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

His heart rate hadn’t slowed since she’d fallen. “I can wait.”

  “I, uh, need a minute. I’m bleeding a bit.”

  “Do you need healing?” he asked in alarm, his attention torn between her and the atrium balconies where enemies could appear at any moment. They were too exposed.

  “I’ll be right behind you. Go!” Her head disappeared, then popped out again. “Be careful.”

  He gritted his teeth, debating whether to go get her, but maybe it wouldn’t be a terrible thing if she stayed out of the fight for a few minutes. “I’ll head for the ninth floor. If you can’t keep going, get out. Ash and I can hunt down the KLOC.”

  “I’ll catch up to you soon.”

  Pulling two more arrows to make a trio of weavings, he raced back along the balcony to the stairs. Three stories up, he came out on the ninth floor.

  This level didn’t have the look of an office building. He sped past a stylish sitting area, his feet silent on the carpet. Scanning the atrium, he couldn’t see anyone on the balconies. Where had the troop of daemons gone? Had they left this floor?

  He paused, holding his breath so he could listen.

  The floor vibrated, then a muffled boom. Lyre’s head snapped up and he darted down a wide corridor, following the crackling energy—almost like battle magic. But who would the daemons need to fight when the shadow weave had devoured the griffins’ magic?

  Another sizzling hiss as a spell went off. Ahead, double doors hung open and Lyre skidded to a stop to peek inside. His gaze skipped across the luxury suite—floor-to-ceiling windows and a grand fireplace framed by plush leather sofas—to the far corner where five chimeras and a nymph had formed a loose half circle.

  Trapped in the corner was a griffin—and somehow, he was on his feet. Barely. He held a long-handled halberd, using it half as defense and half as a support to lean on. His eagle-like wings with rich golden-brown feathers swept wide.

  Something about the way the griffin stood made Lyre look again. Behind him, crumpled in the corner and feathered wings folded tight, was another griffin. A much smaller one.

  A child.

  Oh, shit. Even Bastian’s men should have balked at slaughtering a child—unless it wasn’t just any child. Was this the Ra royal Bastian intended to capture or kill?

  Apparently, the chimeras thought so, because two of them were advancing on the half-collapsed griffin. Judging by the blood drenching his side, this wasn’t the first attack he’d warded off while protecting the child.

  Lyre dropped two arrows back in his quiver and selected a different pair. Working fast, he pressed his fingers to the doorframe and wove a spell across the opening. He triggered the defensive weaves embedded in his spell chain, then he set the first arrow on his bow and activated its shield-piercing weave.

  Inside the room, weapons met in a deafening clang. Lyre stepped into the threshold as the griffin, despite his obvious exhaustion, whirled his halberd in a deadly spin that forced the chimeras away.

  Lyre pulled the string back and loosed his arrow.

  The nymph didn’t even know he was in danger until the bolt struck the base of his skull. He was dead before he hit the ground. Although most nymphs weren’t as dangerous as the rare mimics like Clio and Bastian, Lyre still needed to neutralize the daemon’s astral perception before anything else.

  The chimeras retreated from the griffin and turned to find the new threat. The griffin braced the butt of his pike on the floor, breathing hard.

  Lyre fired his other two arrows in quick succession. The first missed when a chimera ducked, but the second struck his comrade in the eye. The daemon collapsed with a whimper. Wheeling around the corner out of sight, Lyre slung his bow over his shoulder and pulled two short daggers. Activating the spells embedded in the cross guards, he waited.

  The two chimeras leading the attack ran right into his weaving across the threshold. Golden light sizzled over them and they froze where they stood, paralyzed.

  Lyre sprang out and his daggers flashed. Blood spilled down their fronts. The paralysis spell faded as its power was expended and the two daemons dropped to the floor.

  Lyre leaped over the bodies and into the room. The last two chimeras lunged to meet him, swords in hand. His defensive shields saved his life yet again against the experienced warriors—faster and stronger than him, but unable to get their weapons through his barrier. His daggers found openings in their guards, and nothing could stop his weave-coated blades from sinking into their flesh.

  When the last one fell, he let out a long, tired breath. Six against one were not odds he liked in close quarters. He was lucky they hadn’t been able to attack him together.

  Sheathing his daggers, he turned to the griffin and his ward. The guy looked ready to keel over, but neither his fatigue nor his injuries could take away from his magnificence. Those huge wings arched gracefully off his back, and his long lion-like tail ended in a fan of matching feathers. His waist-length hair, woven into a thick plait, was a rich yellow that gleamed in the light, and his eyes, even dulled by weariness, were a vibrant yellow-green.

  Wary stare unblinking, the daemon didn’t relax as Lyre cautiously approached. Lyre glanced over him, unsure how to read his clothing—fine garments, to be sure, but with a military cut that suggested a soldier. A bodyguard for the child?

  Said child hadn’t moved, slumped in the corner. Having no experience with kids, Lyre wasn’t sure how old she was—not teeny tiny, but not close to adult-sized either. Fine blond hair spilled around her like curtains of silk, and her clothes—a ruby-red skirt and top decorated with gold chains and jewels—were rumpled and splattered with blood. Her bodyguard’s blood, it looked like.

  “Um,” Lyre said. “So, this is kind of awkward, but the girl is in danger.”

  “I noticed,” the griffin said, not shifting from his defensive stance. “Who are you?”

  To Lyre’s surprise, the griffin’s voice was deep and beautifully melodic. Almost as pleasing to the ear as an incubus’s harmonic tones.

  “I’m … well, an ally. Temporarily. The princess—she is a princess, right?—is their target.” He glanced over his shoulder. “And there are more of them coming.”

  The griffin’s eyes narrowed suspiciously and he opened his mouth to speak—then his legs gave out. He hit the floor on his knees and Lyre jumped to his side, ignoring the deadly halberd. That the daemon had fought at all was a shock.

  Lyre could only assume the griffin had been carrying lodestones under his glamour. The shadow weave consumed all magic as it spread outward like a breaking wave, but glamour twisted the laws of nature. Magic carried beneath glamour didn’t fully exist until the daemon shifted forms, and as Lyre had experienced, the moment of delay between the shadow weave hitting him and his loss of glamour was enough to spare whatever power he carried in his other form.

  This griffin got lucky—he must have been in glamour when the KLOC struck, while at the same time carrying fully charged lodestones under his glamour that he could draw on to fight after the rest of his magic was consumed.

  “Is there somewhere we can hide the girl?” Lyre asked.

  The daemon squinted, his stamina near its end. “Do you intend her any harm?”

  “No, not at all. Is there somewhere for—”

  “Say it,” the griffin ordered breathlessly, his green eyes darkening. “Say you intend her no harm.”

  “What?” Lyre shook his head but did as asked. “I swear I intend her no harm.”

  Something flickered in the daemon’s eyes, then he nodded as though accepting Lyre’s promise. “There’s a hidden panic room in there, but the protective spells are gone.”

  Leaving the griffin, Lyre swept into the bedroom and found a wall panel already open to reveal a small, windowless room with thick steel walls. The spells protecting it had probably been the best the Ra family could make or commission, but the shadow weave devoured weavings indiscriminately—powerful or weak, they were all consumed.

  He returned to
the sitting room and picked up the girl. The griffin’s face tightened but he seemed unable to stand. Careful of the girl’s drooping wings, Lyre carried her to the panic room, then went back and pulled the griffin’s arm over his shoulders. He helped the daemon across the suite and lowered him to the floor beside the girl.

  “Are you going to bleed out or anything?” Lyre asked.

  “Probably not,” the griffin replied breathlessly, slumping against the wall.

  Lyre put his hand on the door. “I’m going to seal you in. I’ll either come back and let you out, or the spells will deactivate on their own in six hours. Don’t try to get through them yourself.”

  He pushed the door shut and it blended almost seamlessly into the paneled wall. Laying his fingertips against the wood, he sent magic spinning into the steel on the other side. He wove swiftly, layering the wards—one to hide the presence of people within, one to seal the door shut, one to kill anyone who touched it, one to deflect magic attacks, one to explode upon impact if someone tried to use brute force to break in.

  Not perfect, but it would have to be enough. A nymph would be able to see the wards—and a mimic would be able to disarm them—but the spells would stop any other daemon.

  Giving his work a final glance, he closed the bedroom door and hastened out of the suite, stepping over bodies on his way. With the girl safe, he could focus on his main objective: getting his damn clock back from Bastian.

  As he jogged down the corridor toward the atrium, he wondered if Clio had retreated outside. Otherwise, she would have caught up with him by now. He hoped—

  An earsplitting detonation rocked the building. As the floor shook and something crashed loudly, Lyre grabbed a wall for balance. How much did he want to bet that Clio was somehow involved in that explosion?

  Swearing, he sprinted toward the magic’s source.

  Chapter Five

  Once Lyre had continued without her, Clio allowed herself to whimper. Just one whimper. It made her feel slightly better about the three pointy glass shards sticking out of her arm.

  The blast had thrown her backward and her forearm had gone through the glass panel first, followed by the rest of her body. She supposed she should be glad the glass was stuck in her arm and not her back.

  Retreating into a shadowy doorway, she ripped a few strips of fabric off the bottom of her shirt. Then she pinched the largest shard, took a deep breath, and yanked it out.

  Ugh. She allowed another whimper, blinking away the tears before they could fall. She pulled out the other two shards, gave the puncture wounds a quick examination, then bound them tightly with the makeshift bandage. They weren’t bleeding too badly.

  Exhaling shakily, she rose to her feet. The balconies formed stacked rings around the atrium and she imagined that during the day, with sunlight streaming in through the glass ceiling, it was spectacular. But right now, it just made her feel exposed.

  She located the stairs, counting until she reached the ninth floor. Lyre couldn’t be far ahead of her. She would catch up to him and they would—

  She paused with her hand on the door. Was that a glowing light leaking down the stairwell?

  She hesitated, then rushed up the next flight. Better to check it out real quick. At the twelfth floor, she found a simple tripwire in green nymph magic—a spell that would alert the caster when someone opened the door. Reaching out, she hovered her fingers above the neat green weave. This was Bastian’s magic. She was sure of it.

  What should she do? Go get Lyre from the floor below? But if that took too long, Bastian could move to a different level.

  They needed to know how well protected he was. Now that she had an idea where to find him, she could sneakily scope out the situation before going back for Lyre.

  It took only a moment to dissolve Bastian’s trip ward without triggering it. She slipped onto a new balcony, huge executive offices with tall windows and polished desks lining one side. As she crept past them, scanning for any auras or magic, she saw blood sprayed across a glass wall. On the floor beside a wide oak desk, a griffin with bronze wings and blond hair was sprawled in a puddle, his throat slit.

  She swallowed and continued on. Passing three more offices with dead griffins and a boardroom with four murdered daemons, she had to fight down nausea. Even if Ra had been poised to invade Irida, this would have sickened her.

  She slunk past another fancy office with its occupant slain. Ra might not have been planning an invasion before, but after this, retaliation was inevitable. How could Bastian put their homeland in so much danger? This wasn’t demonstrating Irida’s strength. This was a cowardly, unprovoked attack that would enrage Ra.

  Ahead, she finally spotted auras. Voices murmured and she ducked behind a reception desk in front of the last executive office.

  “… not reported back,” someone was saying in a low tone.

  “Have any of the teams reported back?”

  “No, Your Highness.”

  Clio’s hands clenched at the sound of Bastian’s irritated voice. She peeked out from behind the desk to see Bastian and six burly chimeras exiting another office—probably having just murdered a helpless daemon.

  “The other teams have no reason to take this long,” Bastian snapped, brushing his fine blond hair out of his face. Out of glamour, he wore simple but fine nymph clothes—a green tunic and fitted pants.

  “Our information about which floors to check for royals could be wrong,” a chimera suggested. “They might be searching other levels.”

  “They should have reported back first.”

  The chimera pressed his fist to his chest in a salute. “What are your orders?”

  Clio’s spine prickled. She whirled around—and discovered a sword blade inches from her face. The two chimeras behind her glowered stonily.

  “Your Highness,” one called.

  Clio ground her teeth, furious at herself. The chimera twitched his sword and she cautiously rose, her hands held up in surrender.

  Bastian stopped a dozen feet away, his guards arrayed behind him.

  “Well, you just won’t quit, will you?” His mouth thinned. “You weren’t worth the effort to hunt down, but now you’ve presented yourself for execution.”

  “And what is your justification for executing me, Bastian?” she demanded coldly. “Is refusing to help with your insane plan a crime?”

  “You’re a traitor to our kingdom, Clio. You don’t seem to grasp that, but if it’s simpler for you to understand, then I will execute you for allying with a known enemy and killing loyal Iridian soldiers.”

  “You weren’t calling the Chrysalis weavers enemies when you wanted to steal from them.”

  Bastian gestured to his guard, who pushed Clio down onto her knees. The other chimera laid his sword against the back of her neck—the position for an actual execution. Her whole body went cold.

  “Should I thank the master weaver for my missing teams?” Bastian asked. “He will face the same punishment for his interference.”

  She lifted her chin to glare into his eyes until the last moment, but a flicker of movement behind him caught her attention: a gray dragonet, perched on the steel handrail, watching Clio with sharp golden eyes.

  She jerked her gaze back to her brother and smiled tauntingly. “Actually, Lyre isn’t the one you should thank for your missing men.”


  In a silent rush, Ash swept down from the level above. He landed on the handrail and, wings snapping open, launched off it directly into the six chimeras. Terror caught every daemon in its icy grip, and two chimeras died before anyone could react to the draconian’s sudden appearance.

  Fear nearly petrified her too, but Clio dove away from the sword at her neck. She rolled and came up on her knees, spells forming in her hands. She threw them over her shoulders without looking, then sprang up and whipped around.

  The nearer chimera snapped his sword at her and she cast a shield. As his sword bounced off, she grabbed his wrist. A quick pa
ralysis weave sent him crumpling to the floor.

  The second chimera slashed at her, forcing her backward. Baring his teeth, he raised his other hand—and she raised hers. As he cast, she mimicked it, and their spells collided in an explosion of green and orange magic.

  Someone howled in agony and her opponent glanced past her, his face going white. She risked a quick glance in the same direction.

  Ash had a short sword in each hand, and he spun through the remaining three chimeras with eerie grace. He was back in glamour, his wings unneeded for this fight, but it didn’t make him any less terrifying. Black fire coated his blades, and when a chimera tried to block a strike with his sword, Ash’s weapon cut right through the steel—and the daemon’s ribcage.

  Bastian was pressed against the wall, his eyes black with fear as the draconian cut down his men. Either he was too shocked or too cowardly to join the fight. He just stood there while his soldiers died one by one.

  Coating her hands and forearms in a shield spell, Clio catapulted toward her opponent. When the chimera brought his sword down, she caught the blade in her hands and sent another paralysis weave rushing through the steel and into his body. He fell too.

  As Ash ran his sword through the second-last chimera, Clio flung two binding spells at Bastian.

  He snapped out of his horrified daze and jumped clear—then sprang at her. She backpedaled but he grabbed her wrists, magic crackling over his hands. She expected to feel the chill of a lethal spell, but instead, Bastian threw her with a blast of raw magic—right over the balcony railing.

  Dropping one sword, Ash snatched Clio’s arm, yanking her out of the air. Without missing a beat, he pointed his other sword at the last chimera. Black flames twisted down his blade and a spear of power tore through the chimera’s shield. The daemon crashed to the floor.

  And that left Bastian alone in the corridor, surrounded by fallen soldiers he hadn’t tried to save.

  His lips pulled back in a sneer. “I’m curious how you can afford a draconian. Is the incubus funding your new attack dog?”

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