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


  His chest heaved under her hand.

  Tears of relief spilled down her cheeks. He gasped desperately, eyes rolling back. Sucking in another breath, he started to cough. She pulled his scarf over his nose and mouth to filter the smoke.

  “Hold on, Lyre,” she whispered, not sure if he could hear her over the roaring flames.

  She pushed to her feet and rushed to Lyceus’s fallen body. In his chest, there was no pre-woven spell to revive him. He was well and truly dead, his life snuffed out by the blood curse she and Lyre had woven together.

  If Dulcet were alive, she might have thanked him for showing them how to kill Lyre—and how to bring him back again.

  She wormed her hand into Lyceus’s inner shirt pocket and pulled out Lyre’s KLOC and its key, the shadow weave glowing so brightly she’d seen it through the fabric. Tucking it into her pocket, she snapped the last gemstone off her chain and set it on Lyceus’s chest. A touch of magic activated the weave.

  As she backed away, the gem erupted in a wave of searing white fire. Lyceus’s body vanished under the devouring flames. When the Rysalis family returned, there would be nothing but ashes left—both bodies, they would believe, consumed in the inferno.

  Racing back to Lyre, she drew his arm over her shoulders and helped him to his feet. He pressed a hand to the wound in his stomach, his face deathly pale. Taking shallow breaths of the smoky air, she pulled him out of the antechamber and into the main room.

  Beneath the roar of flames, a different sound rose—shouting voices. The ward on the main entrance flickered and flashed as something hit the door. Daemons were coming, Ash had said before he left. How many were out there, filling the corridor and trying to get in? Would the ward hold against them?

  She guided Lyre past the vestibule and flame-engulfed bookshelves to the raised sitting area where fresh air gusted in through the shattered wall. As Lyre sank weakly to the floor, she leaned into the gap, scanning the black sky. It was empty.

  “They’re coming,” Lyre said hoarsely.

  Another slam against the door, then an explosion shook the wall. A burning bookshelf collapsed in a burst of sparks. The daemons outside couldn’t break through the ward so they were breaking down the wall instead.

  She put her back to the hole and sank down, sick terror gathering in her chest. Sucking in the deepest breath she could manage, she put her hand into her pocket.

  “Get into glamour, Lyre,” she whispered.

  He stared at her like he might argue, his eyes exhausted and shadowed by pain, but instead, his form shimmered. The dark tattoo on his cheek vanished as he slipped into his human form.

  She pulled glamour over her nymph form, then, shoulder to shoulder with Lyre, she inserted the key into the back of the clock and wound it. With the key still inside the device, she looked up at him, her heart racing. They could use glamour to protect the weavings they carried in their daemon forms, but they could protect nothing else from the devastation of the shadow weave.

  He put his hand over hers and pulled the key out.

  The gears turned, the second hand whirling around the clock face. She watched the seconds tick down, her pulse hammering. Finding Lyre’s hand, she clutched it, their fingers entwined so tightly it hurt.

  The vestibule wall exploded inward. Hunks of rock tumbled across the floor, scattering flames, and six hulking daemons poured inside. Security guards, furious and eager to punish whoever had infiltrated their tower.

  She squeezed Lyre’s hand tighter as the clock counted down.

  Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven.

  The enraged daemons spotted her and Lyre. They surged into motion.

  Six. Five. Four.

  The first two reached the stairs to the raised sitting area.

  Three. Two.

  The lead daemon swung his pike around, bringing the point to hover in front of Lyre’s face.

  One.

  The shadow weave erupted from the clock. For an instant that lasted an eternity, it engulfed her in icy power that pulled her body apart at the same time it sucked every particle of her being into her center like a black hole had spawned in place of her heart.

  Then it ripped out of her, an expanding bubble that passed through every solid material—the granite floor, the daemons standing on it—then raced down twenty-four floors of the tower to the rocky ground beneath. She couldn’t see it, but she could feel it gathering strength and speed as it consumed the magic of every daemon on the island, every spell, every ward.

  With a boom like a tidal wave, the shadow weave hit the surrounding river and the water absorbed its power.

  Quiet fell again. Clio slumped beside Lyre, her glamour gone and her body screaming with exhaustion. With a shaking hand, she reached for the three lodestones Ash had charged for her, protected from the shadow weave by her glamour. The minuscule delay between the shadow weave’s touch and losing glamour—thereby exposing the lodestones—had been enough to spare them.

  Power flooded her body, hot magic that rushed to fill the void the shadow weave had left.

  Beside her, Lyre shuddered as golden light shimmered over him—his aura revitalized as he too drained the lodestones he’d saved for this possibility. He straightened, glancing across the collapsed and groaning troop of daemons that had been about to kill them. A couple of the toughest ones were trying to push up from the floor, trembling from shock.

  A quiet chirp behind her. Clio turned.

  Zwi perched on the broken wall. The dragonet tilted her head and trilled at them, unharmed by the shadow weave.

  “You’re here,” she gasped in relief.

  The dragonet hopped inside and black flames whooshed over her small body, expanding rapidly. When they dissipated, the large dragon spread her wings, holding them out of the way.

  Clio helped Lyre mount, then grabbed the dragon’s mane and hauled herself onto her back. As Zwi took a lumbering step toward the gap in the wall, Lyre slipped a gemstone from his pocket. Light flashed and he flicked it over his shoulder.

  Zwi took three running steps, then sprang through the hole. As she sped away in a fast glide, cool air rushed over Clio, whisking away the stench of smoke. Clutching the dragon’s mane, she glanced back.

  Golden light blazed from the breach in the pristine white tower, then roaring flames gushed out of it.

  She faced forward, grateful for Lyre’s arms around her. The city below was eerily silent, no sound or movement. She focused ahead on the dark silhouette of the shore, refusing to look back at the flames leaping from the twenty-fourth level. The daemons in the tower room were dead. No one could know survivors had escaped the burning wreckage.

  Lyre Rysalis, master weaver of Chrysalis, was dead, and soon his family and all of Hades would know.

  Zwi swept downward. The dark ground rushed to meet them with more speed than Clio would have liked before the dragon flared her wings. Zwi met the ground in a rolling trot to absorb the last of her momentum.

  The instant the dragon stopped, Lyre slid off with a shaky exhale. As she hopped down after him, Clio remembered he wasn’t fond of heights.

  They’d landed near a hill, the ley line waiting on the other side. Patting Zwi on the shoulder, Clio looked across the river where a faint orange glow marked the Ivory Tower’s top.

  “So, you made it.”

  Choking back a scream, she whipped around. Ash stood a few paces away, back in glamour. He seemed unharmed—or at least no more harmed than when she’d last healed him. In a flare of black fire, Zwi shrank down to dragonet size and sprang onto his shoulder.

  He scanned Lyre from head to toe, taking in the countless cuts scoring his limbs. “Alive again?”

  “Mostly.” Lyre glanced around the dark, marshy hillside. “Where’s Madrigal?”

  Ash jerked his thumb over his shoulder, pointing toward the ley line. “Unconscious. Spelled unconscious,” he added at Lyre’s worried look. “I’ll wake him up in Asphodel so he can report immediately.”

  “Good.” Ly
re arched an eyebrow. “So, the only three people who know I didn’t die are right here.”

  “Three might be too many.”

  Lyre shrugged. “I think I can trust you two.”

  Surprise flickered in Ash’s eyes, then the faintest smile curved his lips, gone so fast Clio wasn’t sure if she’d imagined it. “Get lost, incubus, and stay that way.”

  With no more farewell than that, he walked off. His dragonet looked over her shoulder and trilled sadly, then they both disappeared into the inky darkness.

  Glancing at Kokytos, Lyre heaved a sigh. “Well, that almost went to plan.”

  “It could have been a lot worse,” she murmured.

  “It would have been, if not for you. Your weave worked perfectly.”

  She stepped closer and touched his cheek with gentle fingers. Then she smiled teasingly. “You defeated your father. Does that make you the deadliest weaver in the three realms now?”

  He laughed, then pressed a hand to his punctured gut, wincing. “No, I don’t think it does.”

  She wrapped her arm around his waist. “As soon as we’re out of the Underworld, I’ll heal your wounds.”

  Shadows gathered in his eyes. “Where are we going next?”

  She looked toward the unseen ley line as sharp sorrow awakened in her chest, compressing her lungs.

  “Irida,” she whispered. “It’s time to go home.”

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  For the second time, Clio sat at the head of the table in the royal council room. Beside her, in Rouvin’s former seat, Petrina held her chin high as though trying to stretch a little taller. The huge table and heavy chair made her diminutive frame seem even more frail.

  “After careful consideration,” the oldest of the royal advisors announced in a gravelly voice, “the council has determined that a regent is required to rule in Princess Petrina’s stead until she comes of age in her twenty-first year.”

  Clio let her gaze move slowly across the twelve advisors. The four who had gone to Aldrendahar with Rouvin, and who had returned with his body, had the palest faces.

  “It is the duty of the council to elect a suitable regent,” the elderly advisor continued. “We will vote based on nominations made by the councilors.”

  “I nominate Councilor Philemon,” a nymph said immediately. “He has served on the council for over forty years and loyally supported King Rouvin, may his spirit rest peacefully, and his father before him.”

  Several advisors nodded in solemn support. Clio kept her expression neutral as Philemon, the second eldest of the councilors, raised one hand in gracious thanks.

  Under the table, small fingers closed around Clio’s, squeezing tightly. Petrina straightened even more, somehow lifting her chin another inch. Her blue eyes were bright despite the dark circles bruising the pale skin underneath them.

  “I nominate Princess Clio Nereid as regent,” she declared in a ringing voice.

  Clio’s hand tightened convulsively around Petrina’s. Silence pressed down on the room as the advisors glanced at one another, nervousness vibrating between them.

  Philemon coughed delicately. “Your Highness, I must advise caution. Lady Clio’s unusual heritage could be used as a claim upon the throne. Assigning her power as a regent—”

  “King Rouvin’s will was clear,” another advisor interrupted. “And Princess Clio has accepted his determination that Princess Petrina’s right to the throne takes precedence.”

  “Be that as it may—”

  “I’m not withdrawing my nomination,” Petrina cut in firmly. “Princess Clio is the best possible regent and the only one I’ll support.”

  The eldest nymph cleared his throat. “Princess Petrina, the decision does fall upon the council. However, we will take your preference into consideration.”

  Clio’s stomach clenched sickeningly. She and Petrina didn’t look at each other as the advisors discussed Clio’s credentials—which, aside from a tentative rapport with Miysis Ra, were none—versus Philemon’s. No other candidates were suggested.

  “Let us vote, then,” the elderly nymph stated. “All those—

  “One moment,” Petrina interrupted. “Since Councilor Philemon’s been nominated, he can’t vote, can he?”

  “Ah,” the old advisor murmured. “A pertinent observation. Councilor Philemon?”

  The nymph glanced around the table. “I will abstain.”

  “Very well. The vote, then. All in favor of Princess Clio Nereid assuming regency of the throne?”

  A heartbeat passed where no one moved.

  In almost perfect unison, all four advisors who’d accompanied Rouvin to Aldrendahar placed their hands, palms down, on the tabletop. The nymph who had defended Clio also placed his hand on the wood. Five votes supporting Clio, while six advisors sat motionless.

  Philemon smiled faintly.

  Then the elderly councilor stretched out a wrinkled hand and placed it on the table. “Majority vote in favor of Clio Nereid.”

  Under the table, Petrina squeezed Clio’s hand so hard her fingers ached. She gripped just as tightly, fighting to stay calm.

  “Princess Clio.” The councilor turned to her. “Do you accept the position of regent, ruler of Irida in Princess Petrina’s stead, for the next ten years until she takes the throne upon her twenty-first year?”

  Clio looked from face to solemn face: the elderly leader of the council waiting patiently for her answer; Philemon with his expression frozen in a stony stare; the four councilors who’d witnessed the battle in Aldrendahar watching her expectantly.

  Finally, she looked at Petrina. The girl’s eyes blazed with triumph above hollow cheeks, her complexion too pale even for an ivory-skinned nymph. But beneath her exhilaration, vulnerability lurked—the shadows of doubt and fear.

  Clio took Petrina’s hand in both of hers, holding the girl’s cold fingers tightly.

  “Princess Clio,” the elderly councilor prompted, his voice quiet and grave. “Do you accept?”

  Whichever choice she made, it would change her life forever. Whichever path she chose, her heart would suffer.

  But, deep in her soul, she knew there was only one answer she could give.

  Carefully closing the door to the council room, Clio pressed her back against the wood, eyes squeezed shut. She concentrated on breathing, on controlling the panic bubbling up inside her. It was done. There was no going back.

  She pushed away from the door. Her steps grew faster and faster as she sped through the palace halls, her dark brown skirts fluttering around her legs. The council meeting had immediately followed Rouvin’s parting ceremony, and Clio still wore the colors of mourning—deep browns to match the earth that welcomed the deceased back into the cycle of death and rebirth.

  The palace guards straightened as she swept past, a reaction she wasn’t used to. No one had paid much attention to her when she’d been a lady-in-waiting.

  She passed through courtyards and verandas, heading toward the farthest wing of the palace: the rarely used northeast tower. A familiar pair of nymphs stood in front of the tower door—two of Rouvin’s bodyguards, now without a king to protect. Petrina had her own devoted guardians, so upon Clio’s return to Irida, they had offered their services to her instead.

  She nodded to them as she slipped through the door. Her steps echoing on the tiles, she crossed the main hall and out into the courtyard on the far side.

  The garden was overgrown, but the wildness was more beautiful to her than manicured squares. She pushed aside the hanging branches of a willow-like tree and walked toward the stone parapet that marked the courtyard’s edge.

  Beyond it, the mountainside dropped away. The view of the capital spreading across the slope below was spectacular, but nothing compared to the miles of forested wilderness dotted with towns, villages, and farms. Far to the west, the sprawling peaks of the Kyo Kawa mountains were a shadow against the clear blue sky.

  Lyre leaned against the railing, both elbows braced on the stone. A
fter three days of rest, his complexion had returned to its usual bronze tan, the color brought out even more by his dark red garments. He wore a chimera-style outfit—a sleeveless jerkin belted in the front and fitted, leather pants and boots.

  At her approach, he turned. She didn’t slow, walking right into his arms and pressing her face into his chest. His arms closed around her.

  “Lyre,” she whispered, her voice cracking.

  He ran his hand down her hair. “How did it go?”

  “The parting ceremony was lovely,” she answered, knowing that wasn’t what he was asking about. “The entire city came to say goodbye.”

  “I could see the crowds from up here.”

  She glanced toward the open meadow in the valley where thousands of nymphs had gathered to pay their respects to the fallen king. A tear slipped down her cheek and she quickly brushed it away.

  “What about the council meeting?” Lyre asked.

  She pulled herself tighter against him, terrified to let go.

  “We were right that they would elect a regent,” she whispered. She and Lyre had discussed every possibility over the last three days. “They voted … and … they chose me.”

  She started to shake and he crushed her to his chest. The feeling—being held in his arms, his warmth, his cherry scent—pushed her over the edge and a sob shuddered through her.

  “Clio,” he whispered.

  “I accepted,” she wept. “I’m so sorry, Lyre. I couldn’t leave Petrina alone. She needs me.”

  He slid a hand into her hair, holding her as she cried.

  “The only other candidate was Philemon,” she explained desperately, fighting to control her sobbing so she could speak. “He would have controlled everything and never let Petrina make a single decision. He’s extremely traditional and he might have—”

  “I know,” Lyre murmured. “Clio, I understand.”

  She sucked in a trembling breath. He cupped her cheek, his thumb rubbing away a trail of tears.

  “I knew if they offered you the regency, you would take it.” He leaned down, his mouth brushing across her lips, then her tear-streaked cheek. “You aren’t the type of woman who could abandon her sister and her kingdom. You would never be happy skulking around Earth with me while Petrina was alone, her entire family lost.”

 
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