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

  He glanced up. Two stories above, Clio’s pale face peered over the rooftop’s edge.

  “Why don’t you stay there?” he called in a low voice. “Keep watch while we question this guy.”

  “All right.”

  He suppressed a smile at her reluctant agreement. He and Ash, with the unconscious nymph in tow, retreated into a narrow gap between buildings. Ash dumped the daemon against the wall.

  “Your turn,” he muttered.

  “Yeah,” Lyre agreed. “Feel free to stand back.”

  Ash stiffened but didn’t move away. Crouching, Lyre took hold of the nymph’s jaw. Letting his aphrodesia loose was always so easy, like relaxing tense muscles. As power flowed from him, he dropped his glamour and Ash belatedly stepped back.

  With a touch of magic, Lyre broke the sleep spell. The nymph’s blue eyes opened, hazed and out of focus.

  “What’s your name?” Layered harmonics vibrated through Lyre’s voice, and he kept his hand on the daemon’s chin, their eyes locked.

  “Ajax,” the nymph whispered dreamily. “Who are you? You’re beautiful.”

  Lyre’s eyebrows rose. Well, this was unexpected. How convenient that Ajax happened to be more susceptible to his aphrodesia than most males.

  “Let’s talk about you,” he suggested. “What brings you to Brinford?”

  “Oh …” Ajax’s vague expression saddened. “I can’t tell you.”

  “You can tell me anything.” He leaned closer, smiling his irresistible incubus smile. “Why are you here, Ajax?”

  The nymph’s eyes glazed over even more. “The prince asked me to come. A top-secret mission offered only to his best and most loyal soldiers.” He puffed his chest with pride. “We’re going to save Irida.”

  “What’s Prince Bastian planning to do here?”

  “The Ra embassy. We’re going to wipe it out. That’ll get the attention of those arrogant griffins, don’t you think?”

  “It’ll definitely get their attention,” Lyre agreed darkly. He pulled his sultry smile back into place. “Your courage is admirable, Ajax, but the embassy is well guarded. How will you attack it?”

  “The prince has made all the arrangements. He’ll brief us on our attack strategy soon.”

  Lyre grimaced. Smart of Bastian not to share too much with his underlings, but problematic for interrogators.

  Ajax reached up with fumbling fingers and stroked Lyre’s cheek. “I’ve never seen a daemon like you before.”

  Lyre allowed the touch, more interested in keeping Ajax cooperative. The poor guy was drowning in aphrodesia, but nymphs were so passive he wasn’t even resisting. Most daemons would be attacking Lyre in blind lust at this point.

  “You can’t be the only trusted warrior the prince recruited,” Lyre observed. “How many others have the honor of joining Bastian on this mission?”

  “There are twenty of us.”

  “How many nymphs?”

  “Only five.”

  Interesting that Bastian was relying more on chimera strength than nymph asper. Lyre hummed thoughtfully, wondering just how cooperative Ajax might be. With a less susceptible victim, he could ask only simple questions, but the nymph was surprisingly lucid while still completely under his sway.

  “Ajax, I have to say, attacking the embassy seems like a big risk for little reward. Surely there are better ways to get Ra’s attention?”

  “The embassy is just the beginning,” the nymph replied, squinting blearily at Lyre. “The prince called it a test. Plus, there’s a prize we’ve been waiting for—the thing that will really get the Ra’s attention.”

  “What’s that?”

  Ajax leaned forward, pressing against Lyre’s hand curled around his jaw. “A member of the Ra royal family just arrived at the embassy.”

  Lyre’s breath caught, and he dared to look away from Ajax to Ash, standing a healthy ten paces away. The draconian tilted his head in a “finish this” gesture.

  “You seem tired, Ajax,” Lyre purred. “Why don’t you take a nap?”

  “I can’t. I need to get back.” He blinked slowly and a faint spark of focus came into his eyes. “I was almost finished my last patrol and I can’t be late …”

  “Your last patrol?” Lyre prompted, adding more power to his voice. “What are you late for?”

  “Bastian was waiting for the Ra royal to arrive.” He twitched as though trying to throw off a drowsy lassitude. “We’re ready to move out as soon as … who are you?”

  Lyre pulled the nymph’s face closer to his. “Ajax, go to sleep.”

  Power thrummed through the command, and the nymph slumped down the wall, his eyes sliding closed and face going slack. Pulling his glamour into place, Lyre pushed to his feet.

  “They’re making their move tonight,” he growled, turning to Ash. “We don’t have much time.”

  Ash jerked his chin toward the nymph. “Aren’t you going to finish him?”

  “No.” He reached for the daemon to add a sleep spell. “We’ll be done before—”

  Shoving Lyre aside, Ash planted his boot on the sleeping nymph’s chest, grabbed the daemon by the hair, and wrenched his head sideways. Bone crunched as the daemon’s neck broke.

  “Holy fuck!” Lyre lurched backward in shock. “What the hell was that?”

  Ash swept past him toward the alley. “He needed to die.”

  “He was unconscious,” Lyre snarled, storming after the draconian. “Bastian tricked him into doing this. He wasn’t—”

  “Why he’s an enemy doesn’t matter.” Ash pivoted, forcing Lyre to jerk to a stop. His dark eyes were as hard as his steel blade. “Leaving loose ends like that is how you end up dead.”

  Lyre bared his teeth furiously.

  “You wanted my help, incubus. Regretting it?”

  Drawing in a deep breath, Lyre forced his anger and guilt aside. He’d known what he was getting into when he teamed up with Ash—and he wouldn’t regret it, because without the draconian, he and Clio would still be aimlessly searching for Bastian. But he would keep in mind that Ash’s blanket policy was, “When in doubt, kill.”

  Once Clio had jumped down from the rooftop—without commenting on the nymph’s death, though she must have witnessed it—they hastened through the maze of alleys with Ash leading the way. His dragonet was conspicuously absent, and Lyre wondered where the creature was. With the ability to turn into a huge winged monster at will, Zwi warranted a lot more attention than he’d been paying her.

  Ash, stalking ahead of them with impatience bleeding into his movements, slowed to a cautious prowl as they came to a junction of streets. On the other side, a blank four-story façade, broken by a single metal door with a buzzing light bulb above it, blocked their way forward.

  Ash hesitated, then walked boldly into the open. Swearing under his breath, Lyre followed, Clio hurrying on his heels.

  “Shouldn’t we be a little more careful?” he hissed at the draconian.

  “Coast is clear.” He glanced at Clio. “Unless you can detect something I can’t.”

  She shook her head. “I don’t see any magic or auras.”

  “That’s because”—he put a hand on the metal door—“the place is empty.”

  He shoved the door open, revealing a cavernous interior filled with industrial storage racks that bore a few dozen dusty pallets. They walked inside, their light steps echoing.

  “Isn’t this their base?” Lyre asked, the emptiness magnifying his hushed words.

  “It was. They were here only a few hours ago.” Ash assessed the shadows, scarcely touched by the light leaking through the open door. “They might have moved closer to the embassy.”

  “This is already pretty damn close.”

  “Ajax said they were attacking the embassy tonight.” Clio shifted her weight from foot to foot. “What if they’ve already begun?”

  Ash canted his head as though signaling someone. His dragonet swept out of the darkness and glided out the threshold, vanishing into the

  “Zwi will check,” he said. “But I set detection spells on all the plausible routes from here to the embassy, and none have been triggered.”

  “Maybe the nymphs spotted your spells,” Clio suggested doubtfully. “Your magic is very difficult to see in the dark, though.”

  “Well,” Lyre said with a sigh, “let’s check this place out, see what we can learn.”

  They split up, scouting through the warehouse’s huge main space and several floors of offices and storage rooms. They found signs of recent occupation but the place was abandoned and it didn’t look like anyone planned to return.

  “Damn,” Lyre muttered as they reconvened in a top-floor office with a window that overlooked the warehouse interior. “Should we head toward the embassy?”

  “Zwi has scouted all around it. There’s no sign of them.”

  Lyre narrowed his eyes at Ash, but it was Clio who asked the obvious question. “How do you know that?”

  Ash gazed stonily back at them, unwilling to divulge all his secrets.

  Shaking his head, Lyre held his light spell a little higher, illuminating the ancient desks covered in an inch of dust. “Now what? Ajax said Bastian was planning to make his move tonight, yet he and all his men have vanished.”

  “Maybe he reconsidered his plan,” Ash rumbled. “Assassinating a Ra will get a stronger reaction than he thinks. Or, more likely, he panicked when the nymph and chimera pair didn’t report on time.”

  “Shit,” Lyre muttered.

  “What do we do now?” Clio asked nervously. “Should we scout farther out from the Ra embassy?”

  “For now, we should …” Ash trailed off, his expression tightening as he turned his head—listening. Lyre focused on the sounds within the warehouse, then realized he could hear a low pitched roar from outside. What the hell was that? An airplane? Not exactly common these days.

  Without a word, Ash pivoted on one heel and sprinted out of the room.

  Lyre exchanged an alarmed glance with Clio, then raced after him. The draconian hit the staircase and shot upward. Slamming through the door at the top, he ran onto the warehouse rooftop, the gravel crunching under his feet.

  The pulsating roar quadrupled the instant Lyre got outside. The Ra embassy was a few blocks away and, lit from beneath by the tower lights, two stocky black helicopters hovered above its roof.

  “Helicopters?” Clio gasped.

  “Helicopters,” Lyre growled. Damn that nymph prince. How much had it cost him to hire two of the rarest machines in the modern world? And not just any helicopters, but thick-bodied military beasts that could probably hold ten men each.

  “How strong is your strongest arrow?” Ash demanded.

  Lyre’s explosive blood arrow could take out both helicopters, along with the top floor of the tower—if he could make the shot across the distance. He’d never shot a helicopter before and he had no idea how the wind from the blades might disrupt an arrow’s flight.

  As one helicopter descended, almost low enough to land on the embassy, Lyre released his glamour and reached over his shoulder.

  “They just dropped something onto the roof!” No sooner were the words out of Clio’s mouth than both helicopters shot into the dark sky.

  “They dropped the KLOC on the building?” Lyre yelped, disbelief freezing him.

  “They’ve already triggered it!” Clio grabbed his arm. “It was a big glowing bundle of magic. He must have wrapped the clock in a bunch of lodestones to make sure it would—”

  Lyre whirled around, his eyes scouring the streets. Where exactly were they? “We have to get to water! Where’s the river?”

  Ash grabbed Lyre’s and Clio’s arms and ran for the edge of the warehouse rooftop. Lyre’s heart crammed into his throat. Two stories he could safely jump, but not four. Ash either didn’t know that or didn’t care as he pulled them straight for the ledge and leaped.

  Lyre caught a glimpse of the street far below—and the black river on the other side. Of course. Bastian had deliberately chosen a staging area close to water.

  They plummeted ten feet before shimmers rippled over Ash and his wings snapped wide. Terror slammed into Lyre so hard he almost lost control of his stomach.

  Ash didn’t try to fly. Instead, he locked his wings as they half fell, half glided toward the river. Panic pounded through Lyre and he counted in his head, but he didn’t know if Bastian had dropped the KLOC immediately after winding it.

  The shadow weave was going to activate, wrapped in magic and released on top of a daemon embassy. He didn’t know how bad it would be, but whatever happened was his fault—because he had created it, he had let it fall into Bastian’s hands, and he had failed to get it back in time.

  As they fell, he felt it coming—the drop in pressure, the approaching shock wave of expanding power racing away from the Ra embassy.

  Ash snapped his wings tight to his back and they plunged into the icy water.

  Chapter Four

  Lyre’s head burst out of the water and he gasped in a lungful of air. Clio surfaced beside him, and a few feet away, Ash shook the water from his eyes.

  “You two okay?” Lyre asked. They’d escaped the shadow weave—but how many other daemons hadn’t been as lucky? No one in the embassy would have been spared—and if Bastian proceeded to slaughter the helpless griffins and a Ra royal, the consequences for Irida could be catastrophic.

  As they swam for shore, the roar of the helicopters grew louder. Spotlights pointed downward and rotor blades a blur, they descended toward the embassy again and vanished from Lyre’s line of sight—meaning they had landed on the building.

  Water poured off his clothes as he scrambled onto the gravel bank with Clio and Ash right behind him.

  “We need to get to the embassy and stop Bastian before he can do any more damage,” Lyre said urgently. “And we take the KLOC back for good this time.”

  Ash scanned the horizon where the embassy lights glowed. “I’m going ahead. I’ll start from the rooftop and head down. You two go in at ground level. We’ll trap him in the middle.”

  He didn’t wait for agreement before shimmers rippled over him. His wings reappeared and he took a few running steps before launching into the air. Wings thundering, he swept upward. Shadows coalesced around him and he faded from sight.

  Fighting the terror the draconian had triggered, Lyre grabbed Clio’s hand. Together, they sprinted up the riverbank and into the streets toward the embassy.

  A high wall surrounded the grounds, the thick stone topped with sharp wrought-iron spikes. Lyre blasted the gates open and they dashed between statues carved into the shapes of the griffins’ mythical namesakes—a pair of winged, eagle-headed lions. At least he and Clio didn’t have to worry about the magical traps or defenses that the shadow weave had no doubt consumed.

  Lyre gave the double doors the same treatment as the gates and they rushed inside. An elegant foyer greeted them, with shiny marble floors, leather furniture, and a two-story water feature behind the curved reception desk. The entire building was hollow, and the atrium rose fifteen stories to a glass ceiling. Balconies circled the cavity at each floor, lit by rows of soft yellow pot lights.

  Their footsteps echoed as they slowed to a wary halt. After peering at the glass ceiling over two hundred feet above, Clio trotted to the reception desk and leaned over it.

  “There’s an unconscious griffin here,” she told Lyre, straightening. “Her aura is so faint it’s almost invisible, so it’ll be difficult for me to spot—”

  She suddenly ducked behind the desk. Lyre jumped to her side and crouched, no idea what she’d seen but knowing better than to just stand there like an idiot.

  A moment later, rumbling voices broke the silence, their words distorted by the echo. Clio silently pointed and Lyre glimpsed at least two daemons walking near the balcony on the sixth floor. They moved away from the glass railing, disappearing from sight, but their voices continued in a low, rapid conversation.

bsp; “Two chimeras and a nymph,” Clio whispered.

  “Let’s go.” He raced across the foyer and into a plain stairwell. On the sixth floor, he pushed the door open. As Clio went ahead of him, he paused to drop glamour and pull his bow and quiver off. Slipping back into glamour, he buckled his quiver on again.

  Bow in hand, he followed Clio down a tiled corridor with the steel-and-glass railing that bordered the atrium on one side. They passed a few doorways, some open to reveal dark offices or cubicle banks—boring office spaces at odds with the imposing foyer and griffin statues outside. At least they were empty.

  Lyre drew two arrows and nocked one, squinting around. “Do you see their auras?”

  “No,” Clio whispered back. “I’m not sure where—”

  The air crackled in warning.

  An orange band of magic blasted out from an open door and slammed into Lyre and Clio. He flew into the balcony railing, crunching against the metal post—and Clio hit the center of a glass panel. It shattered and her scream rang out as she pitched backward, falling out of sight.

  His heart lurched into his throat. He shot his arrow through the doorway and the spell exploded in a starburst of golden spears that launched in every direction. Ignoring the strangled cries erupting from the room, he spun around, expecting to find Clio crumpled on the marble floor six stories down.

  When he leaned over the edge, his heart started beating again. One floor down, she clung haphazardly to the bottom of a steel post, her face white and jaw clenched.

  “Clio,” he gasped.

  She dragged herself up and rolled over the handrail. As she disappeared, he ducked into the room where he’d fired his arrow, but their three attackers were already dead. The chimeras with their reddish skin, goat-like horns, and scaled tails looked like brutes next to the petite blond nymph.

  Lyre returned to the railing and Clio leaned out to look up at him.

  She pointed. “Ninth floor. I just saw five or six auras run by. Go ahead, and I’ll catch up with you.”

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