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

  She blindly grabbed for his neck. Her fingers closed around a gem on his spell chain and she activated it.

  Power burst from the stone, then a dome shield similar to Lyre’s formed over the two of them. Madrigal’s mouth twisted into a laughing sneer as he shot a cold wave of magic into her flesh.

  Her other hand pulled away from the hidden sheath in her sleeve, and she rammed a short blade into Madrigal’s side.

  His eyes bulged. She blasted him off her and into the side of the barrier. Tearing her black scarf from around her neck, she jumped on his chest, shoved the scarf over his face to protect herself from his alluring eyes, and pressed the point of her knife to his unprotected throat. He went still.

  She sucked in air, rage and triumph blazing through her. She had beaten him in magic, and now she’d beaten him without it.

  Golden light blazed out of the archway from the antechamber where Lyre and Lyceus were fighting. Her head whipped around, her heart leaping into her throat. Crackling power rippled out of the room.

  The antechamber exploded in a lethal deluge of shattered granite walls.

  “Give up, Lyre,” his father ordered.

  Stumbling to his feet, Lyre braced one hand on the wall. Every muscle hurt. Every bone hurt. He squinted, his lungs aching with each breath.

  “No,” he said hoarsely.

  “You never had a chance.” Lyceus raised his hand and six more spell circles appeared. “You can’t defeat me.”

  Lyre pulled two long daggers from the sheaths on his thigh, the blades shimmering with weaves. “Quit hiding behind your magic and fight me.”

  “Hiding?” Lyceus’s eyebrows rose mockingly. “I wouldn’t call this hiding. But if you insist.”

  He flicked his fingers and the spell circles faded. Two new ones appeared, wreathing his wrist and his opposite arm. Blades of shining blue ice sprouted from his right fist and left elbow, leaving his other hand free for casting.

  Gripping the hilts of his daggers, Lyre cautiously advanced. Lyceus was humoring him. Toying with him. He could have killed his son a dozen times over.

  But he didn’t want to kill Lyre. Lyceus wanted to break him—to crush his spirit so he would surrender. So he would willingly reveal how he’d created the shadow weave. Aphrodesia wouldn’t be effective for an interrogation on complex weaving techniques.

  Lyceus wanted Lyre to surrender and tell him everything. Then, promises or not, Lyceus would kill him.

  Daggers in hand, Lyre threw himself at his father. Catching a steel edge on his ice weapon, Lyceus whipped his second crystalline blade around and almost gored Lyre. Shielding wouldn’t protect him against his father’s magic.

  Lyre jerked back, feigned left, then struck low. His dagger arched toward Lyceus’s thigh—then a spell circle appeared and his blade sank into it and stuck in place. He tried to tear it free and lost his grip on the hilt.

  Lyceus’s ice blade raked across Lyre’s chest. As he staggered backward, his father lunged at him, and Lyre frantically countered with his remaining dagger. Lyceus slashed again. The first ice blade missed but the second sliced across Lyre’s thigh. His leg buckled and he almost fell.

  “This is pointless.” Lyceus flicked his fingers.

  Another spell circle appeared, manifesting around Lyre’s chest and locking his body in place. His right arm, hand clutching his dagger, was trapped in the spell too.

  Lyceus stepped closer, scanned his son thoughtfully, then rammed an ice blade into Lyre’s stomach. The crystalline weapon slid into his flesh and every muscle in his body went rigid from the blinding pain.

  Pushing the blade deeper, Lyceus studied Lyre’s contorted face. “It will take several agonizing hours for you to bleed out. Perhaps you’ll reconsider your refusal in that time.”

  Gasping, Lyre grabbed the ice blade with his free hand. The frigid crystal burned his skin, but he gripped it tighter as his senses focused on the magic within. Bizarre, unfamiliar, but all magic had rules. All magic had structure—structure that could be broken.

  Lyceus pulled the blade out of his body.

  As the ice slid through Lyre’s grasp, his fingers bit into the blade. Just before it left his hand, he flooded power deep into its core and golden magic rippled up the crystal.

  The ice burst apart.

  Shards sprayed Lyre and Lyceus, tearing their clothes and cutting their exposed skin. Lyceus flinched as a razor-sharp piece sliced across his cheek, and the binding circle around Lyre vanished. Blood splattered on the floor.

  Stepping back, Lyceus turned his hand over to inspect the damage—dozens of thin cuts that leaked blood. Superficial wounds. Not even enough to slow him down.

  “Mildly impressive, Lyre, but irritating.”

  Lyre sank to his knees, the dagger falling from his hand and clattering on the granite. He pressed an arm against his middle as he stared at his splattered blood—with a few droplets of Lyceus’s blood mixed in.

  “Finally,” he whispered hoarsely.

  Lyceus paused, confused and maybe curious. He made no move when Lyre reached into his pocket, then extended the small vial. The liquid silver within shone with golden light and the faintest shimmer of red.

  “Blood magic?” Lyceus asked. “Not even that can pierce my defense.”

  Lyre looked up at his father, cold hate giving him courage. “That’s just it. This … doesn’t have to.”

  With a spark of magic, he shattered the vial. The quicksilver splashed across the floor, mixing with the blood already smeared on the granite.

  Lyre’s blood. And his father’s blood.

  The quicksilver glowed incandescent and threads snaked out from the liquid. The spell raced across the floor, seeking its targets. It touched Lyre and Lyceus at the same time, and in beautiful, perfect symmetry, the magic coiled over father and son in a web of interconnected lines, embedding into their flesh.

  “What—” Lyceus gasped. His face hardened. “Binding us with blood?”

  Lyre pressed his arm to his bleeding stomach. The magic in the spell pulsed, power building through the weaves.

  “If I harm you now, I’ll inflict the same damage on myself. Do you think that will save you?” Lyceus sneered, his face crisscrossed with the golden lines of the spell. “This weave will protect you only for as long as it takes me to purge it.”

  “The purpose of the weave isn’t to protect me.” Lyre smiled coldly. “It’s to kill you.”

  As the crackling energy gained intensity, Lyre stretched his weave-marked hand toward the glowing floor. Horrified comprehension flashed in Lyceus’s eyes.

  Lyre pressed his palm into the quicksilver puddle—and the spell surged across his fingers. The tangle of golden lines wrapped in and over his hand turned crimson. A few steps away, the same red glow appeared on Lyceus’s hand.

  The ruby tinge leeched through the golden weave like a spreading infection, climbing their arms. In perfect unison, the blood curse flowed into their veins, father and son bound to the same fate.

  As the mirrored weave darkened to throbbing crimson, as arctic claws closed around their chests, as death’s chilling touch found their hearts, Lyre met his father’s eyes with grim triumph.

  The weave pulsed red one final time—and the two lives held in the blood curse’s embrace extinguished.

  Chapter Thirty

  - Ash -

  Ash held perfectly still, his senses straining. Giggling laughter echoed through the corridor.

  His head turned, nostrils flaring as he inhaled the scents permeating the air. Blood—his, mostly—and the unpleasantly sweet odor of his opponent. His hand tightened on his sword hilt. He could sense the emptiness of the corridor.

  Then something shifted.

  He pivoted, wings flaring as he thrust his sword into nothing. With a flutter of feathers, the wraith appeared, slipping away from his blade like a fish gliding through river currents. The daemon cackled insanely, flashing pointed teeth, and his hair shifted to reveal his eyes—no pupils, just re
d and silver light swirling like a bizarre galaxy contained in his skull.

  The daemon’s ragged black wings spread wide, filling half the corridor. “Ashtaroth,” he chanted. “I will tell your fortunes if you would but listen.”

  “‘Death awaits,’” Ash mocked. “How could I forget?”

  He lunged, swinging his blade. The wraith melted away as though gravity had no hold on him, then disappeared. Ash went still again, trying to sense his location.

  “How indeed,” the wraith chimed delightedly, his high voice echoing off the marble. “You will forget that which should never be forgotten. A moment to come, lost in the next.”

  Unable to sense the daemon unless he moved, Ash had already wasted too much time going in circles while the wraith taunted him. Ash snarled silently. He was done with this bullshit.

  The wraith giggled. “A summons in the nothing, a whisper beyond the light. When the ever-night comes, will you fall upon its blade, dragon lord?”

  Flipping his sword in his hand, Ash drove the point into the marble. Ebony flames shot down the blade, met the floor, and exploded in a spiral. The corridor turned to searing black fire, charring the polished stone walls.

  The flames died, and hovering above the floor in a spherical shield of rippling red and silver power was the wraith, unharmed. He laughed, his tattered wings spread but not flapping. How the daemon was floating like that, Ash didn’t know. And he didn’t care.

  He snapped his wings down as he sprang for the shield. His flame-coated sword cut right through it, and this time, when the wraith slid clear of his blade, he slammed the bony top of his wing into the daemon’s face.

  Head snapping back, the wraith dropped like a rock. Ash landed and thrust his sword at the fallen daemon. As the wraith evaded with uncanny agility, Ash flicked his wrist. The blade hidden in a sheath under his forearm sprang into his hand, and he slashed it across the wraith’s belly.

  The steel passed through the darkness of the daemon’s torso, but whether it had connected with flesh, Ash had no idea.

  Gliding backward, the wraith lifted a dark hand, his strange eyes swirling. “Our time is up, Ashtaroth.”

  Not knowing what attack was coming, Ash grabbed the gem around his neck and activated the third spell Lyre had made for him.

  The golden barrier formed around him an instant before the wraith’s cast struck. A tornado of red and silver blades ripped across the barrier. Teeth gritted, Ash waited for the shield to fail and the blades to tear into him, but the weaving held.

  The daemon’s spell died away, revealing the empty corridor. Ash disabled the barrier like Lyre had taught him and focused on his senses—the usual ones and his preternatural ones.

  The wraith was gone for good.

  He sheathed his sword, giving his arm a break. Exhaustion shivered in his muscles and feverish pain throbbed in his bones from the snake venom, but he ignored both as he tapped into the lodestones hidden in his bracers. Power flooded through him, replenishing his reserves.

  He’d taken too long. He had to get to the next level—and he didn’t give a shit about going unnoticed anymore.

  He pointed his fist at the ceiling. Magic sizzled through him, building in his arm, then he snapped his fingers open. The blast struck the marble and the ceiling collapsed into the corridor in a wave of shattered marble and white dust.

  Launching into the haze, Ash sprang upward with a beat of his wings. He didn’t need to see—he could sense the opening. Just as he could sense the electric vibrations of lethal magic building in the air.

  He shot through the hole into the twenty-fourth-level corridor and half leaped, half flew toward the intensifying power. A broad door beckoned, and he hoped the wards were disabled. Hitting it full force, he slammed the door open and wheeled into the room beyond. In a single glance, he took in everything.

  Clio, straddling an incubus’s chest with a dagger at his throat, both of them encased in a dome shield.

  In the next room, framed by the archway, Lyre. On his knees, a hand pressed to the floor, a tangled gold weaving wrapped over and through his body. The Rysalis patriarch stood a few feet away, an identical weaving coiled around him.

  Crimson light flared over their hands and raced up their arms in perfect unison. Surging across their shoulders, the blood magic spread over the golden webbing on their chests. The red light consumed the entire weave—

  —and the antechamber exploded.

  The detonation ripped the walls apart. Ash leaped for the nearest shelter—Clio and Madrigal’s dome shield. He ducked behind it as chunks of granite hurled past, followed by a wall of fire that disintegrated the dome.

  The antechamber walls were gone. The library was in flames. Only the vault, with its granite front and circular door, remained intact, scorched but otherwise undamaged.

  In the center of the room, Lyre and Lyceus lay unmoving. The blood-red weave that had covered their bodies was gone, and fires burned across the floor as though the room had been splashed in oil.

  Golden light blazed and Clio flew backward. She hit the floor with a yelp, crumpling in a heap. Not noticing Ash at all, Madrigal sprinted into the demolished antechamber.

  Ash followed more slowly, unconcerned by the fire as he scanned the downed incubi. Crouching beside his father, Madrigal pressed a hand to Lyceus’s chest, checking for signs of life.

  “How,” the incubus snarled. “How could Lyre have …”

  Ash crossed to Lyre and dropped onto his haunches. The incubus’s half-open eyes stared, empty. Dead. Ash touched Lyre’s throat, waiting for a pulse. Nothing.

  Madrigal turned around, then startled backward at the sight of Ash. Fear bloomed in his scent, pupils dilating from adrenaline. “You! Where did you come from?”

  Ash lifted his fingers from Lyre’s lifeless neck and gestured. “Hunting Samael’s contract.” He rose to his feet. “Dead is dead, even if I didn’t get to kill him myself.”

  Hissing, Madrigal stormed over and roughly grabbed Lyre by the throat. Ash felt the thrum of magic as Madrigal checked that his brother was properly dead. He let the body fall back to the floor.

  “Crazy bastard. I thought Dulcet was the insane one.” Covering his mouth and nose with his arm as smoke hazed the air, Madrigal looked at Lyceus. “I can’t believe he killed himself just to kill our father. How the hell did he do it?”

  “Who cares?” Ash intoned. He canted his head. “I need to report back. Are you coming?”

  “Am I—what?”

  “You probably can’t hear it, but daemons are approaching—half the tower is about to pile onto this level.” He snapped his wings open and closed. “I’m leaving the fast way.”

  As Madrigal frowned, Ash headed across the room. He didn’t look for Clio—didn’t risk drawing attention to her. With the shock of his father’s death, Madrigal had forgotten about everything else. Ash could smell her nearby, but smoke was rapidly overwhelming all other scents. It billowed from the library and half the main room was on fire too, the bookshelves consumed by flames and the shelves collapsing.

  Ash stopped before the sitting area, the narrow windows reflecting the firelight. He extended his hand, summoned another wave of power, and unleashed the blast. The windows exploded into a gaping hole.

  He stepped up to the new exit.

  “Wait,” Madrigal snapped. “I’m coming. The faster I can get my brothers back here …”

  Trailing off into mutters, he darted into the vestibule and slammed the door shut. Magic sizzled as he engaged the wards, then he joined Ash.

  Ash pulled the incubus in front of him. “If you squirm, I’ll drop you.”

  Madrigal grumbled something under his breath. As Ash pushed the incubus up to the hole, he glanced back once, but the smoke was too thick to see anything more than the dark shadows where Lyre and his father had fallen. Magic-fueled flames spread implacably across the floor, and in a few hours, when Madrigal returned with his brothers, there would be nothing left but ashes.

nbsp; But that didn’t matter, because Madrigal had witnessed the two daemons’ deaths first. And Ash would ensure he reported both deaths to the Rysalis family—and to Samael.

  Taking hold of the incubus, he sprang into the cool night air and swept away from the burning tower.

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Her lungs hurt.

  Clio huddled in the corner, her scarf wrapped around her nose and mouth as smoke displaced the air. She counted in her head, silently chanting each second as it passed.

  Carrying Madrigal, Ash leaped through the hole in the outer wall, his terrifying wings lit by the fire before he vanished into the darkness. The moment they were gone, she burst from her hiding spot. Leaping through the scorching flames, she rushed into the antechamber and fell to her knees beside Lyre.

  His dead eyes stared blankly, his skin white and body so still, marred by dozens of bloody cuts. Her eyes darted to the hole in his lower abdomen, stained crimson but no longer bleeding. To bleed, his heart needed to beat.

  Two hundred and forty-three seconds since he had fallen. Just over four minutes.

  She fumbled at her throat and snapped a gemstone off her chain. Tearing Lyre’s shirt open, she laid the gem on his chest, then used a granite shard to cut the pad of her thumb. Blood welled and a single drop fell onto the stone.

  Touching the bloodied gem, she activated the spell. Green light, tinged with red, flared across his chest. She laid her hand over the gem and focused her asper into his body.

  Deep inside him, a minute weave in her green magic slept. So tiny, so buried, that Madrigal hadn’t sensed it. She’d spent hours practicing the spell under Lyre’s direction, hours perfecting it before she’d woven it into his body. He hadn’t been able to demonstrate the complete spell for her, so she’d had to learn the hard way.

  She channeled a spark into the slumbering weave. It flared brightly, linking with the spell in the gemstone, and both weaves turned red. A pulse of magic rippled through Lyre’s body.

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