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


  Lyre let go of the slippery coil around his neck. It snapped tight, crushing his throat as he grabbed his spell chain and pinched a gem between his fingers. This was going to suck.

  He activated the spell and a huge golden circle spun out, encompassing Lyre, Clio, Ash, and the naga. Electric power surged through the circle—and everyone in it.

  Pitching forward, Lyre landed on his face with his muscles convulsing. The snake writhed, its constricting loops going slack. Still trembling from the shock, he pulled a throwing knife from the sheath on his upper arm and jammed it into the base of the reptile’s skull.

  Hoping Clio could handle the last snake, Lyre spun toward Ash and the naga. The daemon was scrambling to his feet, but Ash was still down, blood spattered around him like a macabre painting.

  Lyre hurled his knife. Ducking it, the naga grinned and lifted his weapon.

  Then a thick blade burst through his chest.

  Ash hadn’t wasted time drawing a throwing knife—he’d thrown his whole damn sword. Before Lyre could recover from the surprise, Clio flew past him, already reaching for Ash as he slumped over.

  “Shit!” Lyre hissed, racing over to them. He wrapped his hands around the draconian’s arm just above the elbow and squeezed to slow the blood flow. “Hang on, Ash.”

  Clio pressed her hands to his chest. “There’s venom in his blood. I think he stopped most of it, but I don’t know how to purge poisons.”

  “Don’t worry about the venom,” Ash rasped. “Draconians are resistant. Just stop the bleeding.”

  “Right.” Clio moved her hands to his wound, her eyes closing as she focused on her healing magic.

  Crouched beside them, Lyre kept a tight grip on Ash’s arm so he wouldn’t lose any more blood. Dead snakes littered the corridor and silence had fallen, except for the irregular booms of Eliya and Ezran’s explosions outside.

  Then heavy footsteps vibrated the floor, drawing closer.

  At the farthest end of the curving corridor, a mass of multicolored scales and muscles surged into view. Was this the reptile floor or something? Each one was seven feet of solid muscle, with tough scaled hides and crushing lizard jaws. They carried staves and pikes, half of the weapons topped with giant spelled crystals.

  Already on his feet, Lyre stepped in front of the other two. Ash was scarcely holding on to consciousness and Clio couldn’t defend herself and heal Ash at the same time. Lyre was on his own.

  He pulled three arrows, the fletching pinched between his fingers. Drakes were physical fighters with even less magic than the average incubus. Their weapons were spelled and their hides were magic-resistant, but that was it. Lyre had a chance.

  His first arrow struck the lead drake’s chest and only sank about an inch into his flesh. The daemon’s stride didn’t falter—then magic flashed up the arrow shaft. The bolt exploded, blasting the drake’s chest open. It collapsed mid-step, but the others didn’t slow.

  Lyre was already firing the second and third arrows. They struck two drakes and detonated.

  He pulled three more arrows and shot them in seconds. A blast of needle-like barbs sent two drakes crashing to the floor. A crackling paralysis spell ripped through another. A third one howled when blades of power erupted from his chest.

  Lyre pulled three more arrows, but they were close. Time and space were running out. Nock, draw, loose. Nock, draw, loose. As drakes fell, the survivors’ fury increased until they were bellowing in rage as they bore down on him.

  Time was up. Lyre tossed his bow behind him, snapped a gem off his spell chain, and dropped it at his feet. Then he leaped into the oncoming horde.

  Behind him, the gem he’d dropped flashed into a shimmering barrier that would slow any drakes that tried to reach Clio and Ash—but he needn’t have bothered. The beasts wanted him dead first.

  He ducked a swinging staff and clapped his wrists together. The gemstones in his bracelets clacked and their shared spell sparked to life. A ribbon of glowing light stretched between his hands.

  Before he had a chance to use it, a huge hand tipped with claws slammed him off his feet. His defensive weaves absorbed most of the blow, but the impact jarred him from head to foot. He rolled and came up, hands spread with the ribbon of magic stretched between them.

  He darted into the drakes’ midst. They bumped into each other as he ducked under their arms, a golden ribbon trailing after him. Barely evading a grasping hand and a swinging pike, he dove between a drake’s legs and popped up behind the beast, magic spinning from his hands.

  Whirling through the group one more time, he skittered backward, aching from the glancing blows he hadn’t quite dodged. His back hit the wall and the drakes surrounded him. He was trapped.

  Raising his hands, he clapped his wrist together a second time.

  The second phase of the weaving triggered and power surged down the golden ribbon—now tangled through the group of drakes. The entire line blazed.

  In uncanny unison, all six drakes crumpled to the floor.

  Breathing hard, Lyre returned to his barrier spell and dissolved it. Clio was bent over Ash’s arm, but the draconian was staring at him.

  “What?” Lyre asked.

  Ash just shook his head.

  Clio lifted her hands from the draconian’s arm. “I’ve healed the wound but there’s still venom in his system.”

  “My body will burn it off,” Ash grunted, sitting up.

  Lyre helped him to his feet. The draconian wobbled unsteadily, panting for air, then straightened. Showing no hesitation despite the gore, Clio yanked his sword out of the dead naga and passed it to him.

  Ash sheathed it and his other blade. “We need to keep moving.”

  Lyre took point, trusting Clio to keep an eye on the draconian. They jogged to the scarlet stairs and started up. Clio raced behind him, Ash trailing at the back.

  Lyre crossed a landing and continued up, his thoughts racing ahead to the twenty-fourth floor. His foot came down on the next step—and the stone sank beneath his weight. A popping sound ricocheted through the stairwell.

  The stairs beneath him collapsed.

  He leaped backward as they fell. Clio reached for him—but the steps beneath her gave way too. They plummeted, their hands meeting in midair, his fingers closing tight around her wrists.

  They came to a jarring stop as fast as they’d fallen. Clio let out a strangled cry as his weight jerked her arms. She hung upside down, Lyre dangling from her wrists, nothing but pitch darkness below them.

  Sprawled on his stomach at the edge of the gap, Ash clutched Clio’s ankle.

  “Ash,” Lyre gasped. “Pull us up.”

  The draconian pulled, but his recently healed arm shook and Clio’s ankle slipped a few inches in his grip. His talons dug into her flesh and Clio gasped, her face red from the blood rushing to her head.

  “Shit.” Lyre squeezed Clio’s wrists. “Should I try to climb up?”

  “If you jostle her, I’ll drop you both,” Ash snarled. “Just wait.”

  “Wait? For what?”

  Ash snarled again. “Just shut up and hold on!”

  Lyre clung to Clio, breathing fast with his feet dangling over inky nothingness. What could they possibly be waiting for? Ash to have a sudden surge of strength? Was the draconian even thinking straight or was he delirious from the venom?

  Ash’s arms trembled visibly from the strain of holding two people after suffering injuries and being poisoned. Lyre met Clio’s eyes and saw his terror reflected in her dark stare. Was this how they died?

  “Lyre,” she whispered. “I know you didn’t want me to say it, but—”

  “No,” Ash snarled. “Spare me the final declarations of love. Fuck.”

  “We have nothing better to do,” Lyre snapped furiously. “Since we’re just hanging here prior to imminent death, we might as well—”

  The words died on his tongue as a huge black shape appeared above Ash—giant wings, scaled body, and glowing golden eyes. The dragon rumbled
quietly, then stretched her long neck down and took a mouthful of Clio’s clothing. With massive strength, the dragon lifted Clio from the abyss, drawing Lyre up with her. Once he was in reach, Ash pulled him onto the steps as well.

  Lyre slumped on solid ground, shaking from adrenaline. The dragon, filling half the corridor, rumbled again as she backed away. Black flames burst over her body then shrank, and when they dissipated, Zwi was back to her usual cat-sized form.

  “Thanks, Zwi,” Clio panted.

  The dragonet trilled importantly, then chattered sternly at Ash. He scowled at her. With another chirp, she took off on dark wings and soared back down the stairs.

  “Where is she going?” Lyre asked.

  Ash heaved himself to his feet. “Getting back into position.”

  Lyre staggered up, then offered a hand to Clio. Together, they retreated to the previous landing.

  “Damn,” he muttered. “That was my fault. I forgot it switches after the twentieth floor.”

  “Each level uses a different staircase now.” Clio turned left. “Jade, azure, then jade again. Three more.”

  “Let’s go.”

  Lyre let Clio take the lead. He kept at Ash’s side, glad to see the draconian was moving easier. His immunity to poisons was one hell of an impressive trait.

  Thankfully, the corridor was empty. Between Clio disabling every ward they came across and the draconian twins’ impressive ruckus outside, the Ivory Tower’s security either didn’t realize they’d been infiltrated or hadn’t caught up yet.

  At the jade staircase, they sped to the twenty-second floor, then sprinted along the corridor to the azure staircase. Clio led the charge up that one and onto the landing of the twenty-third level. One more to go.

  They rushed through another echoing white corridor, heading toward the jade stairs. One more level and they would have accomplished the impossible.

  “Stop,” Ash hissed.

  Lyre and Clio slid to a halt. He scanned the corridor for whatever danger Ash sensed, but he couldn’t see anything but white marble walls and a single closed door. Ash stood motionless except for the swiveling of his head, his nostrils flaring and his eyes black.

  “I can smell you,” the draconian growled.

  A quiet giggle echoed through the hall, then a daemon was suddenly standing in the center of the corridor as though he’d been there all along.

  Not just any daemon. A familiar daemon.

  Ragged feathers hung around his dark body and trailed on the floor, his mess of black hair hiding his eyes. Two large horns sprouted from the sides of his skull and three smaller ones protruded from his forehead.

  The wraith smiled delightedly at Ash, exposing sharp fangs.

  “Blackfire,” he sang in a high, raspy voice. “The halls taste of your blood.”

  “What are you doing here?” Ash barked.

  The wraith fluttered his dark hands, long fingers tapering to wickedly sharp claws. “I offered, did I not? Your fate I divined, but you would not wait.”

  “What are you doing here?” Ash repeated, his voice dropping into a dangerous snarl.

  The wraith’s maniacal smile widened. “Too late to change your path now. The crossroads lie behind you, passed by unseen, fate’s hand unknown.” He tilted his face up to peer through his shaggy hair and the light caught on pupilless eyes that swirled with shifting streaks of red and silver. “Upon this road, death awaits you on all sides.”

  Ash reached over his shoulder and drew his broadsword. “Lyre, take Clio and keep going.”

  “But Ash—”

  “Go!”

  Lyre shot an agonized look at the draconian, then grabbed Clio’s arm and sprinted down the corridor. The wraith’s mad laughter rang out, echoing across the shining marble.

  With Clio’s hand clutched in his, Lyre raced up the final flight of stairs and onto the twenty-fourth landing. The Rysalis floor. He hoped Ash had recovered enough to battle the wraith, but now—now it was his next battle he needed to worry about.

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Clio stopped at the wide door, its steel handle gleaming in the light of the spell crystals. The corridor was empty except for her and Lyre. The booming ruckus outside—Eliya and Ezran’s distraction—had gone quiet.

  She couldn’t hear anything from the level below either, and she didn’t know if that was good or bad. She wished they hadn’t left Ash to fight the wraith alone.

  With Lyre standing rigidly beside her, she stretched her hand toward the door. The ward darkened under her fingers, disarmed by a single spark of her magic. All the magic in this tower—web after ward after trap after alarm—would have stopped anyone but a mimic. Even Lyre, who could probably have broken through the wards, wouldn’t have been fast enough.

  No intruder should have ever made it this far. Gulping down her twisting stomach, she pushed the door open.

  The change from white marble to warm granite took her by surprise. A round vestibule with carved pillars and elaborate buttresses welcomed visitors. She cautiously stepped inside and turned to the open archway.

  She wasn’t sure what she’d expected, but not this.

  The spacious room was constructed entirely of speckled brown stone, and an obsidian inlay in the floor formed a symbol matching the one on Lyre’s cheekbone. The high ceilings arched into domes, and sconces in the walls held, not harsh light spells, but oil lamps that gave off a soft, flickering glow.

  Cabinets and shelves lined the walls, filled with stacks of everything imaginable—papers, books, spells, weapons, weaving tools, and random trinkets that might have been souvenirs from across the Underworld. Worktables with chairs or stools were scattered around, some empty, some buried in half-finished work. On one side, the room rose several steps to a platform beside the vertical, slit-like windows. Cozy furniture was arranged around a low table where a book sat open as though waiting for someone’s return.

  Under different circumstances, she would have been delighted to explore those cabinets or sit by the windows with a book and a cup of tea. The room was used, lived in, comfortably worn—far different from the stark white halls of Chrysalis. Which was the better representation of the Rysalis family? Lyre’s workroom had been similar to this—a cluttered, welcoming mess.

  Opposite the windows, an archway led into another room. Lyre moved silently toward it, pausing at the threshold, but the protective ward was already dark and inactive.

  The antechamber beyond was constructed of the same granite, but it was empty of furniture. On one wall, another archway offered a glimpse of an expansive library. A third doorway led into a dim hallway. And the final wall also held a door, but a very different one.

  The circular vault entrance was set in a colossal stone slab, and it was so heavily spelled that it glowed even without her asper. Layers upon layers of weavings crisscrossed the stone door, and the anchor lines of the weave had been physically carved into it. She belatedly realized why the Rysalis level was all granite—it was a significantly harder stone than marble and would hold, and deflect, magic far better.

  “If he’s stashed the KLOC anywhere,” Lyre whispered, “I’m betting it’s in there.”

  She nodded. “Should we check the rest of the level first?”

  “It’ll be all storage and living quarters. This is where the best magic and the secret records are kept.”

  Stepping up to the vault, she began a careful study. “This is the most complex weaving I’ve ever seen. There are elements to this that I can’t … I’m not sure they make sense, even with asper.”

  “Don’t rush,” he encouraged her. “Take your time.”

  But they didn’t have a lot of time. She leaned closer, squinting as a headache built behind her eyes. So many layers full of tricks and traps and backup weaves to take over if the main ones failed. There had to be a method to disarm it, but the way it was embedded into the carved stone made it seem as permanent—and unbreakable—as the granite itself.

  “Blood magic,” sh
e whispered, finally finding the right constructs. “It’s keyed to someone’s blood, but there’s something strange about it. It’s linked to one person but not … a specific person?”

  “How does that work?” Lyre muttered, shifting his grip on his bow.

  A purring incubus voice that didn’t belong to Lyre responded.

  “It’s probably too sophisticated for you to grasp, brother.”

  At the end of the corridor, Madrigal stepped into sight—his bow already drawn. The string twanged as he released it, the deadly arrow shooting for Lyre’s chest.

  Lyre snatched the arrow out of the air, flipped it onto his bow, and fired it back. Madrigal sprang aside and the arrow shattered against the wall behind him.

  “To put it simply,” the incubus went on, ignoring the near-deadly interruption, “the ward is keyed to the blood of the Rysalis patriarch. Only our father can open that vault, and if he dies, the power to enter it will pass automatically to his heir—meaning Andante.”

  Lyre pulled an arrow from his quiver.

  “You have a lot of brothers to kill if you plan to open that door,” Madrigal concluded with a smirk as he also drew another bolt. “Not even a mimic can get through the ward.”

  He flipped his arrow onto his bow, drew back, and fired in a single swift motion. Lyre snapped his string back and released. The two arrows collided in midair, shattering into splinters.

  Madrigal advanced toward the antechamber, shouldering his bow as he came. Protective shields shimmered over his body and he was loaded with weavings—gemstones hanging from his neck, his wrists, his belt. He stopped in the threshold and turned darkening amber eyes to Clio.

  She looked away, ignoring the heat rising through her body. He was out of glamour and she felt the irresistible pull—but Lyre was also out of glamour, and his allure was even stronger.

  “I’m curious.” Madrigal’s smirk grew patronizing. “What exactly did you plan to do once you got up here? Or do you just enjoy suffering?”

 
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