Yield the Night by Annette Marie


  Piper pressed her lips together. Natania hadn’t killed her because she was entertaining? She rubbed a hand over her forehead, swallowing against the ache in her throat. She could almost still hear the faraway voice calling out to her.

  Natania sat down on the stool and crossed her legs. “Do you know why your magic will soon take your life?”

  Piper blinked, caught off guard by Natania’s sudden business-like tone. “Because I have two kinds of magic that are incompatible.”

  “Yes. And what solution can you imagine for this dilemma?”

  “I—well—” Getting rid of one would be the easiest solution, but her mother had said that the other hybrid women had possessed both strains of magic. “Separating them, I guess—”

  “Exactly.”

  “But—but how would I do that?”

  “You can’t.”

  Trying to control her temper, Piper squeezed her knees with her hands. “Are you just taunting me?”

  Natania turned back to her dresser and began tidying it. “Do you know what a daemon’s greatest advantage is over a haemon in magical ability?”

  Piper almost said “raw power,” but Lyre’s voice murmured in her memory, a conversation from just days ago.

  “Daemons can see magic,” she said. “Haemons can’t.”

  “Correct.”

  Piper stared at Natania’s reflection in the mirror, her eyes narrowed. What game was Natania playing now?

  “Do you know how daemons create glamour?”

  Piper scowled. If Natania knew everything in Piper’s head, then she knew perfectly well that Seiya had explained how glamour worked when they were escaping the Underworld. As though the thought conjured it, for a second, Piper thought she could hear Seiya’s voice, muffled and far away.

  “They create a new form when they cross the Void,” she answered shortly. “It’s not an illusion but a sort of twist of reality. What’s with the quiz?”

  “Close,” Natania replied, arranging some jewelry in an elaborately carved wooden box. “However, they do not create their shape. The ley line of Earth shapes their new form, choosing it for them the first time they enter an Earthly ley line.”

  Piper’s brow furrowed. “I don’t understand.”

  “Ley lines are the planet’s magic. It is not sentient, but neither is it inert. When daemons come to Earth, Earth’s magic tries to shape their alien forms into something familiar, something that belongs there. The ley line gives them a form, sometimes one quite close to human, sometimes not. It is the only glamoured form they can take.

  “Maintaining a glamour is easy on Earth; Earth’s inherent magic tries to hold it in place for them. In the Underworld, a daemon must work harder to hold the glamour, because the Underworld prefers that they be what they are.”

  “How do you know all this?”

  Natania smiled, mysterious mien turned on full force. “My sun and moon shared many secrets with me. Satisfied men are like open books.”

  “Why are you telling me?”

  Natania picked up a necklace, studying the shimmer of the rubies. “Do you know why haemons, though they have both human and daemon blood, look entirely human?”

  “No.”

  “No?” Natania glanced over her shoulder, her look scathing. “After what I just explained to you?”

  Piper shook her head. She didn’t have a clue and her patience with Natania’s question game was waning fast.

  Natania dropped the necklace into her jewelry box. “Most haemons are born on Earth.”

  Straightening, Piper stared hard at Natania’s back. “You said Earth’s magic makes daemons look more human. So you’re saying ... Earth’s magic also makes haemons look human?”

  Natania nodded.

  “No way. I didn’t suddenly turn into a half-daemon mutant when I went to the Overworld—or the Underworld.”

  “Of course not. You didn’t traverse the Void. You were carried.”

  “Wait, you mean—”

  Natania snapped the jewelry box’s lid shut. “I do hope you survive, Piper,” she said pleasantly. “We could have such fun together.”

  “Survive—”

  “Try not to perish in the Void. It would be a most unpleasant way to die.”

  “What—”

  Natania turned on her seat and smiled. Piper’s blood chilled at the cold, calculating glitter in the woman’s eyes.

  “Should you successfully yield your humanity to the daemon within, we will then see just how strong you truly are. I look forward to it.”

  Piper opened her mouth to demand an explanation, but the room blurred. The faint, nearly inaudible voices grew louder in her ears, shouting words she couldn’t make out. The world dissolved into impenetrable darkness.

  CHAPTER 18

  GROGGY awareness filtered in. Voices. She could hear voices—angry, shouting, fearful voices.

  Her eyes flew open.

  She was lying on the mossy ground, a folded blanket acting as her pillow. The forest was no longer pitch black but tinged with the pale light of dawn. Her body felt weak and wobbly, muscles simultaneously feeble and stiff—but a flood of adrenaline was already filling them with strength as she took in the scene before her.

  Miysis, Koen, and another Ra stood on one side of the tiny clearing, eyes black, swords drawn, tensed for battle. Lyre and Seiya stood out of the way, wide-eyed with hands outstretched in placating gestures. Lyre spoke quickly but in a soft tone, though Piper didn’t bother to listen to his words.

  Her attention was locked on Ash.

  He faced Miysis—and he was no longer in glamour. Black wings rose off his back, half-spread in preparation to attack, tail lashing behind him. A massive black-handled sword was in his hand, point resting on the ground, almost casually, but there was nothing casual about his stance.

  She could only see his face in profile, but it was enough. Black, black, black eyes. Face twisted. Teeth bared. Rage burning off him like heat from a fire.

  Miysis was about to die.

  “This is your fault,” he snarled, his sepulchral daemon voice barely human. “You caused this.”

  Piper’s terror doubled in an instant. Rage. Feral fury. She’d seen this before—first in the Chrysalis building, then when he’d used the Sahar to destroy Samael’s army. Shading so complete and encompassing that it bordered on madness. Fueled by mindless rage and hatred so deep it went beyond thought or logic.

  Cracks, Natania had said. Ash was full of rage and cracks.

  “Ash,” Lyre tried again, hands stretched toward the draconian, though he didn’t dare move any closer, to step between Ash and the target of his bloodlust, “just listen, okay? We don’t know that Piper won’t wake up—”

  Ash’s weight shifted slightly. It was the only warning.

  Piper lunged to her feet in one powerful move. Ash sprang for Miysis. He was impossibly fast, but she was in just the right spot. She flung herself at him and grabbed his sword arm, yelling his name at the same time.

  He spun with unreal grace, channeling his forward momentum into a sharp spin that yanked her off her feet, but she didn’t let go. His free hand flashed toward her as his black eyes slashed in her direction. His hand locked around her throat, claws sinking into her flesh, the talon on his thumb dangerously close to her jugular.

  “Ash!” she screamed.

  He froze. Black eyes on her face. Teeth still bared. She saw no signs of recognition, but he wasn’t moving.

  “Hey,” she whispered. Thankfully, he wasn’t choking her; he was merely an instant away from ripping out her throat. “It’s me. I’m awake. I’m fine.”

  She waited, holding as still as possible. His eyes gradually focused, the mindless rage quieting. His hand on her neck loosened, talons retracting from her flesh with sharp shocks of pain that she didn’t allow to show on her face.

  He pulled his hand away and glanced at it, at her blood smeared on his fingers. For the briefest instant, a bare fraction of a second, his face crumpled
with an agony beyond words—and in the next instant, his expression had emptied, closed, turned to impenetrable stone. He stepped back.

  And then he walked away.

  Her heart clogged her throat as he strode past them all without a glance, wings folding tightly against his back as he disappeared into the shadows of the forest. Piper lurched forward a step, intending to follow, but a hand closed on her arm. She looked around to find Lyre holding her.

  “Don’t, Piper. He needs time to cool off.”

  She looked back at the spot where Ash had vanished. Her instincts said he shouldn’t be alone. Lyre hadn’t seen that moment of agony, that moment where all his walls had crumbled and she’d glimpsed his soul. Hatred as poisonous as the hatred within the Sahar boiled up inside her, threatening to overwhelm her. She would kill Samael. Kill him slowly for what he had done to Ash.

  Lyre took her chin, distracting her from her murderous fantasies as he checked both sides of her neck.

  “He missed the vital spots,” he said with a relieved sigh.

  Miysis approached, looking pale as he sheathed his sword. “Your bravery is admirable, Piper,” he said quietly.

  She wasn’t sure whether he was being sarcastic.

  “Very brave,” Lyre agreed. “And very stupid. But brave.”

  “Thanks,” she muttered.

  Miysis also checked her neck. “Koen can heal this. It will only take a few minutes.” A pause. “I feared you would never wake.”

  “I was a bit worried too.” She rolled her shoulders, stretching the tight muscles. “What the hell happened to set all this off?”

  Lyre grimaced. “You’d been down for hours—most of the night. Nothing could wake you. Ash and Miysis kept arguing over whether to take the Sahar away from you to see if that would break the connection and allow you to wake up. Ash was afraid it would trap you inside and seal your fate.” He shot the Ra heir a cutting look. “Miysis tried to take it anyway. That’s when Ash lost it.”

  Piper glanced past him and saw Seiya slip into the trees in the direction Ash had vanished. At least he would have someone to comfort him, someone who probably understood his state of mind far better than she did.

  She focused on Lyre as he spoke to her again. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

  “Done what?”

  “Grabbed Ash in the middle of an attack. He almost ripped your throat out.”

  “But he didn’t, did he?” She waved a hand. “Let’s not start the what-if game. I’m fine. Miysis is fine. Ash is—”

  She broke off. Ash clearly wasn’t fine.

  Lyre’s face tightened.

  Miysis touched her elbow, drawing her attention to him. “What happened with the Sahar? Do you remember?”

  “Oh yes,” she said. She let out a long breath. “I didn’t realize so much time had passed. I guess it took a while for Natania and I to get to the bottom of things.”

  “For—sorry?”

  “Didn’t you know?” she said bitterly. “I thought you knew everything about the Stone.”

  His expression cooled. “Know what?”

  “That Maahes and Nyrtaroth didn’t just lock Natania’s soul inside the Sahar. They locked away her mind too. Her whole, conscious, thinking mind.”

  His eyes widened slightly. He hadn’t known. She felt a little better. If he’d known ...

  “Did she tell you?” Lyre asked. “How to survive your magic?”

  She nodded as fear prickled through her. “I think so.”

  “What do you need to do?”

  She swallowed hard. “I need to go into the Void.”

  . . .

  While the others packed up their supplies for the return journey, Piper picked her way through the tangled roots of the trees. The sky beyond the mountains was pale blue, the sun only a few minutes away from cresting the horizon. In the opposite direction, the massive curve of the distant planet was completing its slow slide out of sight below the jagged mountains.

  She glanced up at the trees, strange while at the same time so familiar; there was something about forests that transcended geography, even on different worlds. Birds were just beginning their morning ritual of song, filling the cool air with life and noise. She carefully circled the dangling tendrils of an azure pod.

  Rubbing a hand against her forehead, feeling the dull ache of a sleepless night—or was it the return of the magic-fueled headache?—she moved toward the murmuring sound of water. She didn’t know where Ash had gone, but he preferred open spaces, so the river was her best bet.

  The shore was only a few minutes away. She stepped between the last two trees and onto the rocks. The water drifted by, calm, deep, murmuring gently. Her eyes drifted across the crystalline, blue surface. It seemed almost welcoming, the current lazy and smooth, the sparkles of the sun on the ripples dancing with carefree abandon. Fear curled in her stomach as memories of the cave flashed through her head.

  Pulling her eyes away, she looked down the shore and saw him.

  He was sitting on a large rock that jutted out over the water, with one knee propped up and his elbow resting on it. So casual at first glance, calm and safely back in glamour, but she didn’t trust his outward appearance one bit. There was no sign of Seiya; she must have already returned to the others.

  Picking her way carefully over the rocks, Piper closed the distance until she was standing several steps behind him on the far end of the rock where he sat. He didn’t turn or acknowledge her.

  She swallowed to moisten her tongue. “Ash?”

  No response.

  Biting her lip, she walked out onto the rock. She stopped beside him, looked down at the top of his head, then sat next to him. He was staring at the water.

  “Ash ...”

  He spoke without looking at her. “How badly are you hurt?”

  She shuddered. That tone. She knew it—and hated it.

  Death is easy. Living is difficult.

  It was Raum’s voice, Raum’s tone. Empty, distant, inflectionless. Dead.

  “I’m fine. Just a couple scratches,” she replied quickly, forcing lightness into her voice. “Already healed. It was no big deal.”

  He finally looked at her, but his gaze was like a knife slashing across her skin. Eyes still too close to black. He made a noise that was half cold amusement, half disgust.

  “No big deal,” he repeated, again toneless. “Do you think you’re invincible?”

  “What? Of course I don’t—”

  “A heartbeat. One heartbeat’s difference and you would have been dead.”

  “But I’m not,” she said firmly. “You didn’t kill me, Ash. You barely scratched me, and—”

  “Next time I might.”

  “There won’t be a next time.”

  His gaze returned to the water, his eyes empty. “There will be. I can’t control it anymore. It’s like the Sahar has me all over again. All I feel is rage and hatred until I can’t think anymore, until all I want is to see blood.”

  His rage and mine. His hate and mine. Piper brushed away Natania’s insidious whisper from her mind.

  “It’s only been a couple of months,” she said. “You can’t expect to get better in so short a time after everything that’s happened.”

  “I’m not getting better. I’m getting worse.”

  “Ash, I’m sure—”

  He made a sharp, angry noise, the first sign of emotion since she’d approached.

  “What do you know?” he snapped, his anger breaking free. “You don’t understand anything.”

  He abruptly stood, and for the second time that morning, he walked away from her.

  She sat on the rock, stunned. Aching. She looked down at her hands and saw they were shaking. A quiet, slightly hysterical laugh escaped her as she thought of Lyre’s request that she talk to Ash about what was wrong. Yeah, that had gone well.

  He was upset. He’d injured her. He was afraid he would kill her. She got that. But that didn’t mean his words hadn’t left her hurt and
bleeding—especially since he was right. She didn’t understand—couldn’t understand—what he was going through. What he’d been through.

  She pressed her hands to her face, blinking away tears. None escaped to wet her cheeks. She dropped her hands, clenching them into fists. Part of her wanted to slink away and lick her wounds. The other part of her wanted to punch him for being such a jerk.

  Huffing and sniffing, she pushed herself up and turned.

  Seiya stood at the edge of the trees, watching her. Piper stilled, wariness flaring.

  “Last warning, Piper,” Seiya said. Calm. Lethal. “Let him go.”

  She turned and strode back into the trees.

  Piper’s hands clenched as she fought down the irrational wave of fear. She glanced back at the water then hurried into the forest. Her morning just kept getting better, didn’t it? Chances were she’d be dead before the day was over anyway. Wouldn’t that solve everyone’s problems?

  Shaking her head, she hurried to join the others, knowing her time was slipping away far too quickly. If she survived, she would figure out what to do about Ash and Seiya. But until then, she could only worry about what would happen when they reached the ley line.

  . . .

  Piper panted, struggling to keep up with Lyre as they climbed the steep path. The ledge loomed, closing with painful slowness, though she dreaded the moment they would reach the top. She did her best to ignore Ash, far ahead, Seiya on his heels. He’d avoided Piper—everyone, in fact—since they’d headed out. He hadn’t even asked if she’d gotten what she needed from Natania, though she assumed someone must have told him what the plan was.

  She bit her lip, remembering that look in his eyes when he’d grabbed her throat. All I feel is rage and hatred until I can’t think anymore, until all I want is to see blood. No matter what Seiya threatened, Piper would get to the bottom of whatever was wrong with him. But not yet. First she had to survive the next obstacle, and she really didn’t know how well that was going to go.

 
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