House of Flame and Shadow: Part 3 – Chapter 95

Bryce’s breath sawed through her lungs, but she gave herself over to it. To the wind and movement and propulsion of herself and Hunt through the small space as Rigelus launched strike after strike.

She was not the scared female she’d been a week ago, running from him down the hall. She knew Theia’s star gave her enough of an edge to keep one step ahead of Rigelus as she teleported again and again and again.

They just had to deactivate the core, and then she’d take the sword and knife and go after the Asteri. One by one.

Hunt’s lightning slammed continuously into the floor. But she and Hunt kept moving, so fast that one boom hadn’t finished sounding before another began. The sound was monstrous, all-consuming, and the room rained stone and crystal.

But in the center of the room, the tunnel of warped, melted crystal was almost complete.

Minutes had passed, maybe years. It was a dance, keeping one step ahead of Rigelus, and she knew that it would come to its crashing finale soon enough.

Another blow, and the glow of the firstlight core blazed, casting Rigelus’s furious face in stark relief.

Bryce teleported them away, but it was slower—too slow—

Rigelus snapped his power at them.

A wall like burning acid sent them careening into the stairwell, and Bryce knew only Hunt’s lightning kept it from being fatal. She rallied her power to teleport, but it sputtered out.

“Perhaps you should not have expended so much of your strength against Polaris.” Rigelus smirked, and lifted his gleaming hand—

It was a choice of death or survival.

Bryce teleported herself and Hunt—but not to the center of the room. They crashed to the floor a level above, clear of the core.

“One more strike!” Hunt was shouting. “Bryce, one more fucking strike and we’re through—”

Bryce’s knees buckled, and her head swam. Her power had dissolved into stardust in her veins.

Hunt caught her as she swayed. “Bryce.” Her nose stung; she could taste the blood in her mouth, metallic and sharp. “Fuck,” Hunt hissed, and grabbed her face in his hands. “Bryce—look at me.”

It took effort. Too much effort.

“I’m sorry,” she panted, and the words were barely a rasp. “I’m sorry.” All that power she’d attained … what good had it done? And what good would having the Starsword and the knife be if she had no starlight left to unite them?

“One more, Bryce,” Hunt said, breathing hard. Blood leaked from his own nostrils. The cost of all that power, without cease. “Just one more blow, I can feel it …”

“Okay,” she said. “Okay.”

They had to get back down there before Rigelus could find some way to repair the damage they’d done. “Okay,” she said again, but her power wouldn’t rally. She looked to Hunt. “A boost?”

From the concern in his eyes, she knew he didn’t have much left, either. But his lightning sparked, a crown about his head, making a primal god of him.

Rather than strike her with his Helfire, he hauled her to him and kissed her.

Lightning flowed from him into her, a living river of song and power. She pulled back, panting hard, and it hadn’t been much, but it was there, it was enough—

“Stop,” called an exhausted male voice from down the hall.

And though she’d leapt between worlds and ended Archangels and Asteri, nothing had prepared her to see Ithan Holstrom racing down the palace hallway with the Godslayer Rifle slung over his shoulder.

Hunt had no energy left to dwell on the fact that Holstrom seemed … leveled up. Older, more powerful somehow, even though he’d just seen the wolf. He didn’t fucking care about any of it as the wolf reached them and said to Bryce, “I was sent to give you this.” He handed her the rifle.

With shaking hands, Bryce took it. “Jesiba gave it to you?”

“No. I mean, yes, but …” Ithan’s eyes were wide. “There’s a bullet in there, full of the secondlight of the dead of Crescent City. Connor gave it to me. For you.”

“Connor?” Bryce swayed again, and Hunt caught her.

“There’s no time to explain,” Ithan said, “but the dead sent me to give you that rifle, and that bullet.” Ithan’s eyes shone bright. “Connor said to make it count, Bryce.”

Bryce looked down at the rifle in her hands, weighing it. Hunt asked, “What use is one bullet of secondlight against an Asteri?”

“Not against an Asteri,” Bryce said. “That bullet is a secondlight bomb.”

Ithan nodded, apparently getting what she meant more than Hunt did.

“I don’t have enough strength to teleport both of us back to the core,” Bryce said, and took Hunt’s hand. She pressed something cold into it.

Her words struck, and Hunt spat, “Fuck that.” His temper flared. “Fuck that, Bryce, let’s go blast that monster to Hel—”

“Get out of the palace,” Bryce warned, and teleported. Alone.

Taking the Godslayer Rifle with her, and leaving the Mask in Hunt’s hand.

She had one shot.

Last time, Lehabah had bought her the two seconds it cost to line up that shot.

This time, there was no fire sprite to save her. No synth to fuel her. Only training that Randall had hammered into her over the years. She sent a silent prayer of thanks to him.

One shot, straight down into the tunnel that Hunt had made, to blast apart the last of the crystal around the core and release all that firstlight.

She knew what lining up the shot would cost her. Knew that in the second it took to aim, Rigelus would launch his power at her, and there would be no wall of Hunt’s lightning to keep it at bay.

Bryce savored the whipping, wild wind around her as she teleported—one last time, propelling herself through the world.

She lifted the rifle to her shoulder, clicking off the safety, and then she was there in the core room, debris and crystal everywhere, her rifle already aimed at the hole in the center.

But Rigelus was not alone. The three other remaining Asteri now stood with him, the four of them a solid wall between Bryce and the firstlight core. At least another one was dead, if the slowing of the world a few minutes ago was any indication. But four remained.

Bryce’s finger stalled on the trigger. To waste the bullet on them—

“Don’t you want to know what you risk, before you act so recklessly?” Rigelus said smugly. He didn’t wait for her to answer. “You destroy the firstlight core, and you destroy Midgard itself.”


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