House of Flame and Shadow: Part 3 – Chapter 87

Hiding out in the unmarked van parked in a dusty alley of the Eternal City the next morning, Ruhn peered over at where Lidia sat stone-faced against the metal siding, and slid closer.

She’d barely slept, and Ruhn didn’t blame her. A glimpse at her haggard face this morning as they’d crept out of the safe house and back into the van had kept him close to her, offering what comfort he could. Now he laid a hand on her knee and said, “Another hour or so. Then we’ll head into the palace.”

Another hour until Declan could confirm that the Asteri were well and truly distracted by the video they’d unleashed into the world. From Dec’s initial reports this morning, it was a giant clusterfuck. The footage had been blasted on every news channel and social media site. Dec had also confirmed that he’d hacked into the imperial network and learned that this morning, the Asteri and their advisors would all be meeting to discuss the fallout. The news about the parasite had really resonated. All media outlets were abuzz with chatter about it. And the footage of Bryce killing Micah, her claims about how Danika and the pack had died …

It didn’t matter that the imperial network had pulled the footage almost immediately. It was already out there, circulating on private servers, being downloaded onto phones. Being watched and analyzed over and over again. Imperial trolls tried to insist it was fake, planting comments that it was a manipulated video, but Dec made sure that footage of Bryce running through the streets of Lunathion this spring, saving the whole city, made it out, too.

And there were people out there who remembered that, who had seen her running to save them. They vouched for her, confirming not only that she had saved the city from Hel, but also from the brimstone missiles the Asteri had launched.

The Asteri had a lot on their hands that morning. Exactly as planned. And once their emergency meeting had begun, it would be time to make a move.

“A single misstep and my sons …,” Lidia began, swallowing hard.

“Set the fear aside,” Ruhn said, offering her the honesty she’d so often given him. “Focus on the task, not the what-ifs.”

“He’s right,” Bryce added from where she and Athalar sat nearby, leaning against each other. Flynn and Dec sat in the front, the former monitoring the streets, the latter with a laptop on his knees, hacking his way into the imperial military controls for the mech-suits. Another few hours, and they’d be in. “Leave the baggage behind today.”

Lidia straightened. “My sons are not baggage—”

“No,” Bryce amended, “they’re not. But you know that palace better than anyone. Any distractions are going to cost us.”

“I know Pollux better than anyone,” Lidia said, staring ahead at nothing. “And that’s why it’s unbearable to sit here.”

“Rest up while you can, Lidia,” Athalar advised. “All Hel is going to break loose pretty damn soon.”

“Literally,” Bryce said with unnerving cheer.

Ithan buried the Prime in the heart of the meadow, so his soul might feel the romping joy of pups for generations to come.

If any of them survived this.

Tharion had called him, asking where the fuck he was, and Ithan told the mer to head to the Eternal City without him. To try to find Bryce and Athalar and get the antidote to them or any of their friends before they went full-tilt at the Asteri. If the antidote had leveled him up, then he couldn’t even imagine what it would do to Bryce and Athalar.

Ithan shouldered his backpack and the Godslayer Rifle that Roga had loaned, and left the main building of the Den. Perry was again standing guard at the booth outside the gates.

“Did you get any rest?” Ithan asked, poking his head in. From the bruises under her eyes, he knew the answer before she nodded. “I told you to get some sleep.”

“I wanted to be here,” she said, “in case anyone came looking for help or had questions.”

His chest tightened at her thoughtfulness—her kindness. “And did anyone?”

“No,” she said, rubbing her eyes.

“You should get down to the Blue Court.”

Her gaze found his. “You’re leaving?”

“Yeah,” he said. He hadn’t slept much either, but he’d forced his body to rest. He knew he had to be at full strength for what was to come.

Perry’s phone buzzed, and she glanced at the screen. Her brows knitted.

“What is it?”

She opened up her phone and read aloud, “ ‘Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar killed the Archangels Micah and Sandriel this spring.’ There’s … there’s video footage of Bryce …”

Ithan’s heart began racing. He was too late. Bryce was already making her move.

“I need to go,” he said. “I have to help her however I can.”

Perry rose from her seat in the booth. “Good luck, Ithan. I … I really hope I see you again.”

He wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug, her cinnamon-and-strawberry scent washing over him. Just as it always had—like she hadn’t taken the antidote. He set aside his curiosity about it again. “I hope I see you again, too,” he said against her hair, and pulled back.

Her eyes shone with tears. “Please be careful.”

He adjusted the straps on his backpack. “Get to the Blue Court, Perry.”

“I’m in the imperial network,” Declan announced a couple hours later.

Hunt finished arming himself with the few weapons he’d taken from what Fury Axtar had managed to bring in that helicopter: two handguns and a long knife. It wasn’t much, but Axtar had chosen the weapons well. They were all solid, reliable pieces.

“Those mech-suits are no fucking joke.” Dec shuddered. “But I’m ready to go when you guys are.”

Hunt checked the gun holstered at his thigh. The clip was loaded. Reloads sat in his back pocket. He could have used the comfort of his Umbra Mortis suit with its twin swords nestled in the sheaths down its back. But two handguns, a knife in his boot, and his lightning would have to do. He would have to do.

Just Hunt. He could live with that.

He ran an eye over Bryce. The hilt of the Starsword rose above her ponytail, and Truth-Teller had been strapped on one thigh. She had a handgun on the other, only one clip for a reload.

Hel had brought its armies, but they fought with power and fangs and teeth and brute strength.

“Right,” Bryce said, “we all clear on the plan?”

“Which one?” Ruhn muttered. “You have, like, seven.”

“Better to over-prepare,” Bryce trilled. “Plan’s simple: keep the Asteri distracted by unleashing Hel and the Fallen … while Athalar and I sneak into the palace and destroy that firstlight core.”

“Don’t forget,” Hunt cut in wryly, “rescue Lidia’s sons, destroy Pollux, get close enough to the Asteri to eliminate them from the planet …” He ticked off the items on his fingers.

“Yeah, yeah,” Bryce said, waving a hand. She winked at Lidia, flashing a grin that Hunt knew was designed to put the Hind at ease. “You ready to beat the shit out of these assholes?”

Lidia’s chin lifted. She had a knife at her side and a handgun. That was it.

It was laughable that they were heading into the fucking Asteri’s palace armed so lightly, but it didn’t bear dwelling upon. They didn’t have a choice.

“The moment we leave this truck, we have two minutes until the street cameras alert the Asteri’s techs that we’re in the city if they identify us,” Lidia said.

“Which is why it’s my job,” Declan said from his station in the back of the van, “to keep those cameras away from you guys.”

“And my job,” Flynn said from the driver’s seat, “to keep us moving around the city to avoid detection.”

“As soon as I message you,” Ruhn said, “be ready for a pickup.”

“We did this once before, remember?” Flynn said to Ruhn. “Meeting up with Lidia once she’d sprung you and Athalar was a trial run for the big show.”

“I don’t care what you have to do,” Lidia said to Flynn, to Dec, “or who you have to leave behind. But you get my sons out of this city and to the coast.” She met their stare and added, “Please.”

Dec nodded. “We’ve got you covered, Lidia.” The name seemed to trip Dec up, but he got over it and said, “We’ll protect your kids. Just do what you have to do, and we’ll be where you need us.”

She nodded back, eyes glittering. “Thank you.”

Hunt glanced to Bryce, who was watching all this silently. Not a good sign.

Lidia noted Bryce’s look and said, “You remember the way to their throne room?”

“Yes,” Bryce said, and faced Hunt. “The wings were all still there a couple weeks ago—let’s hope Rigelus hasn’t redecorated.”

“He won’t have touched them,” Lidia answered. “He abhors change.”

The words hung in the air. Hunt swallowed against the dryness in his throat. They were doing this. He was doing this.

Hadn’t he learned his fucking lesson twice now? With the Fallen, then with recent events? To go back for a third helping …

“I remember,” Bryce said quietly—just to him, even with the others listening. “Every movement of Micah’s sword when he cut off your wings. How there was nothing we could do to stop him—stop them. I remember how they sold you back to Sandriel, and that time, too, there was nothing we could do to stop them. I remember every fucking moment of it, Hunt.” Her eyes glimmered with pure rage and focus. “But today we finally fucking stop them.”

Hunt held his mate’s stare, and let her courage be his courage, let her strength be his guiding light.

“I promised myself that day Micah cut off your wings,” Bryce said, still just for him, “that they’d pay for it. For what they’ve done.” Starlight flickered around her head in a shadow of that crown of stars.

No one spoke. Bryce got to her feet, heading for the back doors of the van. The world, the Asteri, the end waited beyond.

She looked back at all of them. Her eyes met Hunt’s.

And Bryce said before she stepped into the light, “Through love, all is possible.”


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