Yield the Night by Annette Marie


  Though Piper hadn’t realized it immediately, Natania’s question game hadn’t been the frivolous waste of time that it had first appeared to be. The woman’s questions had provided Piper with a clear roadmap of what she had to do if she wanted to survive. The problem was successfully doing it.

  Assuming she’d understood correctly, Piper couldn’t separate her two magic lineages until she could see what she was doing, and only daemons could see magic, which was why she had to unlock her daemon side. She needed to do the opposite of what daemons did to create a human glamour. They went through the Void and into an Earth ley line in order to be “given” a human glamour. She needed to go from the Void into an Underworld or Overworld ley line in order to be “given” a daemon form.

  The thought terrified her.

  First, the Void was the embodiment of the most frightening thing in existence: the unknown. No one knew what the Void was, and even though Miysis and Koen had spent the better part of the day coaching her on how to survive it, she still didn’t understand what it was or what it would do to her—only that it was insanely dangerous and she probably wouldn’t survive.

  Second, the idea of, as Natania had put it, yielding to the daemon within, was almost as frightening. In her mind, the only difference between a haemon and a human was magic—nothing else. And since Piper had never had magic, the only difference between her and humans had been her attitude and knowledge. She’d never thought of herself as a half-daemon. The very notion that there was dormant daemon blood inside her waiting to be brought to life freaked her out.

  And that didn’t even address the whole “daemon glamour” aspect. Miysis surmised that she would look like a diluted daemon—though his overall doubtful state that it would work gave her little confidence in his opinion. For all she knew, she would survive the Void only to discover that she’d turned into some kind of hideous hybrid mutant. After all, she had two daemon bloodlines, not one. Again, Miysis had a theory. He explained that there were no true hybrid daemons because one bloodline was always dominant, so she should come out looking like only her dominant bloodline. But he was only guessing.

  She was doing her best not to worry about it. None of it would matter unless she survived the Void.

  Her heartrate kicked up to double speed when they reached the small plateau where they’d first come through on the ley line. She could feel its power sparking in the air, the soft call of magic, Mother Nature’s voice whispering words of welcome in her ears. For a moment, she didn’t feel so scared. Then she thought about the Void and her terror came right back.

  Miysis rested one hand on his sword as he surveyed the ley line that was invisible to her. He turned toward her. “Are you clear on what to do?”

  Still breathing hard from the climb, she sat on a rock. “One of you will take me into the Void and let me go. I’ll have to pull myself back out and into the Overworld ley line, where I’ll let the magic create my ... daemon glamour.”

  “You should take your clothes off beforehand,” he said. “There’s no way to know what your form will be. Constricting garments could be painful.”

  She tried not to blush. “Okay.”

  “Hold on a minute.” Lyre folded his arms across his chest and scowled. “How come when he tells you to take your clothes off, you’re all, ‘Sure, no problem’?”

  “Are you certain you want to do this?” Miysis asked, ignoring Lyre.

  “If I don’t do it now, I won’t get another chance.” She pressed a hand to her head, which throbbed painfully in time with her heartbeat, like a hammer striking the inside of her skull. “The rune venom is wearing off and the pain is coming back quickly. If it gets any worse, I won’t be able to concentrate on anything.”

  “Reduced pain means reduced magic.”

  “I’ll take the risk.”

  “Why don’t you take the Stone instead?”

  She looked around, surprised to hear Ash speaking to her after his daylong silence. His voice was again toneless.

  “Take the Sahar?” she repeated. “Yeah, that would work. Emergency magic if I needed it.”

  “No,” Miysis said. “That would be an even greater risk. You can’t be distracted by the Sahar’s rage. It would undo you in the Void. You must stay calm.”

  Piper’s eyes narrowed. Was his concern for her, or for his precious Sahar getting lost in the Void?

  “Fine, no Sahar.” She swallowed. “Who will take me in?”

  “Koen can—”

  “I will.”

  Again, she looked at Ash. “You—you want to?”

  He nodded shortly.

  “Ashtaroth,” Miysis said, voice clipped, “Koen is trained—”

  “I want Ash to do it,” Piper interrupted.

  Seiya’s glare flashed in her direction, but she ignored it. Yes, she was being selfish, but she needed Ash for this. Her hands were already shaking. She needed his strength, his steadiness, not a stranger she didn’t trust.

  She stood up. “Let’s get this over with.”

  Face tightening, Miysis turned to Koen and muttered something. Koen reached into his pack and pulled out a blanket, which he handed to Piper.

  “Good luck,” Miysis said.

  She accepted the blanket and turned.

  Lyre gave her a tight smile. “You’re the toughest haemon I’ve ever met. You can do this.”

  She nodded, unable to speak from the fear sweeping through her. She was going into the Void—the mind-shattering nothingness between worlds that the majority of daemons feared too much to ever enter.

  Ash stepped up beside Lyre. The two daemons shared a strange, silent look before Ash touched the small of her back. He guided her up the trail. The soft murmurs of the others disappeared as the path curved around an outcropping of rock. On the other side, the ledge widened, offering some breathing room between the side of the mountain and the cliff’s edge that dropped to the rushing river a hundred feet below. A dozen scraggily trees had managed to sink their roots into the rocky mountainside, thankfully free of strangling azure pods.

  She held the blanket against her chest and tried not to hyperventilate.

  Ash led her to the trees and stopped. She could feel the rush of the ley line beside them. Panic swirled in her head like a whirlpool, sucking in all her attempts to think calm thoughts and leaving her shaking.

  “Piper.”

  She turned to him, trying to breathe normally.

  He touched her chin with light fingers. The stoniness was gone from his face, replaced with fire and determination. “Are you ready to do this?”

  Was she ready? Miysis and Koen had gone over everything. Every step, every little thing to expect. How to hold her mind together. How to get back to the ley line. She knew what to do. It was just doing it that terrified her. What if she wasn’t strong enough?

  Her head throbbed. The pain was getting worse. She couldn’t wait. It would only get more difficult.

  She looked at him, eyes wide. “You’ll be here when I get back? Waiting for me?”

  “Right here. I’ll be right here.”

  “Okay.” Inhale, exhale. “Okay. Yes, I’m ready.”

  His thumb lightly brushed her cheek as he lowered his hand.

  She glanced down at her clothes. “I—I just need to ...”

  He turned around and moved away a few steps. Biting hard on her bottom lip, she quickly stripped down, removing every last stitch of clothing, then wrapped the blanket around herself like a towel, the edges dragging on the ground.

  “Okay.”

  He returned to her, shadowed eyes searching her face.

  “What if—” she began in a whisper.

  He stepped close and gripped her upper arms with warm hands. “You’ll do this, Piper.”

  “But—”

  “I’ll be right here when you get back. It’ll be over in five minutes.”

  She blinked quickly and nodded, letting herself lean against him. She took a deep breath.

  “Just in case—


  “Piper—”

  “Just listen! Just in case I don’t make it back, I want to tell you something.”

  She felt him tense. He slowly nodded, his hands still on her arms. She looked up at him as a thousand things rushed through her head. She could tell him she knew he cared about her. She could tell him she cared about him too—a lot. But then, he already knew those things.

  Maybe she could tell him instead that she loved how his grey eyes looked right into her, seeing down to her soul. That she loved the feeling of his arms around her. That she loved the touch of his lips on hers. That she loved his rare smiles, all of them, from the contented ones to the “I’m going to kill you now” ones that, thankfully, he’d never directed at her.

  All these things boiled up inside her until she couldn’t say any of them. So instead, while holding the blanket in place with one hand, she reached up with the other. Grabbing the side of his face, she yanked his head down and kissed him hard.

  His hands tightened and he kissed her back just as fiercely.

  She pulled back. “That’s what I wanted to say.”

  “I see.”

  “And I want another one when I get back.”

  “Whatever you want.”

  “Good.” Inhale, exhale. “I’m ready.”

  He nodded. Eyes dark, movements just a little edgy, he pulled her back a couple of steps. They were in the ley line now. She could feel it all around her, sparking against her skin and rushing by her like a breeze that touched only her soul.

  “We’ll step together,” he said, moving behind her, hands on her upper arms. He turned them around so she was facing the length of the ledge, the mountain range spreading before her, and the arch of the planet rising above the jagged peaks. “One step backward. I’ll pull you in and then let go. You’ll be right on the edge. All you have to do is step forward again.”

  She nodded tersely, heart pounding.

  “I’ll be right here. Right beside you.”

  She nodded again. Squeezing her eyes shut, she did as Miysis had instructed, imagining a bubble of fire around her head—her magic—protecting her mind. There was no special spell for going into the Void. You just had to have enough magic, and enough concentration, to create an impenetrable shield around your mind.

  “Ready,” she whispered.

  His hands on her arms tightened. She felt the tingle as he wrapped magic around his own mind to protect himself. Then the tingle rushed over her as he tied them together so she would be pulled into the Void with him.

  Panic exploded inside her. Insanity. Madness. That’s what this was. Why was she trusting Natania?

  Ash’s lips brushed her ear. “You can do this.”

  Yes. She could. She would.

  “Now,” she said.

  He stepped back, pulling her with him. The world disappeared into screaming black oblivion.

  CHAPTER 19

  SHRIEKING, tearing oblivion.

  Silent, crushing nothingness.

  It tore her apart, shredding her into a thousand pieces. Thoughts, memories, emotions ripped away from her, vanishing into the emptiness. Agony. Numbness. Burning heat. Or was it searing cold? She didn’t know, couldn’t tell. The Void was everything and nothing, both trying to destroy her.

  She fought to hold herself together. Her entire being tried to expand to fill the vacuum, stretching in every direction at once. She couldn’t think, couldn’t process. Every sense she possessed screamed from sensation overload and deprivation at the same time. She was breaking, splintering, shattering into infinite particles of madness.

  She had to move. She had to take a step. One step. Where was her body? Where were her legs? The oblivion tore everything away, ripping her to pieces. Take a step!

  It all stopped.

  She crouched barefoot on the hard dirt. Chest heaving. Arms clamped around her middle. Eyes squeezed shut.

  Her entire body trembled as she rocked back and forth, tears leaking down her face. Very slowly, one by one, the torn pieces in her head slipped back into place. She hadn’t lost everything, but so much of it had been scrambled, cast about like puzzle pieces in a tornado.

  She let out a shuddering breath. Memories drifted back: The beautiful forests of the Overworld. The soaring mountains. Kissing Ash beside the river. Finally, thoughts shivered through her torn mind.

  I am alive.

  I survived.

  I did it.

  She cracked her eyes open, blinded by the low afternoon sun. Her rocking slowed, then stopped. She was back. She was free from the soul-sucking nothingness. She didn’t remember stepping out of the Void, but she must have. Sluggishly, she looked around. Mountains. A trail. An empty trail.

  Ash wasn’t here.

  Panic clenched around her chest. He’d promised. He’d promised he’d be here. Why wasn’t he? She was alone, broken and shattered inside, and he wasn’t here. Her breath came fast, speeding toward hyperventilation. She was alone. Alone, alone. Just like the Void. He’d been there, his hands on her, holding her against the tearing nothingness, and then he’d let go. And now she was alone, and it was ripping her apart, and she was shattering into a thousand pieces again.

  Gasping for air, she looked from one end of the ledge to the other. Looked back. Looked again. It came to her, oozing through the cracks in her memory: this wasn’t the same spot.

  She was in a different place on the mountain. She’d come out of the ley line farther up the trail. It looked higher here, the river a rushing echo far below at the bottom of the cliff. She shuddered, clamping her arms tighter around herself. She was lost, alone, still alone.

  He would find her. He’d promised.

  Gulping, she loosened her grip and realized she was rocking again. She stopped. She was okay. She was alive. The Void hadn’t destroyed her. It had tried. She’d almost lost. She didn’t know how she’d managed to take that step back, how she’d done it with the Void ripping her open and tearing out her insides. But she’d done it.

  Her head throbbed, pain growing worse with each drifting minute. More memories slipped into place. More thoughts formed, coherency gradually returning. And she remembered why she’d gone into the Void.

  Heart pounding, she raised her hands. Over each of her knuckles, a shiny oval scale glittered, bright as a gem, shimmering like mother of pearl. Blues and greens and teals. Her fingernails and the first joint of her fingers were decorated with the same kind of scales. Her nails were pointed. Stretching her arms out in front of her, she discovered large, shining, shimmering scales plating her elbows and running partway down her forearms and up the backs of her upper arms, even across her shoulders.

  Her breath came faster and faster. She struggled to breathe.

  Scales covered her knees and ran partway down her shins, tapering away halfway down. Large, plated, almost jewel-like. The scales curved over her hips too. Her frantic fingers slid over her belly and found three flat, teardrop scales forming a triangular shape at the base of her ribcage beneath her breasts. She lifted a shaking hand to her forehead and touched the same three-teardrop pattern in the center of her forehead.

  Trembling even more violently, she looked down over her body, at the strange scales, like delicate armor. And she saw the rest.

  Drifting around her hips were four long appendages—thin, lightweight, the ends flattened and widening into an almost leaf-like shape with shiny teardrop scales. She recognized them, had seen them drifting about the water dragons’ heads.

  Tentacles. She had tentacles.

  Horror engulfed her. Shame. Disgust. Tentacles. Why couldn’t she have been pretty? Or at least cool-looking? Instead she’d gotten tentacles. Her hands shot to her head. A short tentacle-thing sprouted from behind each of her ears, curving toward the back of her head.

  A freak. She was a goddamn tentacled freak.

  The blanket had slipped from her grip. She grabbed it, swinging it around herself, pulling it tight to hide the awful sight of her body. The material bru
shed against the tentacles around her hips, making her cringe. It felt like someone was rubbing sandpaper inside her skull. The damn things were sensitive on top of being hideous—weak points. A vulnerability.

  She gulped in air. It was fine. It was okay. She would learn how to see magic with her daemon eyes, fix her competing magic, and go back to being human. She would never have to revert to this monstrous form again. Her head throbbed.

  “Piper!”

  Ash’s voice. Calling her. Frantic.

  “Piper!”

  Distant. Coming closer. Coming fast.

  She pulled the blanket tighter, still crouched in a ball. No. She didn’t want him to see her. She couldn’t bear it. But he was coming and she couldn’t stop him. She withdrew a hand from the blanket and yanked out her ponytail, roughly pulling her hair over her ears to hide the tentacles. It felt awful, more sandpaper scratching inside her head, but she ignored it. Flattening her bangs over her forehead to hide the three scales, she wrapped the blanket up to her neck.

  He appeared, running full tilt around the bend in the path. He saw her and didn’t slow—just charged straight to her, somehow managing to stop and drop to his knees right in front of her despite his speed.

  “Piper!” he gasped. He reached for her but she flinched away, afraid he would feel the hard scales through the blanket. He pulled his hands back. “Are you okay?”

  She nodded, head ducked, unable to meet his eyes.

  “When you didn’t come out again, I was afraid you’d ... but then I thought maybe you slipped a little down the line. Are you sure you’re okay?”

  “I’m fine,” she whispered. “It was tough but I—I made it out.”

  “Did it—” She felt his gaze sweeping over her. “Did it work?”

  She nodded again.

  He was silent for a moment. Then his fingers touched her jaw. She tried to pull away but his hand followed, forcing her chin up. She looked away from his eyes, unable to bear seeing the inevitable judgment in them. With his other hand, he brushed her bangs away from her forehead.

  She squeezed her eyes shut, humiliation choking her.

  “I don’t believe it,” he breathed. “How is it even possible? You’re part ryujin.”

 
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