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


  A loud trill broke the silence.

  Clio jerked back from Lyre and banged her head on the cracked mirror behind her. Clinging to the doorway with wings half-spread was a small dragon, her golden eyes glaring admonishingly. The small creature chattered, the sound stern and disapproving, then she sprang off the doorframe back into the main room.

  Clio had first seen the small creature—called a dragonet—in Asphodel. She’d since learned that wherever Ash went, his dragonet was never far away—except in this case. Maybe he’d left the creature behind to supervise his houseguests?

  Lyre scowled at the empty threshold, then turned back to her. Before she could guess his intentions, he kissed her again, hands sliding into her hair, still damp from her shower. She pressed against him, warmth spiraling through her.

  Another furious burst of trills and chitters erupted from the doorway.

  He pulled back again, leaving Clio breathless, and smirked at the growling dragonet. “You aren’t the boss of me, little dragon, and neither is your master.”

  Clio sighed. Lyre and Ash working together would either be a dangerously perfect partnership—or a complete disaster.

  Lyre ran his fingers across the chain around his neck, mentally tallying each gemstone and the spell it contained. Thanks to Bastian’s thievery, he was down from three chains to two. At least he hadn’t lost his bow. In his current circumstances, he’d never be able to replace it with a weapon of comparable quality and craftsmanship.

  His fingers stopped on a gem containing the weave for his best dome shield—the same one Ash had blasted through when they’d fought on the bridge. That fight had been close. So many times, either of them could have died.

  And now they were working together again.

  Pulling one leg onto the chair, he propped his chin on his hand and stared out the apartment window. Behind him, Clio was sleeping on the mattress. She’d slept most of the past twenty-four hours, her body exhausted by the shadow weave.

  Lyre’s hand drifted from his chain to his pocket, where a pouch of lodestones brimmed with power.

  Having suffered the aftereffects of the KLOC before, he hadn’t wasted any time this round. Just before dark, he’d ventured out of the hideaway apartment. It had been a risk when his magic reserves were critically low—and a risk leaving Clio alone—but he hadn’t wanted any company for that mission.

  With the sun setting and the bustle of the workday winding down, he had gone on the hunt. Twelve human women, helpless against his power, had provided enough emotional energy to charge most of his lodestones. Within a few hours, he’d recovered his magic entirely, and now all he had to deal with was the lingering physical fatigue. Unfortunately, his lodestones were attuned to him and useless to Clio.

  When he’d returned, revitalized and recharged, she hadn’t commented. She must have guessed that charging lodestones at a dance club hadn’t been an option this time, but she didn’t ask how he’d charged them.

  He glanced back at her, sleeping peacefully. She probably assumed he’d bedded a bunch of women to charge those stones, but if she’d just ask, he could assure her he’d … he’d what? That he’d been faithful to her?

  Seriously? He was worrying about that? He was an incubus. He wasn’t ashamed to seduce or sleep with as many women as he damn well pleased. Incubi didn’t do monogamy. They couldn’t. It was impossible.

  He scrubbed a hand through his hair, then let his head fall back with a sigh. Before he could sink even further into the confusing quagmire of his thoughts, an icy chill ran down his spine. He stiffened, gaze flashing around the room then back to the window.

  A huge black shadow dropped out of nowhere and landed on the windowsill.

  Lyre lurched away from the glass, toppling his chair. He hit the floor on his back as the nightmarish shadow on the sill pulled the window open and squeezed through the gap.

  In the moment it took his feet to touch the floor, Ash shimmered into glamour, his wings and tail vanishing. He gave Lyre, sprawled on the overturned chair, a disparaging look before closing the window.

  “Holy shit,” Lyre groaned as he righted the chair and checked that he hadn’t woken Clio. “I think you scared a few years off my life.”

  “Don’t sit in front of the window, then.”

  Lyre dropped back into his seat and scanned the draconian. His casual look hadn’t lasted long. He was in full gear again, strapped head to toe in weapons with that huge sword slung across his back—a blade that had tasted quite a bit of Lyre’s blood.

  Perched on the kitchen cabinets, the dragonet—her name was Zwi, Ash had revealed—grumbled loudly at her master. Was she tattling on Lyre for earlier? Watching Ash unbuckle his weapons, Lyre waited for the jitters in his limbs to fade. The draconian’s sudden appearance would have startled him no matter what, but that wasn’t the main reason for Lyre’s bout of panic.

  “Do you think you could cut back on the fear thing?” he asked, massaging his chest.

  “No.”

  “Is it really necessary to terrify me every time you have your wings out?”

  Ash pulled his large sword off his back and set it down with a thud. “It’s inherent to my magic. I can’t ‘cut back.’”

  Lyre opened his mouth, then closed it. The draconian ability to panic everyone in the vicinity was involuntary? Damn. He tried to imagine what life would be like if he had no control over his aphrodesia.

  Ash finished unloading his weapons and headed for the kitchen. Heaving off the chair, Lyre followed him. The draconian pulled a can of pork and beans out of the cupboard.

  “How did it go tonight?” Lyre asked, reaching over Ash’s shoulder to get a second can. Ash had been gone for over twenty-four hours. Did the guy ever sleep?

  “Probably found them.”

  Lyre paused with his hand in the cupboard to stare incredulously at the draconian. “You found Bastian? Already?”

  “I haven’t seen the nymph prince yet.” Ash pulled a battered knife from the drawer and cut the top of the can open. “Abandoned building about three blocks from the Ra embassy, right by the river. Pairs of blond and redheaded men coming and going.”

  Lyre slowly set the second can on the counter. A solid lead, that fast. No wonder Lyre hadn’t been able to evade the draconian. “Coming and going where?”

  “Several locations, but mainly scoping out the Ra embassy.”

  “I don’t like the sound of that.”

  Ash passed the knife to Lyre. “So far, they’ve only been active at night, and they’re moving carefully. I don’t know how many men the prince has brought in.”

  As Lyre cut his can open, Ash fished in a drawer for a spoon. Lyre plucked the can out of his hand and set them both on the hot plate.

  “Cold beans are disgusting,” he declared as he turned it on. “We need to know what we’re dealing with before we make our next move.”

  “I’ve tracked their scouting patterns. Tomorrow after dark, I’ll capture one for questioning.”

  “We’ll capture one,” Lyre corrected. “Clio can identify castes with her asper, so she’ll make sure we don’t nab the wrong daemon. And I’ll do the interrogating. Aphrodesia works a lot faster than torture, plus I can guarantee truthful answers.”

  Ash stiffened at the mention of aphrodesia, his eyes darkening. “These daemons are all male.”

  “Not surprising. That just means I’ll have to work harder at it, not that I can’t do it.”

  Ash’s expression hardened further. Reaching around Lyre, he pulled a can off the hot plate, shoved his spoon into the unappetizing mixture, and started to eat.

  Lyre reached for his can and felt the heat a moment before touching the metal. Hissing, he snatched his hand back and gave Ash a flinty look. Exactly how fireproof was the draconian? Wadding up the only dishcloth for insulation, he picked up the can and unenthusiastically stirred its contents.

  “So,” he continued, “the three of us will interrogate one of Bastian’s nymphs, find out what w
e’re dealing with, and figure out how to intercept Bastian. I’d rather avoid another free-for-all brawl.”

  Ash grunted in agreement. “Assuming the prince hasn’t amassed an army, this can be over by sunrise tomorrow.”

  “I’m not that lucky.” Lyre poked at his beans. “Whatever luck I might’ve had ran out back in Asphodel.”

  Ash leaned against the counter beside Lyre. “What do you plan to do about the bounty?”

  “What can I do?” Lyre stared at his meager meal, his mouth too dry to even consider eating now. “Destroying the KLOC doesn’t fix anything as far as my death sentence goes. Hades and Chrysalis won’t stop hunting me.”

  “Whining about it won’t help.”

  Lyre snarled. “There’s nothing I can do except keep running.”

  “If you were the type to run away like a beaten dog,” Ash said, “you wouldn’t have fought me to your last breath.”

  “What other option do I have?” Lyre’s voice rose before he remembered Clio was sleeping.

  Ash set his empty can in the sink. “As long as you’re alive, they’ll keep hunting you.” He stepped out of the kitchen and glanced back, his dark eyes gleaming. “There’s more than one way to disappear.”

  Leaving Lyre in the kitchen, Ash crossed to the far corner and sank down, leaning against the wall and closing his eyes. His dragonet slunk out of the shadows and climbed into his lap, her golden eyes alert while her master rested.

  Lyre stood at the counter, watching the draconian. The sick dread that had taken up residence in his gut quieted and he absently resumed eating, scarcely noticing the taste as he mulled over what Ash had said.

  If he wanted to survive long enough to enjoy his new freedom, then he needed a plan. And it was past time he figured one out.

  Chapter Three

  “Is this it?” Lyre whispered.

  Clio crouched on one side of him, and on his other side, Ash had just pulled his black wrap over his lower face. It was an ominous gesture.

  The dark alley where they lingered looked like every other reeking back street in downtown Brinford, but visible above the surrounding two- and three-story buildings were the glowing windows of a skyscraper. The Ra embassy.

  Ash nodded in the opposite direction. “They’re holed up in a warehouse another two blocks that way, but pairs have come this way multiple times.”

  “Probably a nymph and a chimera,” Clio murmured. “They make a dangerous partnership. We’ll have to be careful the nymphs don’t see our auras.”

  “I wonder what they’re planning with the embassy,” Lyre murmured, squinting toward the scattered lights shining from the embassy windows. “Bastian has to realize that attacking it would be suicide.”

  “I’ve been wondering about that too.” Clio chewed on a fingernail. “He can’t be planning to use the KLOC on them, can he?”

  Lyre shifted his weight, legs aching from crouching for so long. As usual, Ash didn’t seem bothered by the physical demand. “Bastian knows the shadow weave is a chain reaction. If he unleashes it on the embassy, there’s no way he and his men could get far enough away to avoid getting caught in it too.”

  “How far are we talking?” Ash asked.

  “Depends on how many daemons are in the embassy and how much stored magic they have.” Lyre glanced around. “I would guess that, if triggered in the embassy, the shadow weave would cover at least the entire downtown core. If the prince is stupid enough to use it …”

  “Bastian isn’t stupid.” Clio brushed her hair out of her eyes. A faint line marked her cheek, the cut mostly healed after a lot of painstaking effort on his part. “He won’t put himself at risk like that.”

  Lyre silently agreed. Generally speaking, he was a firm believer in strategic cowardice, but Bastian wasn’t merely averse to personal danger. He was also happy to manipulate others into risking their lives in his place.

  With that in mind, Lyre wasn’t feeling all too great about the nymph and chimera soldiers they would soon have to deal with. The daemons were loyal to their prince, not bad people. Probably. Maybe they were all pieces of walking garbage like Eryx was. He could hope, right?

  Ash canted his head as though listening to something. “A pair is on the move, heading this way. We can get in position.”

  The draconian was up and heading farther down the alley before Lyre or Clio could respond.

  She glanced around with a frown. “I thought we were in position.”

  “Apparently not.” Lyre waved at her to follow as he hastened after Ash. “What I really want to know is how he can hear them at this distance.”

  He trotted a few yards to catch up, the draconian’s long stride carrying him swiftly away. Ash moved with purpose, and it was obvious he’d already scouted this area and knew exactly where he wanted to go. Wheeling around the corner of a two-story brick building, he took three running steps and leaped, grabbing the bottom of a rusting fire escape.

  Lyre swallowed back a groan as Ash easily pulled himself up, the muscles in his arms and shoulders flexing impressively. The draconian didn’t wait—or even glance back—as he climbed the rickety metal structure that looked like it might break free from the wall at any moment.

  “Um,” Clio whispered.

  Lyre rolled his shoulders. First the desert-trekking jinn Sabir, now Ash. All these assholes making him look out of shape.

  Puffing out a breath, he stepped closer to the fire escape, turned, and cupped his hands together. Clio looked at the fire escape six feet above his head and let out her own heavy sigh. Backing up a few steps, she ran at him.

  Her foot landed in his hands and he launched her upward. She caught the metal rail and hopped over it, landing neatly. Ash was out-muscling him, and Clio—aside from her epic clumsy moments—was impressively agile. Damn it.

  As she climbed, he rubbed his hands together, then took a running leap at the fire escape. He caught the bottom bar and hauled himself up with a muffled grunt. Ash had already reached the roof, and Lyre and Clio swiftly joined him.

  The draconian crouched near the rooftop edge, peering into the alley below. Lyre squinted through the darkness. At well past midnight, the downtown core was almost devoid of light.

  “I see them,” Clio whispered. “A nymph and a chimera.”

  “How far?” Lyre asked.

  “Twenty-five yards,” Ash answered before she could. “Get down so the nymph doesn’t see your auras.”

  Lyre lay down on the rooftop and Clio flattened herself too, giving Lyre another “what the hell” look. Without asper, how could Ash see their targets when Lyre couldn’t make out a damn thing?

  In the silence, the soft sounds of cautious footsteps grew audible. Lyre peeked over the edge and, after a moment of squinting, picked them out of the darkness. The short, slim nymph moved with quick steps, his blond hair gleaming. His chimera partner had a steadier pace, his head swiveling as he checked the shadows all around them.

  Ash didn’t budge, watching as the pair passed beneath their position on the rooftop. Lyre bit the inside of his cheek, unable to ask what Ash was waiting for. Any noise would be a risk.

  The draconian rose to his feet and put one foot on the ledge, but he didn’t make his move. Down the alley, something clattered. The sound echoed off the buildings and the two soldiers froze.

  Ash’s fingers curled. Dark magic swirled in his hand as he prepped a binding spell, then with a flick of his wrist, he flung it downward. It struck the nymph in the back and the daemon fell.

  Ash sprang off the rooftop. Not bothering with his wings, he hit the ground in a roll and came out of it with a sword in each hand. Lyre lurched up, eyes wide, as the draconian caught the hapless chimera in the middle of dropping glamour.

  It was over in a heartbeat. A swift, clean execution.

  As Ash pulled his sword out of the fallen daemon, Clio gasped in alarm. Lyre jerked his attention to the nymph soldier. He’d freed himself from the binding spell and was scrambling to his feet.

>   “Shit,” Lyre growled, grabbing the rooftop’s edge. “Wait here.”

  He jumped. Two stories was not a fun drop. Doable for a daemon, but not fun. He hit the pavement hard and rolled. In the time it took him to launch back to his feet, the nymph had bolted in the opposite direction—and he was fast. Ash turned, flicking the blood off his sword, and watched his quarry flee without making the slightest effort to give chase.

  “What are you—” Lyre began angrily.

  Skidding footsteps. Almost invisible in a patch of heavy shadows farther down the alley, the nymph had stopped. He backed up, hands outstretched as though warding off evil. As the nymph retreated, something else appeared in the darkness.

  Something solid. Something big.

  A black dragon stalked out of the shadows, its teeth bared and golden eyes glowing. The size of a horse with enormous wings blotting out the alley’s exit, it advanced on the nymph with prowling steps, its curved talons clicking on the pavement.

  Lyre didn’t move. He didn’t even breathe.

  Ash sheathed his swords and headed for the distracted nymph. Grabbing the daemon by the neck, Ash hauled him backward.

  The huge black dragon, only a few paces away, growled softly. Dark fire erupted over its body, engulfing its form so suddenly that Lyre jumped. The flames leaped upward, then died away as fast as they had appeared. With a final poof, they were gone.

  And in the black dragon’s place, the little dragonet Zwi stood.

  Chattering cheerfully, she jumped onto Ash’s back and climbed up to his shoulder. The draconian dragged the unresisting nymph back toward Lyre, and he blinked stupidly when he saw Ash had cast a sleep spell on the daemon.

  “Um.” Lyre cleared his throat. “Your dragonet can … shapeshift?”

  “Clearly.”

  “You didn’t bring her into our fight.”

  Ash gave him a cold stare. “This nymph isn’t a master weaver.”

  Lyre looked again at the little dragonet. What defense did a dragon, even a big one with lots of sharp, pointy teeth, have against a master weaver’s magic?

 
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