The Shadow Weave by Annette Marie


  Her spells exploded harmlessly against it. Jaw clenched, she began to cast again. Light flickered over her fingers as the same glow danced over Bastian’s hands. As much of her attention was on his spellwork as on her own as she tried to anticipate his casts before he finished them.

  But he could anticipate hers too.

  She threw spell after spell and he countered them all. Magic exploded in the space between them, the concussion blowing her hair back from her face. She cast again, using the rarest spells she knew to catch him off guard.

  But he had organized most of her education. He knew almost everything she did—and more.

  A wave of magic nullified her last cast, and then the spell in his other hand shot toward her. It hit the ground at her feet and burst. The blast hurled her backward and she landed hard, pain flaring through her joints. Gasping, she rolled over and staggered to her feet.

  Green light glimmered over his hands. She flung a shield in front of her, but his first cast obliterated it and the second one exploded against her chest. She skidded across the rough pavement.

  Her head spinning, she pushed up on shaking arms. She’d barely staggered to her feet when his next spell hit her. She tumbled across the ground, coming to a stop on her belly.

  Footsteps crunched as Bastian walked toward her. She raised her head, struggling to make her arms and legs move. Only a few feet away, Lyre was still immobilized. She had fallen at the edge of the binding spell that held him prisoner, a constant stream of electric magic crackling over the ground.

  Bastian’s footsteps stopped beside her. “Kindly stay there for a minute, Clio, hmm? Just one minute.”

  Metal clicked above her. Panting and dizzy from pain, she lifted her head. Bastian stood at her side, blood drenching his face, as he grasped the key sticking out of the clock. The gears ground loudly in the otherwise quiet park as he wound it.

  Tremors ran through her body as she wiggled her arm forward. Her bloody fingers touched the glowing green edge of the binding circle.

  The gears clicked. The clock was wound.

  Digging her fingernails into the pavement, she cut through the circle with her magic and the binding spell evaporated—just as Bastian pulled the key out of the clock and the countdown began.

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  The binding spell dissolved. For a single heartbeat, Lyre’s abused muscles refused to respond. Then he surged to his feet and lunged at Bastian.

  The prince backpedaled, magic flaring in his hand, and Lyre bared his teeth. A mimic against a master weaver.

  Snapping his bow out, he hooked it over Bastian’s head and yanked him forward—right into his fist. The nymph’s head snapped back, and Lyre grinned fiercely. He might be a master weaver, but he knew better than to rely exclusively on magic.

  Fifty seconds.

  Hauling on the bow, Lyre grabbed for the clock. Bastian clutched it and ducked out of the bow. Lyre dropped the weapon to free his hands, light spiraling over his fingers and up his arms. Limbs wrapped in magic, he launched at the nymph.

  Shimmers rushed over Bastian as he dropped glamour. Retreating with startling agility, the nymph cast. Lyre flicked his fingers and his spell pierced the nymph’s, shattering it before it finished forming.

  Forty seconds.

  Snarling, Lyre pressed close, magic blazing over his hands in a continuous cast as he blended one spell into another until Bastian was frantically shielding—too slow to keep up, mimic or not. Lyre couldn’t weave powerful spells at this speed, but against a nymph, he didn’t need power.

  Bastian cast a bubble shield, and Lyre almost laughed aloud as he jammed his fist into it. Ripples rushed over the barrier and it burst apart. He’d invented that spell; of course he knew how to defeat it.

  His other hand lashed out, and the swift blast of power knocked Bastian clean off his feet. He landed on his back, still clutching the clock.

  Thirty seconds.

  Bastian’s eyes flicked from the clock to Lyre. He rolled out of reach, then jumped to his feet. As Lyre sprang at him, he cocked his arm back and flung the clock away. It spun through the air and clattered to the ground somewhere behind Lyre.

  A smug grin flashed across Bastian’s face. Then he turned and ran.

  Twenty seconds.

  Lyre swore and whipped around. Clio was leaning against the fountain with blood streaking her arm and face, and a few feet away, the last chimera was trussed up in her binding spell. Lyre scoured the uneven pavement, bodies and blood everywhere.

  Where was it? Where was it?

  Fifteen seconds.

  He shot toward Clio. If he couldn’t find the clock, then they had to get clear of it. He skidded to a stop and pulled her to her feet.

  “It’s there,” she gasped, pointing.

  He whipped around. Twenty feet away in the shadow of an unmoving body was the glimmer of something reflective. Indecision chained him. Get away from the spell or grab it and try to get it into the water?

  Ten seconds.

  Green light erupted from back in the trees. A glowing line raced across the ground toward him and Clio. Lyre flung out a fast counter. His spell hit the prince’s attack and light exploded everywhere.

  Six seconds.

  Get away. They should get away. Without them, there was no magical fuel for the KLOC to consume. He clamped an arm around Clio, intending to sprint away from the spell.

  Five.

  Clio gasped and he looked back. The body beside the clock had moved—not a dead body. Eryx lifted his head and his hand stretched toward the clock.

  Four.

  He was alive! And now the clock would trigger on top of him, and his magic would fuel its expansion. It would catch Lyre and Clio, and uninhibited by water, it would burst outward—reaching the bound chimera and Bastian—and from there it would expand even farther.

  Three.

  His eyes met Eryx’s black stare. Blood ran from the chimera’s mouth. In that instant, a wordless understanding passed between them.

  Two.

  Grunting from the effort, Eryx threw the clock. It sailed twenty feet and Lyre snatched it out of the air. No time to get away.

  One.

  With the clock in one hand and his arm clamped around Clio, he turned and threw them both into the fountain’s black water.

  Zero.

  Breathing was almost too much effort.

  Pain dug into his chin where it rested on the basin’s edge, his head leaning against his arm, the rest of his body still in the water. The clock, its gems quiet and dull until it was once again triggered, hung from his hand.

  Beside him, Clio was slumped halfway out of the fountain. He must have pulled her out of the water, but he didn’t remember doing it. All he remembered was plunging into the cold liquid and desperately pulling glamour back over his form to protect his spelled arrows and lodestones just before the shadow weave ripped through his body.

  His glamour was gone again, but he’d saved his spells. And since the earth wasn’t collapsing around him, he assumed the shadow weave hadn’t traveled far. Had it converted his entire arsenal of weaves, that might have been a different story.

  Twenty feet away, Eryx lay on the pavement, his hand reaching for the fountain. His dead eyes stared blankly. Throwing the clock to Lyre had been his final act.

  Lyre’s senses prickled and he laboriously lifted his head.

  Bastian stopped a step away, smiling pleasantly. “It seems it works as promised. A successful test run, I would say.”

  He reached down, and there was nothing Lyre could do to stop the prince from plucking the clock out of his hand. His magic was gone and his body was too exhausted to move. This time, he didn’t have Clio standing by with fully charged lodestones to replenish his strength, and it was all he could do to stay conscious.

  Bastian examined the KLOC for damage, then held it up to the moonlight, watching the gems sparkle. With a groan and a clank of weapons, the last surviving chimera guard pushed to his feet and s
tumbled to his master’s side with blood splattered over his face.

  “Excellent,” Bastian murmured, returning his attention to Lyre. “What to do with you now, master weaver? You’ve proven yourself both highly skilled and excessively troublesome.”

  Lyre said nothing, unwilling to expend any effort on a reply.

  “Should I kill you?” Bastian tapped a finger against the KLOC. “You invented a spell that can consume any magic and infinitely expand its own power. Killing you would be a waste of a brilliant mind.”

  He slipped the KLOC into his pocket. “Perhaps you’d like to help me rework this spell into something more … containable. I’d be delighted to eradicate the magic of an entire daemon army but if it’s powerful enough to wipe out the ley lines, I’d rather avoid that.”

  “There’s no way to control it,” Lyre snarled hoarsely. “It should be destroyed.”

  “Hmm. A shame.”

  Lyre couldn’t summon the strength to move. His body had given out.

  “Well, I suppose in that case, I will—”

  Bastian leaped sideways like a startled cat. A dark blur flashed by, then a sickening crunch. The chimera guard, standing a step behind where Bastian had been, toppled over with a knife hilt in his chest. The prince scrambled backward.

  Red light flared. In a swirl of black fabric, a hooded reaper appeared with a curved scythe in his hand.

  Another blaze of red and a second reaper materialized on Bastian’s other side. The prince’s eyes darkened as he skittered away, his gaze darting between the two Hades daemons cloaked in black with deep hoods pulled over their heads.

  “Did you think you could throw around that much magic without drawing attention?” a reaper mocked in sibilant tones. He flicked his blade menacingly. “Surrender and we’ll spare your life.”

  Bastian took another step back.

  “Run and we’ll kill you,” the other daemon threatened. “No one can escape a reaper.”

  Bastian stopped retreating, his gaze fixed on the reaper. Sudden concentration tightened his features.

  Red light flashed over the nymph, then he vanished.

  “What?” a reaper spat. “He’s gone!”

  “Did he teleport? What caste is he?” the other snarled. He swore angrily. “We’ll catch up to him as soon as we’ve secured the weaver.”

  The breath hissed out of Lyre’s lungs and he wished he had the power to stop his heart. He’d very much like to die now, but without the strength to lift his arm, he couldn’t even take his own life.

  He should have realized their battle wouldn’t go unnoticed. The city was packed with bounty hunters, and the only reason no one had shown up sooner was that the park was otherwise deserted. But now that the reapers had arrived, there would be no escape. They would capture Lyre, take him back to Asphodel, and hand him over to Lyceus.

  The closer daemon stepped in front of Lyre and knelt. His bony fingers grasped a fistful of Lyre’s hair and pulled his head up. Red eyes shone faintly within the darkness of the reaper’s hood.

  “Ready to go home, weaver? Your father is waiting.” White teeth flashed as the daemon smiled. “But he’ll have to wait until Samael is finished with you. The warlord will want to hear all about this spell that can eradicate an entire army’s magic.”

  Horror crushed Lyre’s lungs. They’d heard? Damn Bastian and his gloating. Hades’s warlord couldn’t know about the KLOC. His father couldn’t know about it. Bastian’s reckless ambition was nothing compared to that of Samael and Lyceus, and with the shadow weave, they would destroy the realms.

  The reaper pulled Lyre’s head farther back until pain shot through his neck.

  “You can’t resist at all, can you? Is this what the spell does?” He laughed softly. “Most intriguing.”

  He let go of Lyre’s hair. His chin hit the basin’s edge and the taste of blood filled his mouth. Swirls of light and dark swam across his vision but he clung desperately to awareness. Sickening, defeated lethargy sucked at his mind. It was over. This was the beginning of the end.

  The reaper rose to his full height and looked across the park. “What’s taking him so long?”

  “Hey!” the second daemon shouted to the empty park. “Hurry up before that other one gets too far!”

  A chill whispered through the air, a hint of terror carried on the breeze.

  From the darkness behind the memorial, the shadows coiled and shifted. A figure melted out of the night, unhurriedly walking toward the fountain, his steps silent on the cracked pavement. Shuddering cold swept through Lyre, pulling him back from the brink.

  Ash.

  The draconian stopped a few long paces away from the reapers, his dark eyes lingering on Lyre. A multitude of weapons were strapped over his armored clothing and his wrap once again covered his lower face. He rested one hand on the hilt of the short sword belted to his thigh.

  “Finally,” a reaper snapped. “Secure the weaver and the nymph girl.”

  Lyre stared at Ash, a cocktail of emotions twisting through him. Ignoring the Hades daemons, Ash held his stare as though prying into Lyre’s mind with nothing but his eyes.

  Lyre’s vision blurred. He struggled to hold on to Ash’s face but his sight fractured and darkened. As the world spun and he felt himself falling, Ash turned his attention to the reapers. His deep, rumbling voice shuddered through Lyre’s bones as he finally answered.

  “My orders are to kill.”

  Lyre’s breath escaped in a shuddering exhale, and as he lost consciousness, he didn’t know whether he felt terror … or relief.

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  - ASH -

  As Lyre’s eyes glazed over and his face went slack, Ash focused on the reapers. “My orders are to kill.”

  “I’m changing the orders,” the reaper growled. “You heard what that other daemon said—the spell he spoke of.”

  Ash glanced again at the unconscious incubus, slumped over the fountain. A sickly scent of weakness clung to him. The nymph hung off the basin beside him, unmoving, her shining hair dragging in a pool of blood.

  So this was the mysterious spell the girl had stolen from Lyre’s workroom. The one she’d used to save his life and that his family had discovered, causing them to turn on him. And this was what it did—it devoured a daemon’s magic and left them utterly helpless.

  “A weapon with that kind of power?” the reaper continued. “We are not killing this weaver. Not anymore.”

  Ash had heard that Lyceus had argued to bring Lyre back alive but Samael had issued the execution order anyway. Samael must not know about the spell—yet.

  Ash’s stare slid from Lyre to the two reapers.

  “Secure him,” the reaper ordered. “We’re going after the other daemon.”

  Ash scanned the dark trees, his senses stretching to their limits as he searched for signs of nearby life. His hand tightened on the hilt of his sword, the leather grip creaking.

  “Draconian,” the reaper barked. “Don’t make me—”

  Ash pulled his sword from its sheath. Moonlight gleamed across the steel as he snapped it through the air in a lightning-quick strike.

  Blood sprayed from beneath the reaper’s hood.

  The blade continued in a smooth arc and the second daemon had no time to react before the point plunged into his chest. Ash drove it in up to the cross guard, twisted the hilt, then pulled it out. He flicked the sword to clear off the worst of the blood before sliding it back into its sheath.

  Both reapers hit the ground, unused weapons clattering out of their limp hands.

  Disobedience. Treachery. Treason. Ash rolled the words over his tongue as though tasting their essence, then discarded them as easily as he’d discarded the reapers’ lives.

  Stooping, he picked up the bow lying near his feet and slid his fingers over the supple grip. A fine weapon, well used and well cared for. He hooked it over the baldric on his back, then turned to Lyre and his nymph accomplice. Grabbing the nymph by her top, he lifted her
off the basin and slung her limp body over his shoulder. Then he grasped the strap of Lyre’s quiver and hauled the unconscious incubus out of the fountain. Water sloshed from the basin, merging with the puddles of blood.

  Carrying the nymph, he dragged Lyre across the park to the edge of the trees. There he stopped and faced the fountain again, dead reapers and sprawled bodies scattered around it. Drawing in a slow breath, he raised his arm, hand clenched into a fist.

  Power built within him and burned along his nerves as it flowed through his arm and gathered in his fist. The air around him sizzled.

  He snapped his fingers open and black fire exploded from his hand. The dark inferno ripped across the pavement in a crackling tidal wave, consuming everything in its path. Red and orange flames erupted as his dragon fire ignited everything flammable and melted the rest.

  He lowered his arm and watched the crackling heat spread, cleansing the battle and the bodies from the earth. The evidence of death would disappear, and with it any sign that something far more terrible had been unleashed.

  A spell that can infinitely expand its own power.

  Eradicate the magic of an entire daemon army.

  Powerful enough to wipe out the ley lines.

  Some magic was too dangerous to be unleashed. Some magic was too catastrophic to exist. A power that should have been impossible to create had come into existence.

  And it could never fall into Hades’s clutches.

  As the black flames faded and natural fire spread hungrily to the carpet of dead leaves beneath the trees, Ash grabbed Lyre and heaved him up. With the incubus over one shoulder and the nymph over the other, he turned away from the burning park and strode into the night.

  To be continued

  in Spell Weaver: Book 3

  THE BLOOD CURSE

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