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

  “Samael keeps his secrets well, but these fools do not,” Maasehet said disdainfully. “But Piper, dearest, let us set aside such trivialities and instead discuss your future, shall we?”

  “My ... future?”

  “Yes. Would you like to live?”

  Her eyes widened with alarm. “Were you planning to kill me?”

  “You may either relinquish the Sahar to me,” Maasehet said, “or die.”

  Her mind blanked. Miysis had clearly been passing information along to his sister. “I don’t have—”

  “Piper,” Maasehet interrupted, impatience touching her melodic voice. “Do not waste my time.”

  She tensed. As she stared into Maasehet’s yellow eyes, she knew the heiress wasn’t bluffing. She would kill Piper if she didn’t hand over the Sahar. And she would kill the Gaian commanders—probably everyone in the room.

  Maasehet’s yellow eyes suddenly snapped to someone behind Piper. “Silence!”

  Jennings jerked away from the commander beside her.

  Maasehet touched two elegant fingers to her forehead. “How bothersome. You had to rush your deaths, did you not?”

  She raised her hand. Her soldiers’ crossbows rose in unison, each arrow aimed at the heart of a Gaian commander. Time seemed to slow and Piper grabbed frantically for the Sahar’s magic, praying she could control it enough to stop the Ra daemons without killing everyone.

  Before she could tap the power, a loud hissing sound erupted in the room. The door at the back glowed red from heat and a hole began to melt in the center of the steel. White smoke billowed out, obscuring everything within seconds. Piper put an arm over her mouth as acrid smoke burned her nose.

  The hissing sound of melting metal died away, but the smoke still roiled through the room. Slowly, it faded, and she was able to make out dark figures within the white clouds.

  “What is this?” the Ra heiress demanded.

  “Why, Maasehet.” The voice drifted out from the haze of smoke and the heavy wash of power enveloping every syllable immobilized everyone in the room. “It has been so long.”

  Piper’s blood turned to ice. Her heart stuttered in her chest, her lungs froze, and her muscles went rigid. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t breathe—couldn’t think. Terror encased her.

  The clouds of smoke diminished entirely, revealing four black-clad soldiers. And in front of them stood the speaker, his red eyes gleaming—eyes that had haunted her nightmares for months. Eyes she’d desperately hoped she would never see again.

  Those eyes shifted from Maasehet and came to rest on Piper, the weight of his gaze driving her down toward the floor.

  Samael smiled at her.


  PIPER fought to make her lungs expand, to control the terror rising in her before it could overwhelm her. Icy, invisible chains had wrapped around her chest, squeezing her lungs and binding her racing heart. Shadows pressed close and she could taste that strange hint of the Underworld in the air. Like hovering ghosts, the steel walls of her cell in the bastille closed in around her.

  Samael’s stare cut through her, a rapier dissecting her soul with careless supremacy.

  “Samael,” Maasehet hissed.

  His gaze lifted to the Ra heiress, releasing Piper from its grip. She sucked in a weak, trembling breath. She needed to think. She needed to do something—run, escape, attack. Anything. She couldn’t think. What was he doing here?

  He surveyed Maasehet, his red-tinted eyes so calm while hers went black, her face frozen in an expression of outrage. Piper pressed her shoulder against her mother’s, her knees unsteady. Mona stared at Samael, white with shock. The Gaian commanders looked equally stunned.

  The power of his presence was the true indicator of who and what the daemon was. At a glance, Samael didn’t look intimidating: tall and broad-shouldered, his handsome face almost bland, his silvery hair—an unnatural shade that had nothing to do with age—braided neatly, the end hanging over one shoulder to his collarbone. His simple outfit of dark slacks, dress shoes, and a burgundy button-down shirt made him look like a wealthy businessman who’d just stepped out of his office. The contrast with the four red-eyed, heavily armed elite knights who surrounded him was disconcerting.

  Maasehet pulled her shoulders back. Her soldiers shifted toward her, closing ranks.

  “Samael,” she said again, self-assurance seeping back into her voice, “you may have come to prevent the destruction of your Gaian puppets, but it is too late. We have discovered your deception, and we will not rest until this tool of yours is destroyed.”

  Samael’s lips curved. “Maasehet, child, your confidence is charming, but I’m afraid you are quite mistaken.”

  She thrust out her chin. “Do not toy with me. You cannot deny your involvement with this filth. You have been nurturing this infection of their ranks for a decade.”

  “I do not deny it.”

  She hesitated, puzzled and wary.

  Samael slid his hands into his pants pockets, casual as could be as the weight of his power settled over every person in the room like storm clouds closing in overhead.

  “Preventing their destruction was not my intent,” he told the Ra heiress. “I am here to ensure it.”

  Maasehet opened her mouth then quickly closed it, too proud to openly admit her confusion.

  Samael gave a small nod to the two reapers on his left.

  Black light flashed over them as they teleported. They reappeared instantly beside the two nearest Gaian commanders, ebony robes swirling around them as they dropped glamour. Blood sprayed across the table, the attacks too fast to follow. The Gaians surged out of their chairs, some running, some lashing out with attacks of their own. Black flashed again. The next two commanders died. In rapid sequence, the two reapers flashed around the table in opposite directions, so fast they were barely discernible.

  Piper backpedaled from the table, dragging her mother with her. Cold air and the sizzling spark of magic brushed over her as one passed her, the touch of his power gone in an instant—and then hot blood splashed over her shoulder as Jennings fell to her knees, clutching her chest, before toppling to the floor.

  Piper lurched backward another step, heedless of moving closer to the Ra daemons. The reapers reappeared at Samael’s side, back in glamour. Seconds. It had taken them seconds.

  Fourteen new bodies littered the floor, eleven commanders and the three remaining soldiers who’d been manning the desks, all stabbed through the heart by reaper blades. Blood formed an expanding pool under the table, creeping toward Piper’s boots. Her breath rushed in and out of her lungs too fast. She tried to slow her breathing as dizziness whispered through her head. Mona clutched her arm, gaping at Jennings’s body.

  “You—” Maasehet gasped. She gave her head a sharp shake, anger blooming on her face. Neither shock nor disgust registered in her expression. “What is this, Samael?”

  “Why allow you the pleasure of destroying a tool of mine, even if it was no longer useful?”

  Maasehet hesitated, then smiled at him like a cat realizing her prey was trapped. “I see. Well. I appreciate you coming to oversee this operation personally. I’m sure my mother will be pleased when I give her your head as well as theirs.”

  Piper’s eyes widened, her simmering panic spiking. Was Maasehet an idiot? Hadn’t she seen how fast his knights were? Her gaze shot toward the door behind Maasehet, too far to reach.

  Unsurprisingly, Samael didn’t look concerned. “I doubt even my head could make your mother proud.”

  Rage flashed across Maasehet’s face for an instant before she raised her chin haughtily. She stepped forward and, taking Piper completely by surprise, grabbed her by her hair, lifting her up onto her tiptoes. Her soldiers surged forward to surround them and another one grabbed Mona, yanking her arms behind her back.

  “If your skull on my halberd is not enough,” Maasehet said, “then the addition of this child—the only one who can wield the Sahar—will certainly be more t
han sufficient.”

  “She is of little use without the Sahar itself,” Samael said dismissively. His eyes sliced through Piper, making her flinch.

  Maasehet yanked on Piper’s hair. Piper grabbed the daemon’s wrist with both hands to reduce the pressure on her scalp. Her eyes flashed around the room and she had no idea what to do—attack Maasehet? There was a chance she could make it out the door, but that would mean leaving her mother behind. And even if she managed it, she couldn’t outrun a teleporting reaper.

  “How simple of you, Samael,” Maasehet taunted. “Have you truly lost track of the lodestone you have dearly coveted for so long?”

  Fear burned through Piper, erasing all thought. No no no—

  Maasehet forced Piper’s head to turn, the Ra’s yellow eyes searing her. “Give it to me, Piper, and I will ensure you do not die today.”

  Piper wasn’t looking at Maasehet. Her eyes were locked on Samael in dread. His slow smile turned her blood to ice.

  Maasehet pulled on her hair again to get her attention. “Give it to me—”

  “I don’t have it,” she gasped, tearing her eyes away from Samael.

  “Do not lie to me.”

  “I don’t!”

  Samael watched their exchange, amusement touching his red stare.

  Maasehet gestured at the soldier holding Mona.

  “Allow me to encourage you, Piper,” she said, her voice turning sugary sweet. In an instant, the soldier had a dagger pressed against her mother’s throat. Mona’s eyes widened. “Give me the Sahar now or she dies.”

  “I don’t—” Piper began frantically.

  “Do you not care for your mother?” Maasehet crooned. “Last chance.”

  “Don’t,” Mona gasped. “Don’t give it to a daemon—”

  Piper’s eyes snapped from Mona to Maasehet and back. Indecision tore her apart, ripping through her heart. She couldn’t let her mother die. She couldn’t do it. Panic spun and she felt a tightness in her head, a strange pressure—she was going to shade soon.

  “A waste of time, Maasehet,” Samael said into the silence. “Piper does not respond to threats.”

  He pulled a hand from his pocket and lifted a finger toward the elite knight beside him, the small gesture so innocuous. Piper saw the black flash as the reaper began to teleport. She recoiled in horror, expecting cold hands to close around her and the icy shroud of his teleportation magic to envelop her. The reaper materialized in front of her, dark robes swirling, the curved blade of his scythe gleaming as it flashed at her—no, past her. It whipped by, seeking a different target.

  Terror seized her entire body as she realized who the reaper’s scythe was aimed at.

  The curved swath of steel disappeared into her mother’s chest. The point slid out her back and into the Ra soldier holding her, claiming them both in one strike.

  Time stopped. That moment, the sight and the sounds, burned into her mind, seared into her consciousness. She would never forget it. She could never undo it. It would be with her until her last moment, her last breath.

  Black flashed again as the reaper vanished, his scythe disappearing from the bodies of his victims. The Ra soldier staggered back, his eyes going dark with death even as he fell. In slow motion, Mona dropped to her knees, her hands flying to her chest. She slumped onto her side.

  A scream filled Piper’s ears. Her scream. She tore out of Maasehet’s grip and threw herself to the floor beside her mother. She touched Mona’s hands, still pressed to the terrible wound. Blood gushed from between her fingers, running over her white blouse. Her blank eyes, wide and glazed, turned to Piper’s. Her lips moved but there was no sound, not even a whisper.

  Piper squeezed her mother’s hands, her heart trapped in her throat.

  “I love you, Mom,” she choked.

  Mona smiled. Her eyes slipped out of focus, no longer seeing Piper. The rush of blood over her hands abruptly slowed to a trickle, and then the light in Mona’s hazel eyes was gone. They stared, empty, lost.

  Piper held her mother’s hands, everything else imperceptible to her. She couldn’t hear, think, breathe. She waited, waited for the light to return to her mother’s eyes, for her soul to reappear. With a trembling hand, she gently brushed a lock of auburn hair off her mother’s forehead, accidentally leaving a streak of wet blood. She stared at the bloody streak and felt herself break inside.

  The muffling barrier of shock shattered. Torment and terror, disbelief and rage the likes of which she’d never experienced before burst through her, tearing through the shattered pieces of her heart. For the barest moment, the pain was beyond comprehension, beyond endurance—and then the rage rose above all else, exploding through her in an inferno.

  The Sahar’s power slammed into her, twining its devastating hatred with the rising storm of emotion inside her to create a whirlwind of vicious savagery. For the first time, Piper didn’t fight it. She didn’t try to stop it or control it. Instead, she embraced it, feeling a fleeting, awful joy deep inside at the flood of wrath and loathing without checks, without bounds to restrain it.

  Power thundered through her blood. She rose to her feet. Maasehet stepped backward, her mouth moving with words Piper couldn’t hear. All she heard was the screaming rush of magic inside her. Her hands lifted, white magic dancing over her skin. The air crackled, the only warning of what was to come.

  Samael met her enraged stare. In the last instant of quiet, she saw fear and lust tinge his eyes—lust for the power she wielded.

  And then she unleashed all her agony upon them.

  Power exploded out of her in an earsplitting detonation. Black light flashed as the reapers, Samael included, teleported away—but Maasehet and the Ra daemons had no escape. Her world turned white with power, the blast ripping through flesh, cement, and steel with equal ease. The room disappeared, the cement walls shredded and the ceiling torn apart.

  The force of her attack cleaved through the walls of the command center and the corridor beyond, ripping apart everything in its path. Something outside the room exploded—and then everything was engulfed in flames and rapid-fire explosions that increased in violence with each blast.

  Fire and debris blasted toward her, and a chunk of steel whipped toward her face. Agony in her skull, the hot rush of blood. She fell backward and the last thing she saw was the ceiling of the warehouse collapsing toward her from far above.

  . . .

  Hazy thoughts slipped through her mind. Anguish squeezed her chest and it took her a moment to remember why. The sight of the reaper’s blade through her mother’s chest, her mother’s final smile, the light dying from her eyes ... Agony crushed her.

  Gradually, she realized her eyes were open. Her hands were stretched out in front of her as she lay on her back, fingers spread wide. White magic crackled over her skin like tiny bolts of lightning. The iridescent scales on the backs of her hands glimmered in the light.

  Arching out from her hands was a dome of white magic. Beyond the dome, an impenetrable wall of debris—sheets of steel and torn hunks of piping—pressed down on the barrier. The broken ceiling of the warehouse had collapsed on top of her. Her arms trembled, and very distantly, she could feel the strain in her muscles and the burn of too much magic inside her. Her body felt so far away. Was she the one casting the barrier spell that was keeping the rubble of the warehouse from crushing her?

  Her jaw clenched. Even as she struggled to focus, her arms pulled back and the dome rippled. Magic surged inside her. She thrust her arms out and magic erupted out of her, hurling the debris away with a massive concussion of force. Sunlight hit her eyes, blinding her.

  Squinting, she rolled over and got to her feet. As her eyes adjusted, she examined the circle of debris and destruction in which she stood. Above, the torn steel ceiling of the warehouse created gaping skylights that displayed the cheerful blue sky beyond. Black smoke boiled up from unseen fires, billowing out of some of the holes.

  Grief and sorrow pressed on her, and she wanted
to drop to her knees and start pulling aside debris until she found her mother’s body. She couldn’t just leave Mona here, buried with the bodies of the Gaian commanders and Ra daemons.

  But she didn’t kneel in the debris. Instead, she started to move, climbing over the rubble. She struggled with the distant, detached feeling, the hazy semi-consciousness she couldn’t seem to wake from. Wet, warm blood trickled down the side of her face and it was so hard to focus.

  She clambered over the heaps of rubble toward the corner of the warehouse where she’d first come in. Her daemon muscles carried her easily over the treacherous footing as she leaped from steel panel to broken door to chunk of flooring. Within moments, she was stepping onto unobstructed floor. The side of the warehouse by the loading bays was engulfed in flames, the remains of the crates of explosive fertilizer nothing but a fireball now. The heat beat at her, pushing her away. Her eyes swept over it as the smoke burnt her nose, then she turned and walked toward the opposite wall, sharp bits of metal and other things crunching under her boots. Distant power raged inside her, crackling over her arms.

  Flashes of black on either side of her.

  The two reapers were on her instantaneously and shock froze her hazy thoughts—then power blasted out of her, ripping into them. Blood and gore splattered the floor. She dimly marveled at her daemon reflexes, so fast her foggy mind couldn’t keep up.

  Without making the conscious decision to move, she turned around.

  Two dozen paces away, silhouetted against the flames behind him, Samael stood with his two remaining elite knights.

  “Piper,” he said. The power in his deep voice washed through the huge space, as real as the heat of the fire. “I am pleased to see you survived.”

  Her lips curved in a cool smile and her voice came out in a sultry, malevolent purr. “You shouldn’t be.”

  Samael went very still, his gaze intensifying. “No?”

  “Vengeance is the most elusive pleasure, but today we will relish it.”

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