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House of Sky and Breath: Part 3 – Chapter 64

Tharion strolled through the Meat Market, casually browsing the stalls. Or at least, he tried to appear casual. While surveying an array of luck stones, he kept an ear open. In the midday bustle, the general assortment of lowlifes had come here for lunch, shopping, or fucking, and at this point, they’d likely have downed at least a few drinks. Which meant loose tongues.

I hear the bitch is already pregnant, one satyr grunted to another as they sat around a barrel converted into a table, smoked kebabs half-eaten in front of them. Ephraim’s been fucking her good.

Tharion pushed aside his disgust at the crude words. He hated that word—bitch. How many times had it been thrown at his sister whenever she’d ventured Above? She’d always laughed it off, and Tharion had laughed it off with her, but now … He shook off the pang of guilt and moved to the next stall, full of various types of mushrooms from the damp forests to the northeast.

He checked his phone—the quick message exchange between him and Pax.

What happened? Are you all right? he’d written nearly an hour ago, after running into her and Holstrom in the hall of the Aux training center. She’d been dirty and tired-looking, and he hadn’t been able to so much as ask if she was okay, because he’d been on the phone with the River Queen. Who had wanted updates on Emile.

Which was why he had come here. To maintain the fiction that he was hunting for the kid. He figured he’d do some listening to the idle chatter while pretending, though. Pick up gossip from the city creeps.

His phone buzzed, and Tharion scanned the message on the screen before loosing a long breath. Hypaxia had written, I’m fine. Just some Flame and Shadow posturing.

He didn’t like that one bit. But what the Hel could he do about any of it?

“Lion’s head is in season,” said the gnome perched on a stool behind the baskets of fungi, drawing Tharion from his thoughts. “Morels finished their run, but I’ve got one last basket left.”

“Only browsing,” Tharion said, flashing a smile at the rosy-cheeked, red-capped male.

“Let me know if you have any questions,” the gnome said, and Tharion again tuned in to the tables behind him.

Fight last night was brutal. There was nothing left of that lion after—

I drank so much I can’t remember who the Hel I was fucking—

—that dragon finished with them. Only embers—

I need more coffee. They should give us the day off after a holiday, you know?

Tharion stilled. Slowly turned, pinpointing the speaker who’d snagged his attention.


Well, that was interesting. And … fortunate.

He’d been lounging on that bench while Legs trained, needing the company of others as a distraction from the shuddering earthquake of nerves after last night. He’d fucked the leopard shifter in the garden shadows. Had enjoyed every second of it, and from her two orgasms, she had, too.

He might have walked away from the River Queen’s daughter last night, but he hadn’t told her that. As far as the River Queen and her daughter knew, and judging by the former’s tone on the phone earlier when she’d called to ask about the hunt for Emile, they were still engaged. But if either of them found out …

If they found out, wouldn’t it be convenient to have a dragon to offer as an apology present? Wouldn’t a dragon be perfect in lieu of Emile?

“This place isn’t nearly as fun when you’re sober,” Flynn observed from behind him thirty minutes later as he approached in civilian clothes, precisely as Tharion had requested. The attire did little to hide the gun tucked down the back of his shorts.

Tharion hadn’t dared say much on the phone when he’d asked the Fae lord to meet him here. And while Flynn might act like an unworried frat boy, Tharion knew he was too smart to risk asking questions on an open phone line.

Tharion rose from a table in the midst of the food stalls, where he’d been sipping coffee and filing old emails, and began a casual walk through the market. Low enough that no one—not even the fennec-fox shifter working a row over—would be able to hear, he said, “I found something you might be interested in.”

Flynn feigned typing into his phone. “Yeah?”

Tharion muttered out of the corner of his mouth, “Remember how your new best friend with the … fiery temperament went missing?”

“You found Ari?” Flynn’s voice had become dangerously solemn. A voice that few ever heard, Tharion knew. Unless they were about to die.

Tharion pointed toward the wooden walkway built above the market. Leading toward an ordinary door that he knew opened into a long hallway. Two blank-faced Fae guards armed with semiautomatic rifles stood before it. “I’ve got a wild guess about where she might be.”

Now he had to figure out how to get the dragon Beneath.

Tharion eyed the bare-bones wooden hallway as he and Flynn strode down the worn planks, aiming for a round door at its far end. It looked like the entry to a vault, solid iron that didn’t reflect the dim firstlights.

They’d been halted at the first door by the Viper Queen’s guards. Flynn had snarled at them, but the males had ignored him, their drug-hazed eyes unblinking as they radioed their leader. That Tharion knew of this door at all told her guards he was important enough to warrant a call.

And here they were. About to go into the Viper Queen’s nest.

The massive vault door swung open when they were about ten feet away, revealing ornate red carpets—definitely Traskian—over marble floors, three tall windows with heavy black velvet drapes held back with chains of gold, and low-slung couches designed for lounging.

The Viper Queen was sitting on one of them in a white jumpsuit, feet bare, toenails painted a purple so dark it was almost black. The same color as her lipstick. Her gold-tipped nails, however, glinted in the soft lights as she lifted a cigarette to her mouth and puffed away.

But beside her, sprawled on the couch …

He’d been right. The Viper Queen did like to collect valuable fighters.

“Ari,” Flynn said tightly, halting just beyond the door. Mirthroot hung heavy in the air, along with a secondary, cloying scent that Tharion could only assume was another drug.

The dragon, clad in black leggings and a tight black tank top, didn’t take her eyes off the massive TV mounted above the dark fireplace across the room. But she replied, “Tristan.”

“Good to see you,” Flynn said, voice taking on that dangerously low quality that so few lived to tell about. “Glad you’re in one piece.”

The Viper Queen chuckled, and Tharion braced himself. “The lion she fought last night can’t say the same. Even confined to her humanoid form, she is … formidable.”

Tharion grinned sharply at the ruler of the Meat Market. “Did you capture her?” He needed to know how she’d done it. If only so he could do it himself.

The Viper Queen’s snake eyes flared to a nearly neon green. “I’m not in the business of snatching slaves. Unlike some people I know.” She smirked at Ariadne. The dragon continued to stare at the TV with fixed intent. “She sought me out and asked for asylum, since she realized there was nowhere on Midgard she might flee from her captor. We reached a bargain that suited us both.”

So the dragon had come of her own free will. Maybe he could convince her to go Beneath. It’d be a Hel of a lot easier.

Even if once he got her down there, she’d never get out again.

“You’d rather be here,” Flynn asked the dragon, “fighting in her pit, than with us?”

“You threw me on guard duty,” Ari spat, at last snapping her attention from the TV to Flynn. Tharion didn’t envy the male as she fixed her burning gaze on him. “Is that any better than fighting in the pit?”

“Uh, yeah. A fuck-ton better.”

“You sound like someone who’s grown accustomed to his life being dull as dust,” Ari said, turning back to the TV.

“You’ve been trapped inside a ring for the gods know how long,” Flynn exploded. “What the Hel do you know about anything?”

Molten scales flowed under her skin, then vanished. Her face remained placid. Tharion wished he had some popcorn. But he caught the Viper Queen’s narrowed eyes on him.

She said coolly, “I remember you: dead sister. Rogue shifter.”

Tharion suppressed the flicker of ire at the casual reference to Lesia and threw the snake shifter his most charming smile. “That’s me.”

“And the River Queen’s Captain of Intelligence.”

“The one and only.” He winked. “Care to have a word?”

“Who am I to deny the wishes of the River Queen’s daughter’s beloved?” Tharion tensed, and her purple lips curled, the razor-sharp bob swaying as she rose. “Don’t roast the Faeling,” she said to Ariadne, then curled a finger at Tharion. “This way.”

She led him through a narrow hall lined with doors. He could see ahead that the corridor opened into another chamber. All he could make out of it was more carpets and couches as they approached. “Well, mer?”

Tharion huffed a laugh. “A few questions.”

“Sure.” She tapped ash from her cigarette into a glass ashtray atop the coffee table.

He opened his mouth, but they’d reached the room at the other end of the hall. It was a near-twin to the other, only its windows overlooked the fighting pit.

But sitting on one of the couches, with a pile of white powder that seemed a Hel of a lot like lightseeker on a small brass scale on the table before her …

“Let me guess,” Tharion drawled at the Harpy, who lifted her head from where a Fae male weighed out the drugs, “it’s not yours; it’s for a friend.”

The Harpy’s dark eyes narrowed with warning as she eased to her feet. “Here to narc on me, fish?”

Tharion smiled slowly. “Just paying a friendly visit.”

She turned her menacing stare to the Viper Queen, who slid her hands into her pockets and leaned against the far wall. “Did you sell me out?”

“This pretty hunk of meat waltzed in. Wanted a word. He knows the rules.”

Tharion did. This was the Viper Queen’s space. Her word was law. He had as little authority over her as he did the Asteri. And if he pulled anything, she had as much authority as the Asteri to end him. Likely by throwing him into that fighting pit and seeing how many of her fighters it took to kill him.

Tharion gestured to the doorway in a mockery of a bow. “I won’t trouble you.”

The Harpy glanced at the male who now scooped her lightseeker into a black velvet bag lined with plastic.

“VIP service, huh?” Tharion said to the Viper Queen, whose lips curved again.

“Only the best for my most valued clients,” she said, still leaning against the wall.

The Harpy snatched the bag from the Fae male, her black wings rustling. “Keep your mouth shut, mer. Or you’ll wind up in pieces like your sister.”

He let out a low growl. “Keep talking, hag, and I’ll show you what I did to the male who killed her.”

The Harpy chuckled, tucking her drugs into the pocket of her jacket, and walked out, wings a black cloud behind her.

“Buying or selling?” the Viper Queen asked him quietly as the Fae male packed up his drugs and scale and bustled out.

Tharion turned to her, willing the rage riding his temper to ease off. “You know that psychopath made blood eagles out of two rebels, don’t you?”

“Why do you think I invited her to be a client? Someone who does that kind of shit needs to take the edge off. Or keep it on, I suppose.”

Tharion shook off his disgust. “She talk to you about what those rebels were doing in this city?”

“Are you asking me to play spy, Captain?”

“I’m asking you whether you’ve heard anything about Ophion, or a commander named Pippa Spetsos.” He needed to know if and when Pippa and her Lightfall unit would make a move, even without that mech-suit prototype. If he could save innocent lives in this city, he would.

“Of course I have. Everyone’s heard of Ophion.”

Tharion ground his teeth. “You know what they’re up to?”

She took a long drag from her cigarette. “Information isn’t free.”

“How much?”

“The dragon’s good for business.” Her snake eyes didn’t move from his. “Fight last night brought in a lot of money. I worked out a deal with her: she’ll get a portion of profits from her wins, and it can go toward buying her freedom.”

“You don’t own her.” No matter that he wanted to hand her over to his queen like …

Fuck, like a slave.

“No, I don’t. That’s why I’ll need you to spin whatever bullshit your friends and their lawyer gave to the Astronomer. Something about royal commandeering?” The Viper Queen admired her immaculate nails. “Tell everyone her fighting here is a matter of imperial security.”

“No one will believe that.” And fuck, he needed that dragon. He needed her as an exit strategy out of this Emile situation. And any fallout for leaving the queen’s daughter.

“People believe anything when presented correctly.”

Tharion sighed at the mirrored ceiling. The dragon had at least agreed to be here, to fight toward her freedom, but …

The Viper Queen said, as if somehow reading or guessing his thoughts, “Even in that humanoid form, she can turn you into ashes if you try to bring her to the Blue Court.” Tharion glowered, but said nothing. She went on, “You and your little gaggle of friends have been awfully active lately. I might have let Quinlan talk me into a bargain for the kid, but I have no plans to let this dragon slip out of my hands.” A sharp smile. “You fools should have kept a tighter leash on her.”

Tharion gave her a sharp smile of his own. “It’s not my call whether she can stay here or not.”

“Get your royal friends and their legal team to spin their bullshit and we’ll be good, mer.”

Fuck. He was really going to walk out of here empty-handed, wasn’t he. His mind raced as he tried to think up some other prize to bring back to his queen, something to save his hide …

He’d figure it out later. When he wasn’t in front of a notoriously lethal Vanir.

He sighed and said, “If the dragon agrees, then whatever. We’ll spin our bullshit.”

“She already has.” Another sly smile.

“So tell me what Spetsos is up to.” If he could appear competent in his job as Captain of Intelligence, maybe the information about a rebel threat would keep his queen’s wrath at bay.

The Viper Queen pulled out her phone, checking the digital clock. “Call your friends and find out.”


But the Viper Queen had already turned back to the hall, to the dragon and Flynn at its other end.

Tharion dialed Hypaxia. Hunt. Then Bryce. Ithan. Ruhn. No one answered.

He didn’t dare put it into a message, but … He dialed Hunt again. “Pick the fuck up,” he murmured. “Pick the fuck up.”

For a moment, he flashed back to another day, when he’d tried and tried to call his sister only to get her audiomail, so he’d called his parents, asking if they’d spoken to her, if they knew where she was—

Tharion reached Flynn, who was sitting on the couch, engaging in a silent staring contest with Ariadne. He couldn’t keep the edge from his voice as he said, “Call Ruhn. See if he’ll pick up for you.”

“What’s wrong?” Flynn was instantly on his feet.

“Not sure,” Tharion said, heading for the door. He swallowed down those awful memories and his rising dread. “Any idea where they were today?”

The Viper Queen said behind them, sinking onto the couch again, “Good luck.”

Tharion and Flynn paused at the doorway. The Fae lord pointed to the dragon. “We’re not done here.”

Ariadne only watched the TV again, ignoring him.

Flynn snarled. “I’m coming back for you.”

Tharion tucked away the knowledge of what he’d done, what he’d bargained for this measly tip-off about Ophion and Spetsos. He’d tell Flynn later.

Ariadne’s stare turned to Flynn as the vault door swung open again. Black turned to red. “Spare your high-handedness for someone who wants it, lordling.”

Tharion stepped into the hall, phone again at his ear. Bryce didn’t answer.

But Flynn looked back at the dragon lounging in the Viper Queen’s nest. “We’ll see about that, sweetheart,” the Fae lord growled, and followed Tharion out.

Bryce had been to Urd’s Temple in Moonwood all of one time since moving to Crescent City years ago. She and Juniper had drunkenly taken a cab over here one night during college to make an offering to the goddess of fate to make sure their destinies were epic.

Literally, that was what she’d said.

Benevolent and Farseeing Urd, please make our destinies as epic as possible.

Well, she’d gotten it, Bryce thought as she strode up the steps of the gray marble temple. So had June, though … Sorrow and guilt and longing swarmed her at the thought of her friend.

The quiet street was empty of cars. Like the Under-King had cleared everything out.

Or maybe that was due to the other menacing presence they’d dodged near the intersection of Central and Laurel on their walk over here from the training center: Pollux and Mordoc. Two monsters abroad in the city, a unit of the Hind’s dreadwolves trailing behind them.

Searching for something. Or someone.

Hunt made sure no one was on the street behind the temple as Bryce, Ruhn, and Hypaxia entered. The Under-King had been very specific—only those four people were permitted to come. Ithan and Cormac hadn’t been happy to stay behind.

Beyond the temple’s courtyard—not a priestess in sight—the open doors to the inner sanctum beckoned, shadows and smoke within.

Bryce checked that the rifle across her back was in place, the handgun ready at her hip. Ruhn, on her left, carried the Starsword. She’d argued that it was impolite to arrive at a meeting bearing a weapon designed to kill Reapers, but the others overruled her. Ruhn would stay within arm’s reach at all times, in case she needed to draw the blade. Lightning crackled around Hunt as they stepped into the gloom.

Not trusting how long it could last—or whether she could even contain it within herself—she hadn’t asked him to transfer a charge to her. If it was needed, he could power her up in seconds.

A pyre smoked atop a black stone altar in the center of the temple. A stone throne on a dais loomed at the rear of the space. No statues ever adorned Urd’s Temple—no depiction of the goddess had ever been made. Fate took too many forms to capture in one figure.

But someone was sitting on the throne.

“Punctual,” the Under-King intoned, his bony fingers clicking on the stone arm of the throne. “I appreciate that.”

“You desecrate that throne,” Ruhn warned. “Get your rotting carcass off it.”

The Under-King rose, black robes drifting on a phantom wind. “I thought the Fae bowed to Luna, but perhaps you remember the old beliefs? From a time when Urd was not a goddess but a force, winding between worlds? When she was a vat of life, a mother to all, a secret language of the universe? The Fae worshipped her then.”

Bryce feigned yawning, earning an alarmed look from Ruhn, who’d blanched at the sight of the Under-King descending from the dais. Hunt, at least, didn’t seem surprised. He’d grown accustomed to her antics, she supposed.

Hypaxia monitored every movement from the Under-King, wind stirring her hair. She had a score to settle after last night, it seemed.

“So,” Hunt drawled, “here to finish our business?”

The Under-King drifted to the black altar, his horrific face contorting with pleasure as he breathed in the smoldering bones atop it. “I wished to inform you that the Reapers you so hatefully accused me of sending after you were in fact not Apollion’s at all. I’ve discovered that they hailed from the Eternal City.”

Bryce stiffened. “Reapers can cross oceans?”

“Reapers once crossed worlds. I don’t see how some water might deter them.”

“Why come here to attack us?” Hunt demanded.

“I don’t know.”

“And why tell us this at all?” Bryce went on.

“Because I do not appreciate my territory being infringed upon.”

“Bullshit,” Ruhn said. Hypaxia trailed a few steps behind him. “You told them the horrible truth about what happens after death, and yet you’re willing to let them live now because you’re pissed that someone stepped on your toes?”

His eyes—his dead, milky eyes—fixed on Bryce. “You are officially a princess now, I hear. I suspect you will learn a great deal of equally unpleasant truths.”

“You’re hedging,” Ruhn growled.

But Bryce asked, “Did Jesiba speak to you?”


“Jesiba Roga. Antiquities dealer. She has—had—a few Death Marks. She must know you. She knows everyone.”

The Under-King’s eyes glowed. “I do not know her by that name, but yes. I know of her.” His gaze drifted behind her, to Hypaxia at last. “You did well last night. Few could have worked their way through that labyrinth of spells. The House of Flame and Shadow will welcome you.”

The breeze around Hypaxia rose to a chill wind, but she didn’t deign to speak. Bryce made a note to herself to never get on the queen’s bad side.

Hunt cut in, “You summoned us here to give us this convenient update about those Reapers, and now you want to play nice? I don’t buy it.”

The Under-King only smiled, revealing those too-large brown teeth.

Bryce said, “What does this sequence mean?” She rattled off what had been on Sofie’s arm.

The Under-King blinked. “I don’t know.” He smiled again, wider. “But perhaps you should ask them.” He pointed behind her to the doorway. The world beyond.

Where Pippa Spetsos was marching into the courtyard of the temple, flanked by Lightfall soldiers.

Hunt’s lightning flared. “You tipped off Ophion,” he snarled, even as he began calculating the fastest route out of the temple.

Ruhn, already at the inner sanctum doors, slammed them shut and barred them. Locking them in with the Under-King.

Pippa’s voice came through the doors. “Come play, Vanir scum. We’ll show you what happens when you turn on us.”

Hypaxia’s face paled. “You were … working with the rebels?”

“Emphasis on were,” Bryce muttered. Not that it made a difference right now.

The Under-King’s figure began to fade away. An illusion. A projection. Hunt didn’t bother to wonder how he had done it, had made the details seem so real. “War means death. Death means souls—and more secondlight. Who am I to turn away from a feeding trough? Commander Spetsos’s first act upon arriving in Crescent City was to kneel before me. When she mentioned the enemies in their ranks, I took it upon myself to inform her of our … altercation. We made a deal that is in both of our best interests.”

The rebels would claim the kill, sparing the Under-King any political fallout, but the creep would be satisfied that he’d played a role in slaughtering them, and receive whatever souls would wind up in his realm. A whole lot of them, if Pippa was on the move.

Bryce bristled, starlight shimmering from her. “And were you lying when you claimed you didn’t send the Reapers after me and Ruhn those weeks ago?”

“I spoke true then and I speak true now. I had no involvement in that. Why should I lie to you, when I have already revealed so much?”

“Keep playing these games, and you’ll make enemies of all of us,” Ruhn warned the king.

The Under-King faded into shadows. “Death is the only victor in war.” Then he was gone.

A bullet boomed against the metal door. Then another. Pippa was still shouting her vitriol.

“Any ideas?” Hunt asked. If the rebels had gorsian bullets, this would get messy very quickly. And bring a huge crowd to witness the disaster.

Bryce grabbed Hunt’s hand. Pushed it on her chest. “Level me up, Athalar.”

Ruhn jerked his chin toward Hypaxia. “Take her with you.”

The witch-queen glared at the Fae Prince in reproach, but Bryce shook her head, keeping her hand over Hunt’s. Her fingers tightened, the only sign of her nerves as she said, “I’ve never brought anyone along. I need all my focus right now.”

Good. At least she was being smart about this. Hunt held his mate’s gaze, letting her see his approval, his encouragement. He wouldn’t waste time asking what she planned. Bryce was brilliant enough to have something figured out. So Hunt let his lightning flow, setting it zinging through his hand and into her chest.

Her star began glowing beneath his fingers, as if in greedy anticipation. Another barrage of bullets clanged against the door.

His lightning flowed into her like a river, and he could have sworn he heard a beautiful sort of music between their souls as Bryce said, “We need reinforcements.”

Ruhn contained his panic as his sister, charged up with a spike of Athalar’s lightning, vanished into nothing.

An impact rocked the metal doors into the inner sanctum. Why hadn’t the Aux been summoned yet? He reached for his phone. If he called in help, there would be questions about why they’d even been here in the first place. He’d already tried Cormac, but the male had sent him to audiomail, and then messaged that he was talking to the King of Avallen. There was no way the prince would interrupt that call.

They were trapped.

He pivoted to Hypaxia, who was scanning the sanctum, searching for any hidden doors. “There has to be another exit,” she said, running her hands over the walls. “No temple ever has just one way in and out.”

“This one might,” Hunt grumbled.

Bryce reappeared, and Ruhn marked every detail of his panting sister. “Easy peasy,” Bryce declared, but her face was sweaty, her eyes dim with exhaustion. What the Hel had she gone off to do?

Another bang on the doors, and the metal dented.

“What the fuck was that?” Ruhn drew the Starsword.

“We need to get out of here now,” Bryce said, going to Hunt’s side. “We have time, but not much.”

“Then teleport us out.”

She shook her head. “I don’t know if I can do it—”

“You can,” Athalar said, absolutely certain. “You just teleported in and out. You’ve got this. Steady your breathing, block out the noise, and focus.”

Her throat bobbed. But she reached for Athalar’s hand.

Hunt took a step away. “Hypaxia first. Then Ruhn.”

“I might not have enough strength—”

“You do. Go.”

Wariness and apprehension flooded his sister’s face. But Bryce kissed Athalar’s cheek, then grabbed the witch by the arm. “Hold on. I’ve never taken anyone with me like this and it might be …” Her words cut off as they disappeared.

Thank the gods. Thank the gods Bryce had made it out again, with Hypaxia in tow.

Hunt held his breath.

Ruhn said, “You should go next. You’re her mate.”

“You’re her brother. And heir to the Fae throne.”

“So is she.”

Hunt blinked at the prince, but then Bryce was back, panting. “Oh gods, that fucking sucked.” She retched, and reached a hand for Ruhn. “Come on.”

“Rest,” her brother ordered, but the doors dented further inward. Another few blows and they’d be open. And if Bryce’s plan didn’t get them a little more time …

Bryce grabbed Ruhn’s arm and before her brother could object, they vanished. Alone, Hunt monitored the door, rallied his lightning. He could charge her up again, but she was clearly exhausted. Would it do any good?

The doors shuddered, and light cracked in as they peeled apart a few inches.

Hunt ducked behind the altar, away from the spray of bullets that followed, blindly aiming for whoever was within. “There!” Pippa shouted, and guns trained on him.

Where the fuck was Bryce—

The doors blew open, throwing three Lightfall soldiers to the ground.

Pollux stood between the doors, white wings luminescent with power, laughing to himself as he brought a clenched fist down upon the head of a female rebel sprawled before him. Bone and blood sprayed. Beyond him, in the courtyard, rebels fired at Mordoc and the dreadwolves. And out in the street, standing beneath a palm tree, away from the fray, Hunt could see the Hind, surveying the brawl.

Bryce appeared and slid behind the altar. Her skin had gone ashen, her breaths uneven. Sharp. She lifted a shaking hand toward him. “I …” She collapsed to her knees. She didn’t need to say the rest. She was tapped out. Yet she’d come back to him. To fight her way out with him.

“Another charge?” he asked, lightning twining down his arms as he lifted her to her feet.

“I don’t think my body can take it.” She leaned against him. “I feel like overcooked meat.”

Hunt peered around the altar. “How’d you manage to buy us time?”

“The Gates,” Bryce panted. “I had to teleport to a few of them before I found one that was pretty empty and unwatched. I used the dial pad to broadcast a report that Ophion was sacking Urd’s Temple—right in the middle of one of those stupid daily announcements. I figured a unit would be sent here. Probably the biggest and baddest they had, which happened to also be the closest.”

He remembered now—they’d avoided Pollux and Mordoc, along with the Hind’s dreadwolves, on the walk over here. “Your voice will be recognized—”

“I recorded the message, then played it through the Gate using a voice-warping app,” she said with a grim smile. “And I made sure to move fast enough that the cameras couldn’t pick it up as more than a blur, don’t worry.”

He could only gape at her, his clever, brilliant Bryce. Gods, he loved her.

Crouching behind the altar again as the fighting pressed into the temple, Hunt breathed, “We have to find some way to get through those doors unseen.”

“If you can give me a minute …” She brushed a shaking hand to her chest. The scar there.

But Hunt knew. Only time would allow her to gain back her strength, and it would sure as fuck take longer than they had to spare.

Hunt banked his lightning, fearful Pollux would spy it. The Hammer drew closer, Mordoc a menacing shadow behind him. Where they walked, rebels died. Hunt couldn’t get a visual on Pippa.

Bryce panted, and Hunt scented her blood before he looked. Her nose was bleeding. “What the fuck?” he exploded, covering her with his body as a stray spray of bullets shot over the top of the altar.

“My brain might be soup,” she hissed, though fear shone in her eyes.

If he could unleash his lightning, he might be able to fry their way out. No matter that everyone would know who’d been there, especially if Mordoc picked up on the scents afterward, but … he’d take that chance. For Bryce, he’d risk it.

They could, of course, say that they had been fighting Ophion, but there was a chance that the Hind would decide this was the moment to reveal what she knew.

“Hold on to me,” Hunt warned, reaching for Bryce as something crept out of the shadows behind Urd’s throne.

A black dog. Massive, with fangs as long as Hunt’s hand.

The Helhound motioned to the throne with a clawed paw. Then he vanished behind it.

There was no time to think. Hunt scooped up Bryce and ran, ducking low through the shadows between the altar and the dais, praying no one saw them in the chaos and smoke—

He whipped behind the throne to find the space empty. No sign of Baxian.

A growl came behind him, and Hunt whirled to the back of the throne. It wasn’t solid stone at all, but an open doorway, leading into a narrow stairwell.

Hunt didn’t question their luck as he sprinted through the stone doorway. Baxian, now in angelic form, shoved it shut behind him. Sealing them entirely in darkness.

Baxian lit the tight steps downward with his phone. Hunt held on to Bryce. From the way she clung to him, he wasn’t entirely certain she could walk.

“I heard Pollux give the order to come here over the radio,” Baxian said, hurrying ahead, wings rustling. Hunt let the male lead, glancing behind them to ensure the door didn’t open. But the seal was perfect. Not so much as a crack of light shone. “Given how pissed Pippa was after Ydra, I figured it was you lot involved. I researched the history of this temple. Found rumors about the door hidden in the throne. It’s what took me some time—finding the tunnel entrance in. Some priestess must have used it recently, though. Her scent was all over the alley and fake wall that leads in here.”

Hunt and Bryce said nothing. That was twice now that Baxian had interfered to save them from the Hind and Pollux. And now Pippa.

“Is Spetsos dead?” Baxian asked, as they reached the bottom of the stairs and entered a long tunnel.

“Don’t know,” Hunt grunted. “She probably escaped and left her people to die.”

“Lidia will be pissed she didn’t catch her, but Pollux seemed to be enjoying himself,” Baxian said, shaking his head. They walked until they hit a crossroads flanked by skulls and bones placed in tiny alcoves. Catacombs. “I don’t think they had any clue you were there,” Baxian went on, “though how they got tipped off—”

Bryce moved, so fast Hunt didn’t have time to stop her from dropping out of his arms.

To stop her from unslinging her rifle and pointing it at Baxian. “Stop right there.”

Bryce wiped the blood dripping from her nose on her shoulder as she aimed the rifle at the Helhound, paused in the catacombs’ crossroads.

Her head pounded relentlessly, her mouth felt as dry as the Psamathe Desert, and her stomach was a churning eddy of bile. She was never teleporting again. Never, ever, ever.

“Why the fuck do you keep popping up?” Bryce seethed, not taking her attention off the Helhound. Hunt didn’t so much as move at her side. “Hunt says you’re not spying for the Hind or the Asteri, but I don’t fucking believe it. Not for one second.” She clicked off the safety. “So tell me the gods-damned truth before I put this bullet through your head.”

Baxian walked to one of the curved walls full of skulls. Didn’t seem to care that he was a foot away from the barrel of her gun. He ran a finger down the brown skull of what seemed to be some fanged Vanir, and said, “Through love, all is possible.”

The rifle nearly tumbled from her fingers. “What?”

Baxian peeled back the collar of his battle-suit, revealing brown, muscled flesh. And a tattoo scrawled over the angel’s heart in familiar handwriting.

Through love, all is possible.

She knew that handwriting. “Why,” she asked carefully, voice shaking, “do you have Danika’s handwriting tattooed on you?”

Baxian’s dark eyes became pained. Empty. “Because Danika was my mate.”


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