Chapter no 101

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

The Depth Charger had anchored offshore, since the nearest port to the Eternal City was too shallow to accommodate the city-ship. Standing beside Ruhn, Lidia stared at her sons as they waited on the concrete pier while the transport pod surfaced, water sloshing off its glass dome top.

Revealing Renki and Davit, both waving wildly at the two boys standing beside Lidia.

At her sons, who were smiling at their dads, Brann enthusiastically waving back, Ace giving a smaller—but no less earnest—wave as well.

Ruhn placed a gentle hand on Lidia’s back, and she leaned into the reassuring, loving touch. Her mate. Yes, she knew it without a doubt.

The glass top of the pod opened, and then Renki and Davit leapt gracefully onto the pier, Brann and Ace running for them—

It was pure love and joy, the embraces shared between the boys and their fathers. Renki had tears of relief running down his face, and Davit was holding both boys to him as if he’d never let them go again.

But Davit did let go. He crossed to Lidia in two strides and wrapped his arms around her, too. “Thank you,” the male said, voice choked with tears. “Thank you.” Renki was there the moment Davit pulled back, hugging her as tightly.

Lidia found herself smiling, even as her heart was again aching, and leaned away to survey her sons.

They were both considering her, Brann frowning deeply, Ace more unreadable. It was the former who said, “So this is goodbye?”

Lidia glanced to Renki and Davit, who both nodded. They’d spoken on the phone yesterday to coordinate this reunion—and what lay ahead. “Until things settle down a bit up here,” Lidia said. “Above the surface, I mean.”

Because even in the day since the Asteri had been vanquished, shit was already hitting the fan. The drainage of the firstlight grid was going to be a huge problem. But the Ocean Queen had fueled all her city-ships and their various pods without firstlight. With her own power. Maybe the ruler had some insight into how they might adapt their tech to move beyond consuming firstlight.

The Ocean Queen, of course, hadn’t been happy when Lidia had sent a messenger to the Depth Charger. Lidia had kept her note short and efficient:

I trust that my services are no longer required and henceforth resign from your employ.

With gratitude for your compassion,

Lidia Cervos

The Ocean Queen had dispatched her reply—again on a briny piece of kelp—an hour later.

I have bigger issues to consider than your loyalty, Lidia Cervos. I accept your resignation, but do not fool yourself into thinking that this is the last we shall cross paths. For now, you may live your life Above.

It was the best Lidia could hope for.

Now, Lidia glanced between her sons and added, “But I’d like to see you both again. If that’s okay with you.”

Brann nodded, and she had no words in her head as he walked up to her and threw his arms around her.

Her son’s scent, his warmth and nearness, threatened to bring her to her knees. But she managed to stay standing, knowing Ruhn was beside her, would always be there, supporting her, as Brann pulled back, grinning.

“You’re a badass,” Brann said, and added, “Mom.”

Even as her heart glowed with joy at the word, Lidia dared glance over his shoulder to find that Renki and Davit were grinning as broadly as Brann. Happy for her—for all of them. Her boys had a beautiful family, and perhaps, if everyone was all right with it, it was one she could find a place in. Find joy in.

Brann leaned in, pressing a kiss to Lidia’s cheek that she knew she’d cherish for the rest of her existence. Then he walked over to Ruhn, and Lidia could only blink as Brann threw his arms around Ruhn, too, hugging him tight. “Thanks,” Brann said. “For what you were gonna do. To save us—and our mom.”

Ruhn clapped Brann on the back, and Lidia’s chest filled with so much brightness she could barely contain it all. “No worries,” Ruhn said. “All in a day’s work for us Aux grunts.”

Brann grinned, then walked back to his parents, hugging Renki again.

Lidia glanced to Ace, who was watching her warily. Knowing he wouldn’t rush into her arms as Brann had, Lidia walked up to him. Slowly. Giving him time to decide what he wanted to do.

Ace held his ground, but his eyes weren’t cold as he said, “Thanks for coming for us.” His mouth quirked to the side. “Take care of yourself.”

“I’ve got Ruhn watching my back,” Lidia said, glancing to Ruhn. “I’ll be fine.”

“He shot you,” Ace said, frowning at Ruhn.

“I shouldn’t have told you that,” Ruhn muttered.

Lidia smirked, but faced Ace again. “He’ll pay for it, don’t worry.”

Ace didn’t look so sure, staring Ruhn down for a moment. But when he began walking toward his dads, he stumbled, as if …

Lidia glared at Ruhn, who whistled innocently at the sky. Fine—let him keep his mind-speaking secrets.

Ruhn slid a hand around her waist as the boys and their parents boarded the pod. Davit slid into the pilot’s seat, flicking on switches, and Brann claimed the seat beside him. Renki and Ace took the back seats, and as the pod whirred to life, they all looked at her.

Lidia offered them a small, hopeful smile. Her fingers found Ruhn’s, and she gripped his hand tightly. Ruhn didn’t let go.

Her sons were alive, and free, and in her life again, and it was more than she’d ever hoped for.

So the future, whatever it held … she’d cherish every moment of it.

Bryce was thoroughly sick of Nena’s endless chill when she opened the Northern Rift again. Not to the home world of the Fae, but to Hel.

Only blackness awaited the army marching through. The beasts and flying things and the princes, who went one by one, Thanatos giving her a look that said she might have destroyed the Asteri but he was still mad about his dog, until only Apollion and Aidas stood before her in the ice and snow.

They did not seem to require coats or hats or gloves. They didn’t even shiver.

Apollion said to Hunt, “Hel has no hold on you, and you have no obligation to us.”

“Uh, thank you?” Hunt said. “Likewise.”

Apollion threw him a half smile, then glanced to Bryce. “You did better than expected.”

Bryce snapped her fingers, the sound muffled by her gloves. “That is what I want on my new business cards. Bryce Quinlan: Better than Expected.”

Apollion just smirked and walked toward the dark.

“Hey,” Bryce called after the Prince of the Pit.

Apollion paused, raising a brow at her.

Bryce threw him a grin and said, “Thanks for not giving up on Midgard.”

She could have sworn a kernel of compassion warmed Apollion’s face before he glanced to Aidas and said, “I shall be happy to lay the matter to rest. And to see my brother at peace.”

With that, he strode through the Rift.

Bryce’s teeth were chattering now, but she faced Aidas. “Will we see you again?”

Aidas smiled wickedly. “Do you wish to?”

“No,” Bryce said, and meant it. “Grateful as we are … I think we have different definitions for the word pet.”

Aidas smiled fully this time. “Then I shall give you my gratitude, Bryce Quinlan. And bid you farewell.”

“I’ll be forever grateful,” Bryce said to the Prince of the Chasm, “for your kindness that day at the Oracle.”

His smile turned gentler. “Theia would be proud of you.”

“And of you,” Bryce said, the only gift she could offer to a Prince of Hel. She refrained from saying that Theia’s pride meant shit to her, though. “I think you might get to hear it from her lips one day.”

Aidas angled his head. Bryce had told all of them about what Jesiba had claimed. What she’d seen in that land of glowing light. “You think a Prince of Hel shall be allowed in?”

Bryce walked up to him and kissed his cheek. Icy skin met her lips. “I think a good male, regardless of where he is from, will always be allowed in.”

Aidas’s eyes glowed bright blue—with gratitude or longing or love, she didn’t know. But the prince only nodded to her, then to Hunt, and walked through the Northern Rift into the dark.

Apollion was waiting just inside, and he took up a place beside his brother. Bryce’s hand slid into Hunt’s, and she lifted her other hand in farewell.

To her surprise, both princes returned the gesture.

With a ripple of thought and power, she closed the Rift. Locked it securely, leaving no cracks to slip through. Though the Asteri were gone, all their crystal Gates throughout Midgard remained intact. But for now, at least this particular Gate was shut completely. At long last.

“Looks like your demon-hunting days might be over,” she said to Hunt.

Her mate grinned down at her, and kissed her gently, and even the frigid winds of Nena seemed to warm around them. “Guess I should file for unemployment.”

Tharion Ketos stood on the outskirts of the Meat Market, looking for his wife.

Thanks to the water sprites in her employ, the Viper Queen had apparently been able to put out the blazing main building before the fire had spread, leaving the bulk of the Meat Market’s interconnected warehouses intact.

Indeed, it seemed as if it was business as usual—albeit already adjusted to a new world. From the back of a truck, shady-looking grunts unloaded cannisters glowing with firstlight. Already stocking up on a product that would soon be in high demand.

Tharion didn’t really know why he’d come here, when Sendes had informed him that the Ocean Queen had forgiven his disobedience. In fact, she’d made him a perfectly good offer to be a commander in her forces and work aboard the Depth Charger, but he’d found himself saying he had something to do first.

And then made his way back here.

The world was in upheaval. The Asteri were gone, but there was an Imperial Senate to contend with, and Archangels, and the various House Heads, and … maybe he should have stayed on that ship.

He didn’t know why he had expected peace and comfort. Why he’d thought everyone would be happy and just … chill. But there were plenty of greedy fucks out there in the world, who were happy to use the shake-up to grab for power.

And he knew that the fuck who ruled the Meat Market was probably one of them. He’d have to contend with her at some point, probably someday soon.

But right now he needed to find his wife. Just to make sure she was okay. Then he could be on his way. Go to the Depth Charger. Or do something else, he didn’t know. He figured Ogenas would guide him at some point. Maybe help him figure out his mess of a life.

Tharion slipped on the hood of his sweatshirt, checking that the gun concealed at his side was secure and ready, and walked into the warren of the Meat Market. To whatever Urd had in store for him.

He only made it one block before a female voice said from the shadows, “You have to be ten kinds of dumb to go back in there.”

He halted, peering into the alley from which the voice had spoken. Two crimson eyes smoldered in the darkness.

Tharion inclined his head. “Hello, Ariadne.”

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