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


  “Not at all. However, honesty is something of a habit for griffins.”

  “Oh? Why is that?”

  “Isn’t it obvious?” Seeing Lyre’s furrowed brow, Miysis halted his comb. “Don’t you know?”

  “Know what?”

  “About our caste ability.” When Lyre merely stared in confusion, Miysis’s eyes widened. “I don’t believe it. You were so evasive without lying that I thought you knew.”

  “Knew what?”

  “Truth-seeing. That’s our caste ability. I can tell when someone is lying to me.”

  Lyre’s mouth fell open. Why had he never heard about that ability? “Wait. In the embassy, you asked me if I intended to hurt your sister, and you made me say it back to you. Were you checking if I was lying?”

  “That’s why I trusted you to help us.”

  “Well, shit.” Lyre shook his head. “I had no idea. That’s got to be handy.”

  “Extremely.” Miysis resumed combing Rushi’s feathers. “Are you just naturally evasive, then?”

  “Old habits die hard. It’s easier to avoid lying than to keep track of a bunch of fibs.” Lyre ran the brush over the opinari’s side, vaguely worried the beast might lower its wing down on his head. Miysis worked beside him, waiting while Lyre considered his next move. Sharing what he knew would be more to Irida’s advantage than not, but it would put Lyre’s secrets—and Clio’s—at risk.

  “Bastian has gone rogue,” he said abruptly. “He’s acting without the king’s knowledge or approval.”

  Miysis absorbed that. “Are you certain?”

  “As certain as I can be. I’ve never so much as spoken to the Iridian king, but the nymph who helped us escape the embassy has gone to Irida to report everything that happened.”

  The griffin prince stood quietly, eyes half closed, then let out a rough exhalation. “Maybe this won’t mean outright war. Maybe.” Guiding Rushi’s head down, he combed the beast’s crest. “Tell me everything you know.”

  Lyre pressed his lips together. “What if you don’t like what I have to say? Will I still be free to leave?”

  “You saved my sister from certain death. I do not take that debt lightly.”

  Lyre would rather leave it to Clio and her father to decide how much they wanted to share with the Ras, but he had a chance to undo some of the damage Bastian had inflicted.

  “For me, I guess this all starts with Chrysalis,” he began.

  Wariness flickered across Miysis’s features, confirming he was familiar with the name.

  “The spell Bastian attacked the embassy with—that came from Chrysalis. So did I.” Lyre grimaced. “From what I’ve learned, Bastian has been nursing a vendetta against Ra for years. He thinks you’re oppressing Irida and that a demonstration of power will intimidate you into leaving the nymphs alone.”

  Miysis listened without expression, absently stroking Rushi’s head.

  “Bastian sent three of his people to Chrysalis under the guise of commissioning magic, but instead his man stole that spell and left the other two behind. One is dead but the other escaped with me.”

  “The female nymph my sister spoke of?” Miysis murmured.

  “Yes. We tried to find Bastian and get the spell back before he could use it, but he attacked the embassy first. We were already tracking him, so we were able to stop some of his men, but Bastian escaped again with the spell.” He shrugged. “That’s it. The important stuff, anyway.”

  Miysis turned to him. “Everything you said is the truth as you believe it—except that last bit.”

  Lyre blinked, then swore under his breath. “There are some secrets I can’t reveal—and not all are mine.”

  “How much do you know about the spell he stole from Chrysalis?”

  Lyre was beginning to see patterns in Miysis’s questioning—phrasing that helped him identify truthfulness in the responses he got.

  “It’s one of a kind,” he replied instead of answering the question directly—which would have meant either revealing too much or lying. “Dangerous, volatile, and better off destroyed. That’s my goal—the main reason I’m still involved in all this.”

  “Hmm,” Miysis murmured, circling around to Rushi’s other side. Lyre followed, and when the beast lifted a wing imperiously, he resumed brushing. “How does it work?”

  “It consumes other nearby magic. Wipes out everything.”

  “A devastating weapon,” Miysis observed. “I’m surprised Hades hasn’t put it to use.”

  Lyre’s hand clenched around the grooming brush. “Hades doesn’t know it exists … yet. That’s something else I’m trying to prevent.”

  Miysis glanced at him, his green eyes darker than before. “What’s your connection with that spell?”

  Lyre said nothing, though his silence alone confirmed it was a smart question—too smart. Not much slipped past this prince.

  After a moment, Miysis asked instead, “What is Bastian planning next? I can’t imagine he intends to stop at one attack.”

  “I don’t know. We’ve been one step behind him from the start.”

  Miysis took the grooming brush from Lyre and returned both tools to the cupboard. “I have a lot to do. I’ll walk you back to your room.”

  “What if I’d rather go to a ley line?”

  “Then I’ll take you to a ley line.”

  No hesitation at all. Lyre rubbed his hand through his hair. What should he do? He was too far from Irida to get there easily, and even then his chances of making it through the territory weren’t great. Should he return to Earth and join up with Ash to hunt down Bastian? He didn’t even know if the nymph was still in Brinford.

  He knew who was in Brinford though. His father. An icy shiver ran through him.

  He didn’t need to decide anything right this moment, did he? He could relax, eat, enjoy this reprieve from immediate danger for a while longer.

  “Back to my room, then,” he muttered. “For now.”

  The guards were waiting outside, and they preceded Miysis and Lyre down the stairs. When they exited the tower, the suns hung low in the sky and long shadows stretched over the city.

  Miysis led him back into the citadel and up to his room. Lyre pushed the door open and took a step inside, glancing across the luxurious suite. He had no reason to linger here, yet leaving would mean going back to Earth … where the hunter of his nightmares waited.

  Returning to Brinford would be a fool’s choice. He was completely unprepared to take on the deadliest master weaver in the three realms. He couldn’t fight his father. He couldn’t defeat the head of Chrysalis and caretaker of Rysalis’s most lethal inventions spanning generations. He couldn’t …

  His eyes went out of focus. He couldn’t defeat his father, but maybe …

  “Lyre?”

  He blinked, slamming back to the present. Miysis watched him with furrowed eyebrows.

  “Miysis,” he said abruptly. “I have a favor to ask.”

  “What do you need?”

  “Tools.” He glanced around the room. “Spell-weaving tools. Whatever you have.”

  “I’ll see what I can find,” Miysis replied, a note of caution in his voice. “Anything else?”

  “One more thing, if you have it.” Lyre swallowed against the sick feeling burrowing into his gut. “Quicksilver.”

  The prince’s eyes widened. “Should I be concerned about this?”

  “No … it’s personal.”

  “I see. I’ll do what I can.”

  Lyre nodded. Miysis gave him one more searching look, then quietly closed the door. Lyre listened to the light footsteps retreating, knowing that a guard or two would show up soon to supervise the Underworld guest. Miysis trusted Lyre’s word—his truth-seeing ability saw to that—but he wasn’t a fool.

  Discarding thoughts of the griffin, Lyre strode to the desk where he opened a polished wood box to reveal neatly stacked paper and sharp charcoal pencils. Pulling out a few sheets of paper, he settled into the chair.

&
nbsp; He couldn’t do much without tools, but he could get started. He had a lot of work to do and precious little time to do it.

  Chapter Ten

  The young woman giggled flirtatiously. It wasn’t a sound Lyre normally opposed, but at this particular moment, it set his teeth on edge.

  “I know I’ve mentioned this about ten times already,” he said, unable to keep the growling note from his voice, “but this really isn’t necessary.”

  “Shh,” the woman crooned. “Just relax.”

  “If you don’t hold still,” the other girl admonished, “I’ll have to start again.”

  She brandished her paintbrush and he reluctantly sank back into the cushions of the daybed. Sunlight streamed across the floor, kissing the scented water of the sunken tub.

  The griffin maiden reloaded her fine brush with black ink and, with a teasing smile, touched it to his abdomen. He glared at the ceiling, resisting—again—the urge to pull his arm out of the grasp of the other maiden, who was applying a complex pattern to his inner wrist in turquoise and black ink.

  “We thought you would enjoy some pampering.” The maiden working on his torso pouted. “Most men don’t complain when we take care of them.”

  A dozen suggestive comebacks about how he wasn’t like “most men” ran through his mind, but instead, he muttered, “I was busy when you two burst in and started preening me like a damn rooster.”

  It wasn’t like him to be rude to women—especially beautiful women who were, all things considered, treating him very well—but his patience had run out at some point between the scented-water bath and being dressed like a helpless invalid who couldn’t clothe himself.

  “We know you were busy,” the girl replied with a pretty roll of her green eyes. “That’s exactly why Prince Miysis sent us to you.”

  “He said you didn’t sleep at all last night.” The other girl pointed her brush at his face, almost coloring his nose. “That is no way to take care of yourself.”

  “And you should definitely take care of yourself,” the other added with an appreciative look over his bare torso. Not that they hadn’t already seen more when they’d bullied him into the stupid tub. Good thing he wasn’t shy.

  “I slept last night,” he protested.

  Another threatening wave of the brush. “Don’t lie!”

  Damn it. Griffins and their truth-seeing.

  “I slept for a few hours,” he corrected. He didn’t like stopping in the middle of his work. And how did Miysis know his sleep habits anyway?

  “A few hours isn’t much,” the girl criticized. “It’s past noon. Once we’re finished, you should take a nice afternoon nap. Most of the city rests during the hottest hours.”

  “How am I supposed to sleep when I’m painted up like a noble peacock?”

  The maiden giggled. “This ink isn’t coming off without a sand-soap scrub.”

  Oh, lovely. He never should have let them touch him.

  “Are you having trouble sleeping?” the other asked. Her fingers slid up his arm and kneaded his bicep. “I could give you a massage to help you fall asleep, if you’d like.”

  He chose not to acknowledge the unspoken offer for more than a massage. He didn’t want massages or baths or female attention. He wanted to be left alone.

  No incubus in his right mind would turn down that offer, let alone resent beautiful women pampering him with attention. Clearly, Lyre wasn’t in his right mind. There were only two things he could focus on, and they had kept him up all night: weaving and Clio.

  His night’s weaving progress was hidden in the box on the bookshelf, out of sight from his visitors, but tools were scattered across the desk—a decent assortment but not as good as the collection he’d lost when he’d fled Asphodel.

  As for Clio, she lingered stubbornly in his thoughts, overshadowing everything else. Was she safe? Was she in Irida? Was she looking for him in Brinford? Was she alone and in danger there? Not knowing was driving him insane. The worry kept scraping and scraping at his temper until he was so on edge he couldn’t sleep.

  “Relax,” the maiden bending over his stomach commanded. “I’m almost done.”

  He snapped out of his internal monologue of anxiety and forced his abs—and his jaw—to relax. The wet brush glided across his skin as she completed the elaborate pattern that ran from his hipbones up to his ribs and around his sides. When she finally dropped the brush back into her paint kit, the other girl rose to her feet and leaned over Lyre.

  “Look up,” she instructed.

  “Why?”

  “I need to paint under your eyes.”

  “No, you don’t.”

  “Yes, I do.” She thrust out her lower lip. “You don’t want me to get in trouble with the prince, do you?”

  Guilt tripping him now? Grumbling, he rolled his eyes upward. The cool brush slid under one eye, then the other. She leaned back and smiled happily. “Perfect! You’re all finished.”

  As she packed her supplies, the other girl handed him his tapa—the half-cloak thing griffins wore instead of a full shirt. He swung it into place and clasped it over his right shoulder.

  The girls waved at him to stand. “Let’s see! Come on, get up.”

  He swung his legs off the daybed and stood, tugging his pants a bit higher so they sat properly around his waist, the tie covering the bottom of the painted design. Suppressing his bad temper, he held his arms out to give them a better view of their hard work—made more difficult by his lack of cooperation.

  “Ooh!” She beamed at her companion in a congratulatory way. “We’re good, aren’t we?”

  “We are! Though, to be fair, it would be almost impossible to make him look bad.”

  “Very true.”

  He dropped his arms. “Are you done? Am I free?”

  The pride and excitement slid off their faces, and the younger one dropped her gaze. “Are you not pleased?”

  Damn it. These girls were just doing their jobs and he was being a miserable prick. He pulled himself together and offered them a smile. “Your patience with me is even more impressive than your skill and talent, which is really saying something. Thank you.”

  They brightened, and he kept his smile in place as they suggested repeatedly on their way out that he take a nap. He stood in the center of the room, waiting, until the door closed behind them. The latch clacked and his smile evaporated. Finally.

  Shoulders slumping, he stretched his arms out to examine the painted designs. They were exotic and beautiful, the turquoise and black lines contrasting with his tanned skin. Add in his clothes, patterned in black, white, and a deeper shade of turquoise, and the overall effect was something to see. With his face covered, he might be able to catch as many stares as the Ra prince.

  With his face uncovered, Lyre wouldn’t have any competition. No man could compete with an incubus when it came to attracting female attention.

  “It suits you.”

  Lyre started violently, then shot an irritated glower toward the door where Miysis leaned against the frame. Sneaky bastard. How had he gotten the door open without Lyre hearing?

  “Why did you sic those beauticians on me?” he complained. “Is this punishment for hanging around your palace too long?”

  “This isn’t my palace,” Miysis replied. Turquoise lines, probably matching the ones now painted under Lyre’s eyes, drew attention to his yellow-green irises. “This is Aldrendahar’s citadel, where the city council sits. The Ra palace is significantly more impressive than this, I promise.”

  “Hmph.” Lyre dropped onto the edge of the daybed.

  “Did you not enjoy yourself? No one has ever complained about my body artists before.”

  “I’m surprised you would trust an incubus with two blushing maidens and no chaperone.”

  “I warned them.” He shrugged. “They were perfectly willing. I suspect your good manners didn’t live up to their expectations of a notorious sex god from the Underworld.”

  “Sex god? I like the
sound of that.”

  Miysis ambled into the room, long braid swaying against his back between his folded wings, and picked up a pencil stub from the table. “How is your weaving going?”

  “Not as well as I’d like.” He’d made progress, but he was stuck on the implementation. He wished he could ask Reed for advice. “Any word from Irida?”

  “Still nothing.” The prince leaned against the table and stretched his wings to their full span, feathers spreading wide, before tucking them against his back. “My forces are ready and I can’t delay much longer. Either I hear from the Iridian king today or I go to the queen for orders.”

  “Orders?”

  “She’ll decide how Ra responds to Irida’s attack in Brinford.” He folded his arms, gold bands around his wrists glinting. “So far, I’ve only given her the briefest overview and asked her to let me investigate. But she’ll only wait so long.”

  Lyre straightened. “You’re withholding details from her? Why?”

  Miysis rubbed his hand over his mouth, his eyes distant. “It’s easy to send soldiers to war when you don’t know their names.”

  With that one statement, the prince revealed a great deal about himself and about his queen. Lyre looked the griffin prince over, seeing how young he was under his titles and confidence. He was Lyre’s age, if that.

  Young, idealistic, honorable, and perhaps a bit too trusting. Lyre wondered how the coming years as the prince and general of such a powerful caste would shape Miysis. His caste’s reputation was ferocious enough that Lyre wondered if Miysis’s idealism would last. How long before the ugly realities and tough lessons changed his outlook?

  Lyre leaned against the daybed’s backrest, relieved he ruled over his own fate and no one else’s. Life was a hell of a lot simpler that way.

  Miysis bounced one foot, betraying his uneasy tension. “What is Chrysalis like? I’ve only heard rumors.”

  “It’s …” Lyre closed his eyes for a moment. “Cutthroat. Everyone is in competition with everyone else to be better, faster, smarter, more productive …”

  “Sounds a lot like griffin nobility. Just add ‘richer.’”

  Lyre snorted in sympathetic amusement. “What’s it like being a Ra prince?”

 
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