Bryce knew it was stupid luck that kept her alive. And pure adrenaline that made her focus her aim so clearly. Calmly.
But with each block she cleared as the sunset deepened, her legs moved more slowly. Her reactions lagged. Her arms ached, becoming leaden. Every pull of the trigger took a bit more effort.
Just a little longer—that was all she needed. Just a little longer, until she could make sure that everyone in Asphodel Meadows got into a shelter before they all closed. It wouldn’t be long now.
The shelter halfway down the block remained open, figures holding the line in front of it while human families rushed in. The Mortal Gate lay a few blocks northward—still open to Hel.
So Bryce planted herself at the intersection, sheathing Danika’s sword as she again raised Hunt’s rifle to her shoulder. She had six rounds left.
Ithan would be here soon. Any moment now.
A demon surged from around a corner, taloned fingers gouging lines into the cobblestones. The rifle bit into her shoulder as she fired. The demon was still falling, sliding across the ground, when she angled the rifle and fired again. Another demon went down.
Four bullets left.
Behind her, humans screamed orders. Hurry! Into the shelter! Drop the bag and run!
Bryce fired at a demon soaring across the intersection, right for the shelter. The demon went down twenty feet from the entrance. The humans finished it off.
Inside the shelter’s open mouth, children shrieked, babies wailed. Bryce fired again. Again. Again.
Another demon barreled around the corner, sprinting for her. The trigger clicked.
Out. Done. Empty.
The demon leapt, jaws opening wide to reveal twin rows of dagger-sharp teeth. Aiming for her throat. Bryce barely had time to lift the rifle and wedge it between those gaping jaws. Metal and wood groaned, and the world tilted with the impact.
She and the demon slammed into the cobblestones, her bones barking in pain. The demon clamped down on the rifle. It snapped in two.
Bryce managed to hurl herself backward from under the demon as it spat out the pieces of the rifle. Maw leaking saliva on the bloodied streets, it advanced on her. Seemed to savor each step.
With her sheathed sword pinned beneath her, Bryce reached for the knife at her thigh. As if it would do anything, as if it would stop this—
The demon sank onto its haunches, readying for the kill.
The ground shook behind her as Bryce angled her wrist, blade tilting upward—
A sword plunged through the demon’s gray head.
A massive sword, at least four feet long, borne by a towering, armored male figure. Blue lights glowed along the blade. More glared along sleek black body armor and a matching helmet. And across the male’s chest, an emblem of a striking cobra glowed.
One of the Viper Queen’s Fae bodyguards.
Six others raced past him, the cobblestones shaking beneath their feet, guns and swords drawn. No venom-addled stupor to be seen. Just lethal precision.
And with the Viper Queen’s Fae guards, wolves and foxes and canines of every breed flowed by, launching into the fray.
Bryce scrambled to her feet, nodding to the warrior who’d saved her. The Fae male only whirled, his metal-encased hands grabbing a demon by the shoulders and wrenching it apart with a mighty yell. He tore the demon in two.
But more of Hel’s worst thundered and soared for them. So Bryce freed Danika’s sword again from across her back.
She willed strength to her arm, bracing her feet as another demon galloped down the street for her. Canine shifters engaged demons all around, forming a barrier of fur and teeth and claws between the oncoming horde and the shelter behind them.
Bryce feinted left, swiping her sword up as the demon fell for her fake-out. But the blade didn’t break through bone and to the soft, vulnerable organs beneath. The creature roared, pivoting, and lunged again. She gritted her teeth, and lifted her sword in challenge, the demon too frenzied to notice that she’d let herself become the distraction.
While the massive gray wolf attacked from behind.
Ithan ripped into the demon in an explosion of teeth and claws, so fast and brutal it momentarily stunned her. She’d forgotten how enormous he was in this form—all the shifters were at least three times the size of normal animals, but Ithan had always been larger. Exactly like his brother.
Ithan spat out the demon’s throat and shifted, wolf becoming a tall male in a flash of light. Blood coated his navy T-shirt and jeans as much as it did her own clothes, but before they could speak, his brown eyes flared with alarm. Bryce twisted, met by the rancid breath of a demon as it dive-bombed her.
She ducked and thrust the sword upward, the demon’s shriek nearly bursting her ears as she let the beast drag its belly down the blade. Gutting it.
Gore splattered her sneakers, her torn leggings, but she made sure the demon’s head was rolling before whirling to Ithan. Just as he drew a sword from a sheath on his back and split another demon apart.
Their stares held, and all the words she’d needed to say hung there. She saw them in his eyes, too, as he realized whose jacket and sword she bore.
But she offered a grim smile. Later. If they somehow survived this, if they could last another few minutes and get into the shelter … They’d speak then.
Ithan nodded, understanding.
Bryce knew it wasn’t adrenaline alone that powered her as she launched back into the carnage.
“Shelters close in four minutes,” Declan announced to the conference room.
“Why hasn’t your helicopter arrived?” Ruhn asked Fury. He stood, Flynn rising with him.
Axtar checked her phone. “It’s on its way over from—”
The doors at the top of the pit burst open, and Sandriel entered on a storm wind. And there was no sign of her triarii or Pollux as she strode down the stairs. No one spoke.
Hunt prepared himself as she glanced his way, seated between a now-standing Ruhn and Hypaxia. The gorsian manacles lay on the table before him.
But she merely returned to her seat at the lowermost table. She had bigger concerns at hand, he supposed. Her attention darting between the screens and feeds and updates, Sandriel said, “There is nothing we can do for the city with the Gates open to Hel. We are under orders to remain here.”
Ruhn started. “We are needed—”
“We are to remain here.” The words rumbled like thunder through the room. “The Asteri are sending help.”
Hunt sagged in his seat, and Ruhn sank down beside him. “Thank fuck,” the prince muttered, rubbing shaking hands over his face.
They must have dispatched the Asterian Guard, then. And further reinforcements. Perhaps Sandriel’s triarii had gone to Lunathion. They might all be psychotic assholes, but at least they could hold their own in a fight. Fuck, the Hammer alone would be a blessing to the city right now.
“Three minutes until shelter lockdown,” Declan said.
In the general chaos of the audio feed Declan had pulled up, a shifter’s howl went out, warning everyone to get to safety. To abandon the boundary they’d established against the horde and run like Hel for the still-open metal door.
Humans were still fleeing, though. Adults carrying children and pets sprinted for the opening, hardly bigger than a single-car garage door. The Viper Queen’s warriors and a few of the wolves remained at the intersection.
“Two minutes,” Declan said.
Bryce and Ithan fought side by side. Where one stumbled, the other did not fail. Where one baited a demon, the other executed it.
A siren blared in the city. A warning. Still Bryce and Ithan held the corner.
“Thirty seconds,” Declan said. “Go,” Hunt urged. “Go, Bryce.”
She gutted a demon, whirling toward the shelter at last, Ithan moving with her. Good, she’d get inside, and could wait it out until the Asterian Guard arrived to wipe these fuckers away. Maybe they’d know how to seal the voids in the Gates.
The shelter door began closing. “They’re too far,” Fury said quietly.
“They’ll make it,” Hunt ground out, even as he eyed the distance between the slowly closing door and the two figures racing for it, Bryce’s red hair a banner behind her.
Ithan stumbled, and Bryce grabbed his hand before he could go down. A nasty gash gleamed in Ithan’s side, blood soaking his T-shirt. How the male was even running—
The door was halfway closed. Losing inches every second.
A clawed, humanoid hand from inside wrapped around its edge.
And then a young, brown-haired wolf was there, her teeth gritted, her face lupine, roaring as she heaved against the inevitable. As every one of the wolves behind her grabbed the sliding door and tried to slow it.
“Fifteen seconds,” Declan whispered. Bryce ran and ran and ran.
One by one, the wolves of Ithan’s pack lost their grip on the door. Until only that one young female was holding it back, a foot braced against the concrete wall, bellowing in defiance—
Ithan and Bryce charged for the shelter, the wolf’s focus solely on the shelter door.
Only three feet of space remained. Not enough room for both of them. Bryce’s stare shot to Ithan’s face. Sorrow filled her eyes. And determination.
“No,” Hunt breathed. Knowing exactly what she’d do.
Bryce dropped behind just a step. Just enough to draw upon her Fae strength to shove Ithan forward. To save Connor Holstrom’s brother.
Ithan twisted toward Bryce, eyes flaring with rage and despair and grief, hand outstretched, but too late.
The metal door shut with a boom that seemed to echo across the city. That was echoed across the city, as every shelter door shut at last.
Her momentum was too great to slow. Bryce slammed into the metal door, grunting in pain.
She turned in place, face leached of color. Searching for options and coming up empty.
Hunt read it on her face, then. For the first time, Bryce had no idea what to do.
Every part of Bryce shook as she took cover in the slight alcove before the shelter, the sunset a vibrant wash of orange and ruby—like the final battle cry of the world before the oncoming night.
The demons had moved on, but more would be coming. Soon. As long as the Gates held those portals to Hel, they would never stop coming.
Someone—Ithan, probably—began pounding on the shelter door behind her. As if he’d claw his way through, open up a passage for her to get inside. She ignored the sound.
The Viper Queen’s warriors were flashes of metal and light far down the street, still fighting. Some had fallen, heaps of steaming armor and blood.
If she could make it to her apartment, it had enchantments enough to protect her and any others she could get inside. But it was twenty blocks away. It might as well have been twenty miles.
An idea flared, and she weighed it, considering. She could try. She had to try.
Bryce took a bracing breath. In her hand, Danika’s sword shook like a reed in the wind.
She could make it. Somehow, she’d find a way.
She leapt into the blood-slick streets, sword held ready to attack. She didn’t look back at the shelter behind her as she began to run, blind memory of the city grid sinking in to guide her on the fastest route. A snarl rumbled from around a corner, and Bryce barely brought up her sword in time to intercept the demon. She partially severed its neck, and was running again before it fully hit the ground. She had to keep moving. Had to get to the Old Square—
Dead shifters and the Viper Queen’s soldiers lay in the streets. Even more dead humans around them. Most in pieces.
Another demon barreled from the red sky—
She screamed as it knocked her back, slamming her into a car so hard the windows shattered. She had all of a second to wrench open the passenger-side door and climb in before it landed again. Attacked the car. Bryce scrambled over the armrests and stick shift, fumbling for the driver’s-side door. She yanked on the handle and half fell into the street, the demon so distracted with shredding the tires on the opposite side that
it didn’t see her lurch into a sprint.
The Old Square. If she could make it to the Old Square—
Two demons raced for her. The only thing she could do was run as the light began to fade.
Alone. She was alone out here.