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

Clio shot to her feet beside Ash, who watched Bastian with dark eyes, his lower face covered and blood dripping off his sword.

  “Give me the KLOC, Bastian,” she ordered. “This is over.”

  “It’s only just begun, Clio.”

  “You’ve already put Irida in enough danger.”

  He arched one delicate eyebrow. “You can’t destroy the clock. Without it, Ra will attack Irida. Would you take away our most powerful weapon?”

  “You’re insane. Ra is far too powerful for Irida to fight. They outnumber nymphs by—”

  “Numbers mean nothing. Just ask your hired mongrel.” He smiled icily. “I will teach Ra to respect us.”

  “You’ll be solely responsible for Irida’s annihilation! Give me the KLOC. I can see it in your left pocket. Hand it over now.”

  “I already told you, if you take it, you’ll be—” Bastian broke off when Ash shifted his weight, the subtle movement radiating impending violence. “Fine, Clio. But the consequences will fall on your shoulders.”

  He slipped his hand into his pocket, where the golden light of Lyre’s magic glowed through the fabric. He withdrew his hand—and a green spark flashed among the gold.

  Clio flung her hands up, casting a master-weaver shield as Bastian hurled a gemstone. It hit her shield and exploded. The blast, ten times more powerful than anything Bastian could conjure, ripped through her barrier and hurled her and Ash backward.

  She slammed into the floor, little bolts of electric power running across her limbs. Gasping, she shoved herself up. Ash was even faster, already launching to his feet with black fire igniting over his hands.

  A flicker of golden light—another gemstone glowing with Lyre’s magic—hit the carpet between her and Ash. A circle of runes whooshed out from the gem, covering the floor with spinning symbols, then hissing electricity surged over them. She and Ash fell to their knees.

  Bastian walked over to the two chimeras Clio had paralyzed and broke the spells. The daemons clambered to their feet, their expressions bleak and angry.

  “The master weaver’s spells are good.” Bastian pulled a third gem from his pocket. “This one is particularly nasty. I certainly wouldn’t want to die like this.”

  Green light flashed as he triggered the spell—then a feathered arrow sprouted from his wrist.

  He cried out and the gem flew from his hand, landing on the carpet in front of the binding spell trapping Clio and Ash. The gem blinked warningly.

  Bastian dove out of the way as a second arrow whipped past his head. The chimeras hurled orange magic at the unseen attacker as Bastian scrambled up. With a furious glare, he bolted in the opposite direction, and the two chimeras retreated after him.

  Footsteps thudded, approaching from behind Clio and Ash.

  “Shit, shit, shit,” Lyre chanted breathlessly as he sprinted past the binding spell and dove for the gem on the floor. He grabbed it, golden power racing over his fingers. “Disarm, disarm, disarm!”

  The gem flashed one more time, then the weaving darkened. Lyre sat back on his heels, exhaling heavily. “Holy crap, that was close.”

  Pocketing the gem, he drummed his fingers across one edge of the binding circle. The paralyzing electricity vanished with a pop, and Clio collapsed on her face.

  “Are you okay?” Lyre’s warm hands closed on her shoulders and he pulled her upright. “I almost forgot that bastard stole my spell chain last time we met.”

  “He’s making good use of your work,” Ash growled irritably, retrieving his swords and sheathing them.

  Lyre grunted unhappily.

  “He’s escaping.” Ash stepped over to the railing. “I’m going down the fast way.”

  “No,” Lyre said. “We stick together. He’s not that far ahead, and once he gets out of the building, we’ll have more space for a proper fight.”

  Ash glanced at Lyre’s bow, then nodded. “Let’s go.”

  The two guys ran toward the stairwell and Clio followed a step behind, her heart thudding painfully. She should have done better against Bastian. She should have been able to immobilize him instead of the other way around.

  They charged down flight after flight of stairs, and far below, she heard the echo of Bastian and his guards’ footsteps. She, Lyre, and Ash were passing the third-floor landing when a door below slammed. Bastian had reached ground level.

  Pulling ahead, Ash jumped the last twelve steps and reached for the door handle.

  “Stop!” she yelled.

  He jerked back an instant before touching the metal. Lyre moved aside and she raced down to the landing. A web of green light spanned the door. The lethal spell was sloppy—Bastian must have woven it in mere seconds—but it could still kill.

  Tapping a knot of runes, she dissolved the spell and yanked the door open. Ash pushed in front of her again but didn’t rush ahead. Clio gave the front entrance a quick examination, but it was trap free.

  “Let me check first,” she told the other two.

  She grabbed the handle, cracked one of the double doors open, and poked her head out. The grounds were dark and silent, the mangled front gates hanging off their hinges. The wall around the property blocked most of her view, but straight ahead a green aura and two orange ones headed down the street, already two blocks away and fleeing fast.

  She opened her mouth to tell Ash and Lyre the coast was clear.

  A daemon stepped from the shelter of the wall and into the open space between the broken gates. His aura shone bright gold, his pale hair tousled, and for an instant, Clio’s stunned brain couldn’t understand how Lyre had gotten outside when he’d been standing right behind her.

  Except he was still standing behind her.

  The incubus outside flashed a smile, then pulled an arrow from the quiver on his shoulder and flipped it into place on his bow. Another incubus with a bright golden aura stepped into view as the first one lifted his weapon and drew the string back.

  She slammed the door shut. Force exploded on the other side, and Lyre and Ash threw themselves into the doors, holding them shut. Golden light flashed as Lyre wove a lock spell over the heavy wood.

  “What the hell was that?” Ash demanded.

  “Clio, what did you see?” Lyre spoke without looking up from his weaving, his face white.

  “Incubi,” she gasped, scrambling up with every bone aching. “Two of them.”

  “We’re getting out.” Lyre shot a look at Ash. “You need to disappear. Right now. If they see you—”

  Ash didn’t even wait for Lyre to finish. He ran three steps and sprang into the air. His body shimmered, wings snapping out, and he shot toward the atrium’s glass ceiling. Gulping back the terror triggered by the draconian’s true form, Clio grabbed Lyre’s hand. Together, they bolted back across the lobby and into the stairwell.

  “Lyre, how are we going to escape?”

  He swore, his complexion almost as pale as hers and his eyes black. “I don’t know but we can’t hang around the door. My magic won’t stop them for long.”

  “No, but we can slow them down.” She skidded to a halt, crouched, and wove a swift replica of Bastian’s lethal spell from the door. They raced up another floor and she cast it again, and two steps up from that, Lyre wedged a gemstone in a corner, the spell waiting for someone to get too close.

  They reached the fourth floor and stopped to listen. Breathing hard, Lyre rubbed a hand over his face.

  “Bloody hell,” he whispered hoarsely. “What shit luck that they were close enough to sense the shadow weave and trace it, but far enough away that they didn’t get caught in it. Did you recognize who it was?”

  She squinted, bringing the archer’s grin into her mind’s eye. Her stomach lurched sickeningly. “Madrigal.”

  “And the other one?”

  “I don’t know. I didn’t get a good look at him.”

  “Damn. Once they’re in here, they’ll no doubt—” He broke off, his eyes widening. “Oh shit.”

  “What?” she demanded, her se
nses straining. Somewhere below, the two incubi were probably breaking down Lyre’s traps on the door—or they were already inside.

  “If they search the building, they’ll find—” He grabbed Clio’s hand and started up the stairs again, forcing her to sprint to keep pace. “The Ra royal. If they find the Ra princess in here, they’ll kill her—and Irida will take the blame for it.”

  Cold rushed through her. “Princess? What princess?”

  “The one I sealed in a room on the ninth floor,” he said grimly. “And let’s hope she knows a way out of here that doesn’t involve a Rysalis family reunion.”

  Chapter Six

  Clio’s lungs burned as she and Lyre ran into a sitting room littered with dead bodies. Their breakneck charge up to this floor had left her legs aching but she didn’t slow down—not with the two incubi somewhere below. She’d thought she’d left the Rysalis master weavers behind forever, and she felt more terrified now than she had with an executioner’s sword at her neck.

  Not so much as glancing at the corpses, Lyre strode into a bedroom. Inside, his wards glowed brightly in her asper, spanning one section of the wall. He slid his fingers over the wood, dissolving the spells, then yanked the panel open.

  Light glinted off the swinging blade of a dagger.

  He leaped back with a yelp, the tip of the weapon catching his shirt and tearing a line across it. Half crouched inside the hidden room, a young girl brandished the dagger with her teeth bared. Golden-feathered wings quivered against her back.

  “Hold up!” Lyre held his hands out placatingly. “I won’t hurt you.”

  Her eyes narrowed. “Who are you? How did you find us?”

  “I’m the one who put you in there and set up the wards.”

  She bit her lip, then lowered her weapon. A ruby sparkled in the center of her forehead, hanging from a delicate gold chain that disappeared into her long blond hair. Her scarlet skirt fluttered as she straightened. Several layers of fabric had been roughly cut away.

  “We’re going to get you out of here,” Lyre promised, a soothing croon in his hypnotic voice. “There are enemies in the building. We don’t have much time.”

  The girl drew in a shuddering breath and leaned against the doorframe, the heavy dagger trembling in her hand. Clio knew what the bone-deep fatigue of the shadow weave felt like and she was impressed the girl could stand at all.

  Lyre extended his hand, fingers spread invitingly. “Come on, princess. You’ll be safe with us.”

  “I’m not leaving without him,” the girl said, looking over her shoulder. A second griffin was slumped against the wall behind her. Strips of red fabric from her skirt were bound around his middle in a makeshift bandage.

  Lyre also glanced into the room. “He’s unconscious. We’ll have to leave him, but I’m sure he’ll be okay until—”

  “No. You said there are enemies here.” The girl’s voice quavered. “I’m not leaving without him.”

  Clio and Lyre exchanged unhappy looks. Should they immobilize the girl with a spell?

  Seeing their hesitation—or perhaps sensing the direction of Clio’s thoughts—the girl lifted her chin imperially. “I know how to get through the embassy without being seen. All you have to do is carry him.”

  “All right,” Lyre said heavily. “But let’s hurry.”

  He dragged the male griffin out of the safe room while the girl ran into the massive walk-in closet and returned with a red shawl. She and Clio used it to bind the griffin’s wings against his back so they wouldn’t drag. Then Lyre heaved the daemon over his shoulder, grunting from the effort.

  “Holy crap.” He struggled with the weight of the taller, heavier daemon, then shook his head. “Sorry, I’ve gotta drop glamour for this.”

  Shimmers rippled over his body, and when they faded, his jaw relaxed and he straightened properly under the heavy burden.

  “Wow,” the girl breathed.

  Clio silently agreed. Lyre’s bronze eyes, darkened by urgency, flicked toward the girl and he flashed her a smile that weakened Clio’s knees.

  “Lead the way, princess.”

  After one more wide-eyed, ogling look at him, the girl raced out of the room with Clio on her heels and Lyre trailing after them with the unconscious griffin.

  “There’s a hidden stairway,” the girl said breathlessly as they entered a corridor lined with windows that offered a sweeping view of the city lights. “It will take us to a back exit. There’s a car there. Can you drive?”

  “I can,” Lyre grunted.

  The girl glanced at her limp companion, then increased her pace, her breath growing more labored. By the time they reached the stairs, hidden behind another concealed panel, she was staggering so badly that Clio had the girl climb onto her back. They raced down, down, down, then entered a barren concrete tunnel with water-streaked walls. At the end, a metal door opened into a spacious garage with four sleek black cars.

  Irida was a wealthy territory, but Clio wondered just how much wealth Ra was hoarding. Vehicles on Earth were already hard to come by, but a small fleet of matching cars? The vehicles were worth a fortune all on their own.

  “That one,” the girl whispered, pointing weakly.

  Clio tried the back door handle and found it unlocked. Pulling it open, she helped the girl inside, then raced around to assist Lyre with unloading the male griffin. They stuffed him into the backseat, slammed the doors, and Clio jumped into the passenger seat. By the time Lyre circled to the driver’s side, he was back in glamour but still panting for air, his forehead shining with perspiration.

  He found the keys in the ignition and started the engine. As he fumbled with a set of buttons—triggering the large garage door to slide upward—Clio’s skin prickled warningly. She glanced around the garage as light from the streetlamps flooded in.

  “Go, Lyre,” she whispered. “Hurry.”

  He shifted the drive stick in a mysterious pattern, then hit the gas. The engine revved and the car tore out of the garage.

  Red light flashed in her peripheral vision.

  Two reapers had appeared beside the open garage door, and standing between them was an incubus with a glowing golden aura. As their car sped away, the incubus’s icy stare bored into hers. He raised his hand toward the fleeing car and light danced over his fingers.

  Lyre jerked the wheel and, tires squealing, the car skidded around a corner. The incubus vanished from view. Lyre steered through the streets at dangerous speeds but Clio didn’t watch the road. She stayed twisted in her seat, staring back at the shadow-swathed avenues.

  Fear skittered along her nerves, and it wasn’t until they’d left the downtown core behind and were bumping across a crumbling freeway that she finally settled into her seat properly.

  The first incubus, the archer she’d seen through the embassy’s front doors … Madrigal. But the cold incubus who’d almost caught them in the garage, almost stopped their escape at the very last moment …

  Lyceus, the head of Chrysalis and Lyre’s father.

  Clio leaned against the armrest as Lyre brought the vehicle to a stop. He braced his elbows on the steering wheel, then dropped his head onto his arms.

  In the backseat, the young princess had fallen asleep, curled against her unconscious guardian’s side. The male griffin’s age was difficult to read but he was younger than Clio would have expected for a professional bodyguard. His clothes, scarlet with silver accents, had a military look to them, and an insignia marked his left shoulder.

  The bandages around his middle were stained with blood. During the drive out of the city, Clio had checked his injuries and done a quick healing to stop the worst of the bleeding, but he needed proper care. With his magic drained by the shadow weave, he probably wouldn’t wake up anytime soon.

  Lyre let out a long, exhausted sigh. He’d parked off the highway in a clump of bushes and she could sense the nearby ley line. Peering at her with one tired amber eye, he mumbled, “Well, overall, that was a huge bust.”
r />   She nodded glumly.

  “Bastian attacked the embassy just like he planned. We did shit all to stop it.” He rocked his head back and forth. “And he got away with the KLOC on top of that.”

  “But thanks to you, he didn’t accomplish his main goal,” she said bracingly. “We saved the princess.”

  “Yeah, if she’d died …” He pushed himself up and slumped back in his seat, the overhead light in the car casting sharp shadows across his face. “It’s still bad though, Clio. Bad for Irida. Ra won’t shrug this off just because their princess survived. I’m not well versed in inter-kingdom political decorum, but I’m fairly certain attacking an embassy is considered an act of war.”

  “I think so too,” she agreed quietly. “And the nymph soldier you interrogated said this was just the beginning—just a ‘test.’”

  “Now that Bastian’s attack on the embassy was mostly a success, he’ll probably pick a larger target for his next assault.”

  “What’s a larger target than Brinford’s Ra embassy?”

  “Maybe Ra’s holdings in Habinal City,” he mused, referring to the human capital, “but for a truly impressive target, I don’t think there is one … on Earth.”

  An ominous chill washed over her.

  Lyre turned in his seat to face her, his expression bleak. “How much does your father know about Bastian’s anti-Ra campaign?”

  “I didn’t have a chance to explain anything before I ran off to find you.” She rubbed her forehead. “All the king knows is that Bastian left Irida with a few guards.”

  “Then he has no idea what his son is up to. That’s a problem.”

  Clio nodded. If King Rouvin didn’t know Bastian was recruiting soldiers and leading them in attacks against Ra targets, he couldn’t do anything to stop it.

  “Bastian is frustratingly clever. Using helicopters—a human technology—to hit the embassy with the shadow weave … I’d counted on the KLOC’s restrictions to hold him back.” Lyre ran his fingers through his hair, an unhappy expression pulling at his features. “Clio … your king needs to know what happened at the embassy tonight.”

 
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