Yield the Night by Annette Marie

  “Ah, perhaps not today. We have only just assured your continued survival. Let’s not risk that so soon.”

  “We should pack up and get back,” Ash said.

  Miysis nodded and moved away to discuss something with his men. Ash turned to Seiya and led her a few steps away as he murmured something.

  Fingers touched Piper’s side, brushing across the shimmering scales on her hip.

  “Hey there, gorgeous,” Lyre purred. “You’re absolutely delectable, did you know?”

  She lifted her eyebrows. “Pretty sure I’m just a sparklier, freakier version of what I looked like before.”

  “Sparkly, yes. Freaky, no.” He lifted her hand and touched the scales on her knuckles. “Our standards of beauty are much broader than the narrow, boring restrictions humans have. If every woman met human ideals of beauty, you’d all be identical. Now, this”—his eyes flicked down her and back up again—“is twice as stunning—to us, at least.”

  She smiled. “Thanks Lyre.”

  He gave her that sexy half-grin. “If you get the urge to take your new form for a test run, just say the word.”

  “A test run, really?” She beamed at him. “I was just thinking it would be fun to run the rest of the way up the mountain.”

  “Run? Up the mountain?”

  “Yeah! I want to see what this body can do.” She waved a hand toward the peak. “I’d love some company, so since you offered ...”

  “Um. I don’t think we have time for that right now.”

  “Ah, I see.” She smirked. “Maybe next time then.”

  “Yeah ...” he grumbled.

  Ash returned. Piper glanced past him and saw Seiya, Zala on her shoulder, striding toward the ley line.

  “Seiya is going through. Lyre, you should go too. Koen or I will bring Piper through in a minute.”

  “Sure,” Lyre said, then winked at Piper. “See you on the other side, beautiful.”

  He headed for the invisible ley line. He walked calmly like he was merely strolling in the park—and then, with a ripple of air, he vanished. She felt the blip in the ley line’s power like a rock being dropped into a rushing stream. She squinted at it.

  “Why can’t I see it?” she asked Ash.

  “I imagine you’d have to shade again.” He gave his head a little shake. “I’ve never seen a haemon shade before.”

  “Have you ever seen a haemon with a daemon glamour?”


  “Well.” She shrugged and smiled. “Shading was weird. One minute I was terrified and the next ... just totally calm.”

  “You did seem surprisingly level. I think it might be different for you than a full daemon.”

  “What do you mean?”

  He turned to look across the valley, frowning slightly. “Shading is a calmer state, yes, but our instincts are very strong. You showed amazing instinct for working your magic, but you didn’t show any signs of the overwhelming survival instinct of daemons. I expected you to attack Seiya.”

  “Oh. Hmm.” She shrugged. “Well, it worked pretty well.”

  He gave her a long look. “I didn’t frighten you.”

  She blinked. Before she could answer, Miysis joined them.

  “Piper,” he said, “do you feel in full control of your magic now?”

  She blinked, surprised by the question. It took only a fraction of her attention to keep the two magics separated inside her body. It wasn’t difficult, though perhaps it would grow tiring with time. She was a little worried about what would happen when she slept.

  “Yeah,” she answered. “I feel great.”

  “Excellent,” he replied. “In that case, before we leave, I would like you to complete your side of our bargain.”

  “What?” she asked blankly. “Now?”

  With everything that had happened since they’d arrived in the Underworld, she’d almost forgotten about the other half of the agreement with Miysis. In return for his help, she was supposed to use the Sahar for him.

  “Now?” Ash said as well, his disapproval clear. “She should rest first. She just went through hell.”

  Miysis’s expression hardened implacably. “It would be simpler to complete now while we are here.”

  “Here?” she repeated. “‘Here’ as in the Overworld or ‘here’ as in right here?”

  Miysis took her elbow. “This way.”


  “Did you agree to this or not?”

  “I—well, yes, but—”

  “Then come.”

  “Hold on—” Ash began.

  Miysis shot him a cutting look. “You are not part of this bargain, Ashtaroth.”

  Ash bared his teeth.

  Piper looked rapidly between them. Her eyes darted across Miysis’s four men who were slowly shifting closer, eyes on Ash. Maybe Seiya and Lyre had been a little hasty in going through the ley line ahead of the rest of them.

  She cleared her throat. “Where are we going?”

  “It’s not far.” Miysis’s aggressive bearing vanished as he dismissed Ash’s presence. “I don’t imagine it will take you long.”

  She let Miysis lead her up the trail, in the opposite direction they’d taken to Vejovis’s home. His men followed her and Miysis, keeping between her and Ash. Nervousness grew in her belly.

  Miysis guided her up the trail, beyond the spot where she’d come out of the ley line. The line paralleled the path, teasing her senses, a shimmer of magic she could see only out of the corner of her eye. They followed the curve of the mountain around a wide bend and her gaze swept across the view.

  Though the cliff continued along the south side of the river, the mountain on the opposite side flattened out into a wide, forested plateau. If the ley line had run across the other side of the river instead, travel would have been so much easier; they could have walked straight across the plateau, a leisurely stroll through a beautiful forest instead of dangerous, cliff-side paths.

  On their side of the valley, a massive, jutting piece of the mountain leaned out over the river. The trail they followed disappeared at the sheer, impassable barricade. Short of extensive mountain climbing gear or wings, there was no way to continue.

  Miysis took her elbow again and pulled her with him another dozen paces down the trail, toward the dead end. She glanced back and saw three of Miysis’s men casually block the path, preventing Ash from following. He stood beyond the guards, arms folded, tense.

  Lifting one hand, Miysis pointed. “Do you see that crack?”

  She looked again. A deep crack ran vertically through the rock blocking their path, likely caused by hundreds of years of strain on the rock. There had to be at least a hundred tons leaning over the valley.

  “I see it.”

  “Your task is to split the rock at that crack.”

  Her eyes narrowed. Break away that colossal slab of rock? She could clearly see what would happen: the broken slab would tip over like a falling tree and the upper end would land on the plateau side of the valley. If it didn’t shatter, it would form a natural bridge across the valley. If it did break, it would fall and damn up the river. She had no idea what that would do to the surrounding landscape, but it wouldn’t be good.

  No wonder Miysis wanted more firepower than any one daemon—or a dozen—could manage. It was triple the demolition job that the bridge in Asphodel had been.

  She looked at the plateau again and her skin prickled. Hadn’t Lyre and Ash surmised how strange it was that Miysis knew so much about the ryujin territory? That he or other Ra daemons had explored it so thoroughly that they’d found Vejovis’s hidden home? If they couldn’t fly safely in the territory, it had to be hard to explore the land; only small groups could move about at one time because the ley line ran along a treacherous mountain path.

  But what if there were an easy route into ryujin territory? What if the Ra family could sneak unlimited numbers of their soldiers straight onto the forested plateau, easy terrain where they could spread out or even gathe
r a large force? That plateau would give them access to a huge section of the ryujin territory.

  On the other hand, if the rock broke and blocked the river, it would cut off the flow of water into a significant portion of the valley and beyond.

  “Why do you need this done?” she asked neutrally.

  “It doesn’t matter,” Miysis said. “You agreed to my terms. This is my task.”

  Her hands clenched. If she did as he asked, she would either be clearing the path for a Ra invasion of the ryujin territory or outright destroying the valley.

  “You promised I wouldn’t be hurting anyone,” she said harshly.

  “You won’t be. There is no one on or below the rock.”

  Her jaw tightened. Why hadn’t she learned her lesson when it came to Miysis? Why did she trust anything he said? He’d made it seem like she would be fixing a rockslide or opening up a trade route—not enabling a war on an unsuspecting people.

  She turned away from the rock to face him. “You misled me.”

  His eyes narrowed. “I did not. I told you exactly what you would be doing.”

  Her gaze darted from him to Koen, standing behind the Ra heir, then to the three by Ash. Everyone was watching her.

  “I won’t help you start a war,” she snapped.

  Miysis’s face went cold, and for a moment, she felt as though she were facing down Maahes, the ancient, powerful leader of the Ras. “Are you refusing to fulfill your end of our agreement?”

  “I’m refusing to do this task. I’ll do something else for you.”

  His eyes went black. “If you refuse, then you forfeit your life.”

  She took a fast step back before she could stop herself. The sheer side of the mountain blocked any possible retreat. “Are you going to kill me?”

  “If you refuse, your life is mine to do with as I will.”

  Her mouth went dry at the icy contempt in his black eyes, the utter lack of sympathy.

  “I will not ask again,” he said. He slid a hand into his left breast pocket and retrieved the Sahar. He held it up between his finger and thumb. “Do you refuse to uphold our bargain?”

  She stared at him. No mercy or compassion touched his eyes. Her gaze again flicked over Miysis and Koen. Two against one. She didn’t fancy her odds—but she would take them over the task Miysis had given her. She wouldn’t help him wage a war.

  “I refuse,” she whispered.

  He went still, studying her with black eyes. She tensed, fingers flexing in the vain wish for a weapon.

  His hand closed in a fist around the Sahar.

  “Then you leave me no choice.”

  She had only a moment to feel fear.

  Koen’s hand flashed out. He grabbed Piper by the neck. She screamed as he smashed her back into the rock behind her. In the same instant, the other three Ra daemons, mere feet away from Ash, whipped toward him, blades flashing in their hands as though from thin air. Ash threw up a shield as the three attackers charged him point blank.

  But that’s when she had screamed.

  And his eyes, in that crucial moment, flicked away from his attackers and toward her.

  Again, time slowed to a crawl.

  He jerked his attention back to his attackers—too late. Three simultaneous blasts of power shattered his shield. He had no time for another defense. They were already upon him, sunlight flashing on their blades.

  Piper’s heart stopped.

  The first blade plunged into his chest. Then the second. Then the third.

  The points erupted from his back, glistening with blood. The daemons simultaneously yanked their weapons out. Ash staggered, shock blanking his face. One of the daemons stepped forward, grabbed Ash’s shirtfront, and threw him backward.

  Right off the cliff’s edge.


  PIPER’S scream of horror pierced her own ears. For a bare second, she expected to see Ash whoosh skyward with fast beats of his powerful wings, weapons drawn and magic flashing. But of course he didn’t. He’d been stabbed three times in the chest. If any of those blades had hit his heart, he was already dead.

  With an animal shriek, Zwi burst out of a rocky crag where she’d been hiding and shot past everyone, diving over the side of the cliff. Far, far too late to do anything.

  Panic and denial closed around Piper, choking off her air. Terror and agony blinded her. It repeated over and over in her head: the blades flashing, the shining metal disappearing into his body, the spray of blood as the daemons pulled their weapons out again. Over and over she saw him vanishing over the edge, gone. Gone gone gone—

  And then all the spinning terror stopped. She was suddenly floating in a state of utter calm—icy, murderous calm.

  Her eyes turned onto Miysis and hatred surged even as her mind stayed cool and logical.

  Koen squeezed her throat, cutting off her air. Her hands flashed up and she raked her shimmering new claws down his face. He jerked back and she struck him three times: in the face, the sternum, and the diaphragm. He staggered back, stunned, and she smashed one last blow into his face. He dropped to his knees.

  She spun and launched herself at Miysis.

  His hands shot up and, for the first time, she could see the magic of his shield—a glowing sheet of gold between them. Instinctively, she called on her own magic, wrapping flickering blue and purple flames around her fist as she let it fly straight at his shield. Her scaled knuckles hit the barrier, and with a burst of orange light, the shield vanished.

  Shock flashed across his face, and then she was on him.

  She loosed a swift kick at his knee but he sprang back, lighter on his feet than she’d expected. She reached out in a fast strike, claws hooked as she went for his throat. He blocked her attack and suddenly reversed direction, slamming her with his greater weight. She staggered then ducked fast as he unleashed a glowing ball of gold light that exploded in a shower of stones when it hit the rock behind her.

  Baring her teeth, she sprang for him again. The calmness of shading kept her levelheaded as rage pulsated through her. She feigned a strike to his torso, then dropped and swept out her leg. It hit his ankles and he stumbled. She coiled her body and launched herself into his legs. He fell.

  She jumped on top of him, claws going for his face. He grabbed her wrists, teeth bared, eyes black. For a brief second, she strained against him, forcing her hands down, her half-daemon strength overpowering him.

  Then his body shimmered as he released his glamour.

  He flipped her off him and came down on top of her in one smooth move. Wings rose off his back, golden-brown feathers sweeping outward. With twice the physical power of his glamoured form, he crushed her into the rock and pressed his forearm into her throat. She fought to keep the pressure off her windpipe and called on her magic. As soon as she did, he slammed some kind of spell down on her and her magic fizzled out like a snuffed flame.

  His other hand grabbed her chin and she knew exactly what he was planning to do—knock her out with a sleep spell.

  As tingles rushed over her skin from his magic, she grabbed the fist of his other hand and dragged her claws across the heel of his hand and into the palm, forcing his fingers open. With her other hand, she snatched the Sahar from his grip.

  Raging magic rushed into her, eclipsing her own reserves. It exploded out of her in an uncontrolled blast, hurling Miysis off her. He crashed down on his back and nearly slid off the edge of the cliff. She rolled to her feet—and felt a ripple of magic from the ley line.

  Six daemons flashed into being out of the line, hurtling straight for her.

  She spread her arms wide and called on the Stone. Violence erupted in her head but her calm, shaded state held. As the daemons charged, she spun in a fast circle, arms cutting through the air. Two blades of white magic spun out from her hands and whipped outward at chest-height. Blood sprayed. All six daemons collapsed.

  She turned toward Miysis. He had been far enough away to successfully shield against her last attack. H
e stood rigidly, wings half-furled, waist-length braid of golden hair hanging over one shoulder. Another time, she would have been in awe of the beauty of his daemon form, nearly as stunning as Lyre’s. Instead, she just wanted to kill him.

  Rage and hatred built inside her, pumping into her from the Sahar and mixing with her own burning fury. Her barrier of tranquil logic started to crumble and she bared her teeth, overcome with the need to see him bleed. To rip out his heart and watch life fade from his deceitful green eyes. To make him pay for what he’d done to them.

  The ley line stuttered again, the magic shuddering as another dozen daemons appeared.

  Shocked out of her haze of savagery, she spun away from the line. Hatred still seethed in her, demanding she destroy them, rip them apart, feed their blood to the earth. But they weren’t important. It had been less than a minute since Ash had disappeared over the cliff. He hadn’t given up on her when she’d fallen into the river. She wouldn’t give up on him.

  Sahar clenched in one hand, she took two running steps and leaped off the cliff.

  She plummeted, the wind screaming in her ears. The water rushed toward her while also seeming to approach her in slow motion, gradually filling her vision. Rocky cliff walls whipped by on either side, faster than she’d ever experienced, but the fall was strangely calming, almost serene, her fear of heights forgotten. Pointing her feet downward, she plunged into the river.

  Pain ricocheted through her legs on impact. Water engulfed her. The moment she was submerged, she knew why her non-tentacles felt so weird when touched. They were made for the water.

  Sensations flooded her mind—every shift of the current, every dart of a nearby fish, every rock, tree branch, and obstacle. The river welcomed her like a long-lost but deeply beloved child, a warmth she could feel inside her head, the touch of a deep and ancient power.

  She shot for the surface, her head bursting into the cool air. She didn’t have to swim. The water held her up as she was swept downstream.

  Ahead. Far ahead. She could see flashes of black—small wings beating frantically in the air. Zwi had grabbed on to Ash and was desperately trying to keep his head above water. Piper could feel his presence in the river ahead of her. She could even feel his blood, foreign Underworlder blood, tainting the pure waters.

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