Chapter no 90

House of Earth and Blood

Bryce’s entire body trembled as she leaned against the glowing quartz of the Gate, exhaustion rooting her to the spot.

It had worked. Somehow, it had worked.

She didn’t let herself marvel over it—or dread its implications, when her father and the Asteri found out. Not when she had no idea how long her starlight would remain glowing in the Gate. But maybe it would hold long enough for help to come. Maybe this had made a difference.

Maybe she had made a difference.

Each breath burned in her chest. Not much longer now. For help to come, for her end, she didn’t know.

But it would be soon. Whichever way it ended, Bryce knew it would be soon.

“Declan says Bryce is still at the Old Square Gate,” Fury reported over a shoulder.

Hunt just kept his eyes on the star-filled horizon. The city was a dark shadow, interrupted only by a faint glowing in its heart. The Old Square Gate. Bryce.

“And Hypaxia says Bryce can barely move,” Fury added, a note of surprise in her flat voice. “It looks like she’s drained. She’s not going to be able to get to the next Gate without help.”

“But the light from the Gate is keeping her safe?” Ruhn called over the wind.

“Until the demons stop fearing the Starborn light.” Fury switched the call to the helicopter’s speakers. “Emmet, radar’s picking up three war machines from the west. Any read on them?”

Thank fuck. Someone else was coming to help after all. If they could bring Bryce to each Gate and she could just muster enough starlight to flow through the Horn, they’d stop the carnage.

Declan took a moment to reply, his voice crackling through the speakers above Hunt. “They’re registering as imperial tanks.” His pause had Hunt’s grip tightening on the gunner.

Hypaxia clarified, “It’s the Asterian Guard. With brimstone missile launchers.” Her voice sharpened as she said to the Autumn King and Prime of the wolves, “Get your forces out of the city.

The blood in Hunt’s veins went cold.

The Asteri had sent someone to deal with the demons. And with Bryce.

They were going to blast the city into dust.

The brimstone missiles weren’t ordinary bombs of chemicals and metal. They were pure magic, made by the Asterian Guard: a combination of their angelic powers of wind and rain and fire into one hyperconcentrated entity, bound with firstlight and fired through machinery. Where they struck, destruction bloomed.

To make them even deadlier, they were laced with spells to slow healing. Even for Vanir. The only comfort for any on their receiving end was that the missiles took a while to make, offering reprieve between rounds. A small, fool’s comfort.

Fury flicked buttons on the switchboard. “Copy Asterian Units One, Two, and Three, this is Fury Axtar speaking. Pull back.” No answer. “I repeat, pull back. Abort mission.”

Nothing. Declan said, “They’re the Asterian Guard. They won’t answer to you.”

The Autumn King’s voice crackled through the speakers. “No one at Imperial Command is answering our calls.”

Fury angled the helicopter, sweeping southward. Hunt saw them then. The black tanks breaking over the horizon, each as large as a small house. The imperial insignia painted on their flanks. All three gunning for Crescent City.

They halted just outside its border. The metal launchers atop them angled into position.

The brimstone missiles shot from the launchers and arced over the walls, blazing with golden light. As the first of them hit, he prayed that Bryce had left the Gate to find shelter.

Bryce choked on dust and debris, chest heaving. She tried to move—and failed. Her spine—

No, that was her leg, pinned in a tangle of concrete and iron. She’d heard the boom a minute ago, recognized the golden, arcing plume as brimstone thanks to news coverage of the Pangeran wars, and had sprinted halfway across the square, aiming for the open door of the brick music hall there, hoping it had a basement, when it hit.

Her ears were roaring, buzzing. Shrieking.

The Gate still stood, still shielded her with its light. Her light, technically.

The nearest brimstone missile had hit a neighborhood away, it seemed. It had been enough to trash the square, to reduce some buildings to rubble, but not enough to decimate it.

Move. She had to move. The other Gates still lay open. She had to find some way to get there; shut them, too.

She tugged at her leg. To her surprise, the minor wounds were already healing—far faster than she’d ever experienced. Maybe the Horn in her back helped speed it along.

She reached forward to haul the concrete slab off her. It didn’t budge. She panted through her teeth, trying again. They’d unleashed brimstone upon the city. The Asterian Guard had blindly fired it over the walls to either destroy the Gates or kill the demons. But they’d fired on

their own people, not caring who they hit—

Bryce took deep, steadying breaths. It did nothing to settle her.

She tried again, fingernails cracking on the concrete. But short of cutting off her foot, she wasn’t getting free.

The Asterian Guard was reloading their missile launchers atop the tanks. Hyperconcentrated magic flared around them, as if the brimstone was straining to be free of its firstlight constraints. Eager to unleash angelic ruin upon the helpless city.

“They’re going to fire again,” Ruhn whispered.

“The brimstone landed mostly in Moonwood,” Declan told them. “Bryce is alive but in trouble. She’s trapped under a piece of concrete. Struggling like Hel to free herself, though.”

Fury screamed into the microphone, “ABORT MISSION.”

No one answered. The launchers cocked skyward again, pivoting to new targets.

As if they knew Bryce still lived. They’d keep bombarding the city until she was dead, killing anything in their path. Perhaps hoping that if

they took out the Gates, too, the voids would vanish.

An icy, brutal calm settled over Hunt.

He said to Fury, “Go high. High as the helicopter can handle.”

She saw what he intended. He couldn’t fly, not on weak wings. But he didn’t need to.

“Grab something,” Fury said, and angled the helicopter sharply. It went up, up, up, all of them gritting their teeth against the weight trying to shove them earthward.

Hunt braced himself, settling into that place that had seen him through battles and years in dungeons and Sandriel’s arena.

“Get ready, Athalar,” Fury called. The war machines halted, launchers primed.

The helicopter flew over Lunathion’s walls. Hunt unstrapped himself from the gunner. The Bone Quarter was a misty swirl below as they crossed the Istros.

Gratitude shone in Danaan’s eyes. Understanding what only Hunt could do.

The Old Square and glowing Gate at its heart became visible. The only signal he needed. There was no hesitation in Hunt. No fear.

Hunt leapt out of the helicopter, his wings tucked in tight. A one-way ticket. His last flight.

Far below, his sharp eyes could just make out Bryce as she curled herself into a ball, as if it’d save her from the death soon to blast her apart.

The brimstone missiles launched one after another after another, the closest arcing toward the Old Square, shimmering with lethal golden power. Even as Hunt plunged to the earth, he knew its angle was off— it’d strike probably ten blocks away. But it was still too close. Still left her in the blast zone, where all that compressed angelic power would splatter her apart.

The brimstone hit, the entire city bouncing beneath its unholy impact. Block after block ruptured in a tidal wave of death.

Wings splaying, lightning erupting, Hunt threw himself over Bryce as the world shattered.

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