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


  She slipped her hand into her pocket. Her numb fingers found the smooth edges of a gem and she pulled it out. It glittered under the rippling lightning.

  The signal spell Lyre had given her before she’d left for Irida. One ally was better than none, and if she was lucky, he would bring help with him.

  With a deep breath, she triggered the spell and prayed he was still carrying his.

  Chapter Eighteen

  A none-too-gentle slap across the face woke Lyre. His eyes flew open and he groaned at the pain throbbing through his head, shoulder, and left leg.

  Miysis’s blurry face hovered over him. “Finally! I was about to leave you here.”

  Lyre cautiously lifted his head. Pain shot through his neck and shoulder but the injury—just bruising, he hoped—didn’t impede his movement. Miysis pulled him into a sitting position and Lyre’s vision blurred even worse before finally focusing.

  They were at the edge of a wrecked market booth, and he assumed the fabric awning and the wooden table underneath had broken his fall.

  “You didn’t split your skull,” Miysis said as he unceremoniously hauled Lyre to his feet. “You cracked the bones in your left leg but I already healed it.”

  “Thanks,” Lyre grunted, testing the injured limb. Pain shot through his calf muscles. Accelerated healing on the battlefield wasn’t all that thorough.

  “I hope your head is still working,” the prince growled as he dragged Lyre into motion, ignoring his limp. “Tell me what you know about the spells those daemons were using.”

  “They’re Chrysalis spells,” he answered, furious all over again at the reminder. “Bastian stole them from me and I’d say he’s been putting his mimic ability to good use since then.”

  Miysis swore as he stopped at a junction of narrow streets. Thunder cracked every ten seconds and lightning rippled through the clouds, the increasing wind cool and humid. Beneath the roar of the weather, shouts and frightened cries filled the city.

  “Finding my men in this storm is going to be hell, and the wind is too strong for sustained flight.” Miysis glanced at Lyre, his normally bright eyes black with anger. “Can you walk on your own?”

  Miysis didn’t wait for an answer before letting him go and striding forward. Lyre trotted after him, evaluating the wobbly weakness in his left leg. His head and shoulder ached too but not as badly. He would get Clio to check him over for other injuries—as soon as he found her. He glanced at the dark shape of the citadel and hoped she was safe.

  He and Miysis jogged through the streets, angling back toward the citadel. Still out of glamour—no sense in weakening himself just to spare Miysis any discomfort—he activated his defensive weaves and pulled his bow off his shoulder.

  Miysis glanced at him. “How useful will that be in this wind?”

  “Short range will be fine.”

  The prince grunted and picked up the pace. They rounded a corner and Lyre’s senses sizzled from oncoming magic. Ten feet away, a green gem rolled across the ground, sparkling brightly.

  He grabbed Miysis, shoved him down, and cast a bubble shield. The gemstone detonated into a fireball, blasting a hole in the flagstones and tearing chunks off nearby stone buildings. The flames surged upward, heat rippling off them. At their base, a green tinge was the only indicator that a spell fueled the inferno.

  Lyre sprang up, scouring the darkness for a sign of whoever had thrown that gem. Miysis joined him, weaponless but ready to fight.

  A hint of movement on his left.

  Lyre snapped his hand out, a flare spell igniting in a blinding flash. The chimera reeled back, his cloaking spell losing its effectiveness now that Lyre had spotted him—but he didn’t spot the second daemon until a blade hit him.

  It deflected off his defensive weaves, and Miysis cast a glowing yellow spell, but the magic sloughed off the chimera’s identical shields. Dropping low, Lyre swept his bow into the daemon’s ankles, knocking him off his feet.

  As Lyre snatched an arrow from his quiver, a third attacker slammed into his back. His left leg gave out and he pitched forward, landing on his stomach with his bow caught under him. The daemon jumped on his back, pinning him to the ground. The other two chimeras rushed Miysis, their blades reflecting the nearby flames.

  A piercing shriek shattered Lyre’s eardrums. A pale shape burst from the dark clouds of smoke, huge wings spread wide.

  The opinari swept over Miysis’s head and slammed both chimeras into the flagstones. Grabbing a daemon’s head in its beak, the beast wrenched sideways. The chimera’s neck broke with a stomach-turning crack, audible even over the thunder.

  With furious shouts, six griffin soldiers dropped out of the sky from the same direction as the opinari, long-handled halberds at the ready.

  The daemon pinning Lyre jumped to his feet and bolted away. Rolling onto his back, Lyre slapped his arrow onto his bow and fired at the fleeing nymph. It didn’t pierce his shield, but the binding spell in the arrowhead surged around his legs.

  Lyre rolled to his feet as a blood-curdling scream erupted. The opinari had caught the last chimera, and it turned out that with enough pressure, even a master weaver’s shields would give out. The creature’s hooked beak sank into the chimera’s chest, snapping ribs.

  The griffin soldiers gathered around Miysis, waiting silently while one answered the prince’s barked questions about troop locations and enemy numbers.

  Lyre glanced at the nymph he’d captured. If it had been one of his brothers, he wouldn’t have trusted a binding spell to hold for more than ten seconds. But despite his master-weaver-quality shields, this guy wasn’t a master weaver. The binding held.

  “Lyre.”

  He turned to Miysis, who stood with his soldiers arrayed around him, waiting for orders. The opinari—Rushi from the stable, his white fur stained with scarlet splatters—hovered protectively behind his master.

  “How do my men break those shields?” the prince demanded.

  Lyre grimaced bitterly. “There’s no easy way to penetrate the shields. They’re designed to be unbreakable.”

  “You know how to break them.”

  “Yes.”

  Something dark and cold gathered in Miysis’s eyes. “Did you create the original spells?”

  If he lied, Miysis would know. “Yes.”

  The prince analyzed him as though seeing him for the first time, but frustration quickly replaced his arctic stare. “Give me something, Lyre. How do we fight them? We can’t rely on opinaris. There aren’t enough of them and they can’t hear my commands in this weather.”

  Lyre wished he could pull a shield-breaking miracle spell off his chain and save the day. He was a fool for letting his weaves fall into enemy hands—not that any enemy besides a mimic could have duplicated them.

  “Cut the head off the snake,” he said harshly. “Ignore the explosions. Ignore the two- or three-man teams. Go for their commander.”

  Miysis’s eyes gleamed malevolently. “But where is he?”

  The sky rumbled and rain plunged out of the clouds like an overturned bucket, transforming the street into a shallow river in moments. The magic-fueled fire hissed and spat but kept burning.

  In the next instant, a jarring pulse vibrated in Lyre’s aching skull—the signal spell. He spun around, facing away from the citadel and toward the city streets. Dead ahead, the thin silhouette of the watchtower rose above everything else.

  Clio had activated her signal spell. She was calling him. But what the hell was she doing out there?

  As rain ran down his face, his lips pulled back from his teeth in a cold smile.

  “I think,” he told Miysis, “we may have already found him.”

  After Miysis sent half his soldiers off to locate reinforcements, he, Lyre, three griffin warriors, and the opinari raced deeper into the city. Lyre led the way, following the pulse of the signal spell. The streets grew quieter, and with the spell thudding in his aching skull, he ducked down a narrow alley.

  Clio ap
peared from the darkness as she disabled her cloaking spell. Rain had plastered her hair to her head, and her white and green nymph regalia was drenched. She was still gorgeous and despite everything, he had to resist the urge to pull her into his arms.

  Her eyes locked on his, intense and magnetic, then flicked to Miysis.

  “You brought help,” she remarked as he crouched beside her.

  “And more is coming.” Unable to resist, he brushed his fingers across the back of her hand, needing the physical contact. “What’ve we got?”

  “About thirty daemons,” she reported promptly. “Half nymphs, half chimeras. There may be more in the watchtower. They’re hiding behind a shadow illusion, and from what I can tell, most of them are protected by your defensive weavings.”

  Lyre frowned, trying to remember what other weavings had been attached to the chain Bastian had stolen. “He might have some other nasty surprises waiting, depending on what he’s duplicated from my spell set.”

  “From this distance, it’s difficult to make out details,” she apologized.

  “The defensive weaves will be the biggest problem.” He rubbed the water off his face, but the pouring rain immediately drenched his skin again. Turning, he found Miysis crouched behind him, listening intently. “How good are your soldiers?”

  “Very good.”

  “Good enough to hit an enemy three times in the same spot without getting killed?”

  Miysis looked at his men and raised an eyebrow questioningly.

  “We’ll make it happen,” a griffin answered.

  “Okay.” Lyre exhaled. “We might be able to make this work.”

  “There are thirty of them,” Clio protested, gesturing helplessly at their small band. “And only six of us.”

  Miysis smiled bleakly. “Not for long.”

  Exactly on cue, shadows glided out of the darkness. Miysis’s other soldiers had returned, bringing with them another twenty griffins and two more armored opinaris. They gathered silently, bristling wings and black, bloodthirsty stares. These warriors were hungry for vengeance.

  Bastian was a fool. Griffins were not a caste he could frighten into submission.

  “Give me your weapons,” Lyre said to the nearest two soldiers.

  They handed over their halberds and he passed one to Clio. She gripped the long handle gingerly.

  “Ready?” he asked her as he placed a hand on the blade. “I can’t go slow this time.”

  She laid her hand on the curved steel as well. “I can keep up.”

  As Miysis looked between them, a confused crease in his brow, Lyre began to weave. Golden light spiraled over the blade, and beside him, Clio’s green magic coated her weapon. He wove the shield-piercing weave over the steel, imbued it with power, and activated it.

  He handed the weapon back to its owner, the blade shimmering faint gold, and Clio returned her copy.

  “With that weave on your blade, hitting the same spot repeatedly will break the enemy’s shield,” he told them. “Three hits usually does it, but if you hit harder than I can, maybe less. Each time you make contact, you’ll use up the weave’s power, so don’t miss.”

  They nodded, and Lyre gestured at the next two griffins. They handed over their weapons and he again passed one to Clio. Miysis hovered beside him, his frown deepening, but he didn’t ask the question Lyre knew he wanted to voice. Did Lyre and Clio have enough magic between them to arm over twenty griffins with the shield-piercing weave?

  They didn’t have a choice. They had to, otherwise Miysis’s force would be at a dangerous disadvantage.

  He and Clio wove the next pair, and Miysis had two more weapons ready. Again, they wove the spells. And again. And again. His head throbbed, the ache growing worse as he depleted his magic, but he focused on the shining blades Miysis kept handing him until he’d lost count.

  Finally, he handed off a heavy sword and there were no more weapons waiting. Exhaustion buzzed along his nerves and he slumped back against a wall, breathing hard. Miysis caught his elbow and eased him down. He realized Clio was already sitting in the mud, her face haggard and pale.

  “Rest for a minute,” Miysis told them before turning to his men and launching into a strategy discussion.

  Closing his eyes, he slipped a hand into his pocket and dug his fingers into his pouch of diamond lodestones, but only one had any reserves left. He’d drained the others during his spellcrafting efforts over the last few days. Damn, that had been shortsighted.

  Since it was all he had, he drew on the power in the lodestone. Hot magic flooded his aching body and he breathed easier.

  “Are you okay?” he asked Clio. She didn’t look as tired as he felt, but nymphs had larger magic reserves than incubi did—and she hadn’t spent several days weaving nonstop like an idiot.

  “I’m fine.” She glanced at the griffins. “Will this be enough?”

  “It’ll have to be.”

  As his men formed into squads, Miysis stepped away from them and glanced over Lyre. “Where do you plan to wait?”

  “Wait?” he repeated as he climbed to his feet. “I’m not—”

  “You’re not coming with us,” the prince said, his commanding tone brooking no argument. “You’re exhausted and your leg gave out in that last fight. You’re a liability in close combat.”

  Lyre bit back a curse, unable to deny it. “I still have my bow.”

  “In this weather?” Miysis considered it, then nodded. “Jaspar will take you up onto a rooftop. Stay there and make sure you don’t hit any of my men.”

  That was probably all Lyre was good for right now anyway. “Clio—”

  “I’m going with Miysis,” she said before either he or the prince could say anything different. “If Bastian has any more nasty surprises in store, they might need my help.”

  His throat tightened. Too dangerous. She was good with magic and she handled herself well in a fight, but she wasn’t trained for this kind of combat. He pulled his spell chain off his neck and lowered it over her head. Her eyes widened as his defensive weavings settled around her.

  “You need it more than I do,” he said hoarsely. “Be careful.”

  She nodded, her eyes bright and shimmering. “You too.”

  He could say nothing more—not with a bunch of flinty-eyed warriors watching them—so he let Miysis pass him off to another griffin. The heavily muscled soldier drew Lyre down the alley, and he glanced back one more time as Clio took a position on Miysis’s right flank.

  Pushing his fear for her out of his mind, he focused on what was coming: the battle that would decide Aldrendahar’s fate.

  Chapter Nineteen

  Lyre followed Jaspar through a maze of alleys, then into a building. They climbed pitch-black steps and came out on a rooftop that overlooked the square. Deep shadows coiled at the base of the watchtower.

  Below, Miysis, Clio, and a third of his men had advanced into the square, circling the spring in the center. How long until Bastian launched an attack from within that shadow illusion? Clio was the only one who might have any idea what was happening beneath the blanket of shadows.

  Going down on one knee as the water-laden wind howled around him, Lyre pulled an arrow from his quiver, the steel point blank of any weavings. Eyes closing halfway, he wove a swift spell through the metal. Illusions were easy to break if you knew how they’d been woven—and since he’d invented that weaving, he knew exactly how.

  Shrugging his bow off his shoulder, he nocked the arrow and let it fly. The bolt whipped across the square, hit the ground just inside the shadow illusion, and flashed bright gold.

  The illusion dissolved in a whirl of fading shadows.

  “Nice,” Jaspar complimented. He put a foot on the rooftop ledge. “I’m off.”

  Lyre nodded as he pulled another arrow from his quiver and nocked it. The griffin soldier jumped off the edge, wings spread to slow his drop to the flagstones. In the square, the first group of chimeras charged toward Miysis and his men. The griffins
leaped to meet the enemy soldiers, and Clio ducked out of the way as the two forces clashed.

  Lyre activated the spell and the arrowhead lit up. Aiming for a cluster of Bastian’s men yet to join the fight, he fired the bolt. It struck the ground in the middle of the group and a circle of golden light flashed outward. The ground inside the circle shattered. As stone burst in every direction, the daemons collapsed in the unstable rubble beneath their feet.

  From their hidden location in a nearby alley, another third of Miysis’s force charged into the square and descended on the nymphs and chimeras flailing in the rubble. Two opinaris bowled over daemons, catching helpless victims in their huge beaks.

  Lyre ran his fingers across his arrows. Most were spelled for battle against regularly shielded daemons, but he had a few options. He slipped a bolt from the quiver.

  As another group of Bastian’s soldiers surged forward, Lyre activated the arrow and loosed it. The bolt arced upward then dropped toward the troop. Twenty feet from the ground, it exploded like fireworks and a hundred fiery orbs plunged down.

  The blobs of magical fire stuck to the daemons’ shields. They faltered, batting frantically at the flames. Not lethal, but excessively distracting.

  As the daemons flailed at the sticky fire, Miysis’s third team appeared from the other side of the watchtower, completing the trap that pinned Bastian’s forces against the structure, leaving them no room to retreat.

  Lyre scanned the chaos, searching for the nymph prince, but he was too far to make out details through the rain. Miysis was easy to pick out as he expertly drove a borrowed halberd into a chimera’s chest. Clio darted among the warriors, her nymph agility surprising Lyre all over again. He was too used to her being clumsy.

  She whirled between battling daemons, and with deft touches, she destroyed their defensive weaves. A trio of griffins had attached themselves to her—one guarding her, the other two falling on the enemies she exposed. Relieved she was safe, he again surveyed the fight—and his stomach sank.

 
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