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

  It wasn’t enough.

  Though even in numbers, Bastian’s soldiers only needed to land one hit to critically wound a griffin, while the griffins had to strike the same spot multiple times to take down a single warrior. The nymphs were fast and deadly with their magic, and the chimeras were powerful and almost as fast. They worked in pairs, lethal in combination, and the griffins fell one by one.

  Lyre lifted his bow, arrow nocked. As the light of magic and flames flashed brighter, Bastian was illuminated. Guarded by four warriors, he waited at the tower’s base, the griffins unable to reach him.

  Lyre drew the bowstring back but the wind gusted worse than before, and he knew he couldn’t make the shot. The two sides had mixed, enemies and allies tangled together, and he might take out griffins with his arrow.

  Cut the head off the snake. That was the plan, and he had to make sure it happened.

  Jaw clenched, he turned away from the ledge and ran back to the stairs. If the griffins were overrun, Aldrendahar would fall—all because of Lyre’s magic.

  This. This was why Chrysalis was so rich, why Hades was so powerful, why master weavers were so sought after. This was why Bastian had invested years into molding Clio to his will so he could send her to Asphodel to steal Chrysalis’s spellwork.

  The right magic could turn a battle. The right magic could win a war.

  He reached ground level and careened outside, his leg aching but the limp almost gone. Slinging his bow over his shoulder, he dug into his pocket and pulled out his pouch of spells. Pausing in the shadows, he sorted them at speed, then selected the set he needed. Unfinished, unstable, and might blow up in his face, but it was all he had that could possibly work.

  Gems clenched in his fist, he charged into the square. Furious shouts and pained cries rose over the roar of the storm. He dodged warriors as he cut toward the center, homing in on Miysis. Off to his left, Clio and her small team of griffins had been pushed to the fringe of the battle, defending against three chimeras and a nymph.

  He couldn’t stop to help her. Ramming a nymph off his feet with one shoulder, Lyre dove into the circle of griffins around Miysis as the prince slammed the butt of his halberd into a chimera. Another griffin threw the daemon backward.

  “What the hell are you doing?” Miysis shouted, rain plastering his blond hair to his face.

  Wheezing, Lyre skidded to a stop beside the prince and faced the tower. On the other side of a dozen battling daemons, Bastian stood safe.

  Lyre drew himself up. “Are you ready to fight the snake?”

  Miysis’s eyes widened.

  “If he pulls out a clock, don’t let him use it,” Lyre added before placing a gemstone between his teeth.

  He held one stone in each hand, extending them so the three formed a triangle. Eyes narrowing in concentration, he activated the one in his left hand. A crackling line of magic shot to the gem in his right hand and he activated that phase of the weave. A double line of light shot for the gem in his teeth, and power vibrated his skull as they connected. He activated the third gemstone.

  A triple beam of power shot to the first gem, forming a triangle. Golden light burst through the center, filling it with lines and runes. The power continued to shoot from gem to gem, growing in force with each pass. His muscles strained, fighting to hold the gems in place as he waited for the right moment.

  Building. Building. The golden blaze eclipsed even the lightning above.

  He triggered the final phase of the spell.

  The force spinning through the three gems rerouted to the center of the triangle and blasted outward in a shrieking beam of power. It crashed through every daemon in its path, hurling them into the air with bone-breaking force. With a sizzling shriek, it hit the base of the tower and tore right through the stone.

  Then the three gems shattered and the backlash slammed into Lyre. He hit the ground, unable to breathe, but it didn’t matter.

  The blast had cleared a path, and Miysis didn’t hesitate. He launched into the opening, three griffins on his heels, and raced toward Bastian. The nymph bastard had dodged Lyre’s blast, but his protectors hadn’t been as quick and only two were still on their feet.

  Despite the ferocity of Lyre’s spell, the battle continued. He rolled painfully onto his side, his ribs screaming. Feet surged all around, splashing in the puddles. He had to get up before they trampled him. He had to move.

  He tried to rise but the pain locked his lungs. A pair of boots stopped nearby and he jerked his head up. A chimera stood over him, sword raised for a killing strike.

  The daemon stumbled forward, then dropped to his knees. Clio appeared behind him, clutching a long dagger—its blade coated in the chimera’s blood. Her face was white but her eyes were black, her teeth bared. She mercilessly shoved the chimera over and knelt beside Lyre, already casting a bubble shield over them. She pressed her hand to his chest.

  “You cracked your ribs again!” she growled. “Couldn’t you tell that spell was unstable?”

  He stared at her. That was the sexiest growl he’d ever heard.

  Not waiting for his answer, she sent a hot wave of healing magic rushing into his chest. Healing bones took more time than they had, so he assumed she was adding extra support to keep his ribs in one piece. The pain diminished, and the moment he could breathe again, he pushed upright, his gaze flashing past her.

  Miysis had reached Bastian. A griffin soldier had fallen and the other two were battling Bastian’s protectors, leaving the two leaders to face each other. Prince against prince.

  Miysis’s halberd whirled in his hands, wings arching off his back. Bastian darted side to side, unable to retreat with the tower behind him. Defensive weavings shimmered over his body and magic flashed down the lightweight saber he wielded.

  Miysis didn’t hesitate, didn’t falter. He drove in hard, his magic burning across his body. His shields were strong and fast, holding against Bastian’s spells, and he was stronger, more fit, and a hell of a lot angrier.

  His halberd struck Bastian high on the left arm and bounced off the weaves. Bastian whipped out a spell but it burst on Miysis’s swift spot-shield—a battle-fast barrier, small and tough for deflecting single attacks. Spinning, Miysis dropped low and used the butt of his halberd to sweep Bastian’s legs out. The nymph fell and launched up again in almost the same motion, but Miysis’s halberd swung around and hit Bastian’s left arm a second time.

  Lurching back, Bastian tried to grab the chains around his neck, desperate for something more powerful—but he didn’t have time. Lyre could see it. There was a very good reason that he and his brothers, despite wielding some of the deadliest magic in the three realms, were well trained in several forms of physical combat.

  Never depend on magic alone. It could be fast or it could be powerful, but it was rarely both. And fast, weak magic wouldn’t be enough to defeat Miysis.

  Before Bastian could select the right gem, Miysis’s halberd came down on his arm for a third time. Blood splashed from the wound.

  Beside Lyre, Clio tensed. Conflicted anguish twisted her face and her mouth moved in a whisper Lyre couldn’t hear, but he read the shape of the words on her lips.

  “His shields are gone.”

  Miysis’s strike hadn’t just cut a hole in Bastian’s defensive weaves. The griffin had damaged the shield to the point of failure, and that meant his next strike would kill.

  Wounded and shocked, Bastian staggered. Miysis drew the halberd back and a hush fell, muting the battles and the storm.

  Miysis lunged forward, blade aimed at the nymph’s heart—just as a nearby griffin battling a chimera stumbled backward. And Bastian, with no time to cast a spell, grabbed the griffin’s wing and pulled the off-balance warrior into Miysis’s path.

  Sliding on the wet flagstones, Miysis pulled his blade away in a desperate attempt to abort his attack, but it was too late. He slammed into his own man, blade catching the griffin’s unprotected side and cutting deep. The warrior crumpled,
his blood gushing across the flagstones.

  For an instant, Miysis stood frozen in horror.

  Bastian blasted Miysis’s halberd out of his hands. The force threw the griffin prince back and he landed on one knee.

  Blade flashing, Bastian plunged his saber into Miysis.

  Chapter Twenty

  Halfway across the square, Lyre could only watch as Bastian shoved his saber into Miysis’s chest, digging the point in between his ribs. With one twist of his blade, the nymph could kill Miysis.

  “Griffins!” he yelled, using magic to amplify his voice over the storm. “Stop or your prince dies!”

  The clash of weapons stalled as griffins across the square disengaged from their opponents and turned to see their prince on his knees, the enemy blade in his flesh.

  “Lay down your weapons,” Bastian ordered.

  The griffins hesitated. No one moved. Lyre didn’t so much as twitch, Clio crouched beside him with horror etched across her face.

  “Surrender or he dies!” Bastian shouted furiously.

  “Kill me,” Miysis snarled, chin raised despite the sword between his ribs, cutting the wound wider with each shift of Bastian’s hand. “You fight like a coward, and you should kill me like a coward.”

  “Put down your weapons!” Bastian ordered again, pushing his sword in deeper. Miysis clenched his jaw, the tendons in his neck standing out sharply, but he didn’t make a sound.

  The griffin soldiers stood silently, weapons in hand, waiting.

  Bastian hesitated, at a loss for what to do. Baring his teeth, he looked down at the Ra prince, blood streaking his chest.

  “What will this solve, Bastian?”

  The unfamiliar voice floated across the square, rising above the sound of the storm. Bastian’s head snapped around.

  From the shadows near the watchtower, an older nymph stepped over the rubble of the hole Lyre had blasted in the tower’s base. A team of nymphs in the uniform of the royal guard followed him. A silent ripple of movement passed through every nymph and chimera in the square.

  The newly arrived nymph made a small gesture. His royal guards stopped, hanging back, as he slowly approached Bastian.

  “Will slaughtering their unarmed prince strike fear into the griffins’ hearts?” King Rouvin asked his son. “Or will it forge their hatred into even greater strength? Will murdering Miysis impress your power upon the Ra queen, or show her your cowardice?”

  “Cowardice?” Bastian spat. He’d dropped his amplification spell, but his snarl carried over the wind anyway. “How dare you call me a coward. You are the spineless puppet who’s catered to their every demand since you took the throne!”

  He gestured violently at the city, jerking the sword in Miysis’s chest. The griffin’s shoulders slumped, his head falling forward for the first time.

  “What can you call this except cowardice?” Bastian ranted. “The nymph king, racing to a Ra city the moment their prince snapped his fingers, desperate to beg their forgiveness!”

  The bubble shield surrounding Lyre and Clio flickered out. As Bastian snarled at Rouvin, Clio slipped into motion, creeping between unmoving soldiers toward her father and brother. Lyre half rose but dared not step closer. Bastian saw him as a threat, but maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t notice Clio.

  “I am here to salvage peace as best I can,” Rouvin said calmly. “Can you not understand why?”

  “You should have stayed out of my way, old man.” Bastian looked down at the sagging griffin caught on his blade. “I’ve already won. I’ll kill their prince, raze their most fortified border city, and ensure their queen knows exactly what she’s dealing with. And I’ll do it again, and again, until we’re free of their control.”

  “No, Bastian,” Rouvin said sadly, drifting closer. “You’ll kill their prince, enrage the populace of this city, and watch them slaughter your men even if they must fight to the last man, woman, and child. You’ll enrage their queen, and she will bring the entire might of her kingdom down on our people.”

  “She won’t attack us. I have a weapon she can’t—”

  Green light flashed in Rouvin’s hand. His lightning-swift cast hit Bastian, knocking him backward. His saber pulled free from Miysis’s chest.

  Clio launched from between two oblivious chimeras. Her blast hit Bastian in the hand, tearing the saber out of his grip. As Rouvin stepped in front of Miysis, Clio dove to the griffin’s side, pushing him up with her shoulder as he collapsed. She pressed a hand to his chest, healing magic sparking under her fingers.

  With a furious shout, Bastian snapped his arm up, a spell taking form. Rouvin stepped forward, his counterspell dissolving Bastian’s the moment it left his hand. They faced each other in the downpour, green magic racing over their arms.

  “Stop this, Bastian,” Rouvin pleaded. “Surrender before any more die.”

  Bastian hesitated, fiery green light flickering over his hands. He stared at his father, only his father, then slowly lowered his arms. “I’m not done. I may lose your respect, and I may lose my family, and I may lose my throne, but I will not stop until I have freed Irida from Ra’s shadow.”

  “Bastian.” Rouvin’s voice cracked with sorrow.

  The nymph prince stepped back, his face pale and lips pressed tight. “Everything I am doing, I do for our people, even if you can’t see it yet.”

  He turned away from his father, his hand rising to issue a command to his men.

  With a crack that shattered the air itself, a blazing lightning bolt sprang from the sky and struck the top of the tower. The impact shuddered through the earth, driving half the daemons in the square to their knees.

  The top of the tower collapsed.

  Massive fragments of rock tumbled toward the flagstones where Clio supported Miysis, Rouvin in front of them, and Bastian standing several long steps away.

  There was only a single moment to act.

  In the instant before the deadly barrage struck the earth, Bastian leaped toward safety. In that same instant, Rouvin’s hands came up. His spell hit Clio and Miysis, hurling them away from the tower.

  Rock smashed into the square. Shards ricocheted in every direction, whipping into daemons and smashing into the flagstones. Debris clattered violently, but Lyre scarcely noticed it as he ran for Clio, sprawled beside Miysis.

  A howl rose above the subsiding fury of falling stone, a tormented cry of denial. Unaware of the blood running down his face from a cut on his scalp, Bastian staggered toward the heap of rock.

  “No!” he shouted hoarsely.

  Clio raised her head as Lyre skidded to a stop beside her and Miysis.

  “Father!” Bastian grabbed his hair with both hands as though he might rip it out. “Father!”

  His voice cracked and broke, and he fell to his knees. Rouvin’s bodyguards, who’d obediently waited by the tower while he confronted his son, dug desperately in the rubble, their faces contorted in silent horror.

  Clio’s mouth opened, confusion twisting into disbelief. “Father?” she whispered.

  A deep, booming crack shuddered through the tower. A fissure snaked up its side, racing from the rough hole in the bottom to the shattered top. Stone creaked ominously and the entire structure quaked.

  With an earsplitting roar, the watchtower began to topple.

  Lyre grabbed the chain around Clio’s neck. As the other daemons fled on foot or by wing, he triggered a dome shield. It flashed out, solidifying around him, her, and Miysis just before the weight of the tower slammed down on them.

  He instinctively ducked as rock battered the barrier. The glowing runes vibrated ominously, but the shield held. Rock tumbled past them, going on and on until silence finally fell. A pile of debris was heaped against one side of the barrier.

  Clio stiffened. Lyre twisted around and spotted a shimmer of green light—Bastian dispelling his own dome shield, copied from Lyre’s stolen chain. Rock collapsed into the gap and the prince struggled free. He looked at Clio and Lyre, his face haggard.
  Then he turned and fled into the rain and dust.

  Before Lyre even knew what she was doing, Clio dispelled his shield. She raced into the maze of rubble—pursuing the vanishing shadow of her half-brother.

  One hand pressed to his ribs, Lyre sprang after her. He’d already lost sight of Bastian in the darkness, but Clio’s asper wasn’t as limited. She ran without hesitation, and Lyre sprinted in her wake. Glancing back, he caught a glimpse of Miysis among the rocky debris as an opinari landed beside him, wings arched protectively over its master.

  Leaving the prince to his fate, Lyre focused on Clio as she chased her brother into the howling storm.

  Chapter Twenty-One

  The last time Clio had felt this kind of pain had been the night her mother died. She’d spent three days watching the vibrant nymph wither away before finally passing in her sleep, and it had ripped Clio’s heart from her body.

  Somehow, this hurt even worse.

  Her father was dead, and with him had died the budding new relationship between them and all the potential it had contained. With him had died an entire future she’d only glimpsed.

  She was alone. Her mother was dead. Her father was dead. And her brother was a foul traitor in every sense of the word.

  Except she wasn’t alone. As dark buildings and fiery destruction flashed past, Lyre followed right behind her. He was here. He was with her. He would stay with her. And he would help her stop Bastian.

  She charged after her brother, his aura glowing brightly in her asper. He cut through an alley and into a wide street where griffins were clustered, confusion and chaos still gripping the city in its icy talons as the storm raged above. Nonstop lightning ripped through the clouds.

  Bastian whipped past the frantic and furious griffins without slowing. As she followed, a griffin turned on her and grabbed her arm, but Lyre was there, slamming a magic-assisted blow into her assailant’s chest. She and Lyre shot forward again.

  They raced through the city but no matter how hard Clio pushed herself, she couldn’t close the gap. Bastian was drawing ahead, fresh where she and Lyre were exhausted and drained. Aldrendahar’s outer wall loomed, the massive gates open.

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