Yield the Night by Annette Marie


  Piper shrugged. “It’s a symbol of your promise to Ash that the two of you would be free someday.”

  “No. Ash’s was the symbol of his promise to free us. Mine represents a different promise.” She stroked the ribbon. “It’s a draconian tradition to wear visible symbols of promises from our hearts. Like humans wear wedding bands in some cultures.”

  Piper had thought it was just a thing between the two of them, not a part of their culture. Did it bother Seiya that Ash now wore a symbol of his promise to Piper instead?

  “So what was your promise?”

  “To be strong enough that Ash would never have to bleed for me again.” Her eyes went distant and her voice turned husky. “He told you about our first escape attempt, didn’t he? I will never forget that night. We would have escaped if I’d been stronger. But I was weak. And Ash—”

  She closed her eyes. “You can’t imagine what it feels like to hold your dying brother in your arms, knowing it’s your fault. Because you were too slow, too weak, and he had to take a stupid risk to save you.”

  She opened her eyes, her blue irises dark and hard as steel. “I almost lost him that night. If Vejovis hadn’t happened upon us, my brother would have died there—because of me. So I swore that I would not take our second chance for granted. I swore Ash would never bleed for me again. I would become strong enough to protect myself, so he would never have to take a stupid risk for me again.”

  Piper stared, caught up in the steely determination in Seiya’s eyes. After a moment, she frowned. “How did you get so strong when you were locked away for years?”

  “I trained every day from that point onward,” Seiya said. “I learned from the other draconians—I wasn’t always locked away by myself—and most of what I know I was taught by Raum. I know more lethal spells than recipes. Ash trusts me to protect myself.”

  Her eyes went cold again. “But just when I thought there would never again be a reason for him to jeopardize his life to protect someone weak and vulnerable, you show up. And suddenly Ash is taking risks to keep you safe.”

  “I didn’t ask the Gaians to unseal my magic—”

  “And yet here we are.”

  “You’re awfully worried about him considering he’s one of the most powerful daemons alive.”

  Seiya’s expression turned from cold to subzero arctic. “There’s nothing more dangerous than trying to compensate for a weak link. I don’t think you understand that.”

  “Of course I understand that.”

  “Really? But you don’t think he’s in danger while protecting you? Are you saying he’s never been hurt in a fight because of your presence?”

  Piper opened her mouth but her voice died in her throat. Shortly after they’d gone on the run with the Sahar, Hades assassins had ambushed Ash in a medical center. When he’d tried to stop one of them from going after Piper, the second one had gored him. He’d nearly died. Had he not been worried about her, he could have made it out okay. And she didn’t even want to think about Samael using her as a puppet to stab Ash with a poisoned knife.

  Seeing her point hit home, Seiya flicked her ponytail off her shoulder. “Look, we’ll get your magic sealed and then we’ll get you back to your father where you’ll be safe. And then we can all go back to worrying about our own survival.”

  Piper pressed her lips together. Her chest ached. That was about right, wasn’t it? The strong, wise daemons would solve her problems and dump her back on some capable adults to keep her safe. It was starting to look like the only ones who wanted her around were the Gaians.

  Something tickled her memory. Pressing a hand to her forehead, she stared at the wall across from her. Right. Survival. Seiya’s remark reminded Piper of a comment Vejovis had made when he’d visited her cell in Asphodel. He’d admitted to almost killing her so Samael couldn’t use her to wield the Sahar, “despite the effort I’ve invested in your survival,” he’d said.

  Despite the effort. She hadn’t given it any thought at the time, having been more concerned with other things. But now that she thought about it, up to that point, he hadn’t invested any effort into her survival. He’d never healed her. He hadn’t taken any risks for her aside from sneaking down to her cell. Yes, he’d healed Ash, but not her. So what effort had he been referring to?

  “How much of a coincidence do you think it is,” she asked slowly, “that Vejovis has shown up twice to save the day at places where I’ve been?”

  Seiya leaned back, caught off guard. “What do you mean?”

  “Vejovis is a legend, isn’t he? Most people never meet him even once. No one knows where he lives or where he is at any given time. Yet he’s been in the same place as me twice in as many months. What if that’s not the coincidence it seems?”

  “Samael summoned Vejovis to Asphodel to examine Ash, didn’t he? Vejovis owed Samael some kind of favor.”

  “Right. But Vejovis didn’t have to help me after that. He even admitted he’d been tempted to kill me so Samael couldn’t use me, but he didn’t because of the ‘effort he’d invested in my survival.’”

  “What effort?”

  “That’s what I was wondering. But what if that wasn’t the second time I’d met Vejovis? What if that was the third?”

  Seiya frowned. Then her eyes widened.

  “Wait, you think—”

  Piper leaned forward, excitement ballooning in her stomach. “What if Vejovis was the daemon healer who sealed my magic when I was a child?”

  They stared at each other.

  “That would be the effort he was referring to,” Piper said, her words tumbling together. “And it would explain why he didn’t kill me to keep me out of Samael’s hands; if he’d had no connection to me, then I’d just be some girl who was threatening the lives of thousands. What was my life worth compared to thousands of others?”

  “And he waited for you too,” Seiya said. “He killed the guards at the bridge. That was a big risk for him; he’s always remained neutral, as far as I know.”

  “And the medical center—what if he’d heard about my father being there? Maybe he came to heal Quinn since he knew him. He was near my father’s room.”

  Seiya shook her head, not in disbelief but in wonder.

  “And he followed us out of the medical center too,” Piper continued. “I assumed it was because he knew Ash, but maybe he was actually following me.”

  “Vejovis is the best healer there is,” Seiya said. “If anyone can do the kind of delicate work needed to seal a child’s magic, it’s him.”

  “It makes perfect sense,” Piper exclaimed. “And since Vejovis helped me before, he should be willing to help me again. All we have to do is—”

  Her and Seiya’s excitement vanished in the same instance.

  “Find him,” Piper finished in a whisper.

  “How do we do that?” Seiya asked, twisting the hem of her shirt with both hands. “You said it yourself: no one knows where he is at any given time.”

  “I—I don’t know. Maybe—”

  Seiya’s face slackened, her eyes distant. Then her whole body tensed. “A daemon just broke one of the wards on the stairs.”

  “Lyre?”

  “I tied the wards to him. They wouldn’t stop him, so he wouldn’t have a reason to break one.” Her eyes popped wide. “They just broke the ward in the hall! They’re coming fast!”

  She grabbed Piper’s arm, hauling her off the sofa. They ran for the bedroom.

  Something slammed into the front door. A second later, it exploded. Seiya shoved Piper through the open bedroom door as she flung a spell of black flames at the dark figures filling the doorway.

  Piper landed on her hands and knees in the spare room. Her eyes whipped across the stacks of gear to the corner with the weapons. There were three swords, a pile of daggers, two handguns, and a shotgun. She could throw daggers with lethal accuracy but they would bounce right off a daemon’s shield. She needed something more powerful.

  She grabbed the shotgun
from the pile and pulled the foregrip down to check the chamber. Not loaded. Damn it. A box of shells sat open on the floor. She grabbed two and loaded them, then pumped the gun as she darted toward the doorway to join Seiya, keeping low. Bracing the stock against her shoulder, she aimed past Seiya’s knees and pulled the trigger.

  The shot sprayed the cluster of daemons trapped in the doorway by Seiya’s spell. Seiya dove backward into the room as Piper pumped the gun and fired the second shell.

  “Come on!” Seiya yelled. “There’s too many of them!”

  Piper backed into the room and dropped the shotgun. With the flick of a hand, Seiya threw a punch of magic that blasted a hole through the wall.

  “Go!”

  “Go where? I don’t have wings!”

  Seiya spun and threw a black blade of magic at the daemon who had appeared in the doorway. He dove out of the way. Seiya spun back to Piper. Without a word, she grabbed Piper and threw her through the hole in the wall.

  Piper screamed as she plummeted. Black flames erupted ten feet beneath her, and suddenly there was a dragon in her path. Piper slammed into the dragon’s back, grabbing a handful of her mane as Zala—Seiya’s dragonet—sped away from the building. Wheezing from the impact, she got into a more comfortable position.

  “Thanks, Zala,” she panted.

  The dragon made a rumbling noise. Piper looked over her shoulder and saw Seiya gliding along above them, her wingspan barely half that of Zala’s. Zwi, still in dragonet form with her tiny wings pumping, zoomed past Seiya and landed on Piper’s shoulder. She chittered in clear admonishment.

  “I didn’t mean to leave you behind,” Piper said. “Seiya threw me out the window.”

  She looked over her shoulder again as the apartment vanished behind a row of skyscrapers. Hades assassins. Samael had finally found Ash and Seiya—and it was all Piper’s fault.

  . . .

  Piper wrapped her arms tighter around her middle and tried not to shiver. For an early summer evening, it was damn cold.

  Seiya stood nearby, leaning on the concrete wall, unaffected by the chill. They’d arrived at the rendezvous point two hours ago, but there was no sign of Ash or Lyre. Seiya said it was far too early to worry. Ash would see the damaged wall of the apartment before getting anywhere near the building, then he would go straight to the meeting point. They’d planned for this kind of emergency.

  The rendezvous point was an old clock tower in the center of a sprawling park. Both the park and the tower had once been the beautiful focal point of the city, but now the park was overrun with weeds and trash, and the tower was crumbling. The metal gears of the clock had long been stolen. Only the skeleton of the tower remained. The interior stairs had crumbled, making the top level, the mechanical room, only accessible by air.

  At some point, the face of the clock had fallen out, leaving a huge circular hole in the wall. Piper sat at the opposite end of the room, hugging her middle against the cool breeze as she stared out at the dark city. She wondered what rural communities were like. They couldn’t be nearly as depressing as the rundown quarters of the city.

  Walter’s assertion that daemons were to blame for the stagnation of cities returned to her. Was she naïve to scoff at the idea that for some, running into a daemon was frightening enough to keep them out of the cities? You were more likely to get mugged by a fellow human than encounter a daemon. But cities were full of places for daemons to hide, and it was the unknown that terrified most people. To the rest of the world, daemons were very much part of the unknown.

  She chewed her bottom lip. Why was it so hard to forget about the Gaians? They’d betrayed her. There was every chance she would die because of them. Because of her own mother. But though some of their methods verged on pure evil, maybe they hadn’t been wrong about everything.

  With a happy chirp, Zwi swooped into the room through the round opening. A moment later, the view of the city vanished as a dark shape filled the circle. With the rush of wings sweeping the air, Ash ducked inside. Lyre clung to his back, goggle-eyed with wind-tousled hair. No more immune to the Nightmare Effect than her, his face was white as a sheet. He slid off Ash’s back, and shimmers swept over Ash as he slipped back into glamour. Piper let out a shaky breath as the terror waned then vanished.

  “What happened?” Ash demanded, gaze darting over Seiya then Piper, checking them for injuries.

  “Hades assassins,” Seiya said. “They broke the wards on their way up so we had enough warning.”

  Ash swore. “I should have known they’d be watching.”

  “Watching what?” Piper asked.

  “The downtown skies. Samael knows the kinds of places I’d hide in. Even before the reaper in Fairglen, he had a horde of spies monitoring the city. He must have sent them when ...”

  “When what?”

  “When you were reportedly dead,” Seiya snapped.

  Piper flinched. Samael knew Ash cared about Piper. Of course Samael had sent spies to watch for Ash’s inevitable arrival when she’d been presumed dead.

  “We ran into a group camped out at your Consulate on Saturday night,” Lyre said. “They were waiting for us.”

  Her eyes widened. “What happened?”

  Lyre smiled, but it wasn’t his usual teasing expression. A wolf’s grin would have been less menacing. “We wiped them out.”

  Piper blinked, a little shiver of fright running down her spine. It was easy to forget that Lyre’s playful, carefree exterior hid the deadly fighter within. Incubi weren’t known for being warriors, but Lyre was most definitely an exception to that stereotype. The first time she’d seen him completely shed his role as the harmless flirt, his magic-infused arrows had killed more Hades soldiers than she’d been able to count. Where had he learned to fight like that? And why? Sometimes she wondered if Lyre had even more secrets than Ash.

  “Brinford isn’t safe anymore,” Seiya said. “We need to leave before more Hades assassins pile in.”

  “We can’t leave until we find Piper’s father,” Ash said, sitting on the edge of the opening. “We haven’t found any leads yet. I’m not even sure if the Consul Board is in the city.”

  “All the more reason to get out,” Seiya replied, shooting Piper a cold look.

  “Finding my father might be a step we can skip,” Piper said, ignoring Seiya and focusing on Ash. “While you were gone, I had a sort of epiphany. I think Vejovis is the one who sealed my magic when I was a kid.”

  She quickly explained her theory. When she finished, Ash and Lyre exchanged looks.

  “If she’s right,” Lyre said slowly, “it would explain his helpfulness.”

  Ash nodded. “And even if he had nothing to do with her magic being sealed the first time, he’s the likeliest candidate to seal it now.”

  Lyre crossed his arms. “There’s just one big problem. How do we find him?”

  “Vejovis keeps a low profile. Samael will be after him too for helping us escape. He’s probably in hiding.”

  “As if finding him wasn’t already difficult enough,” Lyre grumbled.

  “Vejovis is an Overworld daemon, isn’t he?” Piper asked. “Is there an Overworld daemon we could ask?”

  Ash and Lyre exchanged another look.

  “Miysis,” they said in unison.

  “Miysis?”

  “The Ra family knows everything about everyone in the Overworld,” Ash explained. “If anyone would know—or could find out—it would be him.”

  Piper let out a long breath, blowing her bangs off her face. “That makes things trickier.”

  Miysis had acted as her ally before, but he never gave anything for free. Two months ago, they hadn’t parted on the best of terms; he’d led his men to their deaths against Samael to get the Sahar back, and then she’d helped Ash vanish with it immediately after. He’d been enraged, to say the least, though he didn’t know it had been her idea.

  She looked at Ash. “Speaking of Miysis and the reasons he hates us, where is the Sahar? You sti
ll have it, right?”

  “Of course,” he said. “It’s safe.”

  “Where?”

  He raised his eyebrows and said nothing. Right. Probably best that she didn’t know any details.

  “So how do we get Miysis to help us?” Lyre asked. “He won’t be very motivated to save Piper’s life after she helped us run off with his Stone.”

  “It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Ash said, his voice a shade darker. “He won’t accept anything less than the return of the Sahar.”

  Before she could object to giving the Sahar back to Miysis, Ash stood. “Lyre and I will keep searching for Quinn. If we can’t find him tonight, we’ll go to Miysis in the morning. For now, we’ll get you some real clothes and a few blankets. You and Seiya will need to stay here for the night.”

  She looked helplessly at Lyre, who shrugged. He didn’t seem to think giving up the Sahar was a problem either. She wasn’t so sure, but she couldn’t help being selfish. She didn’t want to die. She just hoped she wouldn’t live to regret giving the Stone back to Miysis to save her own skin.

  CHAPTER 10

  PIPER tugged at the waist of her new jeans, wishing they weren’t so tight, and stared up at the building in front of her. Ash had stolen the clothes from some unlucky shop—hence the jeans being a little too small—and despite her guilt, she was happy with the fitted, sleeveless red top and black sweater. She was amused that he’d picked another red top for her, probably not wanting to offend her with a color she wouldn’t like.

  Ash had changed clothes for their outing too, giving up his draconian warrior clothes for something more familiar—dark jeans and a black t-shirt, the kind of clothes he’d worn while staying at the Consulate before their first life-changing night. The blue strip of material braided into his hair was the only color in his outfit, but at least he didn’t look like he was preparing to go to war anymore.

  Seiya and Lyre were out of sight down the block. They were backup. If things went wrong, they wouldn’t all be trapped in the Ra stronghold.

 
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