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


  “Yeah,” she sighed. “I’ll have to get a message to him or—”

  “No, I mean, he needs to know now,” he cut in. “Before the Ra family finds out. If he’s going to have any chance of preventing war, he needs to act immediately.”

  “But … how will we …”

  He closed his eyes. When they opened again, the amber gleamed with hard resolution. “You need to tell him.”

  “Me?”

  “Who else can? I can’t. Bastian won’t. The Ras will inform him with a declaration of war, and by then it’ll be too late for diplomacy.”

  She let out a shaky breath. “Right. I guess it has to be me. But you could …” She trailed off hopelessly. “You can’t come with me, can you?”

  “It would just complicate matters. Besides”—he tilted his head toward the backseat—“someone needs to take care of the little princess. I’ll figure out how to get her back with the griffins.”

  “That’s too dangerous. Griffins aren’t friendly toward Underworlders and if they figure out who you are …”

  “There’s no way they’ll guess who I am.”

  She pursed her lips. He had a point. Few daemons knew that Chrysalis’s top-ranking master weavers were incubi, and the bounty on Lyre’s head, if by some unlikely chance Ra had heard about it, didn’t actually tie him to Chrysalis. Samael was too smart to reveal that one of his dangerous and highly valuable weavers was on the loose.

  “Once you get the girl back to the Ras, what will you do?” she asked worriedly.

  “I’ll catch up with Ash and we’ll start tracking Bastian again—see if we can figure out where he’s gone to ground this time.”

  “Once I’ve filled the king in, I’ll join you. Do you have any more of those signal spells so I can find you again?”

  He nodded and opened his door. Outside the car, he shimmered out of glamour and dug into his pouch of spells. Waiting in her seat, she kept her eyes closed as soft but irresistible longing washed over her. When the feeling faded, she opened her eyes to find him safely back in glamour. He pulled her door open and she got out.

  He passed her an azure gem. “Don’t use it until you’re back on Earth. And if I trigger mine, maybe barge in with a bit more caution than last time.”

  “I’ll try to remember that.” Her rueful smile faded and she lightly touched his cheek where, under his glamour, an intricate family mark was tattooed on his skin. “Lyre, what about Madrigal and … your father?”

  The ghosts of fear lingering in his eyes sharpened. “I’ll stay well out of their way. Ash is good at hiding and he won’t want any encounters with them either. He’ll know how to steer clear.”

  “Will Ash help? He’s supposed to kill you.”

  “He’ll help … probably. Until we get the KLOC back.” Humor chased the phantoms from his eyes. “When we meet up again, I imagine he’ll have a few words for me—angry words with a lot of foul language.”

  “He won’t be impressed that Bastian escaped right out from under us, will he?”

  “Not one bit.” Lyre chuckled. “I wonder how much I can irritate him? For an emotionless killing machine, it’s surprisingly easy to rile him up.”

  “Um, maybe don’t antagonize the assassin.” Realizing she was still touching his cheek, she started to pull her hand back.

  He caught it, holding her palm in place. “You should go now.”

  The words were soft, unhappy. She bit her lip, fighting back a wave of rising emotion. She wanted to tell him this felt wrong, that they should stay together. Being apart was … wrong.

  The words stuck in her throat. Saying it … we belong together … would change something between them. She opened her mouth, then closed it, caught in indecision. Squeezing her eyes shut, she rose onto her tiptoes.

  His warm mouth met hers without hesitation. She slid her arms around his neck and he pulled her against him. He kissed her with slowly building urgency until she was gasping for air, her head spinning and molten heat gathering in her center.

  With a final brush of his lips, he stepped back. His eyes, darkened to bronze, were hot and hungry as they slid across her face.

  “Be careful in Irida,” he said huskily. “You don’t know who might be loyal to Bastian.”

  “You be careful too—with the princess and with Ash. Don’t tick him off or he might change his mind.”

  “He’s the definition of bullheaded. He won’t change his mind.” When she gave him a hard stare, he laughed quietly. “But I’ll be careful.”

  “Good.” It took an effort of will to pry her arms off him. Her hands fell to her sides, cold and empty. “I’ll be back soon.”

  “I’ll be waiting.”

  Her chest tightened until it hurt. Why was this so difficult? Giving in, she reached for one last kiss. His lips caught hers, equally as passionate, and renewed heat dove through her. She reluctantly pulled away. His dark, intense eyes followed her as she turned and broke into a swift jog, racing into the trees. Racing away from him.

  She didn’t want to leave him behind again. Last time, Bastian had captured, tortured, and nearly killed him. This time, she was leaving him in even more uncertain circumstances. But she didn’t have a choice. She would just have to return as quickly as she could.

  She was so determined to keep moving that by the time she looked back, only the glare of the car’s headlights was visible through the scraggly pine trees. Her heart lurched but she forced herself to keep going.

  The ley line danced over the leafy ground, its warm power rushing across her senses. With effort, she put Lyre out of her mind and focused on the task before her. Return to Irida. See the king. Tell him … tell him his son had betrayed their homeland and put their people in terrible danger. Would the king believe her?

  She stretched a hand toward the shimmering power, tasting its essence as she focused on the White Rock ley line a few miles north of the palace. Her other hand slipped into her pocket, closing around the tracking spell.

  With a deep breath, she stepped into the ley line and cast herself into the Void between worlds.

  Chapter Seven

  Lyre sat on the sleek black car’s hood, elbows braced on his knees, chin resting on his hand. He stared at the spot where Clio had disappeared into the trees, wondering why he felt so damn cold.

  She hadn’t looked back. Should that bother him? It kind of bothered him.

  He rubbed his face, pulling himself together. Since the moment his father and brother had appeared, he’d felt like he was cracking apart at the seams, his emotions churning in a sickening mess of fear, dread, loathing, and shame.

  The last one surprised him. Was he ashamed of his fear? Or was he ashamed for … betraying his family?

  It never ended, did it? No matter how much he tried to convince himself he didn’t care, that he hadn’t cared for years, part of him still wanted to make his father proud. But even before developing a defiant streak in his youth, he’d never earned a single word of praise from Lyceus. As a child, he’d been the slowest learner of his siblings. Dulcet, younger by two seasons, had surpassed Lyre quickly.

  He squinted at the black sky. His sluggish progression through the apprenticeship curriculum hadn’t been entirely due to a lack of talent. He’d just wanted to learn different things. Before his third apprenticeship season, he’d already been an expert in illusion weaving. That, however, had not impressed his father. Nothing had.

  He pushed off the car. Impressing his father was a desire he’d thought he’d crushed out of his psyche years ago, but here it was, still lingering. A lifetime of indoctrination took a lifetime to overcome, he supposed.

  Circling to the back of the car, he pulled the door open to study his new charges. The girl was curled up against her guardian’s side, hugging his arm the way a child might hold a parent. How close was their relationship? No wonder she’d been unwilling to leave the guy behind.

  What a strange twist of fate that Lyre was now the guardian of a Ra princess. From the mom
ent Clio had shown up at Chrysalis, his life had grown more unpredictable with each passing day.

  “Princess?” He gave her thin shoulder a gentle squeeze. “Wake up.”

  Her forehead wrinkled, then bright yellow-green eyes popped open. Fear flashed across her face.

  “It’s okay,” he soothed, using a touch of aphrodesia to calm her. It didn’t work on children the way it did on adults, for which he was eternally grateful. “You’re safe—for the moment, at least.”

  Her gaze flashed around, taking in their new location, then she touched the griffin’s bandaged side, her fingers trembling when wet blood stained them. “He’s still bleeding.”

  “He won’t die. My friend did a little work on his injuries, though we’ll need to get him to a healer soon.” Lyre crouched beside the open door, putting his head lower than the girl’s. “We’re outside Brinford, but we don’t want to hang around. Where should I take you?”

  “Take me?” she repeated blankly.

  “You don’t want to stay here, do you?” he asked teasingly, flashing her a warm smile. Her fear-stricken expression softened. “The embassy was attacked, so where’s the next best place for you to go?”

  “Home.”

  “Back to the Overworld, you mean?” When she nodded, he sighed. He’d been afraid of that. “Do you know how to travel ley lines?”

  “I’ve never done it by myself,” she said, “but I can travel the lines with someone else. I know lots of ley lines in my kingdom.”

  “If I carry your friend, I can shield you both across the line, but you’ll have to guide us. Can you do that?”

  She nodded again, and he hoped her confidence was appropriate to her skill level.

  “The ley line we go to,” he clarified, “needs to be a place where you can get help easily, but also somewhere that will be safe for me.”

  “For you?”

  He arched an eyebrow. “I’m an Underworlder.”

  “Oh.”

  “You’re a smart kid, princess,” he told her. “I’m sure you understand that if an Underworlder waltzes into Ra territory with their princess as his ‘prisoner,’ it won’t go well for them.”

  Her eyes widened. “Am I your prisoner?”

  “Not at all, but I can’t let you out of my sight until you’re safe with your people. Can you think of a ley line where I can drop you off and also leave again without getting in trouble? Somewhere that isn’t guarded.”

  Her eyebrows scrunched in thought. “You want to drop us off then leave?”

  “Yep. Like I said, I’m an Underworlder. I need to get back to, you know, Underworld things.”

  “Why did you save us, then?”

  “It’s a long story, but the short version is that I don’t want to see a child murdered for political gain, and I don’t want to see a lot more people get hurt in retaliation.”

  “You’re not what I expected Underworlders to be like.”

  He grinned. “I’m not like most Underworlders.”

  Her lips twitched in a small smile. “I know a good ley line.”

  “Excellent. Let’s get you back home, and your pal here can get some healing.”

  He helped her out of the car, then circled to the other side. Dragging the unconscious griffin from the backseat, he heaved the daemon over his shoulder again. The girl following, he trekked through the bushes. The ley line came into view, the wall of green and blue light rippling sedately.

  Holding the griffin with one arm, Lyre extended his other hand to the girl. “Ready?”

  She hesitated, her lower lip between her teeth. “You saved our lives.”

  “You’re welcome,” he replied in amusement, wiggling his fingers in invitation. “Now let me take you home.”

  She cautiously placed her small hand in his. Pulling her forward, he stepped into the line and its soft power rushed over them, a warm current he could feel inside his body.

  “Once I shield us, you can go ahead. I’ll follow your lead.”

  She nodded, her young face tightening with concentration. Closing his eyes, he enveloped the three of them in the magical protection required for crossing the Void—the emptiness between worlds. Taking three people across would exhaust him, but he’d have enough power reserved to return.

  Opening his eyes, he glanced down the line once more, wondering if this was the same spot where Clio had gone through. How long until she returned? Would she return?

  The Ra princess tightened her grip on his hand. She stepped forward and, following her guiding touch, he plunged into the howling oblivion.

  The princess’s small hand guided him from the ley line and blazing sunlight blinded him. He stumbled, sand shifting beneath his feet. Hot wind whipped across his skin and he squinted painfully.

  Then voices erupted and shadows blocked the light—daemons surging toward him.

  They grabbed him as others wrenched the girl away. They ripped the unconscious griffin from his hold and the butt of a weapon slammed into his stomach. He doubled over, unable to breathe as he was shoved roughly into the sand.

  “Don’t hurt him!”

  The princess’s command rang out but the daemons pinning him down didn’t gentle. They yanked his arms behind his back and bound them with a spell. A jumble of male voices sounded and the princess’s high, pleading tones rose above them. The chaos reigned for another minute, then quieted.

  Lyre spat out a mouthful of sand. Eyes watering from the sunlight’s intensity, he caught a sideways view of the walled compound that enclosed the short ley line. Six tall, muscular griffins with golden-brown wings surrounded him. Their loose, flowing garments and shining armor matched, down to the laces on their boots. That, combined with their long halberds topped with curved blades, could only mean they were soldiers.

  Fancy soldiers, by the look of it. Important soldiers.

  Another three griffins surrounded the princess’s unconscious bodyguard, two propping him up while a third checked his injuries. The princess stood halfway between the two groups and an older griffin kneeled respectfully before her while she spoke.

  Lyre slumped in the hot sand. He wouldn’t be fighting his way out of this one. Bloody hell, had this backfired. Trusting a Ra, even a young one, had been a mistake.

  The soldier kneeling before the princess nodded and rose to his feet. She turned, her hands twisted together, and stepped closer to Lyre.

  “Um,” she began in a hesitant whisper.

  The older soldier cleared his throat pointedly and the princess straightened her spine as though he’d poked her.

  “Underworlder.” This time, her high voice rang with imperial command. “We owe you a life debt, and upon my family’s honor, I swear it will be repaid.”

  His mouth twisted angrily. “How about letting me go, seeing as you didn’t choose an unguarded ley line like we agreed?”

  She flinched, tears filming her eyes, but she lifted her chin higher as though to deny them. “This is my family’s emergency ley line. It’s the safest one.”

  “Let me go, then.”

  “I can’t do that.” She glanced at the older soldier for support. “It’s not—not my place to make that decision. My brother will decide what to do with you.”

  Despite the blazing suns in the clear sky, Lyre went cold with apprehension. Being turned over to a Ra prince did not bode well for him.

  “Once he wakes up,” she added, glancing over her shoulder.

  “Once he … oh, hell.” He jerked his head toward the unconscious griffin. “That guy is your brother?”

  The princess clasped her hands together. “Eldest prince and first general of the royal guard, Miysis Ra.”

  A prince and a general. That explained the militaristic outfit. And his fighting ability. And why he was solid muscle that weighed a damn ton.

  Lyre hadn’t saved one Ra royal. He’d saved two. And it was the deadly prince, not the young princess, who would decide Lyre’s fate.

  Chapter Eight

  Clio let the
cool water from the fountain trickle over her fingertips. It was almost as refreshing as the sweet breeze that whispered through the courtyard, carrying the scents of leaves, flowers, and sun-warmed rock. The scents of home.

  Beams of amber light streaked across the valley that the Iridian city, clinging to the mountainside, overlooked. Beyond the quiet courtyard where she stood, soft sounds of life filled the palace—guards on patrol, servants going about their duties, nobles and advisors murmuring to one another.

  She brushed her wet fingertips across the blossom of a floating plant in the fountain’s basin. Gems inlaid in the carved edge sparkled brilliantly in the dying sunlight. Elegant trees, twice her height, surrounded the fountain, their branches intertwined above her head. Just within the circle of trunks, two carved benches faced each other, the fountain between them.

  She turned toward the nearest bench.

  Rouvin Nereid, king of Irida and ruler of the nymphs, sat with his elbows braced on his knees and face in his hands. Pain clung to him like invisible chains dragging at his limbs.

  Throat tightening, she crossed the polished stone tiles and sank down beside him. Rouvin had been sitting in silence, with his head bowed, for nearly ten minutes. He hadn’t moved since she’d finished explaining.

  She had told him everything. Maybe that would prove to be a mistake, but omitting Lyre’s involvement would have left huge gaps in the tale. If her father turned against Lyre later, she would find a way to protect him.

  Rouvin finally raised his head. His pale blue eyes were haunted as he tipped his gaze toward the stars appearing in the darkening sky. “Part of me has feared this day for many years.”

  “What do you mean?” she asked. “Did you know Bastian was planning something like this?”

  “I never could have imagined this, but I have feared the day he would cross an unforgivable line.” He turned his hands over as though he held invisible secrets upon his palms. “In what way did I fail him? Did I push him down this path? Could I have stopped him, redirected him?”

  She hesitated, unsure if she should say anything. “It’s not your fault.”

 
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