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House of Sky and Breath: Part 3 – Chapter 72

Athalar paced in a tight circle. “She should be back.”

“She’s got two minutes,” Ruhn growled, clenching the comm-crystal so hard in his fist it was a wonder the edges weren’t permanently etched into his fingers.

Hunt said, “Something happened. She should be here by now.”

Ruhn eyed the watch on his wrist. They had to make it down to the dungeons. And if they didn’t start immediately … He peered at the crystal in his hand.

Day, he said, throwing her name out into the void. But no answer came. Like every other attempt to reach her recently.

“I’m going to get a head start,” he murmured, pocketing the crystal. “I’ll cloak myself in my shadows. If I’m not back in ten minutes, leave without me.”

“We all go together,” Hunt shot back, but Ruhn shook his head. “We’ll come find you.”

Ruhn didn’t reply before he slipped down the hall, blending into the darkness, and aimed for the passageways that would take him across the palace compound. To the dungeons and the agent trapped within them.

Bryce raced back to the top of the stairs, bile burning her throat.

She’d been here too long. Could only spare a minute or two more.

She reached the door and the landing, rallying what remained of Hunt’s charge to teleport back to him and Ruhn, but the door handle seemed to gleam. What else lay down here? What else might she uncover? If this was her only opportunity …

Bryce didn’t let herself doubt as she slipped into the main archives hallway. It was dim and dusty. Utterly silent.

Shelves crammed with books loomed around her, and Bryce scanned their titles. Nothing of interest, nothing of use—

She sprinted through the library, reading titles and names of sections as fast as she could, praying that Declan had kept up and was moving the cameras away from her. She scanned the vague section titles above the stacks. Tax Records, Agriculture, Water Processing …

The doors along this stretch had been named similarly to each other—not in code, but along a theme.

Dawn. Midnight. Midday. She had no idea what any of the names meant, or what lay behind the door. But one in the center snared her eye: Dusk.

She slipped inside.

Bryce was late. Hunt stayed put only because his secure phone had flashed with a message from Declan. She’s okay. She went into a room called Dusk. I’ll keep you posted.

Of course Quinlan was doing extra research. Of course she couldn’t listen to the rules and be back when she was supposed to—

Then again, Dusk could have something to do with Dusk’s Truth. No wonder Bryce had entered.

Hunt paced again. He should have gone with her. Made her teleport him in, even if it would have drained her at a time when they’d need all her gifts.

Ruhn had already been gone for three minutes. A lot could happen in that time.

“Come on, Bryce,” Hunt murmured, and prayed to Cthona to keep his mate safe.

Cloaked in shadows, Ruhn raced down the halls, encountering no one. Not one guard.

It was too quiet.

The hall opened into a wide fork: To the left lay the dungeons. To the right, the stairs up to the palace proper. He went left without hesitation. Down the stairs that turned from cloudy quartz to dark stone, like the life had been sucked from the rock. His skin chilled.

These dungeons … Athalar had made it out, but most never did.

Ruhn’s stomach churned, and he slowed his pace, readying himself for the gauntlet ahead. Checkpoints of guards—easy enough to avoid with his shadows—locked doors, and then two halls of cells and torture chambers. Day had to be somewhere in there.

Screams began leaking out. Male, thankfully. But they were wrenching. Pleading. Sobbing. He wished he could plug his ears. If Day was making a similar sound, in such agony …

Ruhn kept going—until Mordoc stepped into his path with a feral grin. He sniffed once, that bloodhound gift no doubt feeding him a host of information before he said, “You’re a long way from cavorting with spies in the alleys of Lunathion, Prince.”

Tharion raced behind Cormac, a shield of water around them as the prince hurled ball after ball of fire into the chaotic, smoky lab. Chunks of rupturing machines flew toward them, smoldering—and Tharion intercepted them as best he could.

The doctor had led them right into the lab without a second thought. Cormac had put a bullet through the male’s head a moment later, then ended the lives of the screaming scientists and engineers around him.

“Are you fucking insane?” Tharion screamed as they ran. “You said we’d limit the casualties!”

Cormac ignored him. The bastard had gone rogue.

Tharion snarled, half debating whether to overpower the prince. “Is this any better than what Pippa Spetsos does?”

Tharion got his answer a second later. Gunfire crackled behind them, and rebels stormed in. Right on time.

Imperial Vanir reinforcements roared as they rushed in—and were drowned out by the barrage of guns. An ambush.

Would it be enough to draw the Asteri’s attention away? Cormac had incinerated the jeep with his fire magic moments before they’d shot the doctor—surely that would warrant a message to the Asteri. And this shitshow unfolding …

Cormac skidded to a stop, Tharion with him. Both of them fell silent.

A familiar female, clad in black and armed with a rifle, stepped into their path.

Pippa pointed the gun at Cormac. “I’ve been looking forward to this.” Her rifle cracked, and Cormac teleported, but too slowly. His powers were drained.

Blood sprayed a moment before Cormac vanished—then appeared behind Pippa.

The bullet had passed through his shoulder, and Tharion launched into movement as Pippa twisted toward the prince.

Tharion was stopped by shaking ground, though. A glowing, electrified sword plunged into the floor in front of him.

A mech-suit sword.

Cormac shouted to Tharion, “Get out of here!” The prince faced off against Pippa as the woman fired again.

Tharion knew that tone. Knew that look. And it was then that he understood.

Cormac hadn’t just gone rogue. He’d never intended to get out of here alive.

The door marked Dusk had been left unlocked. Bryce supposed she had Declan to thank for the dead electronic keypad.

Braziers of firstlight glowed in the corners of the room, dimly illuminating the space. A round table occupied the middle. Seven seats around it.

Her blood chilled.

A small metal machine sat in the center of the table. A projection device. But Bryce’s attention snagged on the stone walls, covered in paper.

Star-maps—of constellations and solar systems, marked up with scribbled notations and pinned with red dots. Her mouth dried out as she approached the one nearest. A solar system she didn’t recognize, with five planets orbiting a massive sun.

One planet in the habitable zone had been pinned and labeled.

Rentharr. Conq. A.E. 14000.

A.E. She didn’t know that dating system. But she could guess what Conq. meant.

Conquered … by the Asteri? She’d never heard of a planet called Rentharr. Scribbled beside it was a brief note: A bellicose, aquatic people. Primordial land life. Little supply. Terminated A.E. 14007.

“Oh gods,” Bryce breathed, and went to the next star-map.

Iphraxia. Conq. A.E. 680. Lost A.E. 720.

She read the note beside it and her blood iced over. Denizens learned of our methods too quickly. We lost many to their unified front. Evacuated.

Somewhere out in the cosmos, a planet had managed to kick out the Asteri.

Map to map, Bryce read the notes. Names of places that weren’t known in Midgard. Worlds that the Asteri had conquered, with notations about their use of firstlight and how they either lost or controlled those worlds. Fed on them until there was nothing left.

Fed on their power … like she had with the Gate. Was she no better than them?

The rear wall of the chamber held a map of this world.

Midgard, the map read. Conq. A.E. 17003.

Whatever A.E. was, if they’d been on this planet for fifteen thousand years, then they’d existed in the cosmos for far, far longer than that.

If they could feed off firstlight, generate it somehow on each planet … could they live forever? Truly immortal and undying? Six ruled this world, but there’d originally been a seventh. How many existed beyond them?

Pages of notes on Midgard had been pinned to the wall, along with drawings of creatures.

Ideal world located. Indigenous life not sustainable, but conditions prime for colonization. Have contacted others to share bounties.

Bryce’s brow furrowed. What the Hel did that mean?

She peered at a drawing of a mer beside a sketch of a wolf shifter. The aquatic shifters can hold a hybrid form far more easily than those on land.

She read the next page, with a drawing of a Fae female. They did not see the old enemy who offered a hand through space and time. Like a fish to bait, they came, and they opened the gates to us willingly. They walked through them—to Midgard—at our invitation, leaving behind the world they knew.

Bryce backed away from the wall, crashing into the table.

The Asteri had lured them all into this world from other planets. Somehow, using the Northern and Southern Rifts, or whatever way they traveled between worlds, they’d … drawn them into this place. To farm them. Feed off them. Forever.

Everything was a lie. She’d known a lot of accepted history was bullshit, but this …

She twisted to the projector device in the center of the table and stretched an arm to hit the button. A three-dimensional, round map of the cosmos erupted. Stars and planets and nebulas. Many marked with digital notes, as the papers on the walls had been.

It was a digital orrery. Like the metal one she’d glimpsed as a kid in the Autumn King’s study. Like the one in the Astronomer’s chamber.

Was this what Danika had learned in her studies on bloodlines? That they’d all come from elsewhere—but had been lured and trapped here? And then fed on by these immortal leeches?

The map of the universe rotated above her. So many worlds. Bryce reached out to touch one. The digital note immediately appeared beside it.

Urganis. Children were ideal nutrition. Adults incompatible.

She swallowed against the dryness in her throat. That was it. All that remained of a distant world. A note about whether its people made for good eating and what the Asteri had done to its young.

Was there a home planet? Some original world the Asteri had come from, bled so dry that they’d needed to go hunting in the wilds of space?

She began flicking through planets, one after another after another, clawing past the stars and cosmic clouds of dust.

Her heart stopped at one.


The ground seemed to slide away from beneath her.

Hel. Lost A.E. 17001.

She had to sink into one of the chairs as she read the note. A dark, cold world with mighty creatures of night. They saw through our lures. Once warring factions, the royal armies of Hel united and marched against us. We were overwhelmed and abandoned their world, but they gave chase. Learned from our captured lieutenants how to slip between the cracks in realms.

Bryce was dimly aware of her shaking body, her shallow breaths.

They found us on Midgard in 17002. Tried to convince our lured prey of what we were, and some fell to their charms. We lost a third of our meals to them. War lasted until nearly the end of 17003. They were defeated and sent back to Hel. Far too dangerous to allow them access to this world again, though they might try. They developed attachments to the Midgard colonists.

“Theia,” Bryce whispered hoarsely. Aidas had loved the Fae queen, and …

Hel had come to help, exactly as Apollion had said. Hel had kicked the Asteri from their own world, but … Tears stung her eyes. The demon princes had felt a moral obligation to chase after the Asteri so they might never prey upon another world. To spare others.

Bryce began sifting through planets again. So many worlds. So many people, their children with them.

It had to be here—the Asteri’s home world. She’d find it and tell the Princes of Hel about it, and once they were done beating these assholes into dust here on Midgard, they’d go to that home world and they’d blow it the fuck up—

She was sobbing through her teeth.

This empire, this world … it was just one massive buffet for the six beings ruling it.

Hel had tried to save them. For fifteen thousand years, Hel had never stopped trying to find a way back here. To free them from the Asteri.

“Where the fuck did you come from?” she seethed.

Worlds ripped past her fingertips, along with the Asteri’s dispassionate notes. Most planets were not as lucky as Hel had been.

They rose up. We left them in cinders.

Firstlight tasted off. Terminated world.

Denizens launched bombs at us that left planet and inhabitants too full of radiation to be viable food. Left to rot in their waste.

Firstlight too weak. Terminated world but kept several citizens who produced good firstlight to sustain us on travels. Children proved hearty, but did not take to our travel method.

These psychotic, soulless monsters

“You will not find our home world there,” a cold voice said through the intercom on the table. “Even we have forgotten where its ruins lie.”

Bryce panted, only rage coursing through her as she said to Rigelus, “I am going to fucking kill you.


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