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

  “Well,” Lyre said, “for starters, I plan to kill you.”

  “I’d like to see you try.” With a laugh, Madrigal pulled a handful of gemstones from his pocket and tossed them across the floor.

  They burst into golden flares, but Lyre cast a ripple of magic that hit the four gems and sent them flying. Two hit the vault door and burst into dust. Two triggered harmlessly as they ricocheted off the walls. The third ruptured into spiraling wires that launched at Clio and Lyre. She flung both hands out and cut through the threads. The spell died.

  As Madrigal pulled another gem, Lyre launched forward, Clio right behind him.

  Madrigal activated his gem and pitched it at Lyre. A binding spell whipped out, but Clio grabbed the back of Lyre’s shirt, her magic rushing over him. He leaped through the dissipating glow and slammed into his brother. They tumbled across the floor, then Madrigal broke free, a cast flaring across his fingers.

  Clio’s hands came up, mimicking him. As he cast his spell, she flung her copy over Lyre’s head. The magic collided, the explosion throwing Lyre and Madrigal back even with their defensive weaves.

  Lyre rolled to his feet as golden threads spiraled through his fingers. Madrigal started a counterspell.

  Conjuring a dart of magic, Clio flung it into Madrigal, interrupting his cast, and Lyre threw a sizzling binding that shackled his brother’s arms and legs. The incubus wobbled, then caught a gem hanging from his bracelet. Light flared and the binding burst apart.

  No longer smirking, Madrigal whipped another gem into the floor. Power blasted from the stone, hurling Clio and Lyre in opposite directions. She slammed into the wall only a few feet from the lethal vault door and her protective weaves shuddered, threatening to fail.

  In the center of the room, Madrigal whirled on Lyre, hands raised for another cast.

  Still gasping on the floor, Clio mimicked him. She lobbed the spell at Madrigal’s back as he threw his in Lyre’s face. Lyre crumpled with a pained cry, and Madrigal fell too, shouting in surprise as much as pain.

  Both incubi surged to their feet and began to cast again, but this time, Clio didn’t mimic Madrigal. She mimicked Lyre.

  Magic coiled across his fingers, and she followed him so closely they were moving in almost perfect unison. It didn’t feel like she was copying him so much as he was guiding her hands along with his own. She didn’t think. She just wove.

  Madrigal threw a desperate counter at Lyre’s weave—a moment before Clio’s copy hit him in the back. He went down a second time, tangled in a binding. As he writhed helplessly, Lyre pulled his last spelled throwing knife from the sheath on his upper arm.

  A silent, shuddering vibration rippled through the vault door. A rainbow of colors shimmered across the weaves, then the threads flashed to crimson. The vault door slid outward, then rose as though drawn toward the ceiling by invisible pulleys.

  Standing in the round threshold, Lyceus surveyed the antechamber with cold amber eyes.

  Lyre scarcely hesitated. Arm snapping back, he flung the knife at his father.

  Lyceus didn’t move. A spell circle appeared and the knife hit it—sticking in place as though it had sunk into clay instead of a glowing weave. A weave Lyceus hadn’t cast. Summoned was the only word she could think of to describe the way the magic had instantly materialized, called into existence by his thoughts alone.

  The Rysalis patriarch pointed at Lyre’s feet. With a golden flash, another spell circle appeared on the floor beneath Lyre. Colors swirled across the threads, then it flared white—and bolts of lightning arched upward, forming a sizzling cage with Lyre in its center.

  Madrigal squirmed and the binding around him snapped apart. He rose hastily to his feet, face contorted in embarrassed fury.

  “Can you handle the nymph on your own?” Lyceus asked flatly.

  Madrigal’s face flushed. “Of course I can.”

  “Then get her out of my sight.” He stepped over the circular threshold into the antechamber and the vault door glided back into place, sealing shut. “And stay out of the way.”

  As Madrigal turned to Clio, a spell sparking over his fingers, she raised her hand. Enough time for one last cast.

  Lyceus’s magic was incomprehensible to her, but even if she didn’t understand how the weavings worked, she knew how spell circles worked.

  In the same moment Madrigal flung his spell at her, she whipped her cast at the electric cage around Lyre. Her magic hit the circle and cut through the outer ring. Power burst outward, electricity arcing toward the ceiling and scorching the floor.

  Then Madrigal’s cast hit her chest and everything went dark.

  The electric cage exploded. Lyre skidded across the floor, limbs convulsing and vision blurring. With a gasp, he lurched half upright.

  Clio had collapsed, taken down by Madrigal’s spell—a cast she could have countered, but she’d freed Lyre instead. Grabbing a handful of her long hair, Madrigal glanced back at Lyre, a triumphant leer twisting his lips. He dragged her out of the antechamber.

  Madrigal didn’t plan to kill Clio—not immediately, anyway—and she would have to defeat him on her own. Lyre couldn’t help her.

  He turned to his father, taking measure of the head of the family with a glance. The daemon who’d sired him was a stranger. He was the powerful family leader, the distant and unknowable god who distributed orders and determined punishments. He was the man who judged his sons’ worth and decided whether they lived or died.

  In an instant, Lyre’s bow was in his hand and an arrow in the other. He nocked and fired.

  A spell circle appeared in front of Lyceus, this one slightly different than the last. Instead of catching the bolt, it deflected it. The broken shaft skittered across the granite.

  Jaw clenched, Lyre pulled three arrows with three variations of his best shield-piercing weaves. He shot them in rapid succession.

  Two more spell circles materialized, blocking Lyre’s arrows as though they weren’t spelled at all. Wood splinters flew across the room. Lyre reached over his shoulder a third time, fingers brushing across his dwindling arrows for a spell that might break through that defense.

  Lyceus finally moved—a careless flick of his hand.

  Lyre didn’t even see the cast. His bow was torn out of his grip and slid into the far corner of the antechamber. Pain shot through his ring and pinky fingers—broken by the impact.

  “Enough,” Lyceus said. “You have always been persistent to the point of senselessness.”

  Lyre gritted his teeth and reached for his spell chain. Lyceus made another small gesture and his three shield circles doubled to six. They drifted around him, ready to snap into place no matter which direction an attack came from.

  “But your stubbornness is a strength as well,” his father added unexpectedly. “Without it, you wouldn’t continually persevere long past where others have given up. What many would consider impossible, you have achieved—and you’ve done it over and over again.”

  Lyre paused with a gem between his fingers, a strange tightness rising in his chest. His father had never, not even once, said something positive about his most disappointing son.

  “The shadow weave is brilliant,” Lyceus murmured. “The construction of the clock is ingenious. You have surpassed my expectations.”

  Lyre couldn’t move. This was all wrong. He’d mentally prepared for every variation of a confrontation with his father—except this one.

  “There is a reason I’ve tolerated your petty defiance and secret rebellions.” A faint, mocking smile curved Lyceus’s perfect lips, identical to Lyre’s. “And a reason I wouldn’t allow your older brothers to kill you.”

  He made a slow gesture and his spell circles spun faster. “Your weavings aren’t limited by rules and conventions. You are my only son with the capacity to master the most difficult techniques documented in that vault. With another five or ten seasons of experience, and with your rebellious phase behind you, I expected you to kill your brothers and take
Andante’s place as my heir.”

  Lyre slowly lowered his hand to his side. “You … did?”

  “Tell me, Lyre.” Lyceus’s eyes gleamed. “What was it like to weave a spell from within the Void?”

  His whole body went cold, every muscle tensing until it hurt.

  “I can’t fathom how you arrived at the idea. Embedding the very essence of the Void, of nothingness, into the weave—it is a truly catastrophic magic you have created.”

  “It’s not …” Lyre shook his head slightly, unable to form an intelligent response. “I made it to clear lodestones.”

  Lyceus smiled indulgently. “I would like to know more about its development.” He raised a hand toward his son. “Share your invention with me, Lyre, and I will share my magic with you. A fair trade, don’t you think?”

  Lyre stared blankly at his father’s offered hand, then looked into those amber eyes that, during their last encounter, had burned with devastating aphrodesia as he’d strangled Lyre’s mind into submission.

  “If you want to know about the shadow weave,” Lyre said, “then you’ll have to coerce every single word from my lips before you kill me.”

  Lyre flicked his wrist, casting the gem in his hand across the floor. It flared with golden light, then glowing spears launched out of it, streaking for Lyceus.

  His father’s spell circles snapped in front of him and the spears bounced harmlessly off.

  Lyceus sighed impatiently. “Stubborn to the last. Very well. I offered to share my magic with you—so allow me to demonstrate.”

  The shield circles spun behind him as he raised his hand, fingers spread. A two-foot-wide spell circle manifested in front of his palm, geometrical lines forming an intricate shape filled with ancient runes Lyre had never seen before. The golden threads shimmered in a wave of colors, then turned to reddish orange.

  Fireballs burst from the circle. Lyre cast a bubble shield as they shot across the room and into the barrier—which disintegrated under the barrage. His defensive weaves fell apart just as easily, and pain scorched his skin as he staggered back, his clothes burning.

  Lyceus flicked his fingers and the circle reformed into a new arrangement of lines and runes that flashed to pale blue. An arctic wind whipped ice shards across Lyre. His back hit the wall, the fires extinguished but a hundred bleeding cuts scored across his body.

  Gasping, he snapped a spell off his chain. Before Lyceus could summon another circle, Lyre activated his best dome shield and dropped the gem onto the floor. A glowing web spread across the granite, then the dome rushed over him. He sagged, sucking in air as he tried to come up with a plan.

  “Fire and ice are easy enough,” Lyceus remarked. “Perhaps this will impress you.”

  He tilted his head and another spell circle appeared—directly beneath Lyre’s feet inside his dome shield. The twisted, unfamiliar runes shimmered from gold to murky brown.

  The granite floor turned to liquid. Lyre sank up to his knees and his gem was absorbed, the dome weave tearing apart. The fluid stone surged up his body, encasing him. Though it flowed like water, it was hard as rock against his limbs and he couldn’t shift as it compressed his chest and climbed over his shoulders. He gasped a shallow breath as the stone crawled up his throat and cold pressure slid over his jaw.

  Lyceus snapped his fingers and the granite sloughed off Lyre’s body, simultaneously pushing him out of the pool before returning to its normal state. He collapsed onto his knees, panting. Terror shivered along his nerves from the sickening realization that he didn’t understand this magic at all and had no idea how to fight it.

  He staggered to his feet anyway, but he didn’t know what spell to use—what weaving he would waste.

  His father summoned a crackling yellow circle. A spinning ball of electricity smashed into Lyre and he slammed into the floor, convulsing again.

  Lyceus summoned another one. And another. The spells lined up in front of him, crackling spheres forming in each circle.

  With no time for anything else, Lyre cast a bubble shield. The first electric orb smashed it apart, and the second and third hit him in the chest one after another. He skidded across the floor and hit the wall in the antechamber’s corner.

  Hacking for air as his diaphragm seized, Lyre struggled to rise. Not yet. He couldn’t give up yet. He lifted his head—and saw his bow a foot away. Grabbing it, he lurched onto his knees and reached for an arrow, ignoring the pain in his broken fingers.

  Lyceus slashed his hand through the air.

  Lyre’s bow shattered. The splintered wood fell from his hands and clattered to the granite in pieces. On his knees, his best weapon destroyed, he looked up into his father’s eyes and knew there was no way he could win.

  But then, he had never intended to win this fight.

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Clio’s eyes flew open. The first thing she saw was Madrigal’s smile.

  His aphrodesia hit her an instant later and she arched up from the floor as heat sizzled along every nerve in her body. He touched a fingertip to her heaving chest and traced it between her breasts, dragging at her shirt.

  “It sounds like my father is just about done toying with Lyre, so I figured we could have some fun,” he purred, the layered harmonics of his voice throbbing with power. “What do you think, my love?”

  She bared her teeth. “Don’t call me that.”

  “What? ‘My love’?” He leaned down, getting in her face. She closed her eyes before she got lost in the dark amber. “Oh, but you are my love tonight, Clio. And some other woman will be my love tomorrow. Shall I call you my darling instead? My dearest? My sweetheart?”

  He laughed huskily and she clenched her jaw harder. When he was being teasing or seductive, Lyre used similar pet names—but hearing them from Madrigal’s mouth, she realized Lyre didn’t call her those names anymore.

  As Madrigal slid his hand back up her belly, she balled her hand into a fist and swung it blindly upward.

  Her knuckles met his defensive weaves with a painful crunch that jarred all the way down her arm. Even though her strike hadn’t hurt him, Madrigal recoiled and she slapped her hand to his lower abdomen. With a slice of magic, she disabled his defensive weaves.

  His fist swung down and slammed into her cheek. Black spots danced in her vision.

  “Stubborn little princess,” he sneered, his voice beautiful but his tone ugly. He grabbed her jaw and pulled her face up. “Look at me.”

  She squeezed her eyes shut again.

  “Look at me.”

  Power flooded his hypnotic words and her eyes opened against her will. She met his black stare and her mind crumbled under the sweeping aphrodesia. Fire tore through her body, lighting every nerve on fire, and she needed so badly it eclipsed the urge to breathe.

  Somewhere beyond the arched doorway, something exploded.

  The sound jolted through the boiling heat in her veins, and as she stared into Madrigal’s black eyes, she had a sudden vision of Lyre’s mouth pressed to a succubus’s plump lips—her flesh between his teeth, her blood running down his chin. Even deeply caught in aphrodesia, he had fought back.

  A strange new pain rose through her—this one ice-cold and burning. With slow, dreamy movements, she reached up until her hands found Madrigal’s face. She slid her fingers across his jaw, and his luscious, inviting mouth turned up in a satisfied smirk.

  She wanted his mouth. She wanted it on her lips, on her skin. She wanted—and she loathed him for it.

  Her fingers pressed to his cheek and green light flashed. Her swift weave spun across his mouth and jaw, sealing them shut.

  He flinched back with a muffled snarl, his hands flying to his face. She shoved both fists into his chest and unleashed a blast of power. He flew backward.

  She lunged to her feet. Desire raged through her, a poison in her blood—heart racing, lungs heaving, perspiration beading her overheated skin—but fierce aggression boiled up from inside her. If her pair of long daggers hadn’t b
een missing from her belt, removed by Madrigal, she would have stabbed him.

  As Madrigal grabbed at his face, she blasted him again. He pitched over backward, his head smacking into the granite floor.

  “Do you remember that spell?” she asked as she began another cast. “You used it on Lyre once.”

  A memory as clear as her asper—in Chrysalis’s lowest level, Lyre hanging by his arms from a chain as Madrigal silenced him with a weave. Now Madrigal was the one who’d been silenced. Without his voice, he could still pump her full of aphrodesia—but he’d lost the ability to command her.

  As long as he didn’t get a chance to break the weave.

  She flung her next cast—another copy of his magic. The pain spell he’d used on Lyre in the antechamber hit him and he crumpled with a strangled groan. As her fingers danced, forming a new weave, he thrust his hand out.

  The shapeless power blasted her in the chest and she almost crumpled, her defensive weaves long gone. Madrigal shot to his feet, his eyes black and face twisted with rage.

  She stretched her arms out, fingers curled into claws. She felt no fear, only icy rage for this daemon who thought he could control her, who looked at her and saw only a victim. The burn of his aphrodesia, the tremble of her limbs, and the parched hunger for his touch only made her more furious.

  Green magic spilled across her fingers as she wove two spells simultaneously.

  Teeth bared, Madrigal hurled an attack. She shielded and counterattacked, but he flicked her spell out of the air. More magic flowed from her fingertips, spells she’d learned from Lyre, from other weavers, from watching Ash. She cast again and again, and Madrigal faltered under the onslaught, defending against her with no time to attack—and whenever he did, she mimicked it.

  Faster and faster—not powerful magic, but magic swifter than he could follow. He just couldn’t keep up.

  With a garbled noise, he launched a wide band of power that forced her to shield, then he charged in right behind the attack. He drove her to the floor and his weight came down on top of her, crushing the air from her lungs. Grabbing her by the throat, fingers squeezing, he pulled her face toward his, his blazing black eyes calling to her.

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