Chapter no 93

House of Earth and Blood

This was the cradle of all life, this place.

There was a physical ground beneath her, and she had the sense of an entire world above her, full of distant, twinkling lights. But this was the bottom of the sea. The dark trench that cut through the skin of the earth.

It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered at all. Not with Danika standing before her. Holding her.

Bryce peeled away far enough to look at her beautiful, angular face. The corn-silk hair. It was the same, right down to the amethyst, sapphire, and rose streaks. She’d somehow forgotten the exact features of Danika’s face, but … there they were.

Bryce said, “You came.”

Danika’s smile was soft. “You asked for help.” “Are you … are you alive? Over there, I mean.”

“No.” Danika shook her head. “No, Bryce. This, what you see …” She gestured to herself. The familiar jeans and old band T-shirt. “This is just the spark that’s left. What was resting over there.”

“But it’s you. This is you.”

“Yes.” Danika peered at the churning darkness above them, the entire ocean above. “And you don’t have much time to make the Ascent, Bryce.”

Bryce snorted. “I’m not making the Ascent.” Danika blinked. “What do you mean?”

Bryce stepped back. “I’m not making it.” Because this was where her homeless soul would stay, if she failed. Her body would die in the world above, and her soul that she’d traded away to the Under-King would be left to wander this place. With Danika.

Danika crossed her arms. “Why?”

Bryce blinked furiously. “Because it got too hard. Without you. It is

too hard without you.”

“That’s bullshit,” Danika snarled. “So you’ll just give up on everything? Bryce, I am dead. I am gone. And you’ll trade your entire life for this tiny piece of me that’s left?” Disappointment shuttered her caramel eyes. “The friend I knew wouldn’t have done that.”

Bryce’s voice broke as she said, “We were supposed to do this together. We were supposed to live out our lives together.”

Danika’s face softened. “I know, B.” She took her hand. “But that’s not how it turned out.”

Bryce bowed her head, thinking she’d crack apart. “I miss you.

Every moment of every day.”

“I know,” Danika said again, and put a hand over her heart. “And I’ve felt it. I’ve seen it.”

“Why did you lie—about the Horn?”

“I didn’t lie,” Danika said simply. “I just didn’t tell you.” “You lied about the tattoo,” Bryce countered.

“To keep you safe,” Danika said. “To keep the Horn safe, yeah, but mostly to keep you safe in case the worst happened to me.”

“Well, the worst did happen to you,” Bryce said, instantly regretting it when Danika flinched.

But then Danika said, “You traded your place in the Bone Quarter for me.”

Bryce began crying. “It was the least I could do.”

Tears formed in Danika’s eyes. “You didn’t think I’d make it?” She threw her a sharp, pained grin. “Asshole.”

But Bryce shook with the force of her weeping. “I couldn’t … I couldn’t take that risk.”

Danika brushed back a piece of Bryce’s hair.

Bryce sniffled and said, “I killed Micah for what he did. To you. To Lehabah.” Her heart strained. “Is—is she over in the Bone Quarter?”

“I don’t know. And yeah—I saw what happened in the gallery.” Danika didn’t explain more about the particulars. “We all saw.”

That word snagged. We.

Bryce’s lips trembled. “Is Connor with you?”

“He is. And the rest of the pack. They bought me time with the Reapers. To get to the Gate. They’re holding them off, but not for long, Bryce. I can’t stay here with you.” She shook her head. “Connor would have wanted more for you than this.” She stroked the back of Bryce’s hand with her thumb. “He wouldn’t have wanted you to stop fighting.”

Bryce wiped at her face again. “I didn’t. Not until now. But now I’m

… It’s all just fucked. And I’m so tired of it feeling that way. I’m done.” Danika asked softly, “What about the angel?”

Bryce’s head snapped up. “What about him?”

Danika gave her a knowing smile. “If you want to ignore the fact that you’ve got your family who loves you no matter what, fine—but the angel remains.”

Bryce withdrew her hand from Danika’s. “You’re really trying to convince me to make the Ascent for a guy?”

“Is Hunt Athalar really just some guy to you?” Danika’s smile turned gentle. “And why is it somehow a mark against your strength to admit that there is someone, who happens to be male, worth returning to? Someone who I know made you feel like things are far from fucked.”

Bryce crossed her arms. “So what.”

“He’s healed, Bryce,” Danika said. “You healed him with the firstlight.”

Bryce’s breath shuddered out of her. She’d done all of this for that wild hope.

She swallowed, looking at the ground that was not earth, but the very base of Self, of the world. She whispered, “I’m scared.”

Danika grabbed her hand again. “That’s the point of it, Bryce. Of life. To live, to love, knowing that it might all vanish tomorrow. It makes everything that much more precious.” She took Bryce’s face in her hands and pressed their brows together.

Bryce closed her eyes and inhaled Danika’s scent, somehow still present even in this form. “I don’t think I can make it. Back up.”

Danika pulled away, peering at the impossible distance overhead. Then at the road that stretched before them. The runway. Its end was a free fall into eternal darkness. Into nothingness. But she said, “Just try, Bryce. One try. I’ll be with you every step of the way. Even if you can’t see me. I will always be with you.”

Bryce didn’t look at that too-short runway. The endless ocean above them, separating her from life. She just memorized the lines of Danika’s face, as she had not had the chance to do before. “I love you, Danika,” she whispered.

Danika’s throat bobbed. She cocked her head, the movement purely lupine. As if listening to something. “Bryce, you have to hurry.” She grabbed her hand, squeezing. “You have to decide now.”

The timer on Bryce’s life showed two minutes left.

Her dead body lay sprawled on the stones beside the faintly glowing Gate.

Declan ran a hand over his chest. He didn’t dare contact Ruhn. Not yet. Couldn’t bear to.

“There’s no way to help her?” Hypaxia whispered to the silent room. “No way at all?”

No. Declan had used the past four minutes to run a search of every public and private database in Midgard for a miracle. He’d found nothing.

“Beyond being without an Anchor,” the Autumn King said, “she used an artificial power source to bring her to that level. Her body is not biologically equipped to make the Ascent. Even with a true Anchor, she wouldn’t be able to gain enough momentum for that first jump upward.”

Jesiba gravely nodded her confirmation, but the sorceress said nothing.

Declan’s memories of his Drop and Ascent were murky, frightening. He’d gone farther than anticipated, but had at least stayed within his own range. Even with Flynn Anchoring him, he’d been petrified he wouldn’t make it back.

Despite registering on the system as a blip of energy beside Bryce, Danika Fendyr was not a tether to life, not a true Anchor. She had no life of her own. Danika was merely the thing that had given Bryce enough courage to attempt the Drop alone.

The Autumn King went on, “I’ve looked. I’ve spent centuries looking. Thousands of people throughout the ages have attempted to go past their own intended levels through artificial means. None of them ever made it back to life.”

One minute remained, the seconds flying off the countdown clock.

Bryce had still not Ascended. Was still making the Search, facing whatever lay within her. The timer would have halted if she had begun her attempt at the Ascent, marking her entrance into the Between—the liminal place between death and life. But the timer kept going. Winding down.

It didn’t matter, though. Bryce would die whether she attempted it or


Thirty seconds left. The remaining dignitaries in the room bowed

their heads.

Ten seconds. The Autumn King rubbed at his face, then watched the clock count down. The remainder of Bryce’s life.

Five. Four. Three. Two.

One. The milliseconds raced toward zero. True death. The clock stopped at 0.003.

A red line shot across the bottom of the Eleusian system’s graph, along the runway toward oblivion.

Declan whispered, “She’s running.”

“Faster, Bryce!” Danika raced at her heels.

Step after step after step, Bryce barreled down that mental runway.

Toward the ever-nearing end of it. “Faster!” Danika roared.

One shot. She had one shot at this.

Bryce ran. Ran and ran and ran, arms pumping, gritting her teeth. The odds were impossible, the likelihood slim.

But she tried. With Danika beside her, this last time, she could try. She had made the Drop solo, but she was not alone.

She had never been alone. She never would be.

Not with Danika in her heart, and not with Hunt beside her.

The end of the runway neared. She had to get airborne. Had to start the Ascent, or she’d fall into nothingness. Forever.

Don’t stop!” Danika screamed. So Bryce didn’t.

She charged onward. Toward that very final, deadly end point. She used every foot of the runway. Every last inch.

And then blasted upward.

Declan couldn’t believe what he was seeing as the Autumn King fell to his knees. As Bryce rose, lifted on a surge of power.

She cleared the deepest levels.

“It’s not …,” the Autumn King breathed. “It’s not possible. She is


Tears streamed down Sabine’s harsh face as she whispered, “No, she isn’t.”

The force that was Danika Fendyr, the force that had given Bryce that boost upward, faded away into nothing.

Declan knew it would never return, in this world or on a mist-veiled isle.

It might still have been too long for Bryce’s brain to be without oxygen, even if she could make it the entire way back to life. But his princess fought for every bit of progress upward, her power shifting,

traces of everyone who’d given it to her coming through: mer, shifter, draki, human, angel, sprite, Fae …

“How,” the Autumn King asked no one in particular. “How?”

It was the ancient Prime of the wolves who answered, his withered voice rising above the pinging of the graph. “With the strength of the most powerful force in the world. The most powerful force in any realm.” He pointed to the screen. “What brings loyalty beyond death, undimming despite the years. What remains unwavering in the face of hopelessness.”

The Autumn King twisted toward the ancient Prime, shaking his head. Still not understanding.

Bryce was at the level of ordinary witches now. But still too far from


Motion caught Declan’s eye, and he whirled toward the feed of the

Old Square.

Wreathed in lightning, healed and whole, Hunt Athalar was kneeling over Bryce’s dead body. Pumping her torso with his hands—chest compressions.

Hunt hissed to Bryce through his gritted teeth, thunder cracking above him, “I heard what you said.” Pump, pump, pump went his powerful arms. “What you waited to admit until I was almost dead, you fucking coward.” His lightning surged into her, sending her body arcing off the ground as he tried to jump-start her heart. He snarled in her ear, “Now come say it to my face.”

Sabine whispered a sentence to the room, to the Autumn King, and Declan’s heart rose, hearing it.

It was the answer to the ancient Prime’s words. To the Autumn King’s question of how, against every statistic blaring on Declan’s computer, they were even witnessing Hunt Athalar fight like Hel to keep Bryce Quinlan’s heart beating.

Through love, all is possible.

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