Chapter no 18

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

Hunt coughed, seeing stars with every heave as he sprayed blood.

“Fuck, Athalar,” Baxian grunted from where he hung on the other side of Danaan, though he wasn’t much better.

They’d had all of a few hours on the floor before Pollux had returned and hauled them back up. Hunt hadn’t been able to stop screaming as his shoulders dislocated again.

But Pollux had been called away somewhere, and apparently there was no one else in the palace suitably fucked up to torture them, so they’d been left here.

Bryce. Her name came and went with his wet, rasping breaths. He’d wanted so many things with her. A normal, happy life. Children.

Gods, how many times had he thought about her beautiful face as it would look when she held their little winged children? They’d have their mother’s hair and temper, and his gray wings, and occasionally, he’d catch a glimpse of his own mother’s smile on their cherubic faces.

The last time he’d been in these dungeons, he’d had no visions of the future to cling to. Shahar had been dead, most of the Fallen with her, and all his dreams with them. But maybe this was worse. To have come so close to those dreams, to be able to see them so vividly, to know Bryce was out there … and he was not.

Hunt shoved aside the thoughts, the pain that ached worse than his shoulders, his breaking body, and grunted, “Danaan. You’re up.”

The Hammer’s early departure today had left an opening. Everything else, what Apollion and Aidas had implied, that shit about his father and the black crown—the halo—on him … it was all secondary.

All his failures on Mount Hermon, the Fallen who’d died, losing Shahar, being enslaved … Secondary.

All the repeated failures these past few months, leading them toward disaster, toward this … Secondary.

If this was their one shot, he’d put it all behind him. He had been alone the last time. Seven years down here, alone. Only the screams of his fellow tortured Fallen in other chambers to keep him company, to remind him hourly of his failures. Then the two years in Ramuel’s dungeons. Nine years alone.

He wouldn’t let the two friends beside him endure it.

“Do it now, Danaan,” Hunt urged Ruhn.

“Give me … a moment,” Ruhn panted.

Fuck, the prince had to be in bad shape to have even asked that. Proud bastard.

“Take a few,” Hunt said, gentle but firm, even as guilt twisted his gut. To his credit, Ruhn took only a minute, then the creaking of his chains began again.

“Keep it quiet,” Baxian warned as Ruhn swayed his body back and forth, swinging his weight. Aiming for the rack of weapons and devices just beyond the reach of his feet.

“Too … far,” Ruhn said, legs straining toward the rack. Trying to grab the iron poker that, if the prince’s abs held out, he could curl upward and position with his feet, nestling it inside the chain links—and twist it until they hopefully snapped free.

It was a long shot—but any shot was worth a try.

“Here,” Hunt said, and lifted himself up on his screaming shoulders, feet out. Blocking out the agony, breathing through it, Hunt kicked as Ruhn collided with him. The prince muffled a cry of pain, but arced farther this time, closer to the rack.

“You got this,” Baxian murmured.

Ruhn swung back, and Hunt kicked him again, eyes watering at what the movement did to every part of his body.

The rack was still too far. Another few inches and Ruhn’s feet could grab the handle of the iron poker, but those inches were insurmountable.

“Stop,” Hunt ordered, breathing hard. “We need a new plan.”

“I can reach it,” Ruhn growled.

“You can’t. Not a chance.”

Ruhn’s swinging came to a gradual halt. And in silence, they hung there, chains clanking. Then Ruhn said, “How strong is your bite, Athalar?”

Hunt stilled. “What the fuck do you mean?”

“If I … swing into you …,” Ruhn said, gasping. “Can you bite off my hand?”

Shock fired through Hunt like a bullet. From the other side of Ruhn, Baxian protested, “What?”

“I’d have more range,” Ruhn said, voice eerily calm.

“I’m not biting off your fucking hand,” Hunt managed to say.

“It’s the only way I’ll reach it. It’ll grow back.”

“This is insane,” Baxian said.

Ruhn nodded to Hunt. “We need you to be the Umbra Mortis. He’s a badass—he wouldn’t hesitate.”

“A badass,” Hunt said, “not a cannibal.”

“Desperate times,” Ruhn said, meeting Hunt’s stare.

Determination and focus filled the prince’s face. Not one trace of doubt or fear.

Pollux probably wouldn’t return until morning. It might work.

And the guilt already weighing on Hunt, on his shredded soul … What difference would this make, in the end? One more burden for his heart to bear. It was the least he could offer, after all he’d done. After he’d led them into this unmitigated disaster.

Hunt’s chin dipped.

“Athalar,” Baxian cut in roughly. “Athalar.”

Hunt dragged his eyes to the Helhound, expecting disgust and dismay. But he found only intense focus as Baxian said, “I’ll do it.”

Hunt shook his head. Though Baxian could probably reach if Ruhn stretched toward him—

“I’ll do it,” Baxian insisted. “I’ve got sharper teeth.” It was a lie. Perhaps his teeth were sharper in his Helhound form, but—

“I don’t care who fucking does it,” Ruhn snarled. “Just do it before I change my mind.”

Hunt scanned Baxian’s face again. Found only calm—and sorrow. Baxian said softly, “Let me shoulder this burden. You can get the next one.”

The Helhound had been Hunt’s enemy at Sandriel’s fortress for so many years. Where had that male gone? Had he ever existed, or had it been a mask all along? Why had Baxian even fallen in with Sandriel in the first place?

Maybe it didn’t matter now. Hunt nodded to Baxian in acceptance and thanks. “You were a worthy mate to Danika,” he said.

Pain and love flooded Baxian’s eyes. Perhaps the words had touched on a wound, a doubt that had long plagued him.

Hunt’s heart strained. He knew the feeling.

But Baxian jerked his chin at Ruhn, holding the prince’s stare with the unflinching determination he’d been known for as one of Sandriel’s triarii.

Here was the male Hunt had tangled with back then—to devastating results. Including that snaking scar down Baxian’s neck, courtesy of Hunt’s lightning.

“Get ready,” Baxian said quietly to Ruhn. “You can’t scream.”

With the excuse of her cycle, Lidia found a shred of privacy to think through her plan, to fret over whether it would work, to pace her room and debate whether she’d put her trust in the right people.

Trust was a foreign concept to her—even before she’d turned into Agent Daybright. Her father had certainly never instilled such a thing in her. And after her mother had sent her away at age three, right into the arms of that monstrous man … Trust didn’t exist in her world.

But right now, she had no choice but to rely on it.

Lidia had just changed her tampon and washed her hands when Pollux strutted into the bathroom.

“Good news,” he announced, flashing a dazzling smile. He seemed lighter on his feet than he had since Quinlan had escaped.

She leaned against the bathroom door, inspecting her immaculate uniform. “Oh?”

“I’m surprised you didn’t hear it from Rigelus first.” Pollux stripped off his bloodied shirt.

Ruhn’s blood clung to him, its scent screaming through the room. Ruhn’s blood

Muscles rippling under his golden skin, Pollux stalked to the shower, where untold gallons of blood had washed away from his body. A wild sort of excitement seemed to pulse from him as he cranked on the water.

“Rigelus and the others were able to fix the Harpy.”

At first, nothing happened as Bryce stood atop the eight-pointed star.

“Well—” Nesta began.

Light flared from the star at Bryce’s feet, from her chest, merging and blending, and then a hologram of a dark-haired young female—High Fae—appeared. As if she were addressing an audience.

Bryce knew that heart-shaped face. The long hair.

“Silene,” Bryce murmured.

“From the carving?” Nesta asked, and as Bryce glanced to her, the warrior stepped through the wards as if they were nothing. Like she could have done so all along. Azriel didn’t try to stop her, but remained standing inside the tunnel mouth. “At the beginning of the tunnels,” Nesta said, “there was that carving of a young female … you said her name was Silene.”

“The carving’s an exact likeness,” Bryce said, nodding. “But who is she?”

Azriel said softly, voice tinged with pain, “She looks like Rhysand’s sister.”

Nesta peered back at him with something like curiosity and sympathy. Bryce might have asked what the connection meant, but the hologram spoke.

“My story begins before I was born.” The female’s voice was heavy—weary. Tired and sad. “During a time I know of only from my mother’s stories, my father’s memories.” She lifted a finger to the space between her brows. “Both of them showed me once, mind-to-mind. So I shall show you.”

“Careful,” Azriel warned, but too late. Silene’s face faded, and mist swirled where she’d stood. It glowed, casting light upon Nesta’s shocked face as she came to a stop beside Bryce.

Bryce swapped a look with the female. “First sign of trouble,” Nesta said under her breath, “and we run.”

Bryce nodded. She could agree to that much. Then Silene’s voice spoke from the fog. And any promise of running faded from Bryce’s mind.

We were slaves to the Daglan. For five thousand years, our people—the High Fae—knelt before them. They were cruel, powerful, cunning. Any attempt at rebellion was quashed before forces could be rallied. Generations of my ancestors tried. All failed.

The fog cleared at last.

And in its wake spread a field of corpses under a gray sky, the twin to the one carved miles behind in the tunnels: crucifixes, beasts, blood eagles—

The Daglan ruled over the High Fae. And we, in turn, ruled the humans, along with the lands the Daglan allowed us to govern. Yet it was an illusion of power. We knew who our true masters were. We were forced to make the Tithe to them once a year. To offer up kernels of our power in tribute. To fuel their own power—and to limit our own.

Bryce’s breath caught in her throat as an image of a Fae female kneeling at the foot of a throne appeared, a seed of light in her upheld hands. Smooth, delicate fingers closed around the Fae female’s droplet of power. It flickered, illumining pale skin.

The hand that had claimed the power lifted, and Bryce stilled as the memory zoomed out to reveal the hand’s bearer: a black-haired, white-skinned Asteri.

There was no mistaking the cold, otherworldly eyes. She lounged in golden robes, a crown of stars upon her head. Her red lips pulled back in a cold smile as her hand closed tightly around the seed of power.

It faded into nothing, absorbed into the Asteri’s body.

The Daglan became arrogant as the millennia passed, sure of their unending dominion over our world. But their overconfidence eventually blinded them to the enemies amassing at their backs, a force like none that had been gathered before.

Bryce’s breath remained caught in her throat, Nesta still as death at her side, as the scene shifted to show a golden-haired High Fae female standing a step behind the Asteri’s throne. Her chin was lifted, her face as cold as her mistress’s.

My mother served at that monster’s side for a century, a slave to her every sick whim.

Bryce knew who it was before Silene spoke again. Knew whose truth she’d been led here, across the stars, to learn at last.


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