Reap the Shadows (Steel & Stone Book 4) by Annette Marie


  She and Ash sat in silence for several minutes, watching the door. The stillness in the street and around the building didn’t mean no one was watching. She alternated between surveying the street and peeking at Ash. He kept his eyes on the door, tension obvious in his stiff stance. His face was pale, his cheeks hollow like Seiya’s. He should have stayed in the ryujin city, where he’d been safe, until he was back at full strength. But then, he never opted for the safe choices.

  She bit her lip, wondering whether she should speak. She could say nothing. It was better to say nothing. But a hundred responses paraded through her head, from anger at his cold treatment of her, to frantic pleas for forgiveness, to tearful apologies for getting him stabbed, all demanding to be given voice. She bit her lip even harder, fighting the words back. She shouldn’t repair the damage to his faith in her, not now. Not when she was trying to let him go.

  Deep blue tinged the clouds and as the minutes ticked by, the sky began to lighten. She shifted her weight uncomfortably as her muscles stiffened, but Ash didn’t move so she kept her complaints to herself. Orange light was bathing the horizon, heralding the imminent arrival of the sun, when the rattle of the loading door finally broke the silence. The door lifted and white headlights pierced the shadows lying over the street. A black SUV slowly rolled out of the bay. A second and third followed, almost bumper to bumper, and they all turned left down the street.

  Ash stayed crouched low as the vehicles, several stories below, passed beneath their position toward the main street. He rose to his feet and his body shimmered. His wings had barely taken form when he sprang off the rooftop, leaving her standing there with no way to follow.

  Zwi chirped and a sudden burst of fire enveloped her tiny body, expanding outward. Piper jumped toward her and clambered onto the dragon’s back before the last flames had vanished. Zwi took a running leap off the rooftop, dropping between the buildings. Her wings pounded the air as she hurried to catch up to Ash, who was gliding silently ahead of them. The SUVs picked up speed but couldn’t outpace their flying pursuers as they followed a twisting path through the downtown streets.

  Piper clutched Zwi’s mane, watching the vehicles intently. Lyre was in one of them. He had to be. She flexed her jaw. Miysis and his family had betrayed Piper, almost killed Ash, and tried to sell Seiya back to Hades. If she hadn’t escaped, they might have succeeded before Ash or Piper could stop them.

  The SUVs drove a few dozen blocks away from the embassy before turning off the road into a large, barren park. The vehicles bounced as they mounted the curb and rolled onto the sparse grass, toward the center of the square.

  Ash tucked his wings and dove, vanishing amidst a cluster of trees at one end of the park. Zwi followed, Piper clutching her neck. As soon as the dragon landed, she jumped off and rushed to join Ash where he stood in the deep shadows, already back in glamour. She stopped beside him and peered through the foliage. The SUVs rolled to a stop. Piper puzzled over that for a moment before she saw that the vehicles were not alone.

  About thirty yards away, a dozen figures stood waiting, their shadows stretching across the grass as the sun finally breached the horizon.

  Ash swore quietly. “This is the exchange. I thought they’d done it in the embassy, but the Ras must have wanted to keep their back entrance secret.”

  “What do we do?” she whispered.

  He hesitated, probably thinking fast. Several men got out of the first SUV and walked forward to meet the others. She couldn’t tell whether any of them were Ra daemons. Her attention returned to the waiting group of anonymous daemons.

  “Who are they?” she whispered.

  Another voice answered before Ash could.

  “Hades reapers,” came the toneless reply. “Elites. What game are you playing, Ash?”

  She spun around, almost as fast as Ash.

  Raum stood among the trees behind them, arms folded over his chest, wrap hanging around his neck. His cold eyes flicked over Piper and then Ash, analyzing them both.

  “What are you doing here?” Ash snapped.

  “I came to see if Piper planned to honor our agreement. I see she found you, but where is Kiev?”

  “He’s with Seiya,” Ash replied shortly. “What do you mean those are reapers?”

  Piper’s gaze flashed between them as Raum’s jaw tightened just slightly, the tension between them thickening the air. She would have expected them to be friendlier, allies united against Samael’s enslavement.

  “Nili has already scouted them,” the older draconian said. “I know several on sight from Asphodel.”

  “Why are Hades daemons taking Lyre?” Piper demanded. “Seiya said it was his family.”

  “Obviously not anymore,” Ash said grimly, his eyes on the Ra daemons speaking with the Hades reapers.

  Raum’s stare sharpened. “Ra sold the incubus to Hades? Why do they want him?”

  Ash shrugged. “Does it matter? I won’t let them take him to Asphodel.”

  Samael must want Lyre because of his connection to Ash, Seiya, and Piper. He wanted Lyre for leverage. The Ras must have changed plans—or lied about their plans—and sold Lyre into Samael’s twisted clutches. Maybe they’d changed the deal after their main prize—Seiya—had escaped.

  “We can’t let them have him,” she said urgently.

  Raum uncrossed his arms and put one hand on the hilt of a sword at his hip. “Suicide. In an ambush, you could probably take them. But an open approach in daylight? You’ll never defeat them all.”

  “I’m not letting them have Lyre,” Ash said flatly.

  “You are abandoning Kiev.”

  “Then you can take care of Kiev.”

  Raum let out a low hiss of anger. “If you attack, you’ll have to kill them all. If even one teleports out of your reach, he will return with a hundred more to destroy you.”

  “I’ll take the chance.”

  Cold silence pressed in on them as Ash turned his attention back to the meeting between Ra and Hades daemons.

  “They’re separating. Shit. The moment a reaper touches Lyre, they can teleport him and it will be over.” His gaze flashed between the waiting reapers and the Ras, who were heading back to their vehicles to fetch Lyre.

  “You can’t fight them all,” Raum said. “You can’t even guarantee a victory over the reapers.”

  Piper swallowed hard. “I’ll take the Ras.”

  Ash and Raum looked at her in disbelief. She saw the exact moment Raum realized she must have the Sahar—why else would she attempt something so impossible? She tensed but Raum didn’t otherwise react. The moment of knowledge had barely passed across his eyes before Ash recovered from his surprise.

  “Not a chance,” he snarled.

  “Do you know how many griffins I killed in the Overworld?” she snapped. “I won’t lose both you and Lyre. You take the reapers, and I’ll take the Ras.”

  She didn’t show any hesitation despite the fact she was volunteering to take on three carloads of Ra griffins by herself while he battled reapers. She had no choice.

  Ash glanced over his shoulder. The griffins had almost reached their vehicles. He swore again.

  “Fine,” he bit off, resignation and reluctance in his voice. “Are you ready?”

  She nodded, clenching her left hand. The Sahar pressed against her inner wrist, cool and inert.

  Raum stepped up to Ash’s other side. With a cool look at Ash, he pulled the dark wrap around his neck over the lower half of his face—the draconian signal that he intended to spill blood very soon.

  Ash scowled. “What are you doing?”

  “Ensuring you survive. Kiev needs you.”

  Ash gave him a short, assessing look, then nodded. A single glance between them seemed to convey their entire plan, and Piper was struck with a sudden insight: they had fought side-by-side many times before. So why was there so much animosity between them?

  Before she could puzzle over it more, Ash flicked one last glance at her. Suddenly his
arm was around her waist and he yanked her against his chest in a brief, fierce embrace. His mouth touched her ear, breath hot on her skin.

  “Don’t die,” he said, a husky growl touching his voice.

  Then he let her go and his body shimmered as he dropped glamour. Raum followed suit in an instant, and identical black wings spread wide. They sprang upward, wings beating as they took flight, heading north—parallel to the reapers’ location to get into position for their ambush. Before they broke free from the cover of the trees, dark shadows seemed to close in around them. Cloaking spells.

  Piper turned back to face the vehicles. Her heart hammered against her ribs, her breathing fast and her adrenaline high. Her skin tingled where Ash’s lips had touched her, but terror pulsed in her veins at what would come next. With hands clenched and the Sahar pressed hard against her inner wrist, she threw herself through the trees and out into the park to singlehandedly wage war on Ra.

  CHAPTER 9

  AS PIPER burst out of the trees in a full-out sprint, she saw three Ra daemons pulling a struggling prisoner out of the SUV. Lyre. It had to be Lyre. And he wasn’t going quietly.

  Charging across the grass, she tapped the Sahar’s power. Magic blasted through her body, electricity in her veins. A wave of searing hatred followed, almost overwhelming her. She gritted her teeth, building up the power in her body. She had to accumulate enough for a powerful attack—without letting the violent madness claim her.

  The SUVs idled in a single file. No one had gotten out of the second two; they must be backup support only. She ran harder as she summoned even more magic from the Sahar. Pain seared her nerves, the first warning of too much magic flooding her body. She kept ramping it up to create the most powerful attack she could manage, ignoring the pain as best she could. She was almost ready—almost close enough to attack.

  The griffins at the first vehicle hauled Lyre out of the backseat and dragged him toward the waiting reapers. They hadn’t noticed her. She raised both hands, visualizing her coming attack. Her lips peeled back in vicious, delighted anticipation. She slid to a stop, magic raging through her, and flung both hands downward.

  Power tore out of her, burning like an inferno under her skin, then burst out of her in an explosive wave that rocketed toward the back two SUVs.

  The blast hit both vehicles. Metal screamed as the SUVs shattered under the impact. Jagged debris flew everywhere and droplets of burning gasoline rained down in a thousand spots of dancing flame.

  Piper bent forward, pressing her hands to her knees as she sucked in air. Her entire body ached and burned. Her head was splitting from the pain. The Sahar was hot against her wrist but she determinedly pushed the power away. Violence sung in her veins, demanding release, but she controlled that too. After one more deep breath, she straightened—and saw a Ra daemon coming straight for her.

  Her blast had destroyed the two SUVs, presumably killing all occupants as well. The third vehicle was damaged and the four daemons outside it had been thrown to the ground, but not seriously hurt. And now they were coming for her.

  She gasped and lifted her left hand as the first one closed in on her. Her mind touched the Sahar’s power and magic rushed into her. The world turned white with agony as magic burned across her raw nerves. Her lungs froze and she couldn’t move from the pain.

  The daemon’s strike hit her square in the chest, throwing her onto her back.

  She hit the ground and her shocked lungs unlocked. She sucked in a breath, her vision clearing as she pushed away the Sahar’s power again, struggling to focus. A hand closed around her throat. The daemon lifted her into the air, squeezing her neck.

  “Who the hell are you, bitch?” he snarled, his eyes black and half of his blond hair singed from the explosion.

  She clutched at his wrist for a moment, then yanked the gun from the back of her belt. Knowing he would grab it before she could level it at his chest, she pulled the trigger the moment the barrel lined up with a body part—his foot. The explosive sound of the gunshot assaulted her ears. The daemon dropped her with a cry of pain.

  Barely managing to stay on her feet, she staggered backward, coughing violently. Ra daemons circled her.

  “Haemon slut,” the wounded daemon spat. He flicked a hand so fast she couldn’t react. The blast of magic slammed into her, knocking her onto her back a second time. The gun flew out of her hand. Before she could move, his boot came down on her chest, driving the air out of her lungs yet again. He pressed his foot down and her ribs creaked, threatening to snap. Pain and terror flooded through her.

  Then she wasn’t afraid anymore.

  She felt it close over her, the strange, semi-familiar sensation of shading. She grabbed his boot and strained to relieve the pressure on her chest. He growled and pressed down harder. Her arms trembled and panic dragged at the bubble of calm surrounding her thoughts.

  They would kill her if she didn’t act fast—if she didn’t strike hard.

  A rush of tingling magic washed over her body. It wasn’t a decision. It wasn’t a conscious choice. She just knew she needed to be stronger—and it happened.

  Daemon strength filled her muscles. Shimmering mother-of-pearl claws tipped her fingers, piercing the thick leather of his boot. She heaved. The daemon flew backward, barely managing to keep his balance as he stumbled away from her. She flipped her whole body from a lying position to a standing one in a single smooth move.

  “What the hell?” one of them yelled.

  Piper lifted both hands, the scales across the backs of her knuckles shimmering. Spinning balls of blue and purple magic filled each palm. She hurled them at the two nearest Ras.

  She saw their glowing gold shields form, as fast as thought. Her blasts hit them, and the shields burst apart in swirls of orange light. Shock splashed across their faces, then fear as they realized she was coming right behind her magic attack, long daggers already in her hands.

  She plunged a dagger into each daemon’s belly and ripped them out again. Spinning past them, she locked on the other two.

  The nearer one dropped his glamour, spreading his feathered wings as he pulled a halberd off his back. She sheathed her daggers and pulled out her katana instead. The other Ra followed his comrade’s lead and dropped glamour too.

  Piper surveyed them, her mind floating in that strange state of calm. They examined her, wary and confused about what she was. Somewhere behind her, explosions of magic and furious cries told her Ash and Raum had begun their assault on the Hades daemons, but that was not her concern. All her attention, all her focus, was on the two daemons in front of her.

  They needed to die.

  She sprang at them. They split apart, moving to either side to weaken her ability to defend. Sword flashing in one hand, she pivoted on her toes, her iridescent dairokkan swaying out around her hips. She ducked under the handle of a Ra’s halberd, inside his guard before he knew what she was doing. She was faster than he’d expected. She grabbed his shoulder with one hand and leaped upward with his shoulder as her pivot. As she arched over him, her sword slid delicately across his throat.

  She landed neatly behind him as he dropped to his knees, vainly clutching his neck as his blood fed the earth.

  The last griffin gaped at her, his face white. She turned toward him—and he took a step back.

  A powerful feeling rose inside her. An overwhelming need, a demanding urge. He was afraid. Her lips curved, the need filling her head, tingling along her nerves. He was scared. He was weak.

  He was prey.

  She lifted her sword and he spun, wings spreading to take off.

  He was fleeing. The need surged through her.

  She launched into motion. He leaped into the air, wings beating hard. She jumped after him and her claws pierced his calf. Pulling herself up by his leg, she swung her sword up and drove it into the heavy muscle where his wing joined his back.

  His wing seized and they plunged back to the ground. She landed at his feet, her sword yanked from
her hand. He rolled over, his hands flashing up in an aggressive gesture. With a flick of thought, she cast a shield in front of her body. His golden blast of magic hit it and vanished in a flare of orange light.

  His lion-like tail suddenly snapped out, striking her legs. She staggered and he kicked her in the ankle. She pitched forward, her fall transforming into a controlled dive as she slipped a dagger from its sheath. He flung his arm up to block. Shoving his arm aside, she landed on top of him and simultaneously slid her dagger between his ribs.

  She watched the life fade from his eyes. The need pounded in her head. Her prey was dead but she was not satisfied. She needed to kill. It was her right, her privilege to kill.

  “Piper.”

  She rose to her feet, leaving the dagger in the griffin’s chest, her gaze drifting toward the ongoing battle in the center of the park as the need rose in her, eclipsing all else.

  “Piper.”

  That voice. Beautiful, melodic harmony embodied in sound. It wrapped around her, demanding her attention.

  She turned. A daemon stood a dozen feet away, his golden eyes intent. Intense. Commanding. He was unkempt, his clothes torn and stained with old blood, his pale hair matted. His stance was strange, his body language wrong—oh. That was it. He was standing strangely because his arms were bound behind his back. Impaired mobility. Weakness.

  Weak meant prey.

  The need rushed through her anew, but at the same time, another feeling tingled inside her. A different need. A different urge. Warmth trickled through her body, longing building within her. Thoughts of violence withered as a new desire overcame her.

  She wanted him.

  Unmoving, she stared at the daemon before her. His eyes enraptured her. His face mesmerized her. Heart pounding, her blood heated. Hesitantly, she took a step toward him. Then another. Warily, she closed the distance until she was standing before him, staring into those golden eyes, entranced and burning with desire. He smiled and leaned forward until his mouth was at her ear.

  “Come back to me, Piper,” he crooned softly.

  That voice. It slid through her, wrapped around her, bound her to him. And as his voice echoed through every fiber of her being, a hundred other memories of that voice echoed back, filling her mind with thoughts of him.

 
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