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House of Sky and Breath: Part 3 – Chapter 62

Hypaxia’s chants rose in volume and complexity, the full moon with them. It silvered the orchard.

Ithan shivered against the cold. He knew that it wasn’t due to the night around them, or the autumn unfolding. No, the air had been pleasantly warm a moment ago. Whatever Hypaxia’s magic was doing, it was bringing the frigid temperatures with it.

“I can feel … a presence,” the witch-queen whispered, arms lifted toward the moon, beautiful face solemn. “Someone is coming.”

Ithan’s mouth dried out. What would he even say to Connor? I love you would likely be the first. I miss you every minute of every damn day would be the second. Then the warning. Or should it be the warning first? He shook out his trembling fingers at his sides.

“Get ready to say your piece. Your brother’s spirit is … strong. I’m not sure how long I can hold the star.”

Something weirdly like pride rose in him at that. But Ithan stepped closer, breathing evenly. Exactly as he had before important games, during game-winning shots. Focus. He could do this. He’d deal with the repercussions later.

The star she’d drawn glowed a faint blue, illuminating the trees around them.

“One more moment …” Hypaxia hissed, panting, a faint sheen on her temples. Like this was draining the power out of her.

Light ruptured from the star, blinding and white, a great wind shaking the trees around them, sending olives scattering in a pitter-patter. Ithan squeezed his eyes shut against it, letting his claws slide free.

When the wind stopped, he blinked, adjusting his vision. His brother’s name died in his throat.

A creature, tall and thin and robed, lurked in the center of the six-pointed star. Hypaxia let out a soft gasp. Ithan’s stomach clenched. He’d never seen the male, but he’d seen drawings.

The Under-King.

“You were not summoned,” Hypaxia said, mastering her surprise. She lifted her chin, every inch the queen. “Return to the misty isle over which you rule.”

The Under-King laughed at the witch. Her body shimmered with pale blue light. Like she was rallying her power. But the Under-King slowly turned his head to Ithan. Let out another dry, husky laugh.

“Young fools. You play with powers beyond your ken.” His voice was horrible. Full of dusty bones and the pleading screams of the dead.

Yet Hypaxia didn’t back down an inch. “Be gone, and let us see the one whom I have summoned.”

Ithan’s hand drifted toward his gun. It wouldn’t do anything. His wolf form would protect him better with its speed, but even losing that split second to shifting might make him vulnerable, and cost Hypaxia her life.

The Under-King extended a bony hand. Light rippled where it met the edge of the star. “Do not fear, wolf pup. I cannot harm you. Here, at least.” He grinned, exposing too-large brown teeth.

Ithan bristled and he found his voice at last as he growled, “I want to speak to my brother.”

Beside him, Hypaxia was murmuring under her breath, the light around her building.

“Your brother is well cared for.” Dark fire danced in the Under-King’s milky eyes. “But whether that remains so now depends entirely on you.”

“What the Hel does that mean?” Ithan demanded. But the witch-queen had tensed. Wind stirred her curly hair, as if she were readying her defenses.

The Under-King lifted a bony hand, and an eerie, greenish light wreathed his fingers. Ithan could have sworn ancient, strange symbols swirled in that light. “Let’s play a little game first.” He inclined his head to Hypaxia, whose face had gone stony—anticipatory. “The House of Flame and Shadow has long been curious about your … abilities, Your Majesty.”

Bryce knew she was dreaming. Knew she was physically in her bed. Knew she was currently tucked up against Hunt’s side. But she also knew that the being in front of her was real—even if the setting was not.

She stood on a vast, dusty plain before an azure, cloudless sky. Distant dry mountains studded the horizon, but she was surrounded only by rock and sand and emptiness.

“Princess.” The voice was like Hel embodied: dark and icy and smooth.

“Prince.” Her voice shook.

Apollion, Prince of the Pit, had chosen to appear in a golden-haired, golden-skinned body. Handsome in the way that ancient statues were handsome, in the way that Pollux was handsome.

His black eyes, however, gave him away. No whites anywhere. Only unending darkness.

The Star-Eater himself.

She asked, trying to master her shaking, “Where are we?”

“Parthos. Or what remains of it.”

The barren land seemed to stretch on forever. “In the real world, or in, like, dreamworld?”

He angled his head, more animal than humanoid. “Dreamworld. Or what you consider to be dreams.”

She wasn’t going to touch that one. “All right, then. Um … nice to meet you.”

Apollion’s mouth curved upward. “You do not cower before me.”

“Aidas kind of ruined your scary-monster vibe.”

A soulless laugh. “My brother has the tendency to be a thorn in my side.”

“Maybe he should join this conversation.”

“Aidas would be angry with me for speaking with you. That’s why I picked this moment, when he is conveniently occupied.”

“With what?”

“Raising Hel’s armies. Readying them.”

Her breath hitched. “To invade Midgard?”

“It’s been long in the making.”

“I’m going to make a request on behalf of my planet and say please stay in your own world.”

Another twitch of his mouth. “You do not trust us. Good. Theia did. It was her downfall.”

“The Starborn Queen?”

“Yes. Aidas’s great love.”

Bryce started. “His what?”

Apollion waved a broad hand to the ruined world around them. “Why do you think I slew Pelias? Why do you think I went on to devour Sirius? All for him. My foolish, lovesick brother. In such a rage over Theia’s death at Pelias’s hands. His folly lost us that phase of the war.”

Bryce had to blink. “I’m sorry, but please back up. You summoned me into this dream to tell me about how Aidas, Prince of the Chasm, was the lover of Theia, the first Starborn Queen, even though they were enemies?”

“They were not enemies. We were her allies. She and some of her Fae forces allied with us—against the Asteri.”

Her mouth dried out. “Why didn’t he tell me this? Why are you telling me this?”

“Why are you not yet master of your powers? I was very clear: I told your mate you must both explore your potential.”

“Did you send those Reapers to jump me and Ruhn?”

“What Reapers?” She could have sworn his confusion was sincere.

“The ones who told me the same exact thing, to master my powers.”

“I did no such thing.”

“That’s what the Under-King said. I’m guessing one of you is lying.”

“This is not a useful debate. And I do not appreciate being called a liar.” Pure threat laced the words.

But Bryce steeled herself. “You’re right—it’s not a useful debate. So answer my question: Why the Hel are you telling me any of this stuff about Aidas and Theia?” If he spoke true, and Hel hadn’t been their enemy back then … Whatever side Theia had ruled, she’d been … against the Asteri. And Pelias had killed her—fighting for the Asteri.

Her mind spun. No wonder nobody knew about Theia. The Asteri had likely erased her from history. But a Fae Queen had loved a demon prince. And he had loved her enough to …

“I am telling you this because you are racing blind toward your doom. I am telling you this because tonight the veil between our worlds is thinnest and I might finally speak to you.”

“You spoke to Hunt before.”

“Orion was bred to be receptive to our kind. Why do you think he is so adept at hunting us? But that is of no matter. This night, I might appear to you—as more than a vision.” He reached out a hand, and Bryce flinched as it touched her. Truly touched her, ice so cold it ached. “Hel is nearly ready to finish this war.”

She took a step back. “I know what you’re going to ask, and my answer is no.”

“Use the Horn. The power Athalar gives you can activate it.” His eyes danced with storms. “Open the doors to Hel.”

“Absolutely fucking not.”

Apollion chuckled, low and lethal. “What a disappointment.” The plain that had been Parthos began to fade into nothing. “Come find me in Hel when you learn the truth.”

Ithan pivoted slowly, eyeing the shadows where the Under-King had stood—and vanished.

“Don’t move from this spot,” Hypaxia warned him, voice low. “I can feel his power all around us. He’s turned this clearing into a labyrinth of wards.”

Ithan sniffed, as if it’d give him some sense of what the Hel she was talking about. But nothing appeared to have changed. No creatures jumped out at them. Still, he said, “I’ll follow your lead.”

Hypaxia scanned the sky. “He warded above us, too. To keep us grounded.” She crinkled her nose. “Right. On foot it is.”

Ithan swallowed. “I, ah … got your back?”

She chuckled. “Just keep up, please.”

He gave her a determined smile. “You got it.”

Ithan braced himself as Hypaxia took a step forward, hand extended. Her fingers recoiled at whatever ward she encountered, right as a low snarl sounded from the trees beyond.

The hair on his neck rose. His wolf senses told him it wasn’t an animal’s snarl. But it sounded … hungry.

Another one rippled from nearby. Then another. All around them.

“What is that?” Ithan breathed, even his Vanir eyes failing to pierce the darkness.

Hypaxia’s hands glowed white-hot with magic. She didn’t take her gaze off the trees ahead of them. “The hunting hounds of the House of Flame and Shadow,” she said grimly before slamming her hand against the ward in front of them.


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