The Shadow Weave by Annette Marie


  Clio and Kassia had often disagreed about Bastian, but no matter what, Clio could trust him to put Irida first. He always had, and always would, protect his people. Not even Kassia would have disagreed with her on that. The challenging part would be convincing Bastian that the spell was too dangerous to use against their enemies. It devoured magic, and the more it consumed, the further the magic expanded in a chain reaction that could spread and spread until it devoured everything.

  “Well, I guess we’ll find out if you’re right about that.” Lyre’s shoulders slumped. “So we need to go to the Overworld, then. Great.”

  “It won’t be that bad,” she assured him. “If I can survive Asphodel, then you’ll have no problem in Irida.”

  He nodded, weariness clinging to him like a miasma. He was still in shock. His entire life had been torn away, and he was adrift in a different world with no resources and no plan—and lethal hunters that would soon close in.

  He’d lost everything: his esteemed position as a master weaver, his home, his family, his belongings. He had only the clothes on his back, a bow and quiver of arrows, a few chains of lodestones, and whatever he carried beneath his glamour. In a single Underworld cycle, he’d gone from a nearly unassailable Chrysalis weaver to a hunted outcast.

  And it was her fault.

  If not for her, he wouldn’t have fought his psychotic brother Dulcet. If not for her, no one would know his secret magic-eating clock spell existed. If not for her, his family wouldn’t have turned on him and he would still be in Asphodel—not happy, but safe.

  Now he was on his own on Earth, with nowhere to go and no one to help him—except her. But what could she do?

  “Lyre.” She hesitated. “Are you okay? You haven’t been …”

  Ghosts of emotion gathered in his eyes—fear, pain, bitterness, dread, defeat. Toeing off his shoes, he pulled his legs onto the bed, half turning away from her.

  “What next?” he asked tonelessly. “Back to the ley line?”

  She opened her mouth, then closed it. Tightness spread through her chest. “I wish it was that simple, but unfortunately …”

  “What?”

  She forced herself to take a deep breath. “I’ve never traveled to Irida myself. I don’t know the ley lines so I … I can’t take us.”

  He twisted around to stare at her like he couldn’t believe his ears. “You’ve never traveled to Irida? Never? How do you not know how to travel to your own territory?”

  “I didn’t learn how to travel the lines until after I’d left!” Choking back her defensiveness, she pressed her hands to her thighs. “My situation was … unusual. I learned ley line travel after coming to Earth, but I haven’t been to Irida since I left. I was counting on Kassia to show me the way home, but she’s …”

  Pain cut into her chest at the reminder of her friend’s death, and she squeezed her eyes shut before the tears could start again.

  “You learned ley line travel here?” he asked incredulously. “How long ago was that?”

  “Two years.”

  “Why haven’t you been back?”

  “I was … it was a special request from Bastian.”

  She couldn’t say more than that. Only a dozen people, all of them in Irida, knew her real identity. Lyre knew nothing about her ties to the Nereid royal family, the true nature of the mission that had brought her to his homeland in the Underworld, or her rare ability to mimic any magic she saw. She couldn’t reveal such a dangerous secret to anyone.

  “How the hell do you propose we get to the Overworld, then?” he demanded. “This might come as a surprise, but I don’t know any of your world’s ley lines either.”

  “We’ll need to find a guide.”

  “A guide,” he repeated flatly.

  “An Overworlder who can take us through the ley lines to Irida—or at least get us close to Irida. I’m sure we can find someone who will take us.”

  “For a price, maybe. I don’t know about you, but as a newly destitute fugitive, I’m fresh out of cash.”

  “Do you have a better idea?”

  Something dark and unfriendly passed through his eyes, then he rolled onto his side with his back to her. “No.”

  She reached toward him, then withdrew her hand. She couldn’t imagine what he was feeling, but considering his precarious situation was her fault, she was probably the last person he would accept comfort from.

  “Why don’t you sleep for a couple more hours?” she suggested as she rose to her feet. “We can leave at midnight.”

  He said nothing, so she let him be and headed for the door.

  He was too smart to believe that a daemon who’d only learned to travel ley lines two years ago, and hadn’t been in the Overworld since then, was a royal envoy. Maybe he’d suspected before, but now he knew for certain she was someone else entirely—and she couldn’t tell him who.

  She quietly closed the door, her shoulders drooping. Whether she revealed the truth or not, she wasn’t sure it would be enough to erase the suspicion in his eyes.

  Chapter Two

  “Excuse me.”

  Stopping halfway down the corridor, Clio hurriedly wiped her eyes before turning toward the unfamiliar voice.

  The female daemon from the kitchen waited a few paces away, a heavy textbook under her arm. Her dark hair was pulled into a bun and thick-rimmed glasses perched on her small nose.

  Clio scrubbed her face, embarrassed she’d been caught in tears. While Lyre was sleeping, she’d wandered the manor, lost in anxious thoughts. Overwhelmed by worry and loneliness and wishing Kassia was still with her, she’d given in to a few tears. Had it only been a few days since Eryx had murdered her best friend? It felt like half a lifetime ago.

  “Yes?” Clio replied.

  The woman smiled, but the expression was empty of genuine warmth. “I hope I’m not intruding, but I was wondering about your companion, the incubus?”

  Wariness flared through Clio. “What about him?”

  “Is he”—she cleared her throat delicately—“available?”

  “Available?” Clio repeated blankly.

  The woman adjusted her glasses. “I heard you two arrived together, so I thought I’d ask.”

  “Wait, you—you want to …” Clio’s cheeks heated and something sharp twisted in her gut. “Why are you asking me?”

  “I was merely being polite. Some women react poorly to competition.”

  “Well, he’s not … I mean, we’re not …”

  The woman rolled her eyes, her earlier politeness nowhere in sight. “I was just inquiring if you were done with him. A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is all I need.”

  Done with him? Like he was a toy she would get bored with? “I’m not done with him, so you can move right along.”

  The vehemence of her words surprised her. Where had that come from?

  The woman smirked. “But how long until he’s done with you?”

  “Mind your own business.”

  The daemon pushed her glasses up her nose again, then laughed softly.

  “You’re in for a world of pain, girl,” she called over her shoulder as she walked away. “You should have known better.”

  She disappeared around a corner and Clio folded her arms.

  “Known better than to what?” she muttered to herself.

  As she headed in the opposite direction, she supposed she shouldn’t be surprised. Incubi attracted attention. Women desired them and men wanted to “prove something” as soon as they showed up. For a caste with limited defensive magic, that much attention must be nerve-racking.

  But she had bigger things to worry about, like what she and Lyre would do once they got to Brinford. Though many cities had daemon populations of only a few dozen, Brinford was a major hub. Embassies, businesses, shops, gatherings of all sorts. For that reason, Bastian had selected the city as her home-in-exile, and it was the same reason Lyre had chosen it as a hiding place.

  Returning to her townhouse was her first instinct, but the
depth of Eryx’s betrayal was a complete unknown. If he realized she was alive and back in Brinford, he might return to finish her off before she could reveal to Bastian what he’d done. She and Lyre would have to find temporary accommodations far from her old home while they located a guide to take them to the Overworld.

  In Irida, she’d had no need to learn ley line travel, and when Bastian had sent her away, she’d been brought through the ley line to Earth while in a protective state of unconsciousness. She didn’t know a single Overworld ley line, and if you didn’t know where a ley line was, you couldn’t travel to it.

  Irregular thudding sounds broke into her thoughts. Alarmed, Clio crept to the doorway the noise emanated from and peeked inside.

  The huge room wasn’t what she’d expected. On the nearest wall hung a multitude of weapons. Exercise mats covered the floors and the farther end was full of training equipment—foam dummies, climbing ropes, targets, weights.

  In the center, a girl was kicking a punching bag like she was trying to split it open. She slammed her shin into the bag over and over, then unleashed a flurry of lightning-fast punches up and down the bag where a man’s head and stomach would have been.

  Clio hung in the doorway, mouth falling open. The girl couldn’t have been older than twelve or thirteen, with a leggy build and auburn hair cropped close to her head in a boyish style. Sweat shone on her face and neck as she whirled around and jammed her foot into the bag, sending it swinging on its chain.

  The girl backed up a few steps, breathing hard, then jerked to face the doorway where Clio stood, surprise flashing in her green eyes. Curious as to what the girl was, Clio blinked her asper into focus.

  A faint shimmer surrounded the girl—an aura so weak there was no way it would support magic casting. But the blue glow of a weaving embedded deep in the girl’s body surprised Clio more. The weblike construct was staggeringly complex and woven through her head and chest, almost like—

  “What are you looking at?” the girl demanded aggressively.

  Clio blinked her asper away so she wouldn’t keep staring. “Are you human?” she blurted in confusion.

  “Haemon,” the girl snapped. “I’m a haemon.”

  Haemon? Clio frowned, trying to dredge up her flimsy knowledge of half-daemons. They weren’t all that common; most daemons had no interest in procreating with humans. Haemons were physically human but possessed limited magic inherited from their daemon parent. All Consuls were haemons, she’d heard.

  “I’m a junior apprentice,” the girl added defensively, misinterpreting Clio’s frown. “I’m Piper. The Head Consul is my father.”

  “I’m Clio,” she replied, smiling quickly to diffuse the tension. Piper had introduced herself as though Clio should recognize her name, but she was completely out to sea. “Is the Head Consul in charge of this Consulate, then?”

  Piper pushed her damp bangs off her forehead. “The Head Consul oversees all Consulates. Haven’t you ever been to a Consulate before?”

  “No, this is my first.”

  Piper dropped onto the mats and started a set of stretches. “You’re the one who came in unconscious two days ago, right? With the incubus?”

  When Clio nodded, the girl opened her mouth, then closed it, a pained expression on her face. She muttered something.

  “Pardon me?”

  “I said, ‘Stupid rule.’”

  “What rule?”

  Piper extended her legs into a perfect split and leaned forward into the stretch. “The one where I’m not supposed to ask you questions. Like who hurt you, or why the incubus was in such bad shape too. He collapsed as soon as he got here. My uncle—he was the Consul on duty when you two came in—thinks the incubus must have carried you for a while.” She straightened and quickly added, “Those weren’t questions.”

  Leaning against the doorframe, Clio bit her lip. “I lost consciousness before we went through the ley line, so I’m not sure how far he had to carry me.”

  “The ley line? That’s a three-hour walk.” Piper glanced up from her next stretch with an incredulous expression. “He carried you the whole way? He must be tougher than he looks.”

  “He is.”

  “So what hap—” The girl bit off the question.

  “What’s it like being an apprentice Consul?” Clio asked, steering the conversation away from her dramatic arrival at the Consulate.

  Piper shrugged. “I only started official training a few months ago. Before that, I wasn’t allowed downstairs without my father or my uncle with me, so it’s nice to have more freedom.”

  “Downstairs? You mean the basement where the guest rooms are?”

  “No, I mean anywhere except the family level upstairs.” She smiled mischievously, green eyes sparkling. “Not that I didn’t sneak down here all the time anyway. Just don’t tell my father.”

  “You’re awfully good at that”—Clio waved at the punching bag—“for having only started a few months ago.”

  “I’ve been training in martial arts since I was five.” She lifted her chin proudly. “I already have a second-degree black belt, and I’m taking the test for the third-degree later this year.”

  “Wow.” Clio stared bemusedly at the wall of weapons. Kassia had shown Clio how to throw a punch and hold a dagger, but her strength lay in magical defense.

  Piper gave Clio an appraising once-over. “Those clothes look terrible on you.”

  Clio didn’t need to be told. The oversized white t-shirt hung off her frame like a sail and she’d had to pull the drawstring on the cotton sweatpants so tight they’d bunched up around her waist. “This is what they gave me.”

  Piper pushed to her feet and canted her head. “You’re so small. What, five feet?”

  “Five foot one,” she muttered.

  “I’m five foot three,” Piper responded smugly. And she could expect another growth spurt or two in her future.

  “Congratulations.”

  Piper laughed. Bounding toward the door—still full of energy after her workout—she waved at Clio to follow her out. “Come on. I’m sure I have something that will fit you.”

  “You—you don’t have to do that,” Clio protested half-heartedly. She didn’t want to take the girl’s clothes, but she was desperate to get out of her current outfit.

  “It’s fine.” Piper frowned as she led Clio toward the foyer. “You’re not a succubus, are you?”

  “No.”

  “Okay, I didn’t think so. You don’t really have the look.” Clio choked slightly and Piper grimaced. “I didn’t mean it like that. You’re really pretty. It’s just you’re not, you know, supernaturally beautiful.”

  Clio sighed. Considering how gorgeous Lyre was compared to the average male, she understood Piper’s point.

  “Plus,” Piper continued, “it would be weird to see an incubus and a succubus together.” She paused at the bottom of the grand staircase in the foyer. “Daemons aren’t technically allowed upstairs, but we’ll be quick.”

  She darted up the steps and Clio followed on her heels. On the upper floor, worn furniture and thick rugs filled a cozy living room, and a small kitchen peeked out of a wide doorway. So this level was like a penthouse suite, then.

  Piper led her down a hall and into a small bedroom. A blanket was tangled over the bed and discarded clothes, books, and a few weapons carpeted the floor. Clio picked her way into the room as Piper crunched straight across the mess to the closet, its doors hanging open and clothes spilling out like an overturned bucket.

  “What were you saying before?” Clio asked. “About incubi and succubi?”

  Piper burrowed into the closet, riffling through the hangers. “They’re the same caste—males and females, right? But they don’t get along. They even have different names. What other caste has two names like that?”

  None that Clio could think of. Piper backed out of the closet and held up two different shirts. “Which one?”

  Clio picked the looser-fitting black tank top with a
white paint-splatter graphic over the chest.

  “My textbooks basically say if both an incubus and a succubus end up at a Consulate at the same time, expect trouble.” Piper pulled out a pair of gray jeans with a horizontal tear across the front of one thigh. “I was going to throw these out, but you can get a bit more wear out of them.”

  Clio accepted the pants and turned her back to change. She dropped the sweatpants to the floor and pulled on the jeans, grimacing as she shimmied into them. The legs fit just fine—minus the thigh-baring tear—but she had a lot more in the hips department than the young teen did. She quickly swapped shirts, pleased that the new one wasn’t too tight.

  When she turned around, Piper was holding out a thin leather jacket. “This was a present from my uncle but it doesn’t fit me right. Give it a try.”

  “Your uncle bought you a leather jacket?” Clio muttered dubiously as she accepted it and examined the silver buttons and aggressive cut to the collar. For a spunky eighteen-year-old, sure. But for a twelve-year-old?

  Piper snickered. “Yeah, he’s kind of dense sometimes. I think my father was relieved when it didn’t fit. Go on, try it.” As soon as Clio pulled it on, Piper whooped. “It’s perfect! All you need is eyeliner and you’ll look like a rocker chick.”

  “A what?”

  “Never mind. But it’s a good look on you.” Piper headed for the door. “We’d better get downstairs before someone catches you up here.”

  Clio followed the girl back to the living room and staircase. The open style offered a clear view of the foyer below—where three daemons had just walked in through the front door. Men in inconspicuous black clothes, with bland faces and neutral expressions.

  Ice cascaded through Clio’s veins. She grabbed Piper’s arm and hauled the girl back around the corner.

  “What’s wrong?” Piper hissed.

  Clio clamped her hand over the girl’s mouth and held her breath as the daemons paused in the foyer, their gazes sliding around the space. The centermost daemon. Tall, thin build, ashy-silver hair pulled into a low ponytail at the back of his neck.

 
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