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

  The wind buffeted her and her lungs burned. As Bastian flew across the plaza toward the desert beyond, she conjured a spell and flung it. It fizzled out short of reaching him and she clenched her jaw as he vanished through the arched opening.

  She and Lyre sprinted onto the desert sand. Outside the protective city walls, the screaming wind tripled in force, driving rain into their faces. They sloshed through the wet mire, their progress slowed even more.

  In the darkness ahead of Bastian’s glowing aura, a rippling wall of bluish-green light flickered through the downpour. The ley line. They’d never close the gap in time.

  “Clio!” Lyre shouted, coming to a sudden halt. “Help me.”

  Sliding in the mud, she whirled around as he yanked his bow off his shoulder and plucked an arrow from his quiver.

  “I can’t see him.” Lyre lifted his bow. “Help me aim!”

  Springing to his side, she rose as high on her tiptoes as she could and stretched her arm over his shoulder to point at Bastian’s fleeing aura—only fifteen paces from the ley line.

  Lyre sighted down her arm as he drew the string back with a grunt of pain. He activated the arrow’s spell—but he didn’t fire.

  Ten paces from the line.

  “Come on,” Lyre snarled, holding the bow at full draw, a tremor in his arm.

  Five paces.

  “Lyre!” she cried over the howl of the wind.

  Four paces.

  Bastian stretched a hand toward the waiting line.

  Three paces.

  The wind shifted, whipping against their backs—and Lyre fired the arrow. It flew straight and true, pushed by the wind.

  Golden light flared and Bastian fell.

  Clio and Lyre dashed forward again, the ley line rippling taller as they drew near. Bastian was sprawled on his stomach, feet away from the line, Lyre’s arrow sticking out of his thigh and a binding spell wrapping him from head to toe. He convulsed under the weave, fighting to free himself as Clio slid wildly down a shallow dune toward the line.

  Green magic flared around Bastian, and the binding spell unraveled. He lurched to his feet, clutching his leg.

  No! He couldn’t reach the line!

  Clio threw herself at him, her hand outstretched. As he dove into the rippling light, her grasping fingers caught his elbow.

  Rushing power flooded her senses and she spun protective magic around herself. Bastian leaped into the emptiness between worlds, and as he dragged her into the Void with him, she felt Lyre snatch her other hand.

  The world turned to screaming, silent nothingness.

  Clio tumbled out of the ley line, and her ears rang in the sudden quiet after the roaring storm. The hazy orange light of a sunrise lit the scrubby trees and withered bushes that surrounded the ley line, and Earth’s air, stale and dead after the rich, magic-infused atmosphere of the Overworld, filled her nose.

  As Bastian collapsed to his knees, she staggered and fell too, still holding his arm. Lyre pitched out of the line last, crashing into them, and they all crumpled to the ground in a tangle of limbs.

  Tearing free, Bastian crawled back toward the ley line, but Lyre was already half up again. He kicked Bastian away from his only escape route.

  Clio pushed to her feet, her entire body shaking. Raising her hands, she didn’t even cast a spell. She just hurled an uncontrolled blast of magic into her brother’s chest.

  He slammed down on his back and the arrow in his leg snapped in half. Hissing in pain, he rolled over and struggled to his feet, blood running from a cut on his scalp. He flung a binding spell.

  She slashed her hand through the air, dispelling it before it touched her.

  “Get out of my way!” Bastian yelled.

  “No!” Her fingers balled into fists. “Father is dead!”

  “Don’t talk about him!” Green light rippled up Bastian’s arms. “He’s my father, not yours.”

  He hurled another spell and she flicked it away. Battling Bastian before had seemed impossible, his spells swift and unstoppable, but now his magic was slow and easy to counter. She didn’t know if he’d grown sluggish or if she’d gotten faster.

  “You left him to die,” she shouted, tears burning her eyes.

  “He died saving you!” Bastian conjured a trio of glowing discs but she blasted them apart before he could throw them. His hands clenched and he shook with rage—and grief.

  She fixed her glare on him, fury and torment twisting together. “Everything that’s happened falls on you. All the people who’ve died—Father—nymphs—chimeras—griffins. How many have you killed? And what have you achieved? Nothing!”

  “I’m freeing Irida from—”

  “You’re a stupid, arrogant fool!” she screamed over him. “How can you be so blind? You’re not freeing Irida from anything! You’re dragging us into a war we can’t win! What will happen to Irida, with no king and no prince?”

  For the first time in her memory, doubt shadowed her brother’s eyes.

  “You’ve doomed us,” she said hoarsely. “For nothing but pride, you’ve engineered our destruction. The only thing you can do to save Irida is surrender to Ra.”

  “No,” Bastian whispered. Then, more forcefully, “No.” He thrust his hand into his tunic and pulled out the KLOC. The gemstones glittered on the silver gears. “I have the ultimate weapon. With this, I can bring Ra to their knees.” He raised it triumphantly. “With this, I can—”

  An arrow tore through Bastian’s hand. The clock flew from his grip and thudded in the dirt a few feet away.

  Clio turned to find Lyre lurking in the shadows of a tree where he’d been silently watching. He drew another arrow from his quiver, laid it on the bow, and looked at her—waiting for her to make the next move.

  She faced Bastian again. “Surrender. If you give yourself over, Irida will be safe.”

  “Never,” he hissed. “Never! You’re no better than Father, worshipping the ground the Ras walk on.”

  Deep, arctic sorrow settled over her, dousing the fiery rage. Tears spilled down her cheeks. “How can you say that? Father gave his life to protect Irida. If Miysis had died, nothing would have stopped Ra from destroying our kingdom. Not even the shadow weave.”

  Bastian’s jaw tightened, the veins standing out in his cheeks. Blood-smeared, drenched, and bitterly furious, he was no longer the composed, handsome prince she’d always admired.

  “Surrender, Bastian,” she commanded one more time.

  His shoulders slumped, his fury evaporating as grief twisted his face. A tear slipped down his cheek and, shocked, she wondered if regret had finally overcome his pride.

  Bastian jerked forward. He stumbled a step, fell to his knees, then collapsed, revealing the feathered shaft of the arrow rising from his back.

  She couldn’t move, her mind blank and body frozen.

  “Clio …” he whispered, blood running from his mouth. His hand slid weakly across the dirt toward her, shaking from the effort. Then the light in his eyes dimmed and his shoulders slumped, a final breath wheezing from his lungs.

  Woodenly, she turned to Lyre, but his bow was only half raised, the arrow still nocked in place. His eyes were wide, staring at Bastian like he didn’t understand what had happened.

  The realization that the arrow hadn’t come from Lyre’s direction hit her at the same moment his eyes focused on a spot behind her. He whipped his bow up and fired the arrow in one swift move.

  A bowstring twanged somewhere behind her.

  An arrow flashed past her shoulder, sliced through Lyre’s bowstring, and embedded in his forearm. Golden magic blazed from the arrowhead.

  He dropped like a marionette with cut strings and hit the ground screaming. The sound tore through her shock, and as he writhed in agony, she launched toward him.

  Something slammed into her back, throwing her off her feet. She landed on her hands and knees as the broken shards of an arrow flew past her—shattered on impact with her shields. Lyre’s chain of spells hung
from her neck, his defensive weaves protecting her instead of him.

  He was still screaming, his voice hoarse and cracking.

  She whipped around, magic already forming over her hands as she faced the two approaching daemons.

  And then the aphrodesia hit her.

  Her knees thudded back into the dirt, her legs painfully weak. Ravenous need seared her flesh and lit her bones on fire. She trembled from head to toe, blood boiling, throat closing, heart racing so fast pain shot through her chest.

  Desperately, she clung to the sound of Lyre’s tormented cries, anchoring herself to his pain before the aphrodesia washed away her will. Worse. So much worse. Overwhelming, irresistible. The pounding, scorching desire obliterated every thought from her head.

  Her fragile protection against aphrodesia was gone, and it was all she could do to cling to awareness as the waves of blinding heat kept building.

  Madrigal stopped in front of her. She knew it was him, she could smell his citrus-spice scent, but she didn’t look up, staring at his legs to avoid his magnetic eyes. If she looked into his eyes, she would be lost.

  The second incubus passed Bastian’s unmoving body and leaned down. She glimpsed his gleaming amber eyes, a dark tattoo on each cheek—one that matched Lyre’s, and a different one on the opposite side of his perfect face. Lyceus’s hand disappeared into the short grass, and when he straightened, he held the clock.

  Ignoring everything else, he ran his fingers over the gears in a minute examination. Clio tried to summon magic, to form a spell, but all her body would do was tremble, her hands quaking too badly to cast anything.

  Lyre’s cries grew weaker, his beautiful voice breaking.

  “Madrigal,” Lyceus murmured without looking up from the clock, his harmonic tones shuddering through her like poisoned honey. “Lift your weave before he dies.”

  “Wasn’t that the idea?” Madrigal slung his bow over his shoulder. “We came here to kill him.”

  “Not this moment. Lift your weave.”

  With an irritated grunt, Madrigal stepped around Clio. His feet crunched on the dry grass, then a pulse of magic. Lyre went silent.

  Gathering herself, Clio launched to her feet.

  “Naughty nymph.” Madrigal’s hypnotic voice rolled over her. “On your knees.”

  Power rippled through the words and she fell back to the ground. She ached, shook, burned. Madrigal reappeared in front of her and crouched. She desperately fixed her stare on his jaw before his eyes captured her.

  “What a disappointment, little princess,” he crooned. “I was looking forward to breaking you.”

  She clenched her jaw, fighting the waves of aphrodesia rolling off him. In her asper, the golden haze around his body was thick enough to choke.

  “Still a hint of that innocence, though.” He stroked her cheek and burning warmth spread across her skin in the wake of his fingers. “I can have some fun.”

  “Is Lyre conscious?” Lyceus interrupted, glancing up from his analysis of the clock.

  “Difficult to say at this point.” Madrigal shrugged. “A shock spell should bring him around.”

  “Wake him up.”

  “Behave yourself, little princess,” Madrigal whispered. “But if you want to run, I’ll enjoy chasing you.”

  With a silky, cruel laugh, he returned to Lyre and dragged him from the trees, dumping him a few feet away from Clio. Lyre’s eyes were half open but unfocused, and if not for the harsh rasp of his breath, she would have thought he was dead.

  Madrigal pondered his brother, then kicked him in the ribs.

  Lyre cried out, his eyes bulging as he clutched his side with one arm, the other impaled by an arrow. His ribs were cracked and that kick had likely done more damage.

  “Oh?” Madrigal laughed. “In bad shape already, are you, brother?”

  “Control yourself,” Lyceus snapped. “I want him coherent.”

  “Why? He won’t have anything useful to say.”

  As he walked over to Lyre, Lyceus tossed the clock to Madrigal. “Can you replicate this?”

  Madrigal turned the device over in his hands. “What is this?”

  “That is what he will tell me.” He used his boot to push his half-conscious son onto his back. “Lyre.”

  Lyre panted for air, eyes squeezed shut and face contorted in pain, still gripping his chest as though holding himself together.


  The power of the aphrodesia in Lyceus’s voice struck Clio with more force than the howling winds of the desert storm they’d escaped. Lyre went rigid, every muscle in his body tensing. Then he slumped to the ground as though all his pain had vanished—or he couldn’t feel it anymore. His eyes opened, hazy and blank.

  Lyceus held his hand out to Madrigal, who returned the clock. The Rysalis patriarch crouched beside Lyre and took hold of his chin, forcing their eyes to meet. Lyre’s eyes darkened to black, going even more out of focus.

  “Lyre, tell me what this is.”

  Clio gasped when Madrigal grabbed her arm. He dragged her away from Lyceus and his helpless, enthralled son.

  “Shall we find some privacy, love?” Madrigal crooned. “I don’t particularly care to watch them.”

  Whimpering, she fought his hold but her entire body was quaking. She suspected he could have taken full control of her will at any point, but he was enjoying her pitiful resistance.

  “I’ve never liked that,” the incubus continued conversationally as he hauled Clio into the trees. “Our father using aphrodesia on us is … well, you probably don’t know that it’s an absolute rule that incubi never use aphrodesia on other incubi.”

  He threw Clio to the ground. She landed on her back and he straddled her thighs, pinning her in place. “Our father has never had a problem with it, for some reason.”

  He trailed off, and in the absence of his purring tones, the power-laden rumble of Lyceus’s voice drifted through the silent trees.

  “I suppose it worked though,” Madrigal continued, a slight rush in his words. “Trained us to never lie to him.”

  He glanced over his shoulder then quickly refocused on Clio. He didn’t want to hear what Lyceus was doing to Lyre, she realized fuzzily. He was talking to cover the sound of the interrogation.

  “I’m glad this little side trip is over.” He leaned down to capture her eyes, but she looked away, breathing fast. “I thought we would have to wait weeks for Lyre to come through a Brinford ley line and trigger one of the signal traps we set.”

  He touched the chain around her neck and the defensive weaves shielding her body dissolved. His hand trailed down, dragging over her breast and across her belly. She writhed, desperate for his touch while also hating it.

  Fight him. She needed to fight him. How did she fight him?

  “Mmm,” Madrigal crooned. “That fire in your eyes. Delicious. Did you fight Lyre too, or did you spread your legs for him like a proper whore?”

  Baring her teeth, she pulled together her shredded thoughts, focused her asper on his swirling aura, and mimicked it.

  He recoiled, then grabbed her by the throat, cutting off her air. “You didn’t think that would work on me twice, did you?” he hissed. “I did my research after the last time. A mimic. Impressive ability, but not enough.”

  Still sitting on her legs, he dragged her up and crushed his lips to hers. She shrieked against his mouth but if his aphrodesia had been powerful before, now it was as intense as the sun. Her magic and concentration evaporated from the heat raging through her veins. Her mind emptied and her body took over—her hands grabbing at his shoulders, her mouth opening for him.

  Through the trees, a cacophony of shouts erupted—voices that didn’t belong to Lyceus or Lyre.

  Swearing, Madrigal let go of her and jumped up. With a flick of his hand, he cast a binding spell over her, then raced into the trees. She hit the ground again, the spell trapping her arms and legs.

  The moment he was out of sight, her awareness returned. She gaspe
d, then gagged, spitting his taste out of her mouth.

  The soft rush of the ley line gliding along her senses stuttered like a stone thrown into a stream—the sensation of a daemon coming or going through the line. The sudden chaos through the trees increased. Strange voices bellowed, then a burst of magic.

  She struggled against the binding. Her body ached and burned, her muscles twitching, her heart still racing out of control like she had a deathly fever.

  Sucking in a breath, she brought her asper into focus and craned her neck to examine the binding spell. She channeled a rough surge of magic over her body and a sloppy tangle of threads broke.

  She clambered to her feet, breathing hard. Her legs shook but she pushed into the undergrowth. As she approached the tiny clearing, her foot caught on something that clattered against a nearby tree trunk.

  Lyre’s bow, the string cut. Grabbing it, she peered through the foliage.

  Madrigal and Lyceus stood side by side. The latter held the front of Lyre’s shirt, and he hung limply in his father’s grip, head rolled back. Madrigal had his bow raised, an arrow aimed at their new adversaries.

  A dozen daemons spanned the space in front of the ley line—nymphs and chimeras in dark clothing, soaking wet, splattered with blood and orange mud from the desert. Bastian’s men. But Bastian was dead, sprawled on the ground with his blond braid gleaming in the morning sun, an arrow protruding from his back.

  This spot must be Bastian’s rendezvous point. His soldiers, escaped from Aldrendahar, had arrived—only to find their prince slain.

  One chimera was already down with an arrow in his throat, and the others had formed up, battle ready. With another blip in the line, two more nymphs came through. They took in the situation in a single shocked sweep of their asper, then jumped into position with their comrades. Every one of them was wrapped in master-weaver defensive shields.

  This development didn’t appear to concern Lyceus. Still holding Lyre by the shirtfront, he raised his other hand, fingers spread wide. Light flashed out from his palm and formed a golden circle filled with runes and markings.

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