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.
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—
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.
“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.
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?
“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?”
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.”