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


  “Be ready by two hours into the eclipse,” Ash instructed. “But wait for my dragonet’s signal to start.”

  “Wait, this is today? Fuck me.” The draconian shoved back from the table. “You’re a prick, Ash.”

  His twin stood as well. “Where’s the rest of the down payment?”

  Ash tossed them another diamond. The one-eyed draconian pocketed it, then leaned into Ash’s face.

  “Leave the rest of the payment in escrow, as usual.” He smirked evilly. “Just in case you get your cocky ass killed while we’re handling your distraction.”

  Firelight gleamed across steel. Ash suddenly held a narrow-bladed knife, the point aimed under the daemon’s chin. The older draconian backed up with more haste than nonchalance.

  Ash spun the knife and it disappeared under his armguard. “Do the job, Eliya, and I’ll pay you.”

  The other brother joined Eliya and the pair strode away without a backward glance, disappearing through the door. Silence fell over the table.

  “Um,” Clio eventually mumbled.

  “Wait here.” Ash pushed his chair back and headed in the opposite direction of the draconian twins, approaching the daemon behind the bar.

  Clio let out a long exhale. “Are all draconians like that?”

  Lyre wasn’t sure, but when it came to the draconians who called Samael “master,” he doubted many had cheerful dispositions. He’d bet the twins were trapped in Hades’s employ as much as Ash was, though Lyre had no idea how Samael was keeping any of these powerful warriors under his control.

  Waving at Lyre and Clio to follow, Ash led them through a side door, across a back room, and down a narrow flight of stairs. At the bottom was a cellar illuminated only by the light leaking through the floorboards above. Preserves filled the shelves along the walls, with extra chairs and crates stacked in the corners.

  “The barkeep is allowing us to spend the day here.” Ash went to the shelves, fished around for a minute, then pulled out a stack of blankets. “He’s decently trustworthy and I paid him well, so it should be safe enough.”

  As he dropped the blankets on a crate, Lyre pulled a chair off the stack and set it in the corner for Clio. She sank down gratefully, pulling her scarf off. Her creamy skin looked milk-white in the darkness.

  “So,” Lyre prompted Ash. “The Black Tower?”

  “Attacking one tower is insane enough. No one will expect simultaneous attacks on two towers. Hold on.”

  The draconian headed back up the stairs. Sighing, Lyre sat on the floor and leaned back against a crate. He and Clio waited silently until Ash returned, balancing three bowls of steaming stew. He handed them out, then crouched on his haunches, bowl in one hand and spoon in the other.

  “Stealth will only get us so far,” he continued as though there had been no break in their conversation. “I expect we’ll get caught, and when that happens, I want as much confusion and chaos as possible to cover our movements. If Ezran and Eliya attack the Black Tower, the Ivory Tower guards will be less likely to expect an infiltration of their building, and when it happens, they’ll be thrown off.”

  Lyre blew on a spoonful of stew, then stuck it in his mouth. It scalded his tongue, but damn, it was good. He could see why draconians frequented this tavern.

  “Even using the banshee’s information,” Lyre said after a few bites, “we’ll have a hell of a time with or without distractions. Just getting in the front doors undetected is probably impossible. There’s only one way in or out, and after that, we’ll still need to make it through the tower.”

  “Let me guess,” Ash said. “Lyceus owns the top floor.”

  “Actually, the second to the top. I guess he was too stingy to outbid the siren queen.”

  “Queen?” Clio lowered her spoon. “What does a siren look like?”

  Lyre frowned at the question, and Ash answered instead.

  “Pale skin, big fins in place of ears, blue-green hair, and”—he drew a line from his forehead down his nose—“a big blue stripe in the middle of their faces. I’ve heard they have wing-like fins that fold against their backs, but their clothes cover it up.”

  Clio frowned at her bowl, a wrinkle between her brows and that sharp churning look in her eyes that she got when she was thinking fast. Ash started to ask something but Lyre gestured at him to wait.

  Finally, she looked up. “What if we could make it through the tower without getting caught?”

  “What are you thinking?” Lyre asked.

  “If there’s only one way in, then we’ll need a disguise.” She smiled conspiratorially. “And I know the perfect one that will get us right to the top.”

  Frowning, Lyre tilted the metal disc one way, then the other. Touching a finger to its center, he added another glowing gold thread to the weave. Back in Chrysalis, this was about the point when he would have indulged in some creative and heartfelt profanity, but he needed to keep quiet.

  Clio was curled on her side, a blanket wrapped around her, head resting on his thigh. It didn’t look like a comfortable way to sleep, but she was snoring softly so who was he to judge.

  Returning his attention to the makeshift weaving apparatus, he let out a frustrated breath. She had too much faith in his ability. Illusions were his favorite spells to weave, but they were projects he devoted weeks to, not hours.

  And, to add to the challenge, he didn’t know exactly what the illusion should look like. Clio had described the siren queen and even helped him with a sketch, but it wasn’t the same as seeing the daemon for himself. He’d seen sirens before but not recently.

  The plan was good, assuming Lyre could pull off the illusion. Ash was currently investigating the siren queen’s departure to confirm she had left the city. Assuming she wouldn’t be back soon, Clio would take her place—an illusion spell, a queenly costume, and Lyre and Ash posing as bodyguards.

  It was the best plan they had, and there were still a million ways it could go wrong.

  Setting the half-finished illusion down, he slipped his hand into his pocket and withdrew the quicksilver vial. Golden magic shimmered within the metallic liquid. It was finished. Everything was ready. But he wasn’t sure he could use it. Even if he could make it work, he wasn’t sure he dared to use it.

  His trip ward on the top cellar door pinged in his head and he quickly slipped the vial back into his pocket. The door clacked, then Ash glided down the stairs and into the cellar, his dragonet riding on his shoulder and a large bundle of fabric under his arm.

  “The siren queen is gone,” he said without preamble. “I couldn’t find out anything about when she’s supposed to return, but considering the entourage she took with her, I’d say at least half a cycle.”

  “We’ve got enough time, then.”

  Ash dumped the clothing bundle on a crate, and Zwi leaped onto the nearby shelves, her tail swishing. “How’s the illusion?”

  “Slow going but I’ll get it done in time—I think.”

  “Good.” Ash paced the length of the room, brimming with restless energy. “The eclipse starts in three hours. We need to be at the tower two hours after that.”

  “And then we’ll find out if we’re as smart as we think we are or considerably more stupid.”

  Ash grunted in agreement. As he paced across the room again, Lyre brushed two fingers over Clio’s forehead, casting a light sleep spell. No point in letting Ash’s edginess disrupt her rest.

  “Do you trust those draconians?” Lyre slouched tiredly against the wall. “Will they do the job?”

  “I don’t trust them, but they’ll do it.” Ash twitched one shoulder in a shrug. “They’re reliable when it counts.”

  “You should have warned them about incubi. They probably won’t run into any of my relatives, but it’s always better to be on guard.”

  Ash’s mouth twisted.

  “You’ll need to be careful too,” he added. “Keep five feet away if they’re in glamour, ten feet if they’re out.”

  “You caught
me because I wasn’t expecting it. That won’t happen again.”

  Lyre’s eyes narrowed as Ash paced another line. “It could easily happen again. Just because you know you can be enthralled doesn’t grant you special immunity.”

  “I’ll ram a sword in them before they can mess with me,” Ash snapped impatiently. “I’m more concerned about Lyceus’s magic.”

  Easing Clio’s head off his lap, Lyre rose to his feet. Sliding his hands into his pockets, he watched Ash.

  “His reputation is formidable,” the draconian continued. “How do you plan to handle him?”

  “I don’t think you understand, Ash.”

  He stopped pacing and frowned at Lyre. “Understand what?”

  “You’re used to being the strongest daemon in the room,” Lyre said, his voice slow and lazy. “You’re used to blasting your way through any obstacle with that magic-incinerating black fire.”

  “Dragon fire,” Ash corrected, his frown deepening. “What the hell are you going on about?”

  Lyre pushed away from the wall, drifting closer. “It’s easy to underestimate subtler magic. When I used aphrodesia on you, that was full bore—everything I had because I needed to stop you from ‘ramming a sword in me,’ as you so delicately put it.”

  “And you only succeeded because I was right on top of you and I wasn’t expecting it,” Ash growled in annoyance. “I won’t put myself in that position again.”

  “Oh, I know,” Lyre purred, moving even closer. “But maybe next time you won’t be thinking about avoiding it.”

  Ash stepped backward without seeming to realize that he was retreating.

  Lyre advanced. “Aphrodesia isn’t just blasting an enemy and leaving them frozen and slack-jawed. That’s like saying you can only use your magic to blow shit up and nothing in between.”

  “I don’t know what …” Ash trailed off as he withdrew another step. His back bumped into the wall.

  “Aphrodesia works best in low, subtle doses,” Lyre crooned. “It can be used to charm, to placate, to confuse, to disarm … or even to make you very … very … suggestible.”

  He leaned in, bringing his face within inches of Ash’s.

  “What do you think, Ash?” he whispered. “Do you want me to touch you?”

  The draconian’s eyes widened but he didn’t move. Lyre pressed both hands to Ash’s stomach and he jumped at the contact. But, trapped against the wall, he had nowhere to retreat. Lyre slid his hands slowly upward, dragging Ash’s shirt up.

  “What do you think?” he purred softly. “Do you want me to kiss you?”

  Ash’s breath caught. His eyes flashed to black and he jerked his hands up to throw Lyre off, but Lyre had already slid away, out of reach.

  “I’ll take that as a ‘no,’” Lyre remarked in a normal tone. “But that’s okay, because I still had plenty of time to weave a spell or two while you were distracted.”

  Ash stiffened and looked down as though expecting to see a weaving stamped on his chest.

  Lyre rolled his shoulders to relieve the tension as he locked down his aphrodesia again. “Relax. I didn’t actually weave anything.”

  Ash growled, a low, vicious sound. “Fuck with me again, incubus, and I’ll—”

  “Grow up, Ash,” Lyre interrupted calmly. “You know perfectly well that was a demonstration so you quit dismissing a dangerous power just because you find it distasteful.”

  The draconian’s jaw clenched.

  “Do you get it now? Unless you plan to murder every incubus within ten seconds of encountering him, you need to be on guard against our power.”

  Ash stood rigid for a long moment, then flexed his shoulders. “Point taken.”

  Lyre sat beside Clio and arched an eyebrow at the draconian. “At least you didn’t blush. Most men blush when I offer to kiss them.”

  Ash blinked—and the faintest red tinged his cheeks. Lyre looked away, deciding to be merciful and not point it out.

  Huffing out a breath, Ash resumed pacing. Lyre watched him, recognizing the draconian’s relentless energy for what it was: nerves. He wouldn’t say Ash was afraid—the draconian seemed incapable of real fear—but he was nervous as hell about their plans for the eclipse.

  “Aren’t you tired?” Lyre asked, picking up his illusion spell. “When did you last sleep?”

  Ash paused, his eyes scrunching in thought, then he resumed pacing without answering. So, he’d gone long enough without proper rest that he didn’t want to admit it. And judging by his tireless pacing, he didn’t plan to take advantage of this final chance to recuperate. Sighing, Lyre allowed a few tendrils of aphrodesia to uncoil around him again.

  After letting the seduction magic simmer in the room for a few minutes, he glanced up. “Would you sit already, Ash?”

  “I’m fine.”

  “I can’t work with you distracting me. Just sit down for five minutes.”

  Ash hesitated but didn’t come over. Lyre let another whisper of aphrodesia saturate the air. Just enough to take the draconian’s nervous edge off. He would never know.

  Lyre lifted the paper with his and Clio’s siren sketch. “Come look at this.”

  “Why?”

  “Get over here, damn it.”

  Reluctantly, Ash stalked over and leaned over to peer at the paper. Grabbing his arm, Lyre yanked him down. Ash sat with a thump, growling, but Lyre shoved the paper in his face before he could get up again.

  “Do siren head fins have four or five spines?” he asked.

  “I don’t know.”

  “Try to remember.”

  Ash squinted at the paper. “Five, I think. This looks right.”

  “Okay, good. Now just sit there for a few minutes so I can work on this in peace.”

  Ash grumbled something nasty under his breath, then leaned back against the wall with one arm resting on his upraised knee. Lyre prodded the weaving again. After a moment, Zwi hopped down from the shelves, slunk over, and curled up between her master’s feet.

  Feeling Ash’s attention on him, Lyre began talking about his work, using as many technical terms as possible. Gradually, he let his voice sink into a soft, soothing croon, adding a little aphrodesia for good measure. Ash’s head drooped forward, his eyes drifting closed as he listened.

  As Lyre described the geometric variables of thread construction, weight settled against his shoulder. Ash had slipped sideways to lean against Lyre’s side, his breathing slow and even. Finally.

  In the draconian’s face, relaxed in sleep, Lyre saw traces of the boy he’d first encountered three years ago. It was easy to forget Ash was four or five years younger than him. The draconian’s upbringing in Asphodel had matured him too quickly, and like Lyre, he was alone in a dangerous world with no allies, no one he trusted.

  Young, but already a veteran warrior. Headstrong, but cunning and capable. Fearless, but wary and mistrustful.

  Lyre briefly closed his eyes, a wry smile on his lips. How surprising it was to realize he’d come to trust the draconian mercenary. The only two people in the three realms he could trust with his life were in this room, both fast asleep.

  He let his head fall back, resting it against the hard wall. Unless he was very much mistaken, he’d somehow earned Ash’s trust too. Otherwise, the leery draconian would never have come so close scarcely five minutes after Lyre had enthralled him.

  Sentimental smile fading, Lyre lifted the illusion weaving and got back to work.

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  “I changed my mind,” Clio whispered urgently. “This is a bad plan. A terrible one. We should do something else.”

  “Stay in character,” Ash growled.

  “How?” she hissed back. She didn’t know the character she was portraying!

  Lyre and Ash walked ahead of her, leading the way to the looming Ivory Tower. Its sister towers, the steely gray one and the pitch black one, rose behind it, the latter almost invisible against the inky darkness of the sky.

  The Ivory Tower’s pa
le exterior, so majestic and daunting from a distance, was dull and grimy up close, though that didn’t diminish her feeling of intimidation. According to their informant, it had twenty-five levels, but the colossal cylinder looked even taller.

  Twenty-five levels and the Rysalis family owned the one just below the penthouse. That meant she, Lyre, and Ash had to pass twenty-three floors of the most dangerous daemon criminals in the Underworld to get to Lyceus and the KLOC on the twenty-fourth.

  But first they had to get through the front doors, and Clio rather doubted they would make it that far.

  Lyre had worked his weaving magic with his usual brilliance. He wasn’t satisfied with the siren illusion that cloaked her, but Ash had said it was fine. To passersby, she was a regal, stern-faced siren, face framed by delicate fins, her cold turquoise eyes staring straight ahead. Her hair fell down her back in waves, tinted to the same blue-green shade.

  Her clothes weren’t an illusion at all. Creating illusory fabric that would flow across the ground hadn’t been possible with the time limit, so Ash had found an outfit for her. The flowing dress shimmered like delicate fish scales, trailing on the ground behind her.

  Judging by the reactions of the daemons they passed in the streets, it was a convincing disguise. But as for whether it would fool anyone in the tower, she was about to find out.

  A few broad steps led up to the wide entryway. Beastly guards in matching armor were positioned nearby, but they would only move if someone who obviously didn’t belong tried to enter. Most daemons weren’t stupid enough to walk in through the front doors.

  Clio lifted her chin and concentrated on keeping her gait slow and gliding. Dressed in black like the siren queen’s guards, Lyre and Ash strode ahead of her with flawless confidence, their weapons hidden under glamour.

  As they passed through the threshold, the ashen stone steps changed to shining white marble. The entrance hall, a huge, barren rectangle of glistening marble with paired colonnades along each side, rose to a ceiling twenty feet above their heads. The smooth walls were broken by three access points—a large archway at the far end, and two closed wooden doors off to the sides.

 
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