Chapter no 100

House of Flame and Shadow (Crescent City, #3)

Bryce opened her eyes.

There were … a lot of people standing over her. Most of them were crying.

“This,” she groaned, “is like some fucked-up version of attending your own Sailing.”

Everyone was gaping at her. And Hunt—he was real, he was right there, and the shock on his face was so genuine that Bryce just laughed.

The Asteri were gone. And with them, their firstlight, secondlight, their prison of an afterlife, and those she’d loved and lost … they were safe, too.

All of Danika’s work, fulfilled.

Bryce looked from Hunt to Ithan, also hovering over her, and gave the wolf a long, assessing look. “Who died and made you Prime?”

Ithan gaped at her, but Hypaxia—crowned with bones, for fuck’s sake—smirked and said, “Sabine.”

And Bryce laughed again.

“What the fuck, Quinlan?” Hunt muttered, and she looked back at her mate, whose face was so wan, his eyes so full of wonder—

She had the sense of others being there. Of Ruhn and Lidia and Flynn and Dec and Tharion and the Princes of Hel, but they all faded away before Hunt.

Bryce lifted a hand to his cheek, wiping away a tear with her thumb. “Look at my big, tough Alphahole,” she said quietly, but tears thickened her voice, too.

“How can you joke at a time like this?” Hunt said, and Bryce surged forward and kissed him.

It was light and love and life.

She had a dim awareness of a stirring in the air around them and Ruhn saying, “Does someone, uh, want to put Jesiba’s ashes in a … cup or something?”

But Bryce just kissed Hunt, and his arms slid around her, holding her tight to him.

Like he’d never let go.

Hunt allowed Bryce out of his sight only for a few minutes. So he could do this last, final task.

Wings of every color and the husks of the mech-suits still lay where they’d collapsed hours earlier, instantly crashing to the ground the moment the Fallen souls had vacated them.

He didn’t have any particular suit in mind, but he walked among the field of them—stepping over the bodies of fallen demons and Asterian angels alike, feathers scattered everywhere, and finally halted before a hulking suit, its eyes now darkened.

“Thanks,” he said quietly to the Fallen, even if their souls were now gone. Off to the place Bryce claimed they’d all go, in the end. “For having my back this one last time.”

The battlefield beyond the city walls was eerily silent save for the calls of carrion-feeders, but the city behind him was a symphony of sirens and wails and screams. Of news helicopters circling, trying to find some way to convey what had happened.

Naomi had gone off to meet them, to attempt to establish some semblance of order.

“We did it,” Hunt said, throat thick. “At last, we did it. The hierarchies are still here, I guess, but I promise you …” He swallowed hard, surveying all the cold, empty metal littering the field around him. “It’s going to change from here on out.”

Wings flapped overhead, and then Isaiah was there, wounds already healed beneath the blood crusted on his dark skin. His brow remained wonderfully clear of the halo.

Isaiah surveyed the mech-suits, the empty eyes, and bowed his head in silent thanks.

“Wherever they’ve gone,” Isaiah said after a moment, “I hope it’s the paradise they deserve.”

“It is,” Hunt said, and knew it in his heart to be true. He eyed the angel. “What’s up?”

Isaiah smiled slightly. “I heard you came out here and thought you might want company. You know, someone to brood with.”

Hunt chuckled. “Thanks. I always appreciate a partner-in-brooding.”

Isaiah’s smile broadened. But his eyes gleamed as he said, “So, after all this time, all this suffering … we finally saw the Fallen’s cause fulfilled.”

“I was just telling them that,” Hunt said, gesturing to the empty husks of metal.

Isaiah clapped Hunt on the shoulder. “Thank you—for fighting for us until the end. Your mom would be proud, I think. Really damn proud, Hunt.”

Hunt didn’t have words, so he nodded, swallowing against the tightness in his throat. “Where do we go from here, though? I don’t know shit about building governments. Do you?”

“No,” Isaiah said. “But I think we’re about to get a crash course.”

“That’s not reassuring.” Hunt turned back toward the city. It was a shock to his system, as great as a zap of his lightning, to see the familiar skyline without the spires of the crystal palace.

The Asteri were gone.

He needed to get back to Bryce. To hold her, smell her, kiss her. No other reason than that. Than the fact that he’d come so, so close to losing her.

“Hunt,” Isaiah said. The white-winged angel’s eyes were solemn. “You could rule the angels, you know.”

Hunt blinked slowly.

Isaiah went on, “We’ll dismantle the Archangels and their schools and the hierarchies, and it’ll take years, but in the meantime, we’ll need a leader. Someone to guide us, rally us. Give us courage to turn from the old ways and toward something new. Something fair.” He folded his wings. “That should be you.”

Twice now, angels had bowed to him. Twice now, they’d given him that acknowledgment and permission. And yeah, with the Helfire in his veins, he could lead. Could blast any holdout Archangel or faction into submission.

But …

His phone buzzed, and he pulled it from his pocket to glance down.

Bryce Gives Me Magical Orgasms, Literally had messaged him.

Where are you?? I’m having separation anxiety! Get back here!!!

Another buzz, and she added, After you do whatever you need to, I mean. Like, I’m supportive of you taking space for yourself and doing what has to be done.

Another buzz.

But also get back here right now.

Hunt choked on his laugh. He had everything he needed. Everything he’d ever want.

Don’t get your panties in a twist, Quinlan, he answered. I’ll be back soon.

Then he added, Actually, do me a favor and take your panties off altogether.

He didn’t wait for her response as he slid his phone into his back pocket and grinned at Isaiah.

His friend’s eyebrows were high, no doubt surprised that he’d answered texts instead of replying to such a serious suggestion.

But Hunt had his answer. He’d had it for some time now.

He clapped Isaiah on the shoulder and said, “The angels already have a leader to steer them through this, Isaiah.”


“Not Celestina.” He squeezed his friend’s shoulder once, then stepped back, wings flapping, readying to carry him to his wife, his mate, his best friend. To the future that awaited them. “You.”

“Me?” Isaiah said, choking. “Athalar—”

Hunt lifted a few feet off the ground, hovering a beat as the autumn breeze ruffled his wings, his hair, singing of the newness of the world to come. “Lead the angels, Isaiah. I’m here if you need me.”


But Hunt shot into the skies, headed for Bryce and whatever tomorrow might bring.

Bryce’s soul was hers. It had always been hers, she supposed, but it had been … on loan.

Now that it was fully hers again, there was a whole new world to explore without the Asteri lurking about. A whole new afterlife, when she and Hunt were ready.

But not for a long, long time. Not while they still had so much to sort out.

There was one task she had to do immediately, though. How Isaiah managed to commandeer a helicopter to fly to Nena so quickly, Bryce had no idea. But maybe it had something to do with Celestina’s pull, even from Ephraim’s keep. Or maybe it was more about Celestina wanting to impress Hypaxia, who was now apparently the Head of the House of Flame and Shadow. And who didn’t seem opposed to the idea of speaking to Celestina again, if the looks they’d been sneaking each other’s way were any indication.

The Ocean Queen and her fleet had brought the witch over here—Hypaxia had intercepted the monarch on her way to beat the shit out of the Asteri for kidnapping Lidia’s two sons. The Ocean Queen might be a piece of work, but she stood by her own. And when two children had been kidnapped from her care, she’d shown up prepared to wash the entire city away in their defense.

She and her commanders remained in the Eternal City, the threat of the tsunami she held leashed around the perimeter keeping any Asteri loyalists at bay. At least the ruler seemed too busy with the new world to deal with her petty bullshit with Tharion. For now.

It was a new world. In almost every sense.

Declan was already working with a team on the math of how long Midgard could run on what remained of the firstlight before it went dark, without new firstlight being fed into the power grid. Before they had to pull out the candles and watch their mobile phones slowly die. Not that they’d have any service once the grids failed.

They’d all be back to Avallen-style living. Too bad Morven wasn’t around to enjoy it.

But they’d have to figure it out soon. Whether they wanted to restore the firstlight power system or try to find an alternate method. Whether they’d require people to hand over their power, or perhaps tax the uber-powerful. Require Archangels, who had power in spades, to donate some of their power to the grid. The powerful, serving the weak.

Or some shit like that. Honestly, Bryce planned to leave it to smarter minds than hers to sort out. Though she had little hope that she wouldn’t have to step in to kick some ass before all was said and done. For right now … There was a capital city in chaos. A world turned upside down. Yet she set her sights northward.

Bryce found Nesta in the same room the female had been in before. With Ember and Randall and a handsome, vaguely familiar winged male beside them, who smelled like Nesta’s mate. Sitting around a table and talking over tea and chocolate cake.

Chocolate cake, for fuck’s sake.

Nesta was instantly on her feet, a long dagger in her hand. The male beside her also reached for a concealed weapon, swift as a thought.

But Bryce only gazed at her parents. Happy and at home with the Fae.

Her mom stared back at her like she’d seen a ghost. The teacup she was holding began rattling against its saucer.

Hunt spared Ember from guessing at what had passed by saying, “The Asteri are gone. Midgard is free.”

A tear fell from Ember’s eye. Bryce didn’t think twice before stepping into that world and wrapping her arms around her mother. Holding her tight.

Ember clasped Bryce’s face in her hands. “I am so proud to be your mother.”

Bryce beamed, her own eyes stinging with tears, and Randall leaned in to press a kiss to her head. “You did good, kid.”

Bryce threw her arms around her dad and hugged him, too. Hugged the human warrior who had served in the Asteri’s armies, shredded apart his soul for them, until her mom had put him back together.

Nesta and her mate tensed, and Bryce knew Hunt had stepped into their world.

He peered around the room. Glanced at the city sparkling far below, a ribbon of river winding through it. They had to be high up on a mountain for this kind of view.

Nesta’s mate said, “You have one minute before Rhys gets here and explodes.”

“Oh, Rhys will be fine, Cassian,” Ember said—in the Fae’s language.

At Bryce’s shocked face, Randall said in the same language, “It got too hard to mime everything. They gave us that bean-thing they offered you.”

But Bryce shook her head. “Rhysand will be fine? The guy who brings darkness incarnate—”

“He and Randall bonded about being overprotective dads,” Ember said. “So now Rhys knows exactly the sort of shit you like to pull, which apparently you pulled here, too …”

Bryce glanced to Nesta, who was watching warily. So Bryce reached into her jacket and pulled out the Mask. “Here. As promised.”

Everyone fell silent.

And then Bryce drew Truth-Teller, and Cassian looked like he’d jump between her and Nesta. Hunt set his feet into a fighting stance in response, but Bryce just said, “Alphaholes,” and laid the dagger on the table between their tea set and treats.

“You brought them back.” Nesta’s voice was quiet.

“Did you think I wouldn’t?”

“I don’t know what I thought,” Nesta said, but smiled slightly.

“Poor Nesta’s been in the doghouse since you took their weapons and dumped us here,” Ember explained. “I tried telling Rhysand and Azriel how there’s no stopping you when you’ve got your mind set on something, and I think Feyre—Rhysand’s mate—believed me, but …” Ember glanced at Nesta and winced. “I apologize again for my daughter’s behavior.”

“I made the choice to give her the Mask,” Nesta reminded Ember. To Bryce, she added wryly, “Your mother somehow doesn’t believe that I did so willingly.”

Bryce rolled her eyes at her mother. “Great. Thanks for that.” She gestured to the portal shimmering behind them. “Shall we?”

Ember smiled softly. “They’re truly gone, then.”

“Gone, and never to be heard from again,” Bryce said, her heart lifting with the words.

Ember’s eyes gleamed with tears, but she turned, taking Nesta’s hands and clenching them tightly in her own. “Despite the fact that my daughter lied and schemed and basically betrayed us …,” she started.

“Tell us how you really feel, Mom,” Bryce muttered, earning an amused sidelong glance from Nesta.

But Ember continued, looking only at Nesta, “I am glad of one thing: that I was able to meet you.”

Nesta’s lips pressed into a thin line, and she glanced down at their joined hands.

Bryce cut in, if only to spare Nesta from her mom’s increasingly weepy-looking expression, “Next time I take on intergalactic evil, I’ll try to accommodate your bonding schedule.”

Ember finally looked over at Bryce, glaring. “You and I are going to have words when we get home, Bryce Adelaide Quinlan. Leaving Cooper behind like that—”

“I know,” Bryce said. She had a lot to answer for on that front. And apologizing to do.

“Your mother loves you,” Nesta said quietly, reading the exasperation on Bryce’s face. “Don’t for one second take that for granted.”

Bryce could only incline her head to Nesta. “I’m lucky,” she admitted. “I’ve always been lucky to have her as a mom.”

Ember really looked like she might cry now, especially as she turned back to Nesta and said, “This time with you was a gift, Nesta. It truly was.”

With that, she pulled Nesta to her in a tight embrace, and Bryce could have sworn something like pain and longing crossed Nesta’s expression. Like she hadn’t experienced a mom-hug for a long, long time.

So Bryce gave the female some privacy to enjoy every second of that motherly embrace and turned to where Randall and Cassian stood behind them. The males had clasped arms warmly. “Thanks, friend,” Randall was saying to the warrior. “For everything.”

Cassian grinned, and, well, Bryce could see why Nesta might be into a male who looked like that. “Maybe we’ll meet again one day, under less … strange circumstances.”

“I hope so,” Randall said, and as he passed by where Ember and Nesta were still hugging, he clapped the latter on the shoulder with fatherly affection.

Bryce’s heart swelled to the point of pain as Randall approached Hunt and hugged him, too. Hunt returned the embrace, thumping her father on the back before they separated to pass through the portal together.

Ember at last pulled away from Nesta. But she gently put a hand to the female’s cheek and whispered, “You’ll find your way,” before walking toward the portal.

Bryce could have sworn there were tears in Nesta’s eyes as her mother stepped back into Midgard.

But those tears were gone when Nesta met Bryce’s stare. And Cassian, like any good mate, sensed when he wasn’t wanted, and walked over to the fireplace to pretend to read some sort of old-looking manuscript. Bryce knew that, also like any good mate, if she made one wrong move, he’d rip her to shreds. Which was precisely why Hunt had come back into the room, and was watching Nesta carefully.

“Alphaholes,” Nesta echoed, eyes gleaming with amusement.

Bryce chuckled and drew the Starsword. Again, Cassian tensed, but Bryce just offered the blade to Nesta. The female took it, blinking.

“You said you had an eight-pointed star tattooed on you,” Bryce explained. “And you found the chamber with the eight-pointed star in the Prison, too.”

Nesta lifted her head. “So?”

“So I want you to take the Starsword.” Bryce held the blade between them. “Gwydion—whatever you call it here. The age of the Starborn is over on Midgard. It ends with me.”

“I don’t understand.”

But Bryce began backing toward the portal, taking Hunt’s hand, and smiled again at the female, at her mate, at their world, as the Northern Rift began to close. “I think that eight-pointed star was tattooed on you for a reason. Take that sword and go figure out why.”

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