Hunt could barely get a breath down around the stone gag. A gorsian stone, to match the ones clamped around his wrists and neck. The same kind contained Ruhn and Baxian as the two males were led toward the doors of the throne room by Rigelus and his underlings.
Not one flicker of lightning remained in Hunt’s body.
The Hind strode beside Rigelus, speaking softly as they walked past where Hunt was on his knees outside the doors. She didn’t so much as look at Ruhn. The prince only stared ahead.
Baxian was escorted over, bloodied and bruised from the fight with Pollux. Mordoc was recovering from his slit throat, hate simmering from him as he lay bleeding on the floor. Hunt gave the bloodhound a savage smile as a ribbon of Rigelus’s power hauled Hunt to his feet.
“A short stop before the dungeons, I think,” Rigelus announced, turning left—toward the shattered ruin along the hall. Toward the now-empty Gate.
Hunt was powerless to do anything but follow, Ruhn and Baxian with him. He’d been at the end of the hall when Bryce had made her spectacular run, teleporting as fast as the wind toward the black hole that had opened within the small Gate. No trace of the blackness or Bryce remained now.
Hunt could only pray that Bryce had reached Hel. That she’d locate Aidas and he’d protect her as they rallied Hel’s armies and brought them back through the Rift into Midgard. To save them.
Hunt doubted he’d be around to see it. Doubted Ruhn or Baxian would, either.
Rigelus halted before the Gate. “Get the angel on his knees.”
Bryce’s scent still lingered in the air of the empty space framed by the Gate. Hunt focused on that scent and that scent alone as Pollux shoved him to the floor before the Gate.
If this was it, he could die knowing Bryce had gotten away. She’d gone from one Hel to a literal one, but … she’d gotten away. Their last chance at salvation.
“Go ahead, Hammer,” Rigelus said, smiling at Hunt, cold death in his ageless eyes.
Hunt could feel Ruhn and Baxian watching in muted horror. Hunt bowed over his knees, waiting for the blow to his neck.
Bryce, Bryce, Bryce—
Pollux’s hands clamped onto either side of his face. Holding it upright, like he’d snap Hunt’s neck with his bare hands.
Pollux laughed softly.
Hunt knew why a moment later as Rigelus approached, a hand lifted and near-blinding with white light. “I don’t think I need one of the crones this time,” the Bright Hand said.
No. No. Anything but this.
Hunt thrashed, but Pollux held him firm, smile unfaltering.
Rigelus laid his glowing hand on Hunt’s brow and pain erupted through his skull, his muscles, his blood. As if the very marrow of his bones were being burned into mist.
The Asteri’s power slithered and spiderwebbed across Hunt’s brow, piercing into him with every spike of the halo’s thorns that Rigelus tattooed there.
Hunt screamed then. It echoed off the stones, off the Gate.
Beside him, Baxian started inhaling sharp, jagged breaths. Like the Helhound knew he was next.
The pain across Hunt’s brow became blinding, his vision splintering.
The halo kept spreading over his skull, worse than any gorsian shackle. His power writhed in its iron grip, no longer his to fully command. Just as his own life, his freedom, his future with Bryce … Gone.
Hunt screamed again, and as darkness swept in to claim him, he wondered if that soul-scream, not the halo, was what Rigelus wanted. If the Asteri believed the sound of his suffering might carry through the Gate and into Hel itself, where Bryce could hear him.
Then Hunt knew nothing at all.