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Unleash the Storm (Steel & Stone Book 5), page 1

 

Unleash the Storm (Steel & Stone Book 5)



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Unleash the Storm (Steel & Stone Book 5)


  Unleash the Storm

  Steel & Stone: Book 5

  Annette Marie

  Contents

  Description

  The Steel & Stone Series

  Copyright

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Excerpt

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Description

  Piper thought she could handle the Sahar, the most powerful magical weapon in existence. She thought she could protect her loved ones and stop a war. She thought she could make a difference.

  She was wrong, and her mistakes were paid for in blood.

  Leaving her world — and her failures — behind, she retreats to the Underworld with Ash and the other draconians. They forge deep into long abandoned mountains, the first draconians to fly the valleys and passes in centuries — or so they thought. Until now, Ash’s mysterious heritage has been nothing but a name, but his presence does not go unnoticed. A new danger stalks him, one that may be even greater than what they escaped.

  Cut off from the power she’d come to rely on and lost in a world where she doesn’t belong, Piper has never felt so hopeless. But she must find her strength, and find it quickly, before she loses Ash to an ancient power he can’t fight, before her home is devastated by the daemon war, and before her mind, body, and soul are consumed by the Sahar’s insidious magic.

  The Steel & Stone Series

  Chase the Dark

  Bind the Soul

  Yield the Night

  Feed the Flames

  Reap the Shadows

  Unleash the Storm

  Don’t miss Annette Marie’s next book. Sign up for her newsletter to receive new release alerts!

  Unleash the Storm

  Book Five of the Steel & Stone Series

  Copyright © 2016 by Annette Marie

  www.authorannettemarie.com

  All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations for review purposes.

  This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, places, or events is purely coincidental.

  Cover Design Copyright © 2016 by Annette Ahner

  Cover, Book Interior, and Website Design by

  Midnight Whimsy Designs

  www.midnightwhimsydesigns.com

  Cover Photographs (female model) Copyright © 2016 by Miranda Hedman

  Model: Miranda Hedman

  www.mirish.deviantart.com

  Editing by Elizabeth Darkley

  arrowheadediting.wordpress.com

  ISBN 978-1-988153-01-8 (EBOOK)

  ASIN B016E6Y270 (Amazon)

  Version 03.04.16

  ISBN: 978-1-988153-01-8

  Chapter One

  Piper crouched behind the boulder, her heart beating fast against her ribs. Stretching her neck, she peeked over the top of the rock and squinted at the shallow gorge ahead, cloaked in harsh shadows. She flexed her fingers as she scanned for signs of movement.

  Beyond the gorge, towering mountains pressed close on all sides, leaning over her no matter which way she turned. The bold, jagged peaks cut at the sky like stone blades. She was getting used to it, but the feeling of claustrophobic insignificance still caught her in unguarded moments. High above the mountain ridges, the two suns of the Underworld glared brightly over the dark rocks. They lit one curved sliver of the massive planet in the sky with gold light, the other half invisible like a waning moon.

  The mass of Periskios, the mysterious planet, was about to swallow the first sun. The two stars travelled the skies side by side, one preceding the other each dawn and sliding below the horizon ahead of its brother before night claimed the land. The patterns of light and dark in this world weren’t the predictable days and nights of Earth. Some nights were pitch black and short, while others went on and on, the darkness broken only by the glowing planet in the sky. Murky twilight would taunt her with the promise of coming light, only for the suns to linger out of sight for hours before appearing.

  As she squinted upward, the first sun crept closer to the left edge of Periskios. Light flared brightly as it slipped behind the planet, then dimmed. Slowly, she straightened her legs, keeping bent at the waist to stay hidden behind the boulder. Darkness was coming—the terrifying pitch black of the eclipse night—and the reduced visibility would be far more of an advantage for her adversaries than for her.

  Her skin prickled, an instinctual warning. She spun around.

  Black wings flashed wide as a draconian dropped off the cliff wall behind her. Swearing, Piper sprang onto the boulder and leaped off it as the draconian slammed into the ground where she’d been standing. She dropped into a roll and came out of it in a full sprint, charging down the gorge. Her daemon muscles surged with strength and her dairokkan trailed behind her like shimmering ribbons. She risked a glance over her shoulder. Her adversary lifted a hand, a spell already forming.

  She dove to the side. The spell hit the rocky ground and exploded in a shower of pebbles. Her right hand connected with the ground as she spun in a one-handed cartwheel and landed on her feet, running again. She dashed into the gloom of the gorge. The ground grew steeper and the rocky walls closed in on either side. She slid on the loose rocks underfoot, struggling to maintain her speed and balance as she dodged boulders.

  A flash of movement on her left. She sprang right and spun, skidding as pebbles cascaded down the gorge. The second draconian launched out of the shadows barely three feet away. Icy terror washed through her. She threw her hands up and caught his forearms as he bowled her over. She hit the rocky ground on a scaled shoulder. Yanking her feet up, she planted her boots in his stomach and snapped her legs straight. He flipped over her head and landed hard, wings splayed over the rocks.

  Piper rolled to her feet, leaped over him, and bolted down the gorge. The end beckoned. Sunlight sparkled on the stream as the water rushed perpendicular to her path. Fluttering in the breeze, a strip of red cloth was tied to a tree branch sticking out of the bank. Anticipation surged. She was almost there.

  She spotted the third draconian up on a ledge, already casting a spell. Diving, she came down on her hands and launched into a forward flip. The spell blasted a hole in the rocky ground behind her. She landed on one foot, skidding awkwardly to regain her balance on the loose shale, and stumbled back into a run, lungs burning.

  The ground leveled out and the gurgling sound of the stream filled her ears. Two huge boulders stood like sentries on either side of the gorge walls, leaving a narrow passageway she would have to cross to reach the stream. The perfect place for an ambush, with no way to tell on which side her attacker was waiting. Running through the cent
er would be stupid. She had to pick a side.

  Her last attacker had been on her right, so she charged the boulder on the left. Leaping off a nearby rock, she landed on top of the boulder and jumped down, intending to slam feet first into the draconian hiding behind it.

  Her feet hit gravel in the gap behind the rock. No one there. Damn it! She frantically scrambled out of the gap, head whipping side to side as she searched for the next attack.

  A body slammed into her back. She crashed down on the pebbly slope, her arms pinned to her sides and a pokey pair of knees digging into her back.

  “Do you surrender?” her assailant growled from above her.

  “Ugh,” Piper panted. “Fine. I surrender.”

  Her attacker laughed, her high, bubbly voice echoing off the gorge walls. The weight left Piper’s back and she rolled over, chest heaving as she caught her breath. The draconian stood over her, hands on her hips, wings half-spread and tail snapping back and forth as she surveyed her victim with a grin.

  “We knew you would think we were hiding behind the boulders,” Raisa boasted, “so I hid nearby instead. It was Sivan’s idea.”

  Piper grimaced as she clambered to her feet and brushed gravel off her clothes. It didn’t surprise her that Sivan had anticipated her train of thought and used it to plan an even better ambush.

  “You’ve lost four times in a row now,” Raisa informed her, bouncing on the balls of her feet.

  “I can count,” Piper grumbled. Tackled by a kid. So embarrassing.

  Crunching rocks announced the other draconians as they came down the gorge. Kiev flashed her a smile as he scrubbed dust out of his wavy hair; he was the one she’d flung over her head with her feet.

  “You were pretty close that time,” he told her.

  She shrugged, her gaze flicking to Sivan. The second draconian boy brushed past them without a word, and she was surprised the ground around his feet wasn’t frosting from the arctic aura around him. When she’d first met him, her immediate reaction was relief that Kiev had been the boy who needed her help and not Sivan. She seriously doubted Sivan would have been as gracious as Kiev about being put in the care of a haemon girl.

  Seiya glided down from the ledge where she’d thrown her attack at Piper. After landing, she carefully folded her wings, the motion too precise to look natural. The injury to her wing from weeks ago was still healing.

  “That was good,” she said. “You’re getting better at assessing the terrain quickly.”

  Piper shook her head and sighed. When she’d asked for help learning how to fight outside the limited scope of her Consul training—meaning one-on-one fights with the purpose of diffusing the situation, not killing your assailant—she hadn’t realized just how large the gaps in her skills were. Even something as simple as running through a gorge while under attack was difficult; she had to choose her path, try to locate potential enemies, keep track of assailants she’d already downed, anticipate potential ambushes. But she was learning—and learning fast. These “games” were also teaching her how to use her daemon form more efficiently and were improving her physical conditioning. She needed to be as prepared as possible for whatever was coming.

  Following after Sivan, she and the others exited the gorge and splashed through the stream to the far bank. Kiev grabbed the stick with the flag and they trudged upstream while Raisa chattered about her epic takedown of Piper.

  Piper smiled ruefully and didn’t comment. Raisa was just old enough to want to keep up with the teenagers but too young to actually compete. But it was good that she wanted to try; not all the female draconians were interested in learning combat skills.

  Her head tilted back as she took in the surrounding peaks. The second sun neared the brightly lit sliver of Periskios. Soon it would disappear too.

  They’d been travelling for almost three weeks, by her best estimate, though “weeks” were not an applicable measurement of time in this world. With each cycle of light and dark, they’d moved deeper and deeper into the endless Underworld mountain range. Ley lines probably ran through the mountains somewhere, but without knowing where they were, they had no choice but to travel the long way. That was the downside to ley lines: daemons could only use the lines they knew about.

  The area they were travelling through was former draconian territory, once fiercely protected by the Taroth family. The Hades family had assimilated the more hospitable regions of Taroth land after destroying the family, but they hadn’t bothered with the mountains; only a caste with wings would want to live here.

  But Piper wasn’t sure why the Taroths would have wanted to live here either. The mountains were beautiful but harsh. The large forests were mainly coniferous trees and supported little life, and the soil was too rocky for agriculture. It wasn’t like the lush, rich lands of the ryujin, that was for sure.

  She and the others followed a bend in the streambed and, as they came around an outcropping of rock, their camp was revealed. Eight female draconians and an incubus sat around the small fire, with a handful of low, brown canvas tents behind them. She huffed, blowing her bangs away from her face as a sickening whoosh of dread slid through her, but it was over quickly. Through a combination of fluke and necessity, she and Lyre had discovered a way to counter the Nightmare Effect: constant exposure. Short of life or death necessity, she wouldn’t recommend it as an option to anyone.

  When she’d learned months ago that going through the Void to another world created daemon glamour, she hadn’t considered that daemons who hadn’t been to Earth wouldn’t have glamour. Which meant all the females, except Seiya, had no glamour to use to protect Piper and Lyre from their Nightmare Effect.

  Being constantly surrounded by draconians out of glamour had not been fun. In fact, Piper and Lyre had wondered if they would live through it, not knowing if they could ever adjust. They’d both dropped weight, too sick with fear to eat, before they’d finally desensitized, to everyone’s relief. Now she only got twinges of fear if she was away from any of them for a length of time, but it quickly passed.

  Waving a hello to the women around the fire, Piper dropped down beside Lyre on a blanket spread over the rocky ground. It had taken her a little while to get used to him in draconian garb. The fitted black leather looked good on him—everything looked good on him—but it was still a little odd. She supposed she looked just as peculiar wearing a mix of draconian gear and her bright, shimmering ryujin top.

  Raisa bounded past her and plopped down beside Shona, her mother, and reiterated the whole story of Piper’s defeat in glorious detail.

  “Went well?” Lyre asked Piper.

  “If you call getting trounced by a kid going ‘well,’ then sure, went great.”

  “Every little bit helps,” he said sympathetically. “You need to condition yourself to our world. I felt woozy for weeks the first time I went to Earth. It takes a while.”

  She didn’t mean to complain; her pride was just taking a beating. She really did need to build up her strength, especially since she needed to keep up with a bunch of draconians. The Underworld was kind of like being at high altitude—the air was thinner and everything was more difficult. And she was literally at a high altitude on top of that.

  With a final bright flare, the second sun disappeared behind Periskios, fully eclipsed. For a minute more, a thin line of light glowed along the left curve of the planet, then that too faded. Utter darkness fell across the land, erasing the surrounding mountains from her vision.

  She hunched closer to the fire, the only source of illumination, and let her gaze wander from one face to another. Though not all present at the moment, there were fourteen draconians in total, including Ash and Seiya. Four males, ten females. On the other side of the fire, a wisp of a girl sat on her mother’s lap, holding a crudely sewn stuffed dragonet toy. Yana held up the toy, spreading its wings out as though it were flying, and looked up at her mother with one large, sky-blue eye. Her other eye was covered by a white patch held in place with ties woven
into her dark hair. Piper hadn’t asked yet what had happened to the girl’s face; she wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

  Sivan, sitting opposite Piper, held a curved knife in one hand and smoothly ran a wet stone down its length. The sound of rock on steel made her grit her teeth. Beside him, his half-sister Jezel chewed on a piece of dried meat and stared at the fire with a scowl. They were about the same age, with different mothers but the same father—one of the draconian males who’d died in recent years.

  Piper was still sorting out how everyone was related. Kiev alone had a mother, sister, two aunts, and two cousins among the fourteen draconians. As far as Piper knew, they’d avoided any inbreeding, but Samael must have been desperate to add some new blood into the gene pool. His best option would have been Ash, who’s only relation among the entire group was Seiya, but as Seiya had mentioned months ago, Samael had never managed to coerce Ash—though his steadfast refusal had resulted in severe punishments for him and Seiya both.

  A shiver ran through her as her gaze slid to the woman sitting closest to the fire, holding her hands toward the flames to ward off the cooling air. With the sides of her head buzzed short and spiky red hair flopping over her forehead from the longer section on top, Coby looked like she could beat up any guy who ticked her off—but the swell of her belly told a different story. Though she appeared around the same age as Piper, she was noticeably pregnant. The father of her unborn child, though, was dead.

  The visible proof in front of her that these women had been used as broodmares made her sick. That same fate had awaited Seiya, cheerful Raisa, even little Yana, so shy she rarely left her mother’s side.

  Raisa jumped to her feet, startling Piper out of her thoughts, and pointed skyward. “They’re back!”

  Piper looked up but couldn’t see a thing in the darkness. Only when firelight caught on the reflective steel of their gear and weapons did she spot them. Wings spread wide, the two men glided to the camp and landed a dozen yards away. Her heart hammered, partially from the spike of fear triggered by Raum’s return, partially from the relief of seeing Ash again.

 
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