Feed the Flames (Steel & Stone) by Annette Marie


  He fiddled with the colored quartz on his chain, his expression dark. “Spell weaving.”

  She flicked a glance at the spelled gems. If Lyre came from a line of spell weavers, she could guess one fact about his family: they were filthy rich. The best spell weavers took their creations to the grave so they could sell pre-spelled objects at exorbitant rates.

  “You had to run away to protect yourself?” she asked.

  “I didn’t want anything to do with them. Starting in childhood, my siblings and I were pitted against one another in a brutal competition to be the best. The smartest, most talented, and most vicious rose to the top as the favored children. The less talented were treated like second-rate scum. I was done with that shit.”

  “If you weren’t one of the ‘favored’ ones, why would they want you back?”

  “To protect their secrets. To punish me. To eliminate the competition. Who the hell knows? But it won’t go well for me.” He gave a little shrug and lifted the chain with his spelled quartz again. “I suppose I should try to get this thing working. Neither of us needs a literal trip down memory lane courtesy of the Ras.”

  He bent over the gem again. His tension suggested more ghosts haunted him than those he’d admitted to her. Ash hid his past behind a wall of reticence. Maybe Lyre hid his behind a constant stream of jokes and inappropriate humor that kept anyone from looking at him too closely.

  He was more than what he seemed on the surface, and she wouldn’t forget that. Nor would she forget that the small glimpse he’d given her into his past had been an unspoken gesture of trust—one she would not betray.

  CHAPTER 5

  GETTING a better grip on the door of her cell, Seiya pulled, her entire body straining. Trepidation pummeled her self-control, an urgency she could barely contain. Her wings flared wide. She dug her talons into the steel and wrenched harder. The metal creaked. She’d bent the hinges a fair amount, but they showed no signs of imminent failure.

  Her muscles screamed and she finally let go, dropping to the floor. Breathing hard, she studied the door again. The lock was on the other side, inaccessible. The hinges were the only weak points she could get at, but she was making no progress toward breaking them.

  She backed away from the door and turned to Lyre. He was sitting in the farthest corner from her, hunched over the chain with his spells, still attempting to squeeze some magic out from around the collar—as he had been for days. She’d lost track of how long they’d been locked in the dark cells, time broken only by the irregular delivery of food and water. Lyre had worked with the mindless determination of the desperate, but he was no closer than he’d been during the first hour.

  “Miysis’s collar must have been defective,” she snapped. “You’re wasting your time. Help me try to break the door instead.”

  “What good will that do?” he snapped back. “We’ll still be trapped in this room. Put your glamour back on so I can concentrate.”

  She snarled as her temper rose, anger replacing panic. She pushed it down. Closing her eyes, she pulled glamour back over her form, a mental action so familiar she could do it with only a thought.

  Fear pressed in on her even harder, threatening to take over. She returned to the door and wrapped her hands around the bars. It wouldn’t be long now. They could come in at any moment and take her to Samael. She couldn’t let that happen. She wouldn’t do that to her brother. She would die first.

  Turning away from the barred door, she faced Lyre again. He was bent over the gem in his hands, eyes shut, brow creased in concentration. He was just as frantic as her. He might not be returning to a life of imprisonment, but she suspected it would still be a nightmare for him. How much of Lyre’s past did Ash know?

  “We need a new plan,” she said. “Forget about your spell and help me come up with something.”

  “This is our only option.”

  “Your stubbornness is going to get us killed!”

  “We have no choice,” he yelled. “Without magic, we will never make it out of here. It doesn’t matter if we break out of our cells or even break down that door. We’ll be recaptured the moment we encounter a Ra soldier.”

  “You might not be able to activate the spells in your arrows, but you can still shoot them. We’re both armed under glamour. Fighting would give us a better chance than just sitting here!”

  His face turned white and he stuttered, “G-glamour.”

  “What?”

  He launched to his feet. “Glamour! How did you drop your glamour and put it back just now?”

  “I—what—”

  “Glamour uses magic! You were using magic! That means the collars aren’t blocking all of it.”

  Her eyes widened. She looked down as though expecting to find a sign pinned to her chest explaining everything. “I just did glamour like I always do. I didn’t even think about it.”

  His eyes were bright with eager hope and excitement. “Yes, I think—I think I understand. I think I know what to do. I can—”

  “Wait.” Her excitement vanished under a wave of fear. “I hear people coming.”

  Footsteps clomped beyond the door. Their last meal had been dropped off only a couple hours ago. They were coming for her, she knew it.

  For the briefest moment, panic overwhelmed her—and then the fear died as a new state of mind snapped into place: a cold, demanding rage that knew no limits, no logic, no remorse—only survival. Her glamour vanished in an instant and her wings snapped wide. Her fingers flexed, unsheathing deadly talons.

  “Seiya! Hold yourself together!”

  She turned to him. Part of her saw Lyre. The other part saw another threat, an enemy. She bared her teeth at him, battling the urge to attack.

  The bolt made a loud clack as someone slid it aside.

  “Seiya, trust me!” Lyre stretched his hand through the bars. “I know what to do. Just hold on.”

  The door opened—Ra soldiers. A shudder ran through her. Violence hazed her mind. Kill them. She had to kill them. They were a threat.

  “Seiya.”

  Her stare locked onto Lyre’s golden eyes, blocking out the sight and sounds of the approaching guards. She took his hand and stepped up to the bars. He caught the chain in his teeth and used his other hand to snap off the pink quartz. Then he reached through the bars and pressed the gem against the collar around her neck.

  His eyes went black. His body shimmered as he started to drop glamour, but his true form didn’t manifest. The shimmer rippled bizarrely—and the gem flashed with yellow light.

  Then the warm, sizzling presence of her magic filled her head.

  For a bare instant, she was frozen by shock. He’d done it. Somehow, he’d used the shift of glamour to siphon off a spark of magic to engage the spell in the gemstone. He’d finally done it—and now it was her turn.

  She spun away from him, her hands lifting as magic jumped to her command. The Ra daemons had no idea—not until they saw black light erupt across her fingers, but it was already too late. She flung her hands out.

  A sheet of black fire exploded outward, whooshing out of her cell and slamming into the four unprepared Ra soldiers. They screamed as the reek of burning flesh tainted the room. She launched forward, a hand slashing through the air as she blasted the door off its bent hinges. Her twin swords were in her hands in the next moment. Two daemons had fallen, writhing in agony. The other two, partially shielded from her attack by their comrades’ bodies, were still standing.

  Her blade caught the first one’s throat. Simultaneously, her other blade flashed at the ribs of the second daemon. Through his pain and shock, he managed to cast a shield. Her sword bounced off, the impact ricocheting up her arm. With a flick of thought, she coated her left blade in black flames and slashed. Her sword went right through his shield and into his torso. He fell, death already filming his eyes.

  After her and Ash’s failed escape from Asphodel, Seiya had made a promise to herself. She’d sworn that she wouldn’t waste her brother?
??s second chance at life. She would never again be the weak one, the slow one. She would never let him bleed for her again. Locked in Asphodel, she’d had infinite time to train in the art of dealing death—as well as a skilled mentor with near matchless abilities. Raum had not been a gentle teacher.

  She pivoted to face Lyre’s cell door and flicked two fingers. The lock exploded into a useless twist of metal.

  He shoved the door open.

  “Four minutes,” he said urgently.

  Four minutes before the collar locked away her magic again. Four minutes to escape.

  The soldiers hadn’t bolted the door when they’d come in. She flung it open and ran down the hall, Lyre following. Outside their prison was a long corridor with many doors, but she didn’t stop. She didn’t need to. All draconians had the ability to sense the open spaces around them—necessary for flying in complete darkness. With every door they passed, she could sense the rough dimensions of the room. She was only interested in finding a way up.

  They ran on. Ahead was a junction. She slowed, unable to hear whether anyone was coming over her and Lyre’s footsteps. Her senses told her the right-hand hall went on further than the others. Swords held tight and teeth bared, she swung around the corner.

  Three soldiers stood at the far end of the corridor. They turned in unison to face her.

  Too far away to surprise them, she swore and lifted her swords.

  Lyre stepped up beside her and his body shimmered. He raised his bow, an arrow already in his hand. He drew the fletching back to his cheek, and his body shimmered again with a touch of glamour. She felt a tiny spark of magic.

  He loosed the arrow.

  The bolt shot down the hall and straight through the heart of the center Ra. He dropped to his knees as the other two bellowed furiously. The arrow blazed with yellow light, then exploded in a spray of glowing golden needles that speared the bodies of the two others. They collapsed, crying out in pain.

  She flicked a glance at Lyre, not daring to look him straight on while he was out of glamour—not if she wanted to keep her wits about her. His true form was utterly magnificent. The rubies decorating the end of the narrow braid that hung down the left side of his face glittered in the dim light. Her heart pounded, her state of rage quieting as awe slipped through her like a sweet wine. She tore her eyes away from him before his aura overwhelmed her.

  “How are you using your arrow spells?” she asked.

  “They only need a spark of magic, just like the gemstones.”

  His musical voice washed over her, sending tingles racing across her skin. She shook it off and focused. If he could only access a spark of magic through his collar, he wouldn’t be able to shield.

  She pushed into a run, closing the distance between her and the fallen daemons. She sprang over the weakly stirring bodies and continued onward. The basement of the embassy was a maze. They needed to find a way up.

  They encountered two more Ra soldiers and took them out quickly, but time was running out. She had maybe two minutes left before the collar reactivated.

  “There!” Lyre exclaimed, pointing to an elevator up ahead as they ran.

  They skidded to a stop in front of it. She could sense the open space of the shaft. She spun in a quick circle, then threw herself at a nearby door, shattering the hinges. A stairway.

  They ran up two stories, but it went no higher. She burst into a familiar room—the same room where they’d geared up with Miysis and his men before going to the Overworld. She had confronted Piper in one of the smaller chambers just off of it. They’d taken the elevator down to this level, but she didn’t dare use it this time, not after hearing about Ash’s experience; Miysis had drugged him in the elevator on his first visit.

  Before she could decide where to go, thundering footsteps made her turn. Six Ra soldiers stormed into the room, heading straight for them.

  Calm, icy focus closed around her, banishing fear. Banishing doubt. Nothing existed but her and her enemies—and she would destroy them.

  She charged.

  The first magic attack rocketed toward her and she cast a shield. The spell hit her shield and burst apart, almost knocking her back. With a flick of her tail, she regained her balance and shot for the lead daemon. A moment before engaging him, she snapped her wings down and leaped over his head. With a slash of her sword on the way down, she severed his spine.

  Lifting her other sword, she lit it with black dragon fire. The ebony flames rippled across her weapon and she whipped it at the attacking daemons. The blade connected with the nearest one’s halberd and the handle shattered. She thrust her second blade into his chest. Coated in the deadly dragon fire, it cut through his bones like butter.

  The next pair came at her. The battle blurred into a mirage of swirling swords, black flames, and gold griffin magic. Her world narrowed to the thrust and parry of weapons, the dance of her feet across the floor as she evaded and engaged the enemy. Dark arrows flew into their midst, piercing Ra daemons.

  And then she stood alone, her fallen enemies all around her, their blood seeping across the floor. Breathing hard, she turned toward Lyre and froze.

  One enemy was still standing—one she hadn’t seen until that moment.

  Miysis stood beside Lyre, sword in hand, blade pressed against Lyre’s throat. Lyre didn’t move, jaw tense, his bow in one hand. He had no magic to defend himself with. Seiya was across the room, too far to help him.

  Rage threatened to overwhelm her at the sight of the Ra heir. His cold green eyes moved from Lyre to her. Seconds ticked by, and she could feel her magic shrinking from her grasp as the collar started to take effect.

  Miysis’s arm flexed—and then he lowered his sword.

  “You can’t escape through the lobby,” he said quietly. “They’re waiting for you.”

  Lyre backed swiftly away from Miysis, reaching for an arrow. He plucked it from the quiver but didn’t nock it.

  Miysis pointed to the hall behind Seiya where the soldiers had come from. “There’s another exit that way. It’s your best chance.”

  “Why would you help us?” Lyre snarled.

  Miysis dropped his eyes—a dangerous move with Lyre close enough to attack. Then he straightened his shoulders and gave them both an inscrutable look. “You’ll die if you go through the lobby. Use the back exit.”

  He turned and walked toward another hall.

  Shaking off her stunned speechlessness, she called out, her voice icy with rage, “Where is Ash?”

  He didn’t stop, but said over his shoulder, “You should ask Piper.”

  And then he was out of sight, vanishing deeper into the building. Seiya stared after him, confusion veining her anger. What had that been all about? Was he trying to set himself up to ally with them again, or was it a trick? And what did he mean, ask Piper?

  A heartbeat of silence.

  “Well, that was weird,” Lyre muttered.

  Seiya shuddered as the last of her magic disappeared. The black flames running along her swords dissipated. She let out a trembling breath.

  “So we go out the back?” he asked.

  She nodded. She didn’t trust Miysis, but she suspected he was right. The main exit would be a death trap, but maybe the other exit was too. There was no way to know.

  “Let’s go,” she said. “It’s up to my swords and your arrows now.”

  She faced the corridor Miysis had indicated, fear trickling through her veins. She strode down the hall, no longer running but not wasting time either. Her senses strained to pick up any sign of their enemies.

  At the end of the hall, huge steel double doors blocked their path. Seiya stopped. In the center was a plate-sized, combination-style lock with strange symbols, likely spelled to hurt very badly if the wrong combination was entered. This had to be the exit.

  “How do we get through?” she whispered in frustration.

  Lyre’s gaze travelled over the door. He slid a finger down the chain around his neck and selected a pale blue
stone. Snapping it off, he placed it on top of the lock. His body shimmered as he pulled on a touch of his glamour magic to trigger the spell in the stone. It glowed gold.

  “We should stand back,” he said.

  She stared at him for a moment, then shook off the mesmerizing daze his voice had elicited. Together they backed quickly down the hall. As they moved away, the gem began glowing brighter and brighter. With a sudden flash, white light burst outward, blinding her. Red light radiated within the expanding circle of white light, and smoke billowed outward, filling the air with a metallic haze and the sound of sizzling metal.

  The white light shrunk and blinked out. Clouds of smoke roiled at the end of the hall. Lyre grabbed her hand and broke into a jog. They ran into the cloud and approached the door. A huge hole had melted in the center and the edges still glowed red hot. The lock was completely gone. Lyre used his foot to push one side of the door open and they stepped through the smoky cloud. Seiya glanced back at the mangled steel with wide eyes. Lyre was definitely smart not to show off such powerful spells. Other daemons would kill for magic like that.

  They came out on the other side of the smoke. Ahead of them, a dark, concrete corridor—no, a tunnel—stretched, the end invisible in the darkness. The high walls and eight-foot width minimized the uncomfortable feeling of being underground, and she could no longer sense the oppressive weight of the embassy above them. The tunnel must lead to a secret location outside the embassy.

  Zala’s warm presence touched her mind. The dragonet was a hundred yards ahead, on the other side of some kind of steel door. She’d followed Seiya’s progress from above and had found the exit. They were almost there.

  She grabbed Lyre’s hand to pull him into motion—and heard footsteps behind them.

  She whirled around. Flashes of motion—something shooting toward them, faster than the eye. Pain seared her upper arm at the same time as Lyre cried out and fell. An arrow protruded from his thigh.

  Out of the smoke, twelve Ra daemons appeared—red uniforms and black, furious eyes. Two were holding crossbows in their hands, the weapons clunky and graceless compared to Lyre’s bow, and the others were wielding halberds.

 
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