The Shadow Weave by Annette Marie


  She knew him. He was the daemon from the Hades embassy, the one who’d guided her, Kassia, and Eryx from the ley line to Chrysalis’s doorstep in Asphodel.

  A reaper.

  She and Lyre had waited too long. Hades had found them, and asleep in the basement, Lyre was trapped.

  Chapter Three

  Lyre opened his eyes with an irritated grunt as the tapping on the door sounded again. Who the hell was knocking? Not Clio. She could disarm his lock spell herself. He sat up and put his feet on the floor, rubbing his face as the light knock sounded a third time. He could sense a female presence.

  Tugging his rumpled shirt straight, he padded across the tiny room and pressed his hand against the door. In his other hand, he prepped a lethal cast, golden light sparking over his fingers. After disarming the ward on the door, he pulled it open.

  A woman with dark-rimmed glasses stood in the hall. He recognized her from the kitchen—the one who’d dropped her book. He was tempted to slam the door shut again.

  “Um.” She smiled shyly. “Hi.”

  “A stunning apparition outside my door?” The words came automatically, sultry and crooning, as long-practiced habit kicked in. He kept his ready-to-unleash cast hidden behind his back. “Am I still dreaming?”

  Her eyes, lighting with eagerness, slid down his torso and lingered suggestively, then rose back to his face. Bold enough to come to his door, but too shy to ask him outright for what she wanted.

  He glanced down the hall but saw no sign of Clio. Mentally pulling himself together, he focused on the willing victim in front of him. He might as well take advantage of the opportunity and see what came of it.

  As he harmlessly dispersed his spell, he let a few wisps of aphrodesia uncoil around him. “I’d invite you in from that cold, lonely hallway, but an incubus can’t invite just any daemon into his room, no matter how beautiful she may be.”

  Catching his drift, she raised an eyebrow. “I’m an Underworlder like you.”

  Damn. Not what he’d been hoping for. But she was already moving forward so he stepped aside to let her in. She glanced at the bow and quiver leaning in the corner then focused on him, her gaze hazy from his aphrodesia. She licked her lips as he swung the door shut and gave her a slow smile.

  “What brings a fine woman such as yourself to the Consulate? Business?” He lowered his voice into a purr. “Or pleasure?”

  She shivered at the word. “Business,” she answered, her voice fluttering. “But at the moment … I would say pleasure.”

  Her presence in his mind grew as she slipped under his influence. Pushing off the door, he circled behind her and put his mouth by her ear.

  “Business can be fun too.” He backed up a step as she tried to press into him and continued his circle around her. “Do you like to play games, beautiful?”

  “What kind of games?” Her face was slack, her guard down as anticipation dominated her emotions. She reached for him and he caught her wrists, caressing her skin as he gauged the focus—or lack thereof—in her eyes. He unraveled more aphrodesia around them.

  “The naughty kind,” he breathed as he lifted her arms and wound them around his neck. “How many times have you stayed at this Consulate?”

  She frowned in confusion at the unexpected question. “Three times.”

  “Three.” He turned his head and brushed his lips against her wrist—once, twice, three times. She inhaled, her heart racing so fast he could hear it. “How many times have you been to Brinford?”

  “Dozens,” she answered eagerly.

  “That number is too high for this game,” he pouted. “How many years have you been coming to Brinford, then?”

  “Three.”

  “Three.” He slid his fingers down her throat, then plucked apart the top three buttons of her fitted blouse, baring most of her cleavage. Her chest heaved and she stretched up for his mouth. Hands on her waist, he stopped her with a chuckle. “What’s the rush, sweetheart?”

  “No rush,” she said quickly.

  “Mm.” He massaged her waist. “The Consulate is boring. What other interesting places do you know of in Brinford?”

  “What sort of places?”

  “Fun places,” he crooned. “Dangerous places.”

  “Dangerous?”

  He slipped his fingers under her blouse and ran them across the small of her back. “A little danger is exhilarating, don’t you think?”

  Shivering, she pushed him backward with unexpected strength. His legs hit the bed and he dropped to sit on it. She was on him in an instant, straddling his lap, and he caught her by the hair before she could get her lips to his. Kissing her would be counterproductive to getting the answers he wanted.

  “Do you like a little danger?” he asked.

  She nodded, clutching the front of his shirt.

  “Tell me …” He smiled teasingly. “What if I wanted to play a dangerous game with … hmm … with an Overworlder? Where would I find Overworlders in Brinford?”

  “You can play games with me.”

  “I will,” he purred. “But incubi thrive on variety, you know.”

  “The best place to find Overworlders is the Ra embassy, but you wouldn’t have any fun there.” Giggling, she arched back, letting him support her head, her breasts almost bursting from her partially undone shirt. “I bet you’d like the dance clubs on Altaire Avenue.”

  “I’ve been there before. I want something more … adventurous.”

  “There’s an Overworlder hostel on the north end.” She trailed a finger down his throat, the tip of her tongue caressing her upper lip as she watched him. “A few restaurants downtown, a gentlemen’s club … but if you really want adventure, I’ve heard rumors of an underground conclave.”

  “Underground? That sounds intriguing.” Encouragingly, he caressed her back under her shirt. Keep it light. Keep it playful. Nothing to make her suspicious. Nothing to leave her wondering too much about the questions he was asking.

  “I don’t think it’s your kind of fun.” Arching an eyebrow, she slid her hands into his hair. “Unless you’re daring enough to play games with thieves and smugglers?”

  He pulled her hard against him and added another dose of aphrodesia.

  “I won’t know unless I check it out, will I?” he crooned, keeping a hold on her hair. “Where would I find this conclave?”

  She rattled off an address. “At least that’s where I heard it is.” She lowered her eyelids in an provocative stare and wound her arms around his neck. “I’ve heard a lot about incubi too.”

  “Whatever they say about us”—he brought her mouth closer to his—“I can do even better.”

  The door flew open.

  Clio burst into the room, her ponytail swinging wildly as she caught herself on the doorframe. Her gaze landed on him—and the woman straddling him with her arms around his neck—and her mouth fell open. Her face went beet red in the time it took her to gasp, choke, and start sputtering.

  He blinked, distracted by her new outfit. Tight jeans, a black top that hugged her curves, and a fitted leather jacket. Leather? On the sweet, innocent nymph?

  Oh yes, he liked the leather.

  Clio coughed, caught her breath, and pointed at the woman on his lap. “You!”

  The daemon gave Clio that catty smile women reserved exclusively for other women. “I told you he’d be done with you soon.”

  Clio bared her teeth, and to his shock, her eyes darkened from summer-sky blue to the color of stormy seas. Holy shit. She was shading? Over this? The only time he’d seen her fall into full daemon aggression was when her bodyguard friend had been murdered.

  He stood up so quickly the woman fell off his lap and landed on her ass.

  “Clio,” he began warily. “I was just—”

  Her focus snapped to him—and her irises darkened even more. He swallowed the rest of his sentence. She glowered at him, her face red and her eyes shifting closer to ebony, then she lurched back a step and shook her head. Blu
e returned to her eyes, but the vibrant color was ice cold.

  “We need to leave,” she said, her normally soft voice as sharp as a machete. “Right now.”

  He gawked at her, then lunged for the corner and grabbed his bow and quiver. He shoved his feet into his shoes, pushed past the woman who’d just climbed to her feet, and rushed to Clio’s side as she dissolved his spells on the door, erasing the evidence of their presence.

  “Hey, wait—” the woman began angrily.

  He slammed the door in her face as he followed Clio down the hall.

  “What happened?”

  “Three reapers just arrived,” she replied tersely. “We have maybe five minutes to get out of here while they’re distracted.”

  “Distracted by what?” he asked as they dashed across the basement common room to the back stairs.

  “The Consul girl is stalling them with about ten different forms to fill out. She’ll delay them with paperwork as long as she can.” She frowned worriedly. “If they hurt her …”

  “They won’t.” As he raced up the stairs, he tried to remember if he’d seen a female Consul but none came to mind. “Short of complete anarchy, not even a reaper would mess up a Consul inside a Consulate, especially not this one.”

  They came out on the main level near the kitchen and escaped out the back door. As they sprinted across the lawn and into the trees that surrounded the manor, Lyre cast a cloaking spell over himself, and Clio followed his lead. It was almost midnight and the woods were pitch black, the moonlight scarcely breaching the leafy canopy. They pushed through the undergrowth, trying to move fast without creating too much noise.

  “Now what?” Clio whispered. “Do we walk to the city cross-country? What if they find our trail?”

  He frowned. “I guess we’ll have to …”

  They came out of the trees into a clearing where a small building stood alone—a garage with a narrow dirt road leading to it. He hadn’t thought the Consulate had a vehicle, but they’d just been keeping it out of sight of the main building. How convenient for him and Clio.

  “So,” he drawled, arching an eyebrow. “Morally speaking, do you have any objections to stealing?”

  In an empty lot in the city’s rotting heart, Lyre and Clio abandoned the car and set out on foot. Though slower, it was the least conspicuous way to travel.

  He trailed after Clio, letting her determine their route through the alleyways. His skin prickled, nerves winding tight. His bow and quiver were too noticeable to carry around, so he’d taken a moment away from Clio to wrap them in his glamour with his other weapons. But now he was empty-handed and he didn’t like it.

  They skirted the worst of the garbage, passing graffiti-marked brick walls, boarded-up windows, and the rusting skeletons of cars from a bygone age. Once, these sprawling human cities had been very different. He could only imagine what Brinford had been like at full population, but that had been well before his time. For the last six decades, the city had housed barely a third of its potential capacity.

  And that, he supposed, was partly the fault of daemons.

  For as long as anyone remembered, daemons had used ley lines to visit Earth. This world bound the two daemon realms together, but centuries ago, venturing here had required great care. Humans were numerous and fearful—a dangerous combination. Back then, daemons had come and gone in secret, their presence known only to the Consuls who ran clandestine sanctuaries.

  Sixty years ago, that had changed. War had broken out among the humans and swiftly consumed the planet. With humanity wielding weapons of mass destruction and threatening to eradicate all life, daemons of both realms had come together for the first time. Samael, warlord of Hades, and his Underworld subordinates had been joined by the most powerful families of the Overworld: the Ras, the Valkyrs, and the jinns.

  Combining information, resources, and forces, they’d concocted a plan to save the bridge between the daemon realms. In a masterfully timed coup, the daemons simultaneously assassinated all the top-ranking human leaders involved in the war, then tracked down and eradicated the worst of the humans’ weapons of mass destruction.

  With that, the war had ended—but the chaos had just begun. Daemons were no longer a myth. Their anonymity among humans had been forever lost.

  Humans, with their population crippled and their cities in ruins, fled the urban centers and formed small towns and villages in the countryside. Only the brave, the desperate, and the rich had stuck around in the cities where daemons no longer bothered to hide. Maybe Brinford would someday recover its former glory, but for now, it was a hellhole with a few respectable neighborhoods. Lyre had never liked it much; it was dirty, it stank, and it was full of nervous humans.

  He supposed he’d better get used to it. Brinford, or somewhere like it, was the best home he could expect for the rest of his life.

  Before those thoughts could suck away the last of his waning energy, he glanced at Clio. She stalked several long paces ahead of him, her untidy ponytail swinging with each step.

  “I wasn’t messing around with that woman,” he informed her without preamble.

  She stumbled. Catching herself, she fixed him with the meanest glare he could ever have imagined from a five-foot-nothing nymph.

  “Whatever.” She faced forward again. “You can do what you want.”

  “So you don’t care?” he prompted.

  “Not one bit.”

  Uh-huh. “Then I guess you don’t care about the information I coaxed out of her.”

  She looked over her shoulder again, confusion flitting across her face. “Wait, what?”

  “You said you didn’t know where to find an Overworld guide, so …” He shrugged. “I figured I might as well start somewhere.”

  “You were getting information?”

  “Why else would I let her in our room? Besides, she’s not my type. I prefer blonds.”

  As pink stained her cheeks, Clio finally stopped and faced him. “Did you learn anything?”

  “There’s an Overworlder black market by the city center mall. Not ideal, but probably our best bet for finding a guide. Unlike more straight-laced daemons, smugglers should be willing to bargain with us.” He raised an eyebrow. “Do you forgive me for getting cozy with that lady?”

  “I don’t care what you did with her.” She bit her lip. “But I guess that information is useful. It’ll save us a step.”

  He quashed his smile as she continued, her renewed silence more thoughtful than hostile. The alley they were following met a narrow street lined with dark shop windows and they paused in the shadows. Lyre scrutinized every doorway and cranny for signs of life. Tension crept through his muscles, and the hunted prickle running down his spine—a trick of his mind, he hoped—wouldn’t let up.

  “Where are we?” he asked, wishing he could sit down but unwilling to admit how tired he was. Losing his magic had taken a toll on his body.

  A hint of mischief sparked in her eyes. “Don’t you recognize it?”

  Frowning, he scanned a row of small, sad little shops, then turned to the other row where inviting yellow light still lit a single window. A familiar window.

  “Wait. Isn’t that the spellcraft shop where—”

  “Where we first met,” she finished. “We can’t do anything without money, and this shopkeeper deals in human and daemon currency.”

  He scrubbed a hand through his hair, trying to wake up his brain. He should have realized a place like this would be their first stop. Why was it so hard to focus on the obstacles in front of them? Why was it so hard to care?

  “Now that Hades knows we’re in the city, we’ll need a safe place to camp out,” he said. “Finding temporary accommodations comes first, then we can worry about locating a guide.”

  “That’s what I was thinking as well.”

  At least one of them had been thinking. He sighed as he reached for his pocket where he’d stashed his pouch of diamonds. “I hate to part with lodestones, but even one will buy us—


  “No.” She touched his wrist, stopping him. “You need your lodestones. Wait here.”

  “Huh? Clio, what—”

  “Just wait.” She walked back down the alleyway and vanished into the darkness. After a moment, the soft jingle of chains broke the silence. Chains? She wasn’t carrying chains, was she?

  She returned within a minute, holding a long gold necklace lined with dozens of sapphires, rubies, and emeralds. She held it out to him. “Will this be enough?”

  “Uh.” He took the chain and slid his fingers over the finely tooled links and sparkling gems. “Yeah, this is more than enough.” He gave her another long look. Since she hadn’t been wearing any jewelry before, especially not a chain worth a small fortune, she must have been carrying it under her glamour. “Are you sure you’re okay with selling this? All these lodestones—”

  “It’s fine.” She smiled faintly. “The necklace is just a decoration.”

  He shook his head. Nymphs were known for their rich territory loaded with precious stones and metals, but to wear perfectly good lodestones as jewelry was kind of absurd.

  “Shall we, then?” He took a step into the street, but she didn’t move.

  “You go ahead,” she murmured. “I’ll wait here.”

  “It’s not safe. We should stick together.”

  “Bargaining isn’t my strong suit, as I’m sure you’ve figured out already. It’s better if you handle it.” A smile—the first he’d seen in a while—tugged at her lips. “Plus, remember how you broke into that cabinet and smashed the quicksilver, then walked out the door?”

  “Yes?”

  She folded her arms. “Well, the shopkeeper turned up twenty seconds after you left. So guess who got blamed for your thievery?”

  “Oh.”

  “Yeah. So, I’ll wait here.”

  “I guess that’s for the best.” He thought back on their first encounter. “I know I said it then, but …”

  He stepped closer, and she gasped when he slid his arm around her waist and pulled her close the way he had during that first meeting. And just like that first time, he brought his mouth to her ear, lips brushing across her soft skin. Her sweet scent, tantalizing and familiar, filled his nose.

 
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