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House of Sky and Breath: Part 3 – Chapter 76

Hunt stared at his severed wings, mounted on the wall high above the Asteri’s thrones.

Shahar’s pristine white wings were displayed above his, still glowing after all these centuries, right in the center of the array. Isaiah’s were to the left of Hunt’s. So many wings. So many Fallen. All preserved here.

He’d known the Asteri had kept them. But seeing them …

It was proof of his failure. Proof that he should never have come here, that they should have told Ophion and Tharion and Cormac to fuck off—

“I did you a favor, killing the Harpy,” Bryce said to Rigelus, who watched her with lifeless eyes. At least the five others weren’t here. “She was a drag.”

Hunt blinked at his blood-splattered mate. Her eyes smoldered like coals, defiant and raging. She’d seen his wings, too.

Rigelus propped his slender chin on a fist, leaning a bony elbow against his throne. He appeared as a Fae boy of seventeen or so, dark-haired and gangly. A weak facade to veil the ancient monster beneath. “Shall we banter some more, Miss Quinlan, or can I get to the part where I order you to confess the names of your allies?”

Bryce smirked, and Hunt had never loved her more. On her other side, Ruhn glanced between the Asteri and his sister, as if trying to formulate a plan.

Hunt caught a familiar scent, and he twisted to see Baxian and Mordoc enter behind them. They walked to where the Hind and the Hammer stood by the pillars. Blocking the way out.

Rigelus had known of their mission here before they’d even reached Pangera’s shores—before they’d even set out. Mordoc had tracked their scents with that bloodhound’s gift all around the city, marking each location and reporting directly to the Bright Hand.

And Hunt had left his phone in Lunathion, for fear of it being tracked here. Baxian wouldn’t have been able to warn him, if he’d even been willing to risk doing so.

Hunt’s eyes met Baxian’s. The male revealed nothing. Not one bit of recognition.

Had everything he’d told them been a trap? A long con to get them here?

Bryce said to Rigelus, drawing Hunt’s attention away, “There is no one else. But let’s talk about how you’re intergalactic parasites who trick us into making the Drop so you can feed off our firstlight. And then feed off our souls’ secondlight when we die.”

Hunt went still. He could have sworn someone behind him—Baxian or the Hind, perhaps—started.

Rigelus snorted. “Is this your way of telling your companions what you know?”

Bryce didn’t avert her gaze. “Hel yeah, it is. Along with the fact that if we destroy that core of firstlight beneath this palace—”

“Silence,” Rigelus hissed, and the room shuddered with power.

But Hunt’s mind reeled. The Asteri, the firstlight … Bryce caught his stare, her eyes brimming with rage and purpose. There was more, she seemed to say. So much more to be used against the Asteri.

Rigelus pointed at Ruhn. “I’m sure you could enlighten me as to who has been helping you. I know of Prince Cormac—I’d hoped his rebel activities might be of use someday. When we learned of his treachery, the others wanted to kill him and be done with it, but I thought it might be … valuable to see where and to whom he led us. A Prince of the Fae would no doubt wind up around other powerful Vanir, perhaps even try to recruit some of them, and thus root out the corruption among our most loyal subjects. So why kill one traitor, when we could eventually kill many? Alas, he’s dead now. That’s where my other siblings are—drawn out to the lab, as you no doubt expected. But they reported that another male was with the prince, and fled.”

Bryce made a low sound in her throat.

Rigelus turned to her. “Oh yes. Cormac incinerated himself and the lab. A great setback, considering how useful he was, but one we shall overcome, of course. Especially with Pippa Spetsos among the dead.”

At least Tharion had escaped unidentified.

“Perhaps we shall call in your father to assist with the questioning,” Rigelus went on to Ruhn, bored and cool. “He was so skilled at wielding his fire to get things out of you when you were a boy.”

Ruhn stiffened.

Hunt took in Bryce’s blood-flecked features. He’d only once seen this level of rage on her face. Not toward Rigelus, but the male who’d sired her. It was the same rage he’d beheld that day she’d killed Micah.

“Isn’t that what so many of the tattoos are for?” Rigelus continued. “To hide the scars he left on you? I’m afraid we’ll have to ruin some of the ink this time around.”

Fucking Hel. Bryce’s lips had gone white from pressing them together so hard. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears.

Ruhn looked at his sister and said softly, “You brought so much joy into my life, Bryce.”

It was perhaps the only goodbye they’d be able to make.

Hunt reached for Bryce’s fingers, but she stepped forward. Lifted her chin in that defiant, fuck-you way he loved so much. “You want me to open a portal for you? Fine. But only if you let them go and agree to leave them unharmed. Forever.”

Hunt’s blood iced over. “That was why you lured us here?” he found himself demanding of the Asteri, even as he roared with outrage at Bryce’s offer.

Rigelus said, “I couldn’t very well snatch you off the streets. Not such notorious, public figures. Not without the right charges to bring you in.” A smirk at Bryce. “Your friend Aidas will be terribly disappointed to learn you couldn’t tell the difference between the real Prince of the Chasm and myself. He’s terribly vain in that way.”

Hunt started, but Bryce seethed, “You pretended to be Aidas that night.”

“Who else could break through the wards on your apartment? You didn’t even suspect anything when he encouraged you toward rebellious activities. Though I suppose credit for that goes to me—I played his rage about Theia and Pelias quite well, don’t you think?”

Fuck. He’d anticipated their every move.

Rigelus went on, “And you didn’t even look that hard into the Reapers I sent from this city to nudge you. The Bone Quarter was a testing ground for your true power, you see—since you seemed to have little awareness or interest in it all summer. You were to hone your powers, all so we might put them to good use. You played along beautifully.”

Hunt’s fingers curled into fists. He should have seen it—should have pushed Bryce away from this mess, should have taken her at the first hint of trouble and gone to a place where no one could ever find them.

But this was Midgard. No matter where they went, no matter how far from Lunathion or the Eternal City, the Asteri would always find them.

Rigelus sighed dramatically at their stunned silence. “This all seems very familiar, doesn’t it? A Starborn queen who allied with a Prince of Hel. Who trusted him deeply, and ultimately paid the price.”

Hunt mastered himself enough to nod toward the seventh, always empty throne. “Hel got one on you in the end, though, I think.”

Rigelus’s body glowed with ire, but his voice remained silky smooth. “I look forward to facing Apollion again. Mordoc suspected that the Star-Eater had been trying to get your attention these past weeks—to prod you along in his own way.”

So one Prince of Hel had been a fake, the other true. Apollion really had sent the deathstalkers, presumably to test Bryce’s powers—just as Rigelus also wanted—and Hunt’s own. And wanted it so badly that he was willing to risk her death should she not be up to the task.

But she’d teleported that night. Used that ability to defeat the deathstalkers. Had started to grasp the gift and progressed in leaps and bounds since then. Literally.

Apollion must have known she’d need those skills. Perhaps for this very moment.

The gorsian chains on Bryce’s wrists were unlocked. If she could throw them off, she could get out. If the Hind could somehow get his own chains off, he’d block the Asteri and Bryce could keep running.

Hunt said, one last try, “You’re full of shit, and Mordoc should get his nose checked. We’re not rebels. Celestina can vouch for us.”

Rigelus laughed, and Hunt bristled. “Celestina? You mean the Archangel who reported to me that you’d lied about going to visit Miss Quinlan’s family a few weeks ago, and then reported to me immediately when she saw you leave the barracks heavily armed?” The words landed like a phantom punch to Hunt’s gut.

Love is a trap, Celestina had told him. Was this her way of protecting what she loved? Proving her trustworthiness to the Asteri by selling Hunt and his friends out so that they might react kindly if they learned about Hypaxia? Had she any idea the witch she loved was involved?

Rigelus seemed to read those questions on Hunt’s face, because he said, “She might have once been a friend of Shahar, Orion, but with so much personally on the line for her, she is no friend to you. At least, not when it comes to protecting those she cherishes most.”

“Why are you doing this?” Ruhn asked hoarsely.

Rigelus frowned with distaste. “It is a matter of survival.” A glance at Bryce. “Though her first task for us shall be one of … a personal matter, I think.”

“You’re going to attack Hel,” Hunt breathed. Was that what Apollion was anticipating? Why he’d kept telling them, again and again, that Hel’s armies were readying?

Not to attack this world, but to defend Hel itself. To ally with any who’d stand against the Asteri.

“No,” Rigelus said. “Even Hel is not at the top of our list of those from whom we shall exact vengeance.” Again, that smile at Bryce. “The star on your chest—do you know what it is?”

“Let’s assume I know nothing,” Bryce said grimly.

Rigelus inclined his head. “It’s a beacon to the world from which the Fae originally came. It sometimes glows when nearest the Fae who have undiluted bloodlines from that world. Prince Cormac, for example.”

“It glowed for Hunt,” Bryce shot back.

“It also glows for those who you choose as your loyal companions. Knights.”

“So what?” Bryce demanded.

“So that star will lead us back to that world. Through you. They overthrew our brethren who once ruled there—we have not forgotten. Our initial attempt at revenge was foiled by your ancestor who also bore that star on her chest. The Fae have still not atoned for the deaths of our brothers and sisters. Their home world was rich in magic. I crave more of it.”

Bryce shook, but Hunt’s heart cracked as she squared her shoulders. “My bargain holds. You let Hunt and Ruhn go freely and unharmed—forever—and I’ll help you.”

“Bryce,” Ruhn pleaded, but Hunt knew there was no arguing with her.

“Fine,” Rigelus said, and smiled, triumph on every line of his lanky body. “You may say goodbye, as a sign of my gratitude for your assistance.”

Bryce turned to Hunt, and the terror and pain and grief on her gore-splattered face threatened to bring him to his knees. He slipped his chained hands around her head, pulling her close. Whispered in her ear. Her fingers bunched in his shirt, as if in silent confirmation.

So Hunt pulled back. Stared into his mate’s beautiful face for the last time.

He laughed softly, a sound of wonder at odds with the crystal throne room and the monsters in it. “I love you. I wish I’d said it more. But I love you, Quinlan, and …” His throat closed up, his eyes stinging. His lips brushed her brow. “Our love is stronger than time, greater than any distance. Our love spans across stars and worlds. I will find you again. I promise.”

He kissed her, and she shuddered, silently crying as her mouth moved against his own. He savored the warmth and taste of her, etching it into his soul.

Then he stepped back, and Bryce faced Ruhn.

She couldn’t do this.

Her heart was shattering; her bones were screaming that this was wrong, wrong, wrong.

She couldn’t leave them. Couldn’t go through with what Hunt had whispered to her.

She clung to her brother, unable to stop her sobbing. Even as a small weight dropped into her pocket.

But Ruhn whispered in her ear, “I lied to the Autumn King about what the Oracle told me as a boy.” She stilled. Ruhn went on, swift and urgent, “The Oracle told me that the royal line would end with me. That I am the last of the line, Bryce.” She tried to pull back to gape at him, but he held her firm. “But maybe she didn’t see that you would come along. That you would walk this path. You have to live. I can see it on your face—you don’t want to do any of this. But you have to live, Bryce. You have to be queen.”

She’d guessed what the Autumn King had done to Ruhn, how he’d tortured him as a boy, though she’d never confirmed it. And that debt … she’d make her sire repay it, someday.

“I don’t accept that,” Bryce breathed to Ruhn. “I don’t.”

“I do. I always have. Whether I die right now or whether I’m just infertile, I don’t know.” He chuckled. “Why do you think I partied so hard?”

She couldn’t laugh. Not about this. “I don’t buy that bullshit for one second.”

“It doesn’t matter now.”

Then Ruhn said into her mind, Grab the Starsword when you go.


It’s yours. Take it. You’ll need it. You got the chains unhooked?

Yes. She’d used the key the Hind had slipped her to unlock Hunt’s and Ruhn’s manacles while she held them.

Good. I told Athalar the signal. You’re ready?


Ruhn pressed his brow against hers. We need armies, Bryce. We need you to go to Hel through that Gate, and bring Hel’s armies back with you to fight these bastards. But if Apollion’s cost is too high … don’t come back to this world.

Her brother pulled away. And Ruhn said, shining with pride, “Long live the queen.”

Bryce didn’t give the others a chance to puzzle it out.

She flicked her wrists, chains falling to the floor as she grabbed the Starsword from Ruhn and whirled toward Rigelus.

She plunged into her power in a blink. And before the Bright Hand could shout, she blasted him with starlight.

Hunt threw his chains to the ground the moment Ruhn said the word queen. And as his mate launched her blinding power at Rigelus, Hunt hurled his at the male, too.

Lightning struck the marble pillar just above the crystal throne.

It was a gamble: directing his initial blast of power at Rigelus, to keep him down, rather than charging up Bryce and risking an attack from Rigelus before it was done.

Behind them, shouting rose, and Hunt twisted to see Bryce running toward the doors, Starsword in hand.

Pollux lunged for her, but Baxian was there. He tackled the male to the crystal floor. Behind him, Mordoc was bleeding from a gash in his throat. The Hind was on the floor, unconscious. Had Baxian’s treachery been a surprise to her? Hunt supposed he didn’t care. Not as Baxian got Pollux down, and Bryce raced through the doors, out into the endless hallway. She turned left, red hair streaming behind her, and then she was gone.

Hunt whirled back toward Rigelus, but too late.

Power, hot and aching, blasted him into a nearby pillar. Glowing like a god, Rigelus leapt off the dais, the crystal floor splintering beneath him, and barreled after Bryce, death raging in his eyes.

Bryce’s heart cracked piece by piece with each step she ran from that throne room.

As she sped down the long hall, the busts of the Asteri damned her with their hateful faces.

A tidal wave of power rose behind her, and she dared a look over her shoulder to find Rigelus on her tail. He blazed white with magic, fury radiating from him.

Come on, Hunt. Come on, come on …

Rigelus sent out a blast of power, and Bryce zoomed left. The Asteri’s power smashed through a window, glass spraying. Bryce slipped on the shards, but kept running toward the arch at the end of the hall. The Gate she’d open to take her to Hel.

She’d take her chances with Aidas and Thanatos and Apollion. Get their armies and bring them back to Midgard.

Rigelus shot another spear of power, and Bryce ducked, sliding low just as it shattered a marble bust of Austrus. Fragments sliced her face, her neck, her arms, but then she was up and running again, clenching the Starsword so hard her hand ached.

The slide had cost her.

Rigelus was ten feet behind. Five. His hand stretched for her trailing hair.

Lightning speared down the hall, shattering windows and statues in its wake.

Bryce welcomed it into her heart, her back. Welcomed it into the tattoo there as Hunt’s power singed her very blood—and left it sparking.

Lightning ruptured from her scar like a bullet passing through. Right into the archway of the Gate.

She didn’t dare see if Hunt still stood after his flawless shot. Not as the air of the Gate’s arch turned black. Murky.

Rigelus’s fingers snared in her hair.

Bryce gave herself to the wind and darkness, and teleported for the Gate.

Only to land ten feet ahead of Rigelus, as if her powers had hit a wall. Bryce could sense them now—a series of wards, like those Hypaxia had said the Under-King had used to entrap her and Ithan.

But Rigelus shouted in rage and surprise, as if shocked she’d even managed to get that far, and slung his power again.

Ten feet at a time, then. Bryce teleported, and another statue lost its head.

Again, and again, and again, Rigelus shot his power at her and Bryce leapt through space, ward to ward, zigging and zagging, glass and countless statues to the Asteri’s egos shattering, the Gate nearing—

Bryce leapt back—right behind Rigelus.

He whirled, and she blasted a wall of light into his face. He howled, and she teleported once more—

Bryce landed ten feet from the Gate’s gaping maw and kept running.

Rigelus roared as Bryce jumped into the awaiting darkness.

It caught her, sticky like a web. Time slowed to a glacial drip.

Rigelus was still roaring, lunging.

Bryce thrust her power out, willed the Gate to take her and her alone, and she was falling, falling, falling while standing still, suspended in the archway, sucked backward so that her hair trailed outward, toward Rigelus’s straining fingers—

NO!” he bellowed.

It was the last sound Bryce heard as the darkness within the Gate swallowed her whole.

She fell, slowly and without end—and sideways. Not a plunge down, but a yank across. The pressure in her ears threatened to pulp her brain, and she was screaming into wind and stars and emptiness, screaming to Hunt and Ruhn, left behind in that crystal palace. Screaming—


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