The Blood Curse (Spell Weaver Book 3) by Annette Marie


  “I’m eager to learn more about you,” he continued. “And a closer relationship with the Nereids, in general, would do both our families well, I think.”

  “Will that be possible?” She folded her hands together, squeezing her fingers. “After what Bastian has done?”

  “I think it is, assuming we can rein in our respective parents from any drastic moves.”

  “King Rouvin isn’t the type to …” She trailed off, realizing her mistake, then sighed tiredly. “You are being unfair, Prince Miysis.”

  “My apologies, Lady Nereid.”

  She huffed another sigh. Rouvin hadn’t revealed her exact relationship to the Nereid family in his letter, but thanks to Miysis’s sneaky remark, she’d just given it away. Lyre had warned her to be careful with the prince and she’d grown complacent. Miysis Ra was too easy to trust.

  “I already suspected,” he added as they reached the top of the sweeping marble staircase. “I tried to get it out of Lyre but he can be exceptionally evasive when he puts his mind to it.”

  A notch of tension released from her spine. Lyre had revealed sensitive information about Irida to Miysis, but he’d kept her most important secret.

  “You two have a lot of camaraderie,” she observed carefully.

  “He has absolutely no respect for authority. I find it refreshing, though there are others here whose egos are more fragile.” Miysis’s bright yellow-green eyes flicked over her. “He must have been quite the handful at Chrysalis. How did his superiors react to his departure?”

  This time she was paying attention and knew better than to answer. She stopped in the hallway and turned to the Ra prince, craning her neck to meet his eyes. “Please don’t ask me about Lyre. If you want to know more, you’ll have to ask him.”

  Miysis scanned her face. “Hmm.”

  “What?” she asked tersely.

  “I figured you must have a backbone under that nymph passivity. Lyre wouldn’t like you so much otherwise.”

  Her heart somersaulted under her ribs. Before she started blushing, she hastened back into motion. “Lyre is an incubus. He likes all women.”

  “Really?” Miysis followed half a step behind her. “When I sent two beautiful women to entertain him, he scarcely paid them any mind—to their immense disappointment.”

  “Is that so?” Why was Miysis telling her this? Time to change the subject. “Have you decided on your response to King Rouvin’s letter yet? I can be ready to return to Irida with your reply at first light.”

  Miysis extended his stride to catch up with her. “I’ve already prepared my response. It will go by winged messenger tonight and arrive in Irida by sunrise.”

  When they reached her door, she cleared her throat. “Forgive my boldness, Your Highness, but may I ask how you’ve chosen to respond?”

  The glowing crystal wall sconce behind him cast his features in shadow. “I have given King Rouvin permission to enter our borders and bid him to travel to Aldrendahar with all haste.”

  Her shoulders sagged with relief. “Thank you.”

  “I don’t want a conflict with Irida any more than you do. We must move quickly to ally our kingdoms before Prince Bastian can strike again.” He glanced down the corridor, his expression distant. “If King Rouvin departs in the morning, he’ll arrive here the day after next.”

  Meaning two more days before their families could focus on finding and stopping Bastian. “What if he attacks again before that?”

  “Preparations for the defense of Ilvanad and Shalla’isa are already under way,” Miysis said, referring to the two other Ra cities Bastian had researched. Rouvin’s letter had warned of his son’s potential targets.

  “Aldrendahar is the best defended city, isn’t it?” she asked.

  “It’s the most defensible,” he corrected. “Ilvanad and Shalla’isa are more exposed, larger, and richer, but deeper in our territory. It’s difficult to say where Prince Bastian will attack, considering his forces are negligibly small.”

  Bastian’s forces were small but the shadow weave made him powerful. Her lips quirked down. “Is there a ley line near here?”

  “There’s a ley line half a mile outside the walls. As the primary method of transportation in and out of Aldrendahar, it’s quite well known.” He stepped back and bowed. “I have matters to attend to, so I must bid you a pleasant night, my lady.”

  She quickly curtsied. “Thank you, Your Highness.”

  As he walked away, his wings tucked against his back, she slipped into her room and closed the door, lost in thought. With a ley line right outside the city, Bastian wouldn’t dare unleash the shadow weave on Aldrendahar—or so she hoped. For that reason alone, Ilvanad and Shalla’isa were more appealing targets.

  Soft light glowed from a wall sconce and heavy drapes were pulled across the gallery windows, while the curtains around her bed were open. The silk sheets were turned down and several sleep garments were folded on the foot of the bed, waiting for her to choose one. On the table, someone had left a platter with a new pitcher of ice water and a selection of sweets and snacks.

  The room was more luxurious than anything in the Iridian palace, besides the royal suites, but she preferred the simplicity of nymph design. Griffins were a lot more ostentatious. She drifted around the room, skirting the tub. She now understood why it was there, but it still weirded her out. Bathtubs belonged in bathrooms or bathhouses.

  The room’s unfamiliarity scraped at her. Or was it the emptiness? She returned to the door and cracked it open. Flanking the threshold were two nymph guards, the others resting in the servant suite across the hall. Griffins were stationed at either end of the corridor, facing away from the guest rooms.

  “Why don’t you two take a break?” she suggested to her guards in a low voice. “You look exhausted.”

  They exchanged frowning looks. “Are you certain, Lady Clio?”

  “Absolutely,” she assured them. “Get some rest. I won’t be far.”

  It was a testament to their exhaustion that they reluctantly crossed to the opposite door. “Someone else will be out in just a minute to take our place, my lady.”

  “All right,” she agreed.

  As soon as the door closed behind them, she slipped toward the neighboring room. Unwilling to knock and potentially catch the griffin guards’ attention, she reached for the handle.

  The fine hairs on her arm stood on end, a shivery warning passing over her skin.

  She blinked her asper into focus. A lock spell webbed across the entire door, shimmering gold. It wasn’t lethal but it wasn’t a casual spell either. Short of blowing the door down, no griffins would be getting inside without permission.

  She tapped a finger against the wood, disabling the weave, then silently turned the knob and slipped inside. Lyre’s room was as dim as hers, illuminated by soft yellow light. The drapery in his room was closed, blocking the city view.

  He sat cross-legged in the middle of the floor, wearing only loose-fitting pants, his bare torso decorated with elaborate ink designs. Scattered on either side of him were papers covered in his messy scrawl, writing utensils, measuring instruments, astrolabes, a compass, and other delicate tools.

  In front of him was a circular sheet of steel two feet in diameter, polished until it shone like a mirror. Softly glowing golden lines spiraled across it, filling a bright outer circle near the edge.

  His hands were raised in front of him and light danced across his fingers. He wove with a smooth cadence, a graceful rise and fall, the magic shimmering and sparkling as he added each delicate construct.

  She carefully closed the door again, not allowing it to make a sound, and rekeyed his lock spell. He was wise to lock himself in. An interruption while he was weaving could range from annoying to outright destructive if his concentration broke at the wrong moment.

  Silently, she sank down beside the door, back against the wall as she watched him. Eyes half closed, an unusual tranquility softening his features, he showed no sign
s of concentration or effort despite the complexity of the weave he was building strand by rune by sigil by shape. He didn’t reference his notes. He didn’t hesitate or stumble. His hands moved unerringly, the threads spinning from his fingers as he followed the perfect mental map he had created before he began.

  She couldn’t yet tell what he was weaving, the purpose of the spell. Her attention drifted from the magic to his face, to the way the golden light drifted across his features, highlighting his cheekbones, his jaw, his mouth. Her gaze wandered down, over his chest, his shoulders, the muscles in his arms flexing with each movement.

  Watching him weave—this was what he was meant to do. In this moment, he was in perfect harmony with himself, and it was heart-wrenchingly beautiful in a way that had nothing to do with his appearance.

  The flicker of light over his face fluctuated and his expression changed—a subtle creasing of his eyebrows. Her focus shot to his weave and from the incomprehensible tangle of lines and runes, shapes jumped out at her. She went cold as though she’d been doused in the nearby pitcher of ice water.

  The shapes, the constructs—a web of death, woven from stunning golden magic.

  The threads shuddered and twisted. Rhythm shattering, he snapped his hand out and plunged his fingers into the center of the weave. Threads tore and electric power surged up his arm as he drew the magic back into his body.

  The weaving burst apart. His papers and tools went flying and he jerked back from the concussive discharge, swearing hoarsely.

  Lurching up, she rushed toward him. “Lyre, are you okay?”

  He jumped, his head whipping toward her. “Holy shit,” he gasped, thumping a hand against his chest. “You almost gave me a heart attack.”

  “You shouldn’t pull magic back in like that,” she admonished, stepping over his scattered tools and crouching beside him. “Are you hurt?”

  He lifted his hand. Angry red lines streaked up his forearm where the power had burned him. “It was that or let it explode. This is a lot less damage.”

  Hissing in sympathy, she took his arm and tugged him up. Guiding him over to the table, she pushed his burned hand into the pitcher of water.

  He yelped. “Cold! It’s cold!”

  “That’s the idea.” She held his elbow so he couldn’t pull his hand out. “How often do you do this to yourself?”

  “In Chrysalis, I’d use shields most of the time.” He shrugged one shoulder. “But here, I didn’t want any big bangs that would draw attention. And Miysis probably wouldn’t like it if I wrecked the room.”

  “What went wrong with the weaving?”

  “Since you were watching, I’m hoping you can tell me.”

  “Um.” She looked away, suddenly feeling the urge to examine the drapery. “I, uh … wasn’t paying attention.”

  “You were waiting right there. What were you doing, sleeping?”

  “I just zoned out, I guess.” Fighting back a blush, she pulled his hand out of the water and steered him over to the lounge chair. “Sit down. I’m going to heal your arm.”

  “You don’t need to—”

  She shoved him down and sat beside him. Taking his chilled hand in both of hers, she sent a thread of healing magic under his skin.

  “Clio—”

  “Shh. I’m working.”

  He fell silent, and she quickly repaired the damaged skin and muscle where his magic, unstable from the weaving, had burned its way back to his core.

  “There,” she said on an exhale, her eyes focusing on the physical world again. Faint pink lines marked his skin where the angry burns had been minutes before. “How does it feel?”

  “Hmm …”

  Confused, she looked up to find his eyes had slid from her face, drifting downward, and by the time he reached her feet and started back up again, his amber irises had darkened to bronze.

  “You look beautiful.” His voice was a deep, husky croon.

  She ducked her head self-consciously. Pampering guests was standard griffin hospitality, and before the state dinner, two lovely young women had arrived to prepare her. Clio’s hair was elaborately braided and her eyes were lined with dark ink. A delicate tapa was draped over a silk chest wrap that tied on one side, leaving a strip of her stomach bare above layered skirts in violet and gray. The griffin women had debated over bodypainting, then decided to leave her naturally patterned nymph skin on display instead.

  “What were you weaving?” she asked quickly, hoping to distract him. Not that she didn’t like the way he was looking at her—or the hunger sparking in his eyes—but rather, she liked it too much. “I couldn’t tell except that it … it looked …”

  His lustful stare faded to bleakness as he glanced toward the steel sheet on the floor. “I can’t hide here forever, and when I go back, I want to be prepared.”

  “Prepared for what?” she asked, an ominous shiver running over her.

  “For my father.”

  She too looked at the weaving tools spread across the floor. A web of death. “Don’t you already have combat spells you could use against him?”

  “It’ll take more than a regular battle weave to slow him down.” The muscles of his forearm tightened under her hands. “Each Rysalis patriarch collects all the knowledge of his generation and compiles it for the next patriarch. My father has access to the combined genius of a thousand years of Rysalis weavers.”

  He turned dark eyes to hers. “You’ve got to understand, Clio. We’re raised from the cradle to fight to be the best. We all want to surpass—and replace—our father someday. Lyceus survived seven older brothers, killed his own father, and has ruled the family for forty years.”

  “Forty?” she repeated in disbelief. “But he scarcely looks older than you.”

  “Incubi stop aging in their early twenties. We show few signs of age until our final five or six years.”

  Her eyes widened. “How old are you, then?”

  “My early twenties.”

  “Oh.”

  “Lyceus …” He pulled his hand away from hers, balling it into a fist. “After he became the family head, he killed his uncles so they couldn’t assassinate him later. He killed every one of his brothers who challenged him, along with numerous cousins, and he killed his two eldest sons.”

  “I thought Andante was the eldest …” she mumbled weakly.

  “Andante is the eldest surviving son. The other two died before I was even born.”

  She shook her head. “How many sons has Lyceus had?”

  “Twelve. Six surviving.” Lyre was quiet for a moment. “So, you see the problem. My father has been killing master weavers since before I was born. He’s the most powerful, the most skilled, and he has access to the accumulated knowledge of our entire bloodline. No one has ever defeated him.”

  “Do you think this new weaving you’re making will kill him?”

  “I don’t know.” He raked his hand through his hair. “I can’t even weave it properly, so chances are it’ll be useless anyway.”

  “I can help, if you want.”

  “If I can’t weave something stable, your astral perception probably won’t do us any good. I can’t get it to hold. I’m not even sure if my theory is …” His eyes went out of focus, turning to his mental schematic of the spell. “I have to weave the first half before I can weave the second, but the first half isn’t stable by itself.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Symmetry,” he murmured, drumming his fingers on his knee. “A spell that reflects itself, kind of like the linked trackers we’ve been using, but incapable of existing alone. The two halves are bound, dependent on each other. If I make it stable on its own, it won’t function the way I need for … but …”

  He puffed out a breath, his eyes focusing again. “It’s impossible. Reed always said I have more vision than sense. Even if he was here, we still couldn’t do it. The two sides have to be identical down to every strand and I don’t know that I could produce a perfect reflection even if I wat
ched myself in a damn …”

  He trailed off, his eyes going out of focus again.

  She waited a moment then prompted, “A damn what?”

  “A mirror,” he breathed, his suddenly intense stare fixing on her. “A perfect reflection of my magic, just like a mirror. Like a mimic. Clio, how closely can you duplicate a complex weave?”

  “I can make a perfect copy of the original, unless I’m rushing and screw it up.”

  “How close behind me could you mimic my weave?”

  “A second or two?”

  “It might be enough. You would have to mimic my aura too. Would our magic be indistinguishably identical? It might not …” His excitement waned and his eyes darkened. “But I can’t ask you to help me weave a death spell.”

  “Lyre, just tell me what you need me to do.”

  After one more searching look, he led her to the steel disc on the floor, glowing with its own weave. He returned to his spot and she sat across from him. Breathing deep, she focused her asper and her green aura shimmered to warm gold, identical to his.

  He raised his hands into the air between them, poised above the steel disc. He didn’t speak, but he didn’t need to.

  She raised her hands, hovering a few inches away from his, waiting with all her attention focused on him as she’d never focused before. No mistakes. If it went wrong, broken bones and a smoking hole in the floor would be the least of the damages they could expect.

  Golden light sparked over his fingers, and he began to weave. Identical light spanned her fingers as she mimicked him.

  His hands drifted in a slow rhythm, and she followed each gesture until they were moving in almost perfect unison. Sizzling magic spiraled out from their hands, identical shimmering gold, two mirror-image weaves forming side by side.

  His fingers moved, hers dancing the same steps. She didn’t have to think, her mind empty, her instincts tuned to the serene flow of the weave as he guided her through it. Time slipped away, and all she knew was the movement of his hands and hers, carried by the weaving rhythm.

  Then he stopped. The intricate construct, two mirrored weaves bound together by their symmetry, hovered in the air between her and Lyre, their palms in the center of their respective creations. Magic sizzled against her skin—a warning of its deadly power.

 
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