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


  Mona sniffed loudly, pulling herself together. “Here, this way.”

  She led the way to a door halfway down the hall and pushed it open to reveal a small boardroom with a table and six chairs, all the surfaces coated in a layer of fine dust. Wobbling over to the nearest chair, she dropped into it, still sniffling and wiping away tears.

  Piper took the seat beside her, pushing her emotions aside to deal with later. She’d been preparing herself for a reaction closer to Walter’s: Mona skipping right over her near death and trying to pick up right where they’d left off with Piper now having magic. She definitely hadn’t been expecting Mona’s tearful remorse. Thinking her daughter might have died because of her actions seemed to have produced a significant change in her attitude.

  Mona took Piper’s hand and squeezed it, giving her a wavering smile. Piper squeezed back and waited, but Mona just looked at her expectantly. Nothing about joining the Gaians, nothing about how powerful her hybrid magic was, nothing about using her powers for the greater good. She almost broke down in tears herself.

  Swallowing hard, she squeezed her mother’s hand again. “I came to talk to you about something important regarding the Gaians. I’m concerned about the weapons your soldiers are using.”

  “Their weapons?”

  Piper tapped her fingers on the tabletop. “The Gaians in Brinford are using weapons that combine regular artillery with magic. These weapons don’t match anything currently used by any organization we know of. Where did they come from?”

  Mona’s brow furrowed. “They didn’t ‘come from’ anywhere. They were specially designed for our use. One of our chapters has been working with our main supplier to develop more effective weaponry to fight daemons.”

  “But Mom,” she said, leaning forward, “you know that kind of magic can only be created by daemons, don’t you? It’s way beyond anything haemons can do.”

  “This supplier employs the best of the best. I’m sure they have some very talented haemons—”

  “It doesn’t work like that and you know it. To make really complex spells, you have to be able to see the magic, and only daemons can see magic. All this weaponry has to have come from a daemon source, not a haemon one.”

  Mona shook her head silently.

  “What do you know about this supplier?”

  “It’s a company,” her mother replied reluctantly, “but I do not know the name. They are a private supporter affiliated with the military.”

  “Whose military?”

  Mona leaned back in her chair. “Why are you asking?”

  “It’s very likely there’s some kind of daemon involvement with this supplier. So why would a daemon organization give you weapons, right?” She gave her mother a hard look. “If all your weapons are coming from one supplier, wouldn’t that supplier then have a lot of influence over the decisions the Gaian leaders make?”

  “The Council has always made decisions based on—”

  “I don’t mean the Council here. I mean the other leaders.”

  Mona snapped her mouth shut.

  “Where did the order to start destroying Consulates come from?” Piper asked.

  “That—they—We needed to drive change, and—”

  “Mom,” she said, staring hard into her mother’s eyes. “You know the Consulates aren’t a bad thing. Misguided and sometimes useless, but not bad. Destroying them was a terrible way to start this war, because now you’re not only fighting daemons, but Consuls and prefects too.”

  Mona’s mouth thinned to a flat, unhappy line.

  “A company that likely has daemon affiliations has been supplying you with special weapons, and that company might be influencing decisions. I already suspect who’s behind the company supplying your weapons.”

  “What do you mean?” Mona asked warily.

  Piper let out a breath. “Samael would very much like to see the Consulates destroyed.”

  “Samael?” Mona exclaimed. “Piper, please be realistic. Why would the Warlord of Hades give us weapons?”

  “Because he can use the Gaians to destroy the Consulates without getting his hands dirty. I’m afraid he’s using you all as puppets for his own purposes. Why else would your leaders insist on starting a war with the Consulates?”

  “You may be right that there is something suspicious about those weapons, but to jump straight to Samael as the mastermind of some great deception ...”

  “I don’t have proof that Samael is involved with the weapons,” Piper said, “but I do know that Samael has been prying into your business. The last time I was here, I encountered a reaper agent hiding among your members.”

  “What?” Mona spluttered. “A daemon would not have gone undetected for even a day here! Impossible!”

  “Very possible,” Piper said grimly. “He was one of the guards you had supervising me. Tall with light blond hair?”

  “You mean Jace?” Mona asked dubiously. “He’s a skilled scout team leader. Walter has valued his input on various initiatives since he first joined us years ago.”

  “I didn’t recognize him as a daemon either, but he’s a reaper. He dropped his glamour and teleported right in front of me the last time I was here.”

  Mona swung her head back and forth in an exaggerated shake. “It’s just not possible. I’m not the only Consul-trained member here. One of us would most definitely have identified him as a daemon before now.”

  “He is a spy; he’s been trained to hide his true nature. Either way, we’ll have proof of what he is soon enough.” Piper rapped her knuckles on the table. “Clearly, there’s something very suspicious going on here.”

  Mona drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out. “I don’t know. Even if you’re right that we should be concerned about our weapons, the idea that Samael is involved is ridiculous.” She twisted the bottom button on her white blouse, frowning deeply. “However, the possibilities you’ve brought up are disturbing. I think it warrants some investigation. I’d like to speak with Walter about—”

  “No, not Walter.” Piper pressed her hands to the tabletop. “I came to you because I know you’re not a double agent. If I’m right, this information is too risky to take to anyone but the real leaders of the Gaians—the ones working directly with the weapons supplier. We don’t want to give them a chance to start covering their tracks.”

  Mona hesitated. “The Command Staff is located in Habinal City, a thousand miles from here. It would take days to travel that distance.”

  Piper bit her lip. Habinal City was the capital. All the major government branches were located there, up to and including the President. It made her very nervous that the military branch of the Gaians, possibly controlled by Hades, was so conveniently located near the government offices that ran what was left of the country.

  “I’ll take care of travel,” she told Mona. She was sure that between four daemons, one of them had to know a ley line near Habinal City. “I just need you to come with me to talk to them and make sure they understand our suspicions.”

  Mona rose to her feet. “Let’s speak to Walter first about Jace. Although it seems preposterous to me, we need to deal with that before we plan to go anywhere.”

  Piper frowned but didn’t argue as her mother led the way out of the room. She didn’t want to share anything with Walter, but Mona had a point; he should know there was a reaper in their midst, even if Ash and the others were already dealing with Jace. She wondered how their ambush was going. She couldn’t manage to worry—not when it was three battle-hardened draconians and a surprisingly badass incubus against one unsuspecting reaper.

  She followed Mona back to the main meeting room. Walter immediately stood as her mother walked into the room, and the soldiers along the wall straightened attentively. Piper stopped just inside the doorway, mentally sighing as the Council began peppering them with questions. Her gaze drifted around the room, and then she saw the familiar man standing just off to one side of the table. She went rigid.

  “Walte
r,” Mona began, “we need to discuss—”

  Piper grabbed her mother’s arm. Breaking off, Mona looked over sharply—and paled. The newcomer smiled as his cold, dark eyes swept over Piper. Crimson glinted in his irises.

  CHAPTER 19

  SHE HELD the reaper’s icy stare, not daring to look away as a dozen half-panicked thoughts ran through her head at once. What was he doing here? Had Ash and Kiev’s plan to summon him not worked? Or had the reaper somehow escaped the ambush and returned? And, most pressing, what was she supposed to do now?

  He stepped forward and she automatically stepped back. He was between her and the only exit. Shit.

  Mona cleared her throat. “Jace. I’d like to speak to my colleagues privately. Could you—”

  “My apologies,” he said. “I’m afraid I can’t leave yet.”

  The moment he spoke, a convulsive shudder wracked Piper’s body. He sounded like Samael—way too much like Samael. His voice had that same deep, penetrating authority that commanded attention—that filled the entire room with his presence and power. When his voice slid through her ears and into her brain, it transported her back to Asphodel, where she was once again standing in front of Samael’s desk, staring into his terrifying red eyes and wishing to die.

  By the time she’d recovered from his voice, Jace had raised his hands to point with two fingers at the lines of guards on either side of the doorway. No one realized what was coming. Dread rushed through her but she didn’t have a chance to react. He smiled at her as magic crackled in the air. Red power lit up his hands and a line of glowing light shot from the tips of his fingers.

  The magic speared the nearest soldiers in the chest, burst through their backs, and tore into the next in the line until all six had been run through. For a moment, they hung off the band of magic, mouths hanging open. Then Jace flicked his hands and the spell dissolved. The soldiers collapsed in unison.

  A heartbeat of silence, then one of the councilwomen screamed. They all jumped to their feet, scrambling to get away, but there was nowhere to go, except through the reaper.

  Piper yanked a dagger from its sheath, holding it low and ready to strike as she backed up another step. Her butt hit the table and her heart pounded harder. Even Ash might have been hard-pressed to outdo that spell—cleanly and effortlessly killing half a dozen soldiers in one smooth attack.

  “Good job blowing your cover,” she told him.

  He smiled wider. “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all now that I have you.”

  Her blood chilled. If he didn’t care about revealing himself to the Council members to get her, it probably meant he planned to kill them afterward. Ever so casually, he reached behind him and shut the door to the room. Magic sizzled again as he did something to it—probably sealing it so no one could escape.

  She didn’t wait for his next move. Dagger in one hand, she hurled a blast of magic at him with the other.

  He hadn’t been expecting it—as far as he knew, she was incapable of magic. Her attack exploded against his chest, flinging him into the door. She rushed in right behind it, the blade in her hand speeding toward his exposed stomach. Black light flashed over his body.

  Her dagger hit the door and lodged into the wood. A blow smashed into the back of her head, slamming her into the door. The reaper grabbed her by the hair and threw her backward into the table. Someone screamed again as the Council members crowded into the farthest corner of the room.

  Piper pulled her feet up and rolled onto the table top, immediately jumping up and kicking at Jace’s face as he lunged for her. She pulled another dagger. There were too many people and obstacles in the room for her to wield her sword safely, and she cursed her shortsightedness. She should never have assumed that the reaper was out of the building. What had gone wrong with Ash’s ambush?

  Jace backed up a few steps, smiling. Then he disappeared in another flash of black light.

  She spun and slashed desperately at the empty space behind her. The tip of the blade caught his chest as he appeared on the table, tearing a shallow cut across his skin. He snarled and leaped backward, red glinting in his dark eyes. Not pausing to congratulate herself on predicting where he would appear—teleporting behind their opponent was a reaper pattern she’d already noticed—she charged him and flung another blast of magic.

  He shielded, the invisible barrier distorting the air. Her blast hit it and both dissolved in orange flames. Surprise barely registered on his face before she dove, sweeping her leg into his ankles. His legs went out from under him—and then he vanished halfway through his fall.

  She sprang to her feet, whirling around frantically. A blast of magic hit her square in the back, hurling her off the table. She crashed into the wall and crumpled, momentarily stunned. A boot kicked the dagger out of her hand, nearly breaking her fingers. Jace grabbed her by the hair and yanked her up facing him. She jammed her fist into his gut. He grunted and backhanded her across the face with his other hand.

  “Piper!”

  He looked up as Mona hurled her attack—three spinning discs of blue magic that whipped out in three directions to converge on him at once. He dropped Piper to shield, the blasts shattering harmlessly against his barrier. He waved a hand almost indifferently at Mona, and she and the nearest Gaians were thrown into the wall from the force of his spell.

  While his head was still turned, Piper pulled her feet up and pistoned them into his groin. He staggered back. She pulled her third dagger and threw it. He blocked it with his arm, blood splattering from the shallow slice. Yanking out her final dagger, she sprang for him.

  In the same moment, Mona threw another spinning disc of magic from the floor, where she’d fallen.

  He jerked a hand up, barely deflecting the spell with a hasty shield as Piper lunged in close. Somehow he saw her coming and twisted, so instead of her dagger going under his ribcage, it plunged into his side. He disappeared in a flash of black light and reappeared instantly on the other side of the room. Piper caught her balance and straightened, preparing to draw her sword, the only weapon she had left—besides the Sahar, which she didn’t dare unleash on the top floor of a relatively flimsy building.

  Jace swore viciously as he pulled the dagger out, heedless of the blood running from the wound. His eyes glowed red and his body shimmered. Black rushed over him, flickering light and strange distortions, and then power exploded out from him in a shockwave of force. Piper, the Gaians, and the lightweight chairs were flung into the walls. The heavy table slid across the room, almost crushing the Council members behind it.

  Piper staggered away from the wall, shaking her head in an attempt to clear the stars from her vision. A rough hand grabbed her shoulder and she was slammed into the wall for a third time. Jace grabbed her lower face with his other hand, covering her mouth, his fingers digging into her cheeks.

  She felt it coming, the flow of tingles over her skin from his coming spell. In a flash of panic, she grabbed for her magic and imagined it rushing through her body like a river. Agony exploded through her, searing every nerve with burning torment. Half-blinded by the pain, unable to breathe, she pulled her fist back and punched him in the jaw.

  His head snapped back, shock splashed across his face that his spell hadn’t worked. She slammed her knee into his gut and drove her fist three times fast into his wounded side. He bellowed and staggered back. She threw a blast of magic into his chest. The force tossed him backward into the table.

  She drew her sword and sprang for him. Black flashed over his body and he vanished. She spun in a circle, wide eyes searching for the telltale spark of black light where he would appear.

  Some instinct made her look up just as he appeared in the air above her. He came down on her shoulders, driving her into the floor. Pinning her with all his weight on her chest, he grabbed her wrist and slammed her arm on the tiled floor. Determinedly, she hung onto the weapon. He let her wrist go then struck her forearm hard with his fist. Agony exploded through her limb as a bone
broke. The sword fell out of her hand. He shoved it away.

  As she struggled to recover from the pain in her arm, he smashed his fist into her cheek. Agony burst through her face and waves of black rippled over her vision.

  “We’ll do this the old-fashioned way then,” he growled.

  He drew his fist back again. Too dazed to be afraid, she lifted her good arm in front of her face as his fist rushed toward her. It smacked into her palm.

  His eyes widened. She curled her fingers around his fist and her iridescent claws dug into his skin. Then she yanked her hand away, tearing deep slashes across his flesh. Shoving her whole body off the floor, she flung him off her and rolled easily to her feet. Her dairokkan swirled out around her hips, shimmering faintly in the florescent lighting.

  She didn’t remember loosing her daemon side. She didn’t even remember shading. But now she watched her enemy with a cool stare, pain forgotten, her claws ready to spill more of his blood.

  He cast one shocked look over her new form before his body shimmered as he dropped glamour. Black material swirled out around him—a dark cloak, the hood pulled up. He drew the long-handled scythe from its place on his back. She tilted her head to one side to appraise him—then sprang.

  He vanished in a swirl of black, but she didn’t stop. She charged right past where he’d been, straight for the wall. She leaped onto it, springing off it to change direction, and saw him reappear. He threw a glowing red spell at her, but she was already conjuring a shield. She ran through the burst of orange light as the two connected and her claws just missed his throat as he backpedaled. His scythe flashed toward her. She raised an arm and the blade hit the dragon-scale armguard. The force knocked her back, but it didn’t break her skin.

  His eyes glowed red from within his hood. He vanished again. She effortlessly sprang on top of the table. The reaper reappeared and she flung a blast at him. It hit the floor at his feet and exploded. He vanished as she leaped off the table toward him.

  The moment between his disappearance and reappearance felt like an eternity as she considered how to proceed. She called on her magic, mentally caressing the two distinct energies: the fast, angry pulse of the purple fire and the slow, powerful beat of the blue fire. She spread her arms.

 
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