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

  He raised an eyebrow. “‘We?’”

  “Oh, Samael,” she chimed in a strange singsong voice. “You are blind, as blind as Sarhasain when he looked into Nyrtaroth’s eyes in the moment before his death.”

  Samael tensed, astonishment flickering in his red eyes. He hesitated, uncertain for the first time. “Who are you?”

  Her lips stretched into a wider smile. She lifted her arms, white lightning crackling over her skin. “I am the Sahar.”

  His eyes widened, shock rippling across his face.

  She snapped her arms toward him. Power surged out of her, fast as lightning as it hurtled straight for him. Black light flashed as the white fire exploded where they stood.

  The explosive light died away, revealing nothing but the scorched floor. She walked slowly to the spot and leaned down, touching a finger to the floor. It was wet. She lifted her finger, studied the blood coating her fingertip, then touched it to her tongue. The taste of burnt copper singed her tongue.

  She started back across the room until she reached the outer wall, then blasted a hole in the steel panels. She hopped out of the opening.

  “Freeze, daemon!” someone yelled.

  Her head turned. A squad of Gaians had just rounded the corner of the warehouse, large guns in their hands. Behind her, smoke billowed from the building, and in the distance was the sound of more explosions and popping gunfire.

  “Freeze!” one of the approaching Gaians yelled.

  She smiled and flicked a hand toward them.

  A band of white magic rushed out from her, expanding outward almost swifter than the eye could see. It hit the soldiers at chest level, cutting them down in one sweep. She pivoted on one agile foot and started off in the opposite direction. The sounds of explosions grew louder. She passed burning buildings and twisted, exploded piping without a glance. As she neared the north perimeter, she circled a round, steel tank and stopped.

  Ahead, the Gaians were in a full-out battle against a large force of Ras. The Gaians outnumbered the Ras by at least double but the fight was at a stalemate. The Ras were holding against the Gaians and their weapons, armored jeeps, and rocket launchers, but neither could advance. They were scattered among the smoke stacks and tangled piping, smoke hazing the air.

  She scanned the group. Magic built inside her body, distant pain searing her nerves. Her lips curved and she walked forward—straight into the battle.

  With a casual wave of her hand, the three closest jeeps exploded. Attention snapped toward her from all sides. She stretched her arms out to either side, white magic swirling around her in lines of hissing light.

  A boom resounded as someone fired a rocket launcher at her. She looked up at the incoming shell. Magic leaped off her body and struck the rocket, blasting it away. The spelled steel pellets from inside of it landed among the Gaian ranks. Ribbons of red power erupted, slicing through helpless soldiers before they could flee.

  She turned toward the Ra daemons. Halberds were pointed toward her, golden magic glowing over the blades. One of their leaders called a command and a ripple ran through their ranks—and then they began to retreat, backing away behind the row of low steel tanks.

  She lifted her arms above her head, summoning more power from the Sahar. Then she slashed her hands down and the magic erupted with the force of a volcano. Everything turned white, the sound impossible to bear as power ripped through the tanks. Tiny flashes of golden light—griffins’ shields—were swallowed by the blast before they could fully form.

  She rotated back to face the Gaians. They were running, abandoning their positions to flee her power. Again, she raised her hands and brought them down, unleashing a second explosion of unstoppable magic. It ripped through vehicles, equipment, and bodies, destroying everything in its path.

  When the world went quiet and the drifting smoke began to fade, she surveyed her handiwork. The ground had been leveled, equipment reduced to twisted bits of metal, and the jeeps were blackened skeletons. She wandered into the open space, stepping heedlessly on the debris and the dead. As she reached the center of the space, she stopped abruptly.

  The haze of smoke roiled, drifting slowly away. As it cleared, a silhouette gradually appeared. The breeze brushed across her skin, and the smoke vanished with a final swirl.

  Ash stood at the edge of the destruction. His dark wings were half-spread, his curved black sword in hand. He stood perfectly still, his obsidian eyes trained on her.

  She pivoted sharply to face the opposite direction.

  Lyre stood at the other end of the blackened ground, where she’d first entered the battlefield. He too was no longer in glamour, an arrow nocked in his bow, ready to be drawn. A silver chain hung from his teeth, glittering with rows of gemstones. His eyes were as black as Ash’s, just as grim and unyielding in a face so beautiful and magnetic that his aura seemed to physically pull her toward him.

  She jerked her gaze away from the incubus and looked back at Ash. His hand flexed on the hilt of his sword.

  “Drop the Sahar, Piper,” he said. His deep, alien daemon voice shivered through the distance between them.

  She tipped her head back and laughed, her voice chiming like bells.

  Ash’s mouth flattened into a thin line. She lifted her arms, calling up a fresh wave of power from the Sahar. He raised his sword and black fire ran down the blade.

  A loud thunk sounded from behind her. She spun and saw the arrow sticking out of the ground at her feet. She flung her hands down, hurling her spell at the arrow as it exploded. The two attacks collided, blasting her into the air. She landed on her feet, sliding backward, and spun again.

  Ash slammed into her.

  The impact threw her back and this time she fell, but magic was already rushing to her hands. It burst out of her, hurling him back despite the shield he’d cast between them. His wings flared. She jumped to her feet and slashed her hand through the air. A glowing white belt of power whipped toward him, shattering his shield. He leaped backward with a beat of his wings, dodging the worst of it, but not all. His blood splattered the ground.

  “Piper!” he yelled, desperation tingeing his voice. “Snap out of it!”

  She flung another attack at him. He shielded, wings flaring as he was thrown backward again. He landed on his feet, tail snapping out behind him, and he swung his sword toward her. Black fire launched off the tip of the blade, rushing at her in an expanding half-circle of flames. She hurled her own band of white magic into its path, then swiftly cast a shield as heat and sizzling power blew over her from the impact.

  Ash burst through the smoky aftermath, coming straight for her. Her lips peeled back from her teeth and she raised her hand, another lethal whip of power already forming to cleave him in two.

  In a flash of dark fletching, an arrow struck her hand. It ripped straight through the fleshy muscle beside her thumb, and she screamed, snatching her hand back as blood gushed from the hole.

  Ash crashed into her, driving her into the ground. His hand clamped over her face and magic rushed into her. She screamed furiously and pulsed magic through her body, burning away his spell in an instant. Heedless of the pain, she flung her hands into his chest and unleashed her rage.

  The power hurled him off her. He crashed into the charred remains of a jeep.

  She spun again. A glowing sphere of magic formed in the space between her hands, spinning fast as it expanded. She lifted it high and met Lyre’s eyes as he lifted his bow, an arrow nocked and ready to fire. She threw the orb of magic at him. It swelled as it whipped through the air, erupting into a spinning, howling tornado of white power. He vanished, engulfed in the whirlwind.

  Pivoting quickly, she scanned for Ash. A flicker of light caught her eye—but it wasn’t Ash. She turned back to her spinning whirlwind. As it dissipated, the golden glow in its center grew brighter. Her spell died away entirely. Lyre stood within a glowing dome, bow in hand, untouched by her attack. She bared her teeth.

  A flash of black came from a
bove her. She looked up as dark wings blotted out the sun. Ash dove at her.

  She flung a blast into his shield and he diverted to the side, spinning past her. A glancing blow slammed into her side and she barely managed to stay on her feet, calling on the Sahar’s raging power for a spell that would obliterate him.

  A second flash of black wings appeared out of nowhere beside her.

  The second draconian drove his fist into her side. Pain crushed her ribs, the snapping sounds loud in her ears. She fell back, meeting Raum’s ice-blue eyes. Ash reappeared and grabbed her left arm, the knife in his other hand hitting her armguard, but it skidded across the impenetrable dragon scale.

  They would not take the Sahar from her. An uncontrolled shockwave of power exploded out of her body in every direction, throwing the draconians back. She leaped to her feet and flung out her hands—

  Agony speared her thigh and her leg buckled under her. She looked in shock at the arrow protruding from her thigh. The feathered shaft began to glow. Electricity erupted over the arrow, surging into her body. She screamed, collapsing to the ground as her muscles convulsed.

  The spell died quickly but her muscles refused to respond as she tried to roll over. Weight landed on her back and rough hands shoved her into the dirt. She shrieked furiously, magic swelling inside her, and then a fist smashed into her cheek. Darkness crackled across her vision.

  “Raum!” Ash snarled.

  “Hurry up.”

  A hand grabbed her arm, twisting it painfully. Out of the corner of her eye, she blurrily saw Ash press his knife to her armguard. Black fire swept over the blade. The dragon scale leather sizzled and heat seared her arm. No! Rage engulfed her and power rushed through her muscles. She shoved up, half-dislodging Raum from her back as she tried to tear her arm away from Ash.

  With a slash of the fire-coated knife, he sliced through the leather and flung the armguard aside. The Sahar flew through the air and landed a few feet away with a loud clink.

  She slumped, the strength gone from her muscles. Her body felt hollow and empty, devoid of magic. Her mind was just as empty, an echoing void barren of thought and emotion. She stared at nothing, aware of the uncomfortable grit beneath her cheek but barely registering the pain of her injuries.

  “Piper?” Ash’s voice was hoarse but soft, weary and tinged with fear. “Piper, can you hear me?”

  The weight on her back lifted and gentle hands turned her over. Pain grew in her consciousness: agony in her ribs and thigh, the throbbing pain in her skull, the burning wound in her hand.

  Ash and Raum leaned over her. Her eyes slid from one face to the other and back. Another pain awoke, a tormenting anguish much worse than any physical pain. A scythe disappearing into a chest, a white blouse drenched in blood, a final smile. Her mouth trembled, the anguish building inside her.

  Her eyes locked on Ash’s, desperate for a haven as the storm of suffering inside her grew.

  “Piper?” he whispered.

  Her throat convulsed. “Ash,” she croaked.

  Relief swept across his face.

  A massive boom from somewhere too close shook the ground. Another explosion sounded, even louder. Raum pushed to his feet.

  “We need to go now,” he said. “Samael’s forces will reach us soon.”

  Ash nodded and slid his arms underneath her. She gasped as he lifted her, her broken ribs flaring with pain. Careful of the arrow sticking out of her leg, he cradled her gently in his arms.

  Lyre appeared in her line of vision, his mesmerizing face tight with worry.

  “Is she okay?” The stunning harmonic tones of his voice washed over her, soothing her pain and dulling her grief.

  “I think so,” Ash said. “She seems to be in shock.”

  “She needs healing. Are Kiev and Seiya out yet?”

  “Should be. Grab the Sahar so we can get the hell out of here.” He nodded toward the ground.

  Lyre hesitantly reached down, plucked it from the rubble, and tucked it into the front of his shirt. Another explosion rocked the ground.

  “Go,” Raum said tightly.

  Ash took two steps, then stopped. “Wait.” He looked down at her. “Piper, where’s your mother?”

  She stared at him, her heart tearing apart in her chest, and her eyes started to burn.

  He squeezed her shoulder gently. “Piper, where’s your mother? Do we need to go get her?”

  “We don’t have time for this,” Raum snapped.

  She swallowed, struggling to breathe as she squeezed her eyes shut. Tears overflowed, leaving cold trails down her cheeks.

  “Ash!” Raum barked.

  Ash hissed angrily and broke into a run, holding Piper close to steady her. She kept her eyes shut as pain ricocheted through her injuries despite his best efforts. Explosions sounded behind them with increasing frequency and the stench of smoke burned her nose. She still didn’t open her eyes. In her head, she watched her mother die, over and over. And she could only wish that she had died too.


  PIPER’S eyelids fluttered. Light stabbed at her eyes and she closed them again, unwilling to face the brightness. Her body ached, fatigue weighing her down. Her head felt muzzy and empty. She drew in a deep breath and let it out. A frown tugged at her lips. The air tasted strange ... different but familiar.

  She squinted in the dim light, confused by the odd swath of darkness above her. She blinked and realized she was staring up at a canvas roof. Was she in a tent?


  She rolled her head to the side, dizziness washing over her. Ash sat beside her, dark circles marring the skin under his eyes. Seeing she was awake, he leaned closer and touched her arm.

  “How do you feel?” he asked.

  She licked her lips, trying to work some moisture into her mouth.

  “Tired,” she croaked. “Where are we?”

  “The Underworld.”

  Alarm shot through her. She struggled to sit up, eyes flashing around the empty interior of the small tent.

  Ash pushed her back down, his touch gentle but firm. “We’re safe here. This is nowhere near Asphodel.”

  She reluctantly relaxed, frowning at the tent walls. Beyond them, she could hear the murmur of voices—unfamiliar voices, too many for it to be just Lyre, Seiya, and Kiev. Confusion touched her but quickly died away, her emotions strangely distant.

  “Why are we here?” she asked, her voice raspy and her throat painfully dry.

  Ash’s jaw tightened. “Samael brought a large force to the Gaian facility and they razed it to the ground. We barely got away without being seen. Without Raum’s warning, they would have caught us. I think Samael intended to trap us.”

  She blinked. “Raum warned you?”

  “He caught up to us just as we arrived. Lyre and I went to search for you while Seiya and Kiev tried to evacuate the workers. I think some of them got away. It’s nothing but a smoldering ruin now.”

  Piper swallowed hard, clutching handfuls of the blanket someone had laid over her. Samael had told Maasehet that he’d come to ensure the Gaians’ destruction, hadn’t he? The Gaians were no longer a useful tool for him, so he’d wiped them out.

  She carefully sat up, wincing at the unpleasant ache in her ribs. Ash shifted closer and she leaned against him. He slid an arm behind her, pulling her closer.

  “What happened, Piper?” he asked softly.

  She stared at the blanket in her lap, twisting it in her hands.

  “We talked to the Command Staff,” she said, her voice barely more than a whisper. “Maybe we had them convinced, I don’t know. But then Maasehet and her guards broke in. She’d found out about Samael’s involvement, so she came to kill all the Gaian commanders. But before she could ... Samael ...”

  Ash stiffened. “Samael was there?”

  She nodded. “He had his reapers kill all the Gaians. He told Maasehet they weren’t useful anymore. Then he ... he killed ...”

  His arm tightened around her. Her throa
t closed and buried torment threatened to break her wall of numbness.

  “He did it to hurt me. He was punishing me.”

  “It’s not your fault,” Ash whispered.

  “I should have stopped them,” she choked.

  Her barrier of detachment shattered and anguish tore through her. She turned blindly to Ash and he pulled her into his lap, holding her tightly as she cried. Sobs shook her entire body.

  Time was meaningless in the grip of grief, but eventually exhaustion overwhelmed the pain and she slumped weakly against his chest, tears trickling down her face. He ran his hand over her hair, heedless of the remnants of dried blood from her head wound.

  “What happened then?” he murmured.

  “I—I just—I don’t know.” She pressed her face against his shoulder and squeezed her eyes shut. “I blew up the room. And—and the fertilizer exploded, I guess. Something hit me in the head and I fell ...”

  “What about Samael?”

  “Teleported,” she mumbled.

  “And Maasehet?”

  “Dead ...”

  He held her silently for a few moments. “And then?”

  Her eyes opened and she stared sightlessly at the tent walls. And then? And then she had gone insane, hadn’t she? It was all a blur: waking up again, climbing out of the debris, and—had she faced Samael again? She had a vague image in her mind of him silhouetted against an inferno, two reapers at his side, but she couldn’t recall anything else.

  It was like remembering a dream. Foggy snapshots of images—a group of Gaians cut down by a band of white magic, the battle between the Ra and Gaian soldiers, a massive explosion. White magic crackling over her arms like tiny bolts of lightning. Hazy recollections of the sounds, the smell of blood and seared flesh, the burn of power surging through her body.

  One memory stood out clearly: Ash appearing through the smoke, wings half spread, sword in his hand. After that, all she could remember were flashes of white magic, dark flames, and pain. Lots of pain.

  “You—you stopped me?” she whispered hoarsely.

  He hesitated then nodded. “Me, Lyre, and Raum.”

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