Yield the Night by Annette Marie

  His fingers slid into her hair, pushing it aside to reveal the tentacle thing.

  “I don’t believe it,” he whispered again.

  Her brow furrowed. He didn’t sound disgusted. His voice was filled with ... wonder? Her eyes opened of their own accord.

  Ash stared at her with amazement etched on his face.

  “Piper, this is—it should be impossible. Ryujin never leave the Overworld. How could you have a ryujin grandparent? It’s—it’s astounding. It also explains a lot about your encounter yesterday.” He brushed a thumb across a scale on her forehead. “You have the blood of one of the rarest and most powerful Overworld castes. You couldn’t have been luckier.”

  “Lucky?” she croaked, anger filtering through her shame. “Lucky?”

  He blinked.

  “I’m not lucky!” Tears filled her eyes. “I’m hideous.”

  He blinked again. “What? No, you’re—”

  “Don’t lie to me!” She turned her head away. “I’m a freak. I have goddamn tentacles.”

  He grabbed her arms and stood abruptly, pulling her to her feet with him. She clutched her blanket with every bit of strength she had, head turned away.

  “You are not a freak,” he growled.

  She looked back at him, startled by his sudden anger.

  “You’re beautiful.”

  “No, I’m—”

  “Do you think I’m hideous?” he demanded. He waved a hand over his body, safely in glamour.

  “No!” His daemon form was frightening and alien, but not ugly. There was a clear beauty to his dark, interlocking scales, the way they followed the curves of his body and muscles. The grace of his wings. The mesmerizing way he moved.

  “Do you know how many times I’ve been called a monster?” he asked her.

  “But I’m—you—you haven’t seen—”

  “Show me, then.”

  She shook her head, shrinking away.

  “Piper,” he said in exasperation. With a dart of his hand, he grabbed one side of the blanket and gave it a hard yank.

  Squealing, she clutched the other end to her chest, scrambling to hold on to it. She wasn’t nearly as worried about him seeing her naked as him seeing the non-human stuff. He didn’t actually try to pull the blanket out of her hands though; he just pulled the one end away, letting it drop so the entire blanket hung in a strip down her front.

  And she knew he could see it all—the scales on her shoulders, elbows, hips, knees. Even the tops of her feet. And the awful, dangling tentacles that originated somewhere at the base of her spine and swayed out around her hips, the longer pair falling just past her knees. They didn’t actually seem to do anything; they just hung there, not limp, but not moveable like a tail either.

  Hands on his hips, Ash studied her. She pressed the blanket to her chest, the other hand holding it tight to her belly.

  “You don’t have tentacles,” he said.

  She looked down to see whether the blanket was still hiding them, but there they were, in plain sight. “Uh, are you blind?”

  He stepped closer. “Do you see any suction cups? Can you wriggle them around like little arms? They aren’t tentacles.”

  She looked down at them again. “Not tentacles?”

  “No.” He reached out and touched one, sliding it between his finger and thumb.

  Her entire body shuddered, tingles rushing across her skin. She jerked back. “Holy shit, don’t do that again.”

  His eyes widened. “Sorry.”

  She sucked in a deep breath. As well as the physical sensation, his touch had felt like he’d stroked the inside of her brain. Freaky as hell.

  “Did I hurt you?”

  “N-no. It just felt ... really weird.”

  He let out a slow breath, and his eyes travelled down her new form and back up again. “Piper ...”

  She shrunk a little under the intensity of his gaze. “What?”

  A long moment of silence. He abruptly cleared his throat and looked away from her. “We should go get your clothes.”


  “You need to put some clothes on.”

  “I—I do?”

  “This way.” He started walking, his steps quick.

  Piper blinked. Rewrapping herself in the blanket, she hurried after him—then stopped. Again she took a couple quick steps—and stopped. She looked down, sticking one leg out of the blanket to examine it. No, her legs didn’t look any more muscular than before.

  She ran three steps. Stopped. Hoooooly crap. A grin spread across her face. She hadn’t moved around enough to realize it before, but she felt strong. Really strong. She felt strong and lithe and flexible and agile. She felt as if she could run for hours. She glanced back and wondered how long she’d been crouched on the ground without feeling the slightest twinge in her legs.


  “Coming!” she chirped. With a few bounding steps, she caught up to Ash. “Is it always like this?”

  “Like what?”

  “I feel so strong. Like I could pick up a car!”

  “Ah, probably not.”

  She frowned. “Do you get weaker in glamour?”


  “Really? By how much?”

  His eyebrows rose. “A lot.”

  “Why would you ever use glamour then?”

  “Because everyone runs away screaming when I don’t.”

  “Oh, right.” She chewed the inside of her cheek, trying to hustle her thoughts into order. Everything was bouncing around in her head, her brain still scrambled from the Void. At least the headache had let up for the time being. She turned back to him as giddiness replaced her earlier self-loathing.

  “Can you believe I did it?”

  “Did what?”

  “The Void. I made it through! Can you believe it?”

  His lips curved in a hint of a smile. “Yes, I can.”

  “Can’t you pretend to be amazed at my awesomeness?”

  “I knew you would be fine.”

  “Weren’t you the one yelling for me all panicky when I didn’t come out in the same spot?”

  “I never panic.”

  She gave him a long look as they walked down the trail. He somehow kept a perfectly straight face as he looked back at her.

  He pointed. “Here are your clothes. I’ll wait over there.”

  They’d reached the same spot where they’d gone into the ley line. She could feel the line just like before, rushing magic and crackling electricity brushing against her skin. But wasn’t she supposed to be able to see it now too?

  As she walked over to her clothes, she squinted toward where she could feel the line. Nothing. She must be missing a step in the “seeing magic” process. Shrugging, she knelt and picked up her underclothes. After sliding on her underwear and bra, she pulled on her pants but flinched when she got them up. The waistband dug into the base of the—the non-tentacles—and made her head feel all scratchy inside from the rubbing sensation. She pushed the pants down a little but the damn things were too high-waisted, not her usual style but it was all Miysis had had available, and if she slid them lower on her hips, she couldn’t fasten them.

  Scowling, she picked up her shirt and struggled with it for a minute. Ash had torn half of the buttons off and then she’d tied the ends in a knot while the material was still wet. Now dried, the knot was hard as a rock. She made a half-hearted attempt to pull it over her head. Not happening. Well, shit.

  She rubbed both hands over her face, then looked at the dark blanket. With a sigh, she unsheathed a dagger from her pile of belongings and cut two wide strips of material. The first she wrapped around her chest, over her bra, and knotted it at the back. The second one she wrapped around her hips twice and knotted it on one side, nicely out of the way of her non-tentacles. It would have to do. She would be back on Earth soon, where she could be human again and acquire some real clothes.

  Picking up a boot, she started to shove a foot in and grimaced at the pressur
e on the wide scales over the tops of her feet. Then she looked at her foot. Then up the trail. She’d walked ten minutes over rocky ground with bare feet and hadn’t even noticed. Sighing again, she yanked off the boot and dropped it. What was the point?

  She looked down at her makeshift clothes. Her scales glittered and shimmered in the sunlight. Pressing her lips together, she touched one of the non-tentacles, lightly pinching the end between her fingers. She shivered. It was so weird feeling the physical sensation while also feeling it in her mind.

  She shook her head. So strange. Mind-boggling. It really hadn’t sunk in yet, that this body was her. She was this strange, shimmering half-daemon? Not a half-human, but half-daemon.


  Another shake of her head. Part ryujin. As Ash had said, it perfectly explained yesterday’s encounter with the ryujin. The daemon had somehow sensed that she was one of them, and so he’d saved her. She now knew why he’d said he would be waiting: he was waiting for her to discover she was one of them. Sort of one of them.


  She realized she’d been standing there staring at nothing for over a minute. Patting her blanket outfit to make sure it was all in place, and wishing she looked less like some sort of Sexy Jungle Babe fantasy—now with tentacles!—she hesitantly walked over to where Ash was waiting with his back politely turned.

  “Okay. Best I could do,” she said, feeling a blush coming on before he’d even turned.

  His eyes drifted down her body and back up. By the time they reached her face, they were distinctly darker. She blinked quickly as heat slowly rose through her. That look, that stare. She knew that look.

  With two fingers, he lightly touched the scales curving over the top of her hip, above the makeshift skirt. Her heart started to pound harder. His hand curled around her hip and he pulled her slowly closer. She looked up at him, trying to play it cool.

  “You promised me something, before I entered the Void,” she said, the words breathless.

  “Did I?”

  His voice was all husky with a hint of a growl. Her stomach flip-flopped.

  “Yeah,” she whispered. “You definitely did.”

  Her arms encircled his neck and his hand slid into her hair. And then his mouth was on hers and she was pulling herself even closer. His arm was crushing her against him and she had handfuls of his hair in her grip. She kissed him harder. Deeper. Desperate for more.

  He suddenly turned their bodies, and then her back was against a tree and he was pressing against her. His body was hard and warm, muscles flexing, hands running over her skin as his mouth crushed hers. She pulled him even closer and hooked a leg over his thigh, locking their bodies together. She couldn’t breathe. She didn’t care. Fire inside her, his hands on her, his mouth on hers.

  He pulled back and she gasped for air. Then his mouth was on her neck and she couldn’t breathe again. He worked his way down her throat with light kisses that made her skin tingle. She clutched his shoulders as his mouth moved lower, across her collarbone, down—

  His head jerked up, a tiny surprised noise escaping him. Almost a yelp.

  “What?” she demanded, breathing hard.

  “You—” He slid a hand over the back of his neck and shoulder, then looked at his fingers. There were streaks of blood on his fingertips. “You clawed me.”

  “I—” She glanced at her hands, fingers tipped with shiny, pointed scale-nails—with blood on them. “Oh. Oops. Sorry?”

  He gave her a strange look.

  “Are you okay?” she asked.

  “I think I’ll live.”

  “Oh good. So—”

  Her head gave a violent, sickening throb.

  She swayed and pressed both hands to her forehead, swallowing to get her stomach back down as the next wave rolled over her. “Uuuugh.”

  The pain was back with a vengeance and ratcheting—fast. She shouldn’t have wasted so much time; the rune venom had almost completely worn off. Kissing Ash should have probably waited.

  “Piper, what are you supposed to do next?”

  “I—I—” She struggled to think through the blinding pain.

  “Ash! Piper!”

  Lyre’s voice echoed down the trail. A moment later, she could hear the running footsteps of the rest of the group, but she didn’t open her eyes, fighting the pain as it rose and fell in burning waves.

  “Piper!” Lyre exclaimed, his voice suddenly right beside her. “Holy crap, look at you!”

  She squeezed her head between her hands. The world felt as though it were disconnecting, like everything was stretching away from her. Ash’s arm around her waist was her only anchor in the raging ocean of pain.

  Miysis arrived next, his voice ringing out in sharp disbelief. “Ryujin? She’s ryujin?”

  “Piper,” Ash said firmly, squeezing her middle, “you have your daemon glamour now. What do you need to do next?”

  “I—” The whole point of her new form was so she could see magic. That was it. “I need to see my magic.”

  “Then she should shade,” Miysis said. “Magic is clearest while shaded.”

  “Can a haemon shade?” Lyre asked urgently.

  She barely heard him as she choked back a sob. Agony. Her head was splitting, bone fracturing and brain surely boiling in its juices.

  “Piper,” Ash said, “can you shade?”

  Shade. How the hell did she shade? She squeezed her head harder. What caused a daemon to shade? Her eyes flew open. Fear. Fear caused shading.

  “Ash,” she gasped, squinting through tears of pain. “Scare me.”


  “Drop your glamour. Scare me!”

  He looked bewildered for a second before clueing in. His body shimmered. Black wings spread wide, horns and scales, eyes like the soul of the night. She stared at him, waiting for it, waiting for the terror to hit her.

  Nothing happened.

  “Scare me!”

  “I can’t bloody do anything else,” he snarled.

  She shivered as his daemon voice slid across her bones, but even that didn’t trigger the Nightmare Effect. It wasn’t working. She wasn’t afraid of him. She would have laughed at the disgusting irony had she not been in such agony.

  She looked around wildly. “Seiya! Seiya, where are you?”

  The draconian girl appeared in front of her, petite and harmless-looking beside her full-daemon brother. “Yes?”

  “Shade. Please shade and frighten me!”

  With a shrug, she dropped her glamour and spread her wings.

  Terror crashed through Piper. For a moment, it overwhelmed her, mixing with the agony until she thought she might pass out.

  And then something changed.

  The roiling whirlwind of emotions—terror, agony, uncertainty, panic—went completely still. She hovered in the center of it all, serene and utterly composed. The agony raged just beyond her sudden calm, unable to touch her.

  “Holy shit,” Lyre breathed. “Look at her eyes. Black as pitch.”

  With her mind free of pain, the next step seemed clear as day. She needed to see her magic, to behold the differences in order to separate the two. And to see magic, she needed to cast magic.

  She raised her hands and called on light. It was that easy. She’d seen daemons do it a dozen times. All she did was will it and it came, a melon-sized ball of rippling, heatless flame that hovered above her hands. Ash, Seiya, and Lyre stepped back at the sudden burst of light.

  The fire showed her exactly what she needed to see. Dark purple flames wove through pale blue fire. Where they touched, a sickly orange glow emanated. She studied the dancing light, the two colors. Yes, she could tell them apart. The blue fire was warm and tranquil, a sun-bathed pool of water. The purple was cool, sharp, leaping and spinning. Fast, harsh. Completely different.

  Narrowing her eyes, she tilted her head to one side as she concentrated. Slowly, with flashes of orange glow, the two colors began separating. They wanted to mix, to burn
each other, to combust and explode until there was nothing left, but she resolutely pulled them apart. At the same time the light before her changed, she felt the same thing happening within her—two magics being pulled apart.

  And then she had a ball of light hovering above each hand, one purple and one blue. And she could feel it inside her—two clear magics. The fast, sharp purple one, and the warm, soft blue one. She’d done it.


  WITH FLICKS of her hands, Piper cast the spheres of light away and took a deep breath. The strange state of calm dissipated but no agony followed. Just a dull ache in her head and the lingering tremble from the Nightmare Effect.

  She looked up. Ash and Seiya were back in glamour. They and Lyre stared at her.

  She gave them a wavering smile. Elation swept through her as it sank in: she’d done it. She’d fixed her magic—by herself. No one else had done it. No one had fixed her or saved her. She’d done it herself.

  “I did it!” she crowed.

  Grinning, bursting with excitement, she jumped forward and threw her arms around Ash—or she meant to. She’d forgotten about her daemon strength. She slammed into him and he went over backward, landing hard on his back as she came down on top of him. A blush rushed into her cheeks.

  “Good job,” he wheezed.

  “Sorry!” She scrambled off him while Lyre laughed loudly.

  They both got to their feet and she grinned at them, even feeling a certain amount of charity toward Seiya, who actually looked pleased. Piper beamed, bouncing on the balls of her feet, freed from fear for the first time since she’d returned from boarding school, and elated by her success. She’d never felt stronger.

  “Congratulations, Piper,” Miysis said.

  She turned toward him, surprised to see his smile—much more genuine than his usual cat-like smiles.

  “I can’t say how relieved I am. And your new form”—he gestured at her body—“is quite spectacular. I am extremely curious as to how you came to have ryujin blood.”

  She shrugged, self-consciously pulling her hair over the non-tentacles behind her ears. “We’ll probably never know, though I suppose I could go ask the ryujin.”

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