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

  Her lips quirked in a small frown but she didn’t question him further. Despite his nonchalant tone, it was clear he didn’t want to talk about it. She would have to save her curiosity for later. Either way, he was obviously downplaying things, if Ash’s reaction to the mention of his family was any indication. He’d been strangely vague about the details of their escape too. More secrets.

  “Soooo ...” Lyre drawled. “Let’s hear it. What happened after Seiya and I went through the ley line?”

  Piper flinched. She should have known he would want all the details. Reluctantly, she began to recount the story. He listened in silence as she described the ambush on Ash, his plummet into the river, her battle with the griffins, and the eventual arrival of the ryujin.

  “Once I was sure Ash was healing okay,” she finished, “I came back here to start searching for you and Seiya. Ash showed up yesterday.”

  Lyre stopped on the sidewalk, turning to study her expression. “Ash told me you threw his tracking spell into the river. Why?”

  She cringed slightly. “Yeah, that. It’s hard to explain ...”

  “Try.” The command was firm but his voice was gentle.

  “I watched him die,” she said, her eyes dropping to the sidewalk. “I saw the daggers go into his chest. I saw him fall over the edge. And I thought that was it. I thought he was dead and that it was my fault. When I found out he was alive, I knew I could never let that happen again. I couldn’t let him die for me—die fighting my battles. It’s not his responsibility to make sure that I survive to the next day.”

  She lifted her gaze, staring into his serious amber eyes. “I threw the spell away because I didn’t want him to follow me. I thought I could find you and Seiya before he was healed enough to return to Earth.”

  Lyre studied her in silence. She held his gaze, not allowing herself to look away. Finally, he gave a slow nod.

  “You realize the only way he’ll stop trying to keep you alive is if you make him hate you, right?”

  Her heart shriveled in her chest. “I don’t want him to hate me. It’s better for everyone if we just aren’t around each other. He can’t fight for me if we’re apart, and you guys need to go into hiding again right away anyways.”

  He raised an eyebrow. “But will you be able to say goodbye forever?”

  “I ...” She shook her head. Just the thought hurt. It had been so hard the first time, walking away from him in the Overworld, but even then a part of her hadn’t believed it would be the last time. If she walked away again, it would be the final goodbye; Ash wouldn’t give her another chance after that.

  Lyre started walking again, circling back in the direction of the church. “If you’d had the chance, would you have jumped between Ash and those Ra soldiers on the cliff?”

  “Yes, of course,” she answered without thinking. “It was my fault for distracting him.”

  He looked over, his stare cutting through her. A blush rose in her cheeks as she realized the hypocrisy of her answer. She remembered what Uncle Calder has said about focusing on winning fights rather than keeping Ash out of them.

  “Personally, I’d prefer a solution where neither of you dies,” he said with an amused smile. “The answer here is clear: you should both stop engaging in life or death fights. Problem solved.”

  “If only it were that easy.” She sighed. “So what’s the plan for you guys? Where will you go after this?”

  “Back to the Underworld, I suppose,” he said. “With all the shit going down here, I don’t think we want to hang around.”

  “Makes sense,” she said, trying to sound casual. Inside, her heart twisted at the thought of all of them leaving so soon—even if it was best for all parties. She would be left with no one but her father, her uncle, and the other Consuls and apprentices—who didn’t trust her—in a world that was falling apart around them. Didn’t sound like a lot of fun.

  “What about you?” he asked.

  “I guess that depends on what my father’s plan is,” she said with a sigh. “The Ra family has infiltrated the Consulate system, and they’re manipulating Consuls and prefects to wage war on the Gaians. It’s a mess.”

  “The Ra Family? Well, shit. The politics around here are turning into a cesspit. Have you told Ash about any of this?”

  “I haven’t had a chance yet.”

  “I’ll let him know.”

  “Thanks.” She appreciated his understanding that she didn’t really want to talk to Ash right now. It would be too hard.

  They continued on in silence. Lost in thought, Piper fidgeted with a dangling tie from her halter top. The only solution she could see that would prevent Ash from protecting her at every turn was them staying apart. She knew, in a way, that was running from the problem, but it didn’t really matter because they were destined to be apart anyway. This reunion was temporary. As soon as he and the others recovered their strength, they would disappear again, and she would stay here, in her world where she belonged. Half-daemon or not, she didn’t belong with them in the Underworld—and even if Ash had wanted her to come, she couldn’t go. She needed to stay here and help however she could.

  She and Lyre rounded another corner, the church looming partway down the street. Her gaze travelled over the structure’s crumbling brick façade and remaining arched windows. It had once been a beautiful building—just like this had once been a beautiful city. If the Ra/Gaian conflict continued, she wondered what the city would look like in another six months.

  Reaching the grounds, they ascended the stairs and she reached for the door. It flew open violently. Lyre yanked her out of the way before it could smack her in the face.

  “Piper!” Kindra exclaimed, clutching the handle with one hand, her eyes wide and dark. “Where have you been?”


  “Get in there and stop your father!”

  “What?” Piper demanded.

  Kindra grabbed her arm and dragged her through the doorway. “Stop him before Ash kills him!”

  Piper threw a wild look at Kindra and sprinted through the lobby for the sanctuary.


  AS SHE burst into the sanctuary, she knew immediately that whatever was happening was already bad—very, very bad. Everyone staying at the church was clustered in a small crowd at the far end of the room, blocking her view just like the last time. But this time, everyone was shouting. Angry raised voices and panicked shouts filled the room. She couldn’t see beyond the distressed onlookers.

  She ran. Her father and Ash had to be on the other side of the witnesses. Why would Ash want to kill Quinn? And what was she supposed to stop Quinn from doing? Her father knew Ash was dangerous—though he didn’t know how dangerous. He didn’t know about Ash’s control issues. He didn’t know that Ash could erupt into violence at any moment given the right—or wrong—provocation.

  She sprinted between the pews at top speed, closing in on the group of agitated Consuls. Over their voices, she heard Seiya yell something, the words indistinguishable but Ash’s name clear. Skidding as she reached them, she slammed right into Drew’s back, grabbed his shoulder, and shoved him aside. She squeezed between Lexa and Melonie and burst into the open space beyond them.

  Quinn and Ash were facing each other, with only a few steps between them. Seiya and Kiev flanked Ash but stood helplessly as Quinn shouted at the draconian, his face red with fury. She couldn’t make out what he was saying and didn’t try. Later, she would wonder what was wrong with her father, what stupidity had come over him that he would confront Ash in a reckless fit of rage. For now, her attention was locked on Ash, on the burning temper in his ebony eyes. Memories of the last time almost overwhelmed her—of his black wings spread wide as he’d faced down Miysis in the Overworld forest, blade drawn and murder in his eyes.

  This wasn’t as bad—he hadn’t dropped his glamour yet—but it was close. It was coming.

  As she burst out from the group, taking it all in with a single glance, Quinn took an aggressive
step forward. His right hand flashed up. She didn’t know whether he was gesturing or about to cast magic. Neither did Ash—and that was all it took to push him over the edge.

  He was much faster than her father. He didn’t even drop glamour. One of his short swords was in his hand in a blink, and the lethally small distance between him and her father disappeared.

  In the same instant, Piper sprang toward them. A small, calculating part of her mind judged the distance and knew she could make it. She threw herself at her father while calling on her magic to add its force to her momentum. She crashed into Quinn, body-checking him out of the way. He was knocked clean off his feet and out of Ash’s path.

  And then Ash slammed into her.

  The air vanished from her lungs as his weight drove her backward. She somehow grabbed his shoulder, keeping herself from falling, and they came to a violent stop, freezing in place. Breathing was difficult, her diaphragm locked from the impact. She looked up, part of her waiting to feel his claws on her throat.

  Black eyes met hers, but they weren’t burning with feral rage. They were wide, staring, blank with shock. She opened her mouth to speak but there was no air in her lungs. She couldn’t take a breath. In the sudden cessation of shouts and outcries, silence pounded against her ears. No one was saying anything—nothing at all. She stared at Ash, her mind blank. His expression was one of horror—heart-tearing, gut-wrenching horror.

  Slowly, she looked down.

  His hand was still wrapped around the hilt of his short sword, knuckles white from the tightness of his grip. Protruding from her torso, the blade of the weapon was buried all the way up to its cross guard, the shining steel splattered with blood—her blood.

  She gaped at the sword sticking out of her, and then her knees buckled.

  Ash clamped his arm around her shoulders, his other hand steadying the sword. He went down onto his knees with her, carefully stabilizing her. She locked her eyes on his and didn’t let them waver; if she looked away, she would panic—and possibly shade. His eyes, his gaze was the only thing that could anchor her in the whirlwind of pure, utter terror within her. She couldn’t shade. The Sahar was cold against her wrist, a deadly explosion waiting to happen if she weakened.

  Though it had been mere seconds since she’d thrown herself in front of Ash’s attack, it felt like hours. She clutched his shoulder, their eyes locked as her panic-hazed thoughts wondered what would happen next.

  And then, as though acting on some prearranged signal, everyone in the room exploded into action at once.

  Her father bellowed in fear and fury, magic glowing in his hands as he threw himself toward Ash. Seiya intercepted him, throwing him back with a blast of her own magic. Lexa and the other Consuls charged from the other side. Kiev leapt into their path, dropping his glamour and spreading his wings wide. Their attacks stuttered as his Nightmare Effect swept over them. Kindra grabbed Jerome and Randy by the backs of their shirts and hauled them backward before they could get into range to attack.

  Piper barely saw any of it. She just stared at Ash, stared into his eyes. Her brain had yet to catch up with what had happened to her body. She felt no pain, just shock, disbelief, and that pounding, persistent edge of panic.

  Ash lifted his head, pulling his eyes away from hers for the first time. “Seiya!” he shouted hoarsely.

  She appeared beside him, glancing over her shoulder to where Quinn was clambering to his feet, ready to attack once more. Kiev backed toward them. The Consuls were already recovering from the terror of the Nightmare Effect. In moments, there would be a full-out battle—Consuls versus daemons.

  Lyre stepped into the open space between the two groups. In her peripheral vision, Piper saw him raise one hand. Light flashed in his palm and a shimmering golden dome burst into existence, arching over their heads and encircling Piper and the daemons, leaving the Consuls and apprentices on the other side.

  Before Piper could do more than silently marvel at the strange spell, Seiya knelt and placed her hand on top of Ash’s over the hilt of the sword.

  “Let it go, Ash,” she said gently.

  He released the sword and gripped Piper’s shoulders with both hands, carefully steadying her.

  “Hold her,” Seiya ordered.

  Ash’s hands tightened on her shoulders, and the next thing she knew, Seiya was pulling on the sword. All her nerves started working again at once and she screamed at the top of her lungs. She could feel every inch of the blade slicing along her innards as the sword came free. She collapsed backward and Ash gently laid her down. Seiya was there again in an instant, pressing her hands over the wound. Piper panted. Warm blood ran across her skin. The sword had impaled her just below the hem of her impenetrable dragon-scale halter top; a couple inches higher and she would have been uninjured.

  The warmth of magic tingled through her as Seiya began healing her. The pain dulled enough for her to bear it. Her eyelids fluttered. The voices of the Consuls sounded muffled, their angry, fearful shouts too distant and distorted to make out.

  “Is she going to be okay?” Kiev asked as he hovered over Seiya’s shoulder.

  Focused on her spell work, Seiya gave a short nod. Ash said nothing, his eyes still black and staring at Piper in horror at what he’d done.

  Piper blinked. She could hear Kiev just fine. Bemused, she turned her gaze toward the shimmering dome arching over them, then to the hazy sight of the Consuls on the other side. Her father stood just outside the barrier, slamming his fist against the shield, his mouth moving with shouted words she couldn’t make out. So her hearing was fine; it was the domed shield that was muffling their voices. She looked at Lyre, who was standing casually with one hand on his hip, a bright spot of golden light glowing in his other palm—the source of the spell.

  As her attention wandered, she felt Ash’s hands leave her shoulders. Her eyes snapped to him just as he made to stand and, catching them both by surprise, her hand flew up and closed tightly around his wrist. He froze in place.

  “Where are you going?” she tried to demand. Her voice came out breathless instead.

  He didn’t answer but he didn’t try to pull away either.

  “I jumped off a cliff after you were stabbed,” she said, managing a weak smile. “The least you can do is sit here while I’m stabbed.”

  He gave his head a slight shake, his face still deathly white. “You weren’t the one who stabbed me,” he whispered, voice still hoarse.

  Her brow furrowed with pain at the memory of that moment, of watching the griffin blades plunge into his chest.

  “It might as well have been me,” she whispered back. “It was my fault. I might as well have held the blades myself.”

  He shook his head again but said nothing more, his black eyes lifting to Seiya to watch her work. Strange sensations rolled through her: tingles rushed across her skin and a weird pressure squeezed her innards. Her eyelids felt heavy and growing fatigue pressed her into the floor. She found herself staring at the shimmering shield arching above. Where had Lyre gotten such a spell? Was this one of the mysterious “premade spells” he’d mentioned? Like the ones he’d used to help Seiya break free from the Ra embassy?

  Her eyelids flickered. The dome of light seemed to dim. The only thing that felt real was the warmth of Ash’s skin beneath her fingers and she held on tight to her only anchor as the room sank into silent darkness.

  . . .

  Piper opened her eyes. It was dark. She blinked a few times and the room came into focus: her tiny, makeshift bedroom in the basement of the church, with her familiar cot under her and blankets tucked neatly around her chin.

  In a chair beside her cot, Kiev dozed with his chin resting on his chest, eyes closed and face relaxed. He looked so young, barely a teenager.

  She cautiously prodded her middle. Had a sword really been sticking out of her? The spot was merely sore, as though she’d taken a hit there while sparring, but she could feel the dried blood that had soaked into the waistband of her pant

  Closing her eyes, she went over the incident again in her head: Quinn’s sudden movement. Ash’s instinctive response—the attack. Him lunging at Quinn, sword drawn. And then her, jumping right into the middle of it as though she were invincible and shoving her father out of the way so she was the one in the path of Ash’s sword. And then the inevitable result.

  The look on Ash’s face—it was burned into her mind. She knew Ash hadn’t meant to stab her. She didn’t know whether it had happened because she’d appeared so suddenly he couldn’t stop his attack, or if he’d been too out of control to make that decision. Either way, it hadn’t been intentional, but she didn’t know how hard it would be to convince him of that fact.

  She closed her eyes, suppressing a wave of shame. How stupid was she? How could she have let that happen? Ash had reacted so badly to just putting his claws around her throat, and that time he’d barely pricked her. This time, he’d run her through. He would never forgive himself. She was the one who needed forgiveness. It had been her fault. She’d thrown herself in front of his attack. She hadn’t really thought it through—hadn’t had time to consider the consequences—but she couldn’t really regret it. If she hadn’t done what she did, her father would’ve died. She rather doubted Seiya would’ve made the same kind of effort to heal Quinn.

  As her thoughts turned to her father, bewildered fury flashed through her. What was wrong with him? If anything, this was all his fault. What had he been thinking? What had he said to infuriate Ash so much? She just couldn’t understand why Quinn would do something so stupid. He knew daemons. He knew what they were like, their limits, their boundaries, and he knew you didn’t just storm up to a daemon and start shouting insults in his face then make a violent gesture as though attacking. Really, it was the kind of behavior she would’ve expected from herself, not her father. Not the Head Consul. He was always in control, always analyzing, always making the smart, safe choices.

Previous Page Next Page
Should you have any enquiry, please contact us via [email protected]