Hel had grass. And mist.
Those were Bryce’s first two thoughts as she landed—or appeared. One moment she was falling sideways, and then her right shoulder collided with a wall of green that turned out to be the ground.
She panted, mind spinning so violently she could only lie amid the drifting, chill fog. Her fingers dug into the verdant grass. Blood coated her hands. Crusted beneath her nails.
She had to get up. Had to start moving before one of Hel’s creatures sniffed her out and ripped her to shreds. If those deathstalkers found her, they’d kill her in an instant.
There. A foot beyond her head.
Bryce trembled as she eased onto her knees, bending to hold them tight.
Hunt … She could have sworn she heard his screams echoing in the mist as she fell.
She had to get up. Find a way to Aidas.
Yet she couldn’t move. To get up would be to walk away from her world, from Hunt and Ruhn, and whatever the Asteri were doing to them—
Get up, she told herself, gritting her teeth.
The mists parted ahead, peeling back to reveal a gentle turquoise river perhaps fifty feet from where she knelt, flowing right past the … lawn.
She was on someone’s clipped, immaculate lawn. And across the river, emerging from the mist …
A city. Ancient and beautiful—like something on a Pangeran postcard. Indistinct shapes meandered through the mist on the other side of the river—the demons of Hel.
Bryce swallowed hard, as if she could drink down her shaking, and slid out a leg to rise. The Harpy’s blood still soaked her leggings, the fabric sticky against her skin.
Something icy and sharp pressed against her throat.
A cool male voice spoke above her, behind her, in a language she did not recognize. But the curt words and tone were clear enough: Don’t fucking move.
Bryce lifted her hands and reached for her power. Only splintered shards remained.
The male voice demanded something in that strange language, and Bryce stayed on her knees. He hissed, and then a strong hand clamped on her shoulder, hauling her up and twisting her to face him.
She glimpsed black boots. Dark, scalelike armor over a tall, muscled body.
Wings. Great, black wings. A demon’s wings.
But the male face that stared through the mists, grave and lethal … it was beautiful, despite the fact that his hazel eyes held no mercy. He spoke again, in a soft voice that promised pain.
Bryce couldn’t stop her chest from heaving wildly. “Aidas. I need to see Aidas. Can you take me to him?” Her voice broke.
The winged male swept his gaze over her—assessing and wary. Noted that the blood covering her was not her own. His attention drifted to the Starsword lying in the grass between them. His eyes widened slightly.
Bryce lunged a step toward him, making to grab the front of his intricate armor. He easily sidestepped the move, face impassive as she asked, “Can you take me to Prince Aidas?” She couldn’t stop her tears then. The male’s brows knitted.
“Please,” Bryce begged. “Please.”
The male’s face didn’t soften as he picked up the sheathed Starsword, then gestured for her to step closer.
Bryce obeyed, shaking, wondering if she should be fighting, screaming.
With scarred hands, the demon pulled a scrap of black cloth from a hidden pocket in his armor. Held it up to his face, feigning putting it on. A blindfold.
Bryce breathed in, trying to calm herself as she nodded. The male’s hands were gentle but thorough as he fitted it tightly over her eyes.
Then hands were at her knees and back, and the ground was gone—they were flying.
Only the flap of his leathery wings and the sighing mist filled her ears. So different from the rippling hush of Hunt’s feathers in the wind.
Bryce tried to use the time in the air to stop shaking, but she couldn’t. Couldn’t even form a solid thought.
They glided downward, her stomach tipping with the movement, and then they landed, the thump of the demon’s boots hitting the ground echoing through her. He set her down, taking her by the hand. A door creaked open. Warm air greeted her, then the door shut. He said something she didn’t understand, and then she was toppling forward—
He caught her, and sighed. She could have sworn he sounded … exasperated. He gave no warning as he hauled her over a shoulder and tromped down a set of stairs before entering somewhere … nice-smelling. Roses? Bread?
They ate bread in Hel? Had flowers? A dark, cold world, the Asteri had said in their notes on the planet.
Floorboards groaned beneath his boots, and then Bryce found herself again on solid ground, carpets cushioning her feet. He led her by the hand and pushed her downward. Bryce tensed, fighting it, but he did it again, and she sat. In a comfy chair.
He spoke in that silken voice, and she shook her head. “I don’t understand you,” she said rawly. “I don’t know Hel’s languages. But … Aidas? Prince Aidas?”
He didn’t reply.
“Please,” she repeated. “I need to find Prince Aidas. My world, Midgard—it’s in grave danger, and my mate …” Her voice broke, and she doubled over in the darkness. I will find you again, Hunt had promised.
But he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. He had no way to get here. And she had no way to get home.
Unless Aidas or Apollion knew how to use the Horn. Had magic that could charge it.
She’d left Hunt and Ruhn. Had run and left them, and … Bryce sobbed. “Oh gods,” she wept. She tore off the blindfold, baring her teeth. “Aidas!” she shouted at the cold-faced male. “Get fucking AIDAS.”
He didn’t so much as blink. Didn’t reveal one hint of emotion, that he cared.
But—this room. This … house?
Dark oak wood floors and furniture. Rich, velvet fabrics. A crackling fire. Books on the shelves lining one wall. A cart of liquor in crystal decanters beside the black marble fireplace. And through the archway beyond the winged male, a foyer and a dining room.
Its style could have fit in with her father’s study. With Jesiba’s gallery.
The male watched cautiously. She swallowed down her tears, straightening her shoulders. Cleared her throat. “Where am I? What level of Hel?”
“Hel?” he said at last.
“Hel, yes, Hel!” She gestured to the house. The complete opposite of what she’d expected. “What level? Pit? Chasm?”
He shook his head, brow furrowing. The front door in the foyer opened, and multiple people rushed in, males and females, all speaking that strange language.
Bryce beheld the first one and shot to her feet.
The petite, dark-haired female with angular eyes like Fury’s drew up short. Her red-painted mouth dropped open, no doubt at the blood all over Bryce’s face and body.
This female was … Fae. Clad in beautiful, yet thoroughly old-fashioned clothes. Like the stuff they wore on Avallen.
Another winged male, broader than the other, swaggered in, a pretty female with brown-gold hair at his side. Also Fae. Also wearing clothes that seemed out of some sort of fantasy film.
Bryce blurted, “I’ve been trying to ask him, but he doesn’t understand. Is this Hel? I need to see Prince Aidas.”
The dark-haired one turned to the others and said something that had them all angling their heads at Bryce. The swaggering male sniffed, trying to read the scent of the blood on her.
Bryce swallowed hard. She knew only one other language, and that one …
Her heart thundered. Bryce said in the ancient language of the Fae, of the Starborn, “Is this world Hel? I need to see Prince Aidas.”
The petite, dark-haired female staggered back, a hand to her mouth. The others gaped. As if the small female’s shock was a rare occurrence. The female eyed the Starsword then. Looked to the first winged male—Bryce’s captor. Nodded to the dark-hilted knife at his side.
The male drew it, and Bryce flinched.
Flinched, but—“What the fuck?” The knife could have been the twin of the Starsword: black hilted and bladed.
It was its twin. The Starsword began to hum within its sheath, glittering white light leaking from where leather met the dark hilt. The dagger—
The male dropped the dagger to the plush carpet. All of them retreated as it flared with dark light, as if in answer. Alpha and Omega.
“Gwydion,” the dark-haired female whispered, indicating the Starsword.
The broader male sucked in a breath. Then said something in that language she couldn’t comprehend. The brunette at his side snapped something back that sounded like a reprimand.
“Is this Hel?” Bryce asked again in the old tongue of the Fae.
The dark-haired female observed Bryce from head to toe: the clothes so thoroughly at odds with their own attire, the blood and cuts. Then she replied in the old tongue, “No one has spoken that language in this world for fifteen thousand years.”
Bryce rubbed at her face. Had she traveled in time, somehow? Or did Hel occupy a different time and—
“Please,” she said. “I need to find Prince Aidas.”
“I do not know who that is.”
“Apollion, then. Surely you know the Prince of the Pit.”
“I do not know of such people. This world is not Hel.”
Bryce slowly shook her head. “I … Then where am I?” She surveyed the silent others, the winged males and the other Fae female, who stared coolly. “What world is this?”
The front door opened again. First, a lovely female with the same brown-gold hair as the one already standing before Bryce entered. She wore a loose white shirt over brown pants, both splattered with paint. Her hands were tattooed to the elbows in intricate swirls. But her blue-gray eyes were wary—soft and curious, but wary.
The winged, dark-haired male who stepped in behind her …
Bryce gasped. “Ruhn?”
The male blinked. His eyes were the same shade of violet blue as Ruhn’s. His short hair the same gleaming black. This male’s skin was browner, but the face, the posture … It was her brother’s. His ears were pointed, too, though he also possessed those leathery wings like the two other males.
The female beside him asked the petite female a question in their language.
But the male continued to stare at Bryce. At the blood on her, at the Starsword and the knife, the blades still gleaming with their opposite lights.
He lifted his gaze to her, stars in his eyes. Actual stars.
Bryce pleaded with the petite female, “My world … Midgard … It’s in grave danger. My mate, he …” She couldn’t get the words out. “I didn’t mean to come here. I meant to go to Hel. To get aid from the princes. But I don’t know what this world is. Or how to find Hel. I need your help.”
It was all there was left to do: throw herself at their mercy and pray they were decent people. That even if she’d come from another world, they’d recognize her as Fae and be compassionate.
The petite female seemed to repeat Bryce’s words to the others. The female with the tattooed hands asked Bryce a question in their language. The petite one translated: “She wants to know what your name is.”
Bryce glanced from the tattooed female to the beautiful male at her side. They both possessed an air of quiet, gentle authority. The others all seemed to wait for their cues. So Bryce addressed the two of them as she lifted her chin. “My name is Bryce Quinlan.”
The male stepped forward, tucking in his wings. He smiled slightly and said in the Old Language, in a voice like glorious night, “Hello, Bryce Quinlan. My name is Rhysand.”