched over her, a foot on either side of her waist, wings curved over them like a shield.

  Her blurry stare found a face framed by curving horns on each side. Ash?

  Sets of two horns, not three. Her vision focused.

  It wasn’t Ash. It was Seiya.


  SEIYA slapped a hand to the pavement on either side of Piper. The air sparked like lightning was about to strike. A circle of magic erupted. Glowing black flames raced around them then arched above their heads in a dome of power. In the one second since she’d dropped out of the sky and shoved Piper to the ground, Seiya had pulled her magic over them. Then she unleashed her spell.

  The dome exploded outward like the shockwave of an atomic bomb. Instead of a solid circle of blunt force, the dome broke into an expanding spiral of black flame that tore through everything it touched. Blood sprayed the air as the nearest reapers were shredded like paper. Screams and shouts. Red magic burst all around them as reapers tried to shield themselves. Black flashes as others teleported to safety.

  Seiya heaved Piper up, wings flaring wide. Before she could take to the air, a reaper teleported into the rapidly expanding space inside the spell circle. Seiya dropped Piper and pulled two short, curved blades from the sheaths at her hips. She sprang at the reaper, her blades flashing too fast for the eye to follow. She spun away from the reaper, her ponytail sweeping out behind her. The reaper dropped to his knees as his blood soaked the concrete.

  Piper scrambled halfway up as Seiya pivoted with impossible grace. She took two running steps and jumped over Piper’s head. She whipped around as Seiya drove both blades into the chest of the reaper that had appeared behind her.

  Seiya’s explosive spell was dissipating. Black blurs popped into being all around them.

  “Seiya!” she screamed, leaping to her feet.

  The girl spun and grabbed Piper around the waist. Seiya leaped skyward with a hard beat of her wings. Piper grabbed Seiya’s shoulder. As soon as they were over the heads of the reapers, Seiya dove for the ground again. Piper wondered why before half a dozen attacks shot through the air where they’d just been.

  They landed hard. Seiya let Piper go and sprang away, her blades sweeping toward the nearest reaper. Another came in from behind. Piper flung out her hand as she called on the Sahar. A blade of power ripped through the enemy.

  Three more reapers teleported in and circled them. Panic swept through her as more reapers appeared. Other knights rushed toward them, weapons drawn. Seiya slashed a reaper’s throat and back-flipped out of the path of another’s scythe. When she landed, she threw out both hands and a triple blade of black power crashed into the approaching soldiers.

  Hands grabbed Piper from behind. She slammed her elbow into her attacker, sending him staggering, but three more closed in on her. Seiya couldn’t reach her. Piper grabbed frantically for the Sahar’s power.

  An ear-shattering roar came from above them. She looked up as a massive shadow dropped out of the sky. The black dragon slammed into the three reapers in front of her, bowling them over. Its huge jaws snapped shut around the nearest one’s skull and crushed it in a spray of blood. Zala dropped the reaper, spread her wings wide, and roared triumphantly.

  The reaper Piper had elbowed seized her again, clamping her arms against her sides. The air started to crackle—he was going to teleport her. She struggled frantically, unable to aim an attack with the Sahar while he had her arms pinned.

  Something gold flashed past her face, as fast as a bullet. The reaper jerked. His hands fell away. Piper spun around. The reaper had collapsed backward. A wooden arrow stuck out of his left eye, drops of blood clinging to the black fletching. She whipped back around, squinting through the dust. There! A dark figure with pale hair was crouched on a hunk of bridge two hundred yards away. As she watched, he nocked another arrow and took aim. The arrow flew.

  A scream to her left. A reaper staggered, the arrow sticking out of his chest. The arrow began to glow.

  It exploded in a spray of needle-like spears of light, shattering the reaper’s torso and blasting the nearest three off their feet. They fell howling with golden needles peppering their bodies.

  Shocked back into motion, Piper spun and saw Seiya leap over the heads of a cluster of reapers before vanishing amidst her attackers. She was being driven farther away from Piper.

  Zala lunged past her, snatching a reaper and hurling him into the air with a toss of her head. He hit the ground, his neck broken. Eyes popping, Piper bolted toward Seiya, ducking a stray scythe as the reapers rushed to take out the dragon and her master. Arrows flashed by, spearing reapers left and right. Half the arrows exploded with deadly needles of power, taking out more of the enemy before the knights had a chance to shield.

  Piper ran. She had to reach Seiya so they could get the hell out of there. Dust roile
d everywhere, adding to the chaos but hiding them from the knights. Only so many could gang up on them at once—for now.

  Three knights teleported into her path. She threw a blast of power at them, but they shielded. She skidded to a stop, raising her hand for another attack, but two more ran in behind her. They were everywhere.

  The reapers in front of her looked up.

  A second dragon roared as it swooped through the air above them, wings blocking out the sun. The dark shape on its back leaped free. Shimmers enveloped him—and then dark wings appeared from nothing, spread wide as he dropped. Her heart stuttered in her chest.

  Ash pulled a long, curved sword from the sheath on his back and landed with the weapon already sweeping toward the nearest trio. Black flames ran down the blade as though he’d dipped it in oil and lit it on fire. The three reapers brought their scythes up to block. Ash’s sword hit the first scythe—and it shattered. His blade tore through the reaper and straight into the next. The third dove out of the way with a panicked cry.

  Ash pivoted, taking out another reaper’s legs with his tail, and grabbed Piper with his free arm. She squeaked as he pulled her tightly against his side. He shifted backward on agile feet, carrying her with him. A reaper got too close and his sword sliced right through the daemon’s shield spell. Out of nowhere, Zwi dropped in behind an approaching group and tore into them.

  Black blurs popped into being all around them. Ash spun and ran, leaping over groups with sweeps of his wings. Piper clutched his neck, hanging on for dear life. Zwi followed, plowing through the distracted soldiers with teeth and claws flashing.

  A gap appeared in the cluster of knights ahead as an arrow exploded in their midst. Seiya sprang through the opening, finally escaping the onslaught. Blood splattered her face and clothing. Piper couldn’t tell if she was hurt.

  She rushed to Ash as he cut down a reaper that came at him.

  “Get Lyre and get out,” Ash yelled.

  “Zala!” Seiya called.

  The dragon swept over their heads and Seiya grabbed her trailing tail. She was whipped into the air and disappeared into the clouds of dust with a flash of her dark wings.

  Dozens of reapers now focused on them, weapons raised.

  Ash flipped the sword in his hand into a reverse grip and speared the dirt. The rippling black flames that coated the blade leaped. They rushed out in swirling lines along the ground from the point of the blade. The reapers charged, jumping the trails of fire. He yanked the sword out—and the black flames exploded upward. The knights howled, trapped by walls of ebony fire.

  Ash sprang skyward, beating his wings hard for a fast takeoff. Zwi swept in, diving beneath them. They landed on her back with a thump as she flew them away from the dying flames at top speed, keeping low to stay hidden in the dust clouds. The forest was two hundred yards away. They shot toward safety.

  A blast of red magic came out of nowhere.

  It hit Zwi in the side. The dragon screamed as the force of the blow flipped her in the air. Piper and Ash were flung from her back. Ash crushed her to him, closing his wings around her as they hit the ground with bone-breaking force. They tumbled down a hill, unable to slow their momentum from Zwi’s flight.

  They crashed to a stop at the bottom. Ash lurched to his feet, pulling her with him. She looked around in panic. They’d fallen down the slope of a ramp and into the middle of the highway—into the middle of Samael’s remaining army.

  Reapers closed in from everywhere. Ash backed up, pulling Piper with him. His sword had been lost somewhere in the fall. The horde of soldiers closed ranks around them in a bristling circle of weapons and magic. They were trapped.

  Ash stopped, one arm still tight around her. In the sudden stillness, she could feel the heat coming off his skin; he had a fever. He wasn’t fully healed from the poison. His chest rose and fell with harsh, rapid breaths.

  “Ash,” she whispered.

  “Hey,” he said softly. His alien daemon voice slid down her spine.

  “You’re alive,” she choked, fighting the tears trying to escape her control.

  His arm tightened around her.

  The surrounding wall of death parted. Samael stepped into the gap. Blood speckled the right side of his face but she couldn’t tell whether it was his. She pressed hard against Ash. They were going to die together. It was fitting. She’d promised herself back in the Underworld that she would either save him or die trying. He clearly felt the same way.

  “Ashtaroth,” Samael intoned.


  Piper shuddered at the power and hatred layering that one word.

  Samael felt it too. His upper lip curled. “I see you managed to survive . . . again. Surrender Piper and I will spare her.”

  Piper gritted her teeth. She could try to use the Sahar again but she didn’t have enough skill. By the time she built up enough magic to make a difference, the soldiers would have killed them three times over. Not even Seiya’s spiraling blast had managed to kill Samael, though the Warlord probably had his much-depleted squad of bodyguards to thank for that.

  When Ash didn’t answer, Samael’s gaze flashed to her. “Give me the Sahar and I will ensure Ash dies a swift death. Refuse and I will make his last months more agonizing than you can imagine, and every endless moment of his pain you will watch.”

  Her stomach twisted. She pressed harder against Ash’s side. That couldn’t happen. She wouldn’t allow it. How could she make sure that Samael couldn’t capture them alive? If she tried to tap the Stone, a hundred soldiers would blast her to smithereens.

  The Hades Warlord studied them for a few seconds longer, then nodded slowly. “I see you are both determined to be martyrs.”

  The sea of soldiers pressed a little closer. Ash’s arm twitched with tension. He was still breathing hard; he didn’t have the strength for a final attack. Panic made her head spin.

  Samael’s attention turned toward the reaper general standing beside him. His mouth opened.

  “Wait!” Piper cried.

  Red eyes snapped back to her. Ash stiffened.

  “I—I—okay. I’ll give you the Sahar.”

  She couldn’t let Ash be tortured. She couldn’t take that risk. She’d already seen it once and couldn’t endure it a second time.

  Samael gestured for her to come to him. The soldiers shifted restlessly, disappointed that violence was no longer imminent. They wanted payback for the comrades Ash, his sister, and their dragons had killed. With shaky fingers, she dug into her armguard as she stepped out of Ash’s encircling arm. Her fingertips brushed the cool surface of the Stone. She pulled it out and closed her hand around it in a tight fist.

  “Piper,” Ash whispered.

  She turned to him. He met her eyes and whatever he was about to say died on his lips.

  “Piper,” Samael warned from behind her.

  She looked into Ash’s black daemon eyes. Terror crawled through her, trembling in her limbs. But not terror of him. For him. For her. For whatever would happen next. Barely able to breathe, she stepped up to him and laid her cheek against his chest in a final goodbye hug. His heart thumped loud and fast in her ear.

  He closed his hand around hers where it rested against his chest. Their fingers entwined.

  She lifted her face, met his eyes—and saw his soul beneath the black.

  “Kill that bastard,” she whispered.

  Ash’s hand tightened around hers, crushing the Sahar between their palms.

  She let the Sahar’s hatred rush in.

  Power leaped into her. Bloodlust and sick rage rammed into her mind without any gentle thoughts to shield her from them. The magic ripped through her veins like lightning—then it found Ash. The power raced out of her, making her gasp in the sudden cessation. The Sahar glowed so brightly it shone right through the back of her hand. Ash’s back arched, wings flaring as his head rocked back. Black swelled in his eyes, eclipsing the whites.

  “Kill him!” Samael roared.

Red light erupted in the hands of dozens of soldiers.

  Ash’s free hand rose in front of him. His head came down, gaze focusing. The reapers hurled their attacks and Ash made a small, almost lazy gesture. His shield snapped into existence around the two of them, so strong it distorted the air. The red blasts bounced harmlessly off it.

  The Sahar burned her palm, hotter than she’d ever felt it. Ash’s wings slowly spread. The air sizzled, crackled. Sparks jumped all around him like tiny bolts of lightning. The atmosphere heated. Thickened. It was hard to breathe.

  Ash’s outstretched hand clenched. Black flames engulfed it, then raced up his arm and coated his wings, dripping off them like burning oil. Piper backed away from him, unable to take more than a step while her hand was trapped in his. She panted, unable to breathe the air around him as it was so saturated with power—power that kept ratcheting higher and higher. She looked toward the enemy.

  The reapers weren’t attacking anymore. They were slowly backing away. Samael kept his stare locked on Ash as he sidled backward.

  Ash inhaled, held it for a second. Exhaled. His fist opened with a snap.

  The world exploded.

  Black power blasted outward, screaming toward the soldiers. The briefest flashes of black blinked out as the quickest reapers desperately tried to escape—and then the ebony fire engulfed the earth, blotting out the sky. Piper’s senses couldn’t absorb it, couldn’t grasp it. It was like standing at the center of a black hole as it swallowed a solar system. Nothing but incomprehensible destruction.

  Then silence.

  Sunlight slowly leaked through the hovering dust. She stared. The ground all around them had been leveled. The remains of the bridges were gone. The ramps, gone. All the piles of debris, gone. There was nothing but fist-sized chunks of rubble, burning bits of trees, and smears of blood for a hundred yards in every direction.

  “Wow, Ash,” she whispered.

  She’d never come close to achieving that degree of destruction. Nyrtaroth leveling an entire town no longer seemed like a stretch of the imagination.

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