Chapter no 3

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

“I don’t know what language the tattoo is in,” Bryce insisted. “My friend got it inked on me when I was blackout—”

“Do not lie,” Rhysand warned with soft menace. He’d kill her. Whatever the language was, it was apparently so bad that it might as well say Stick knife here.

Amren stalked around Bryce, peering at the tattoo no doubt still glowing from beneath the material of her white shirt. “I can feel something in the letters …” Bryce tensed. “Get Nesta.”

Azriel murmured, “Cassian won’t be happy.”

“Cassian will deal. Nesta will be able to sense this better than I can.” Bryce turned, placing Amren and Azriel back in her line of sight right as the former insisted, “Get her, Rhysand.”

Bryce’s knees bent into a defensive crouch. How much would this hurt? Would she stand any chance of—

Rhysand vanished again.

Before Bryce had finished rising to her feet, he returned, a familiar female with golden-brown hair in tow. As she had earlier in the foyer, the female wore dark leathers akin to those on Azriel and Rhysand, and stood with an unruffled, cool sort of calm. A warrior.

Her blue-gray eyes slid over Bryce.

Bryce slowly, almost numbly sank back into her chair. Whatever was in those eyes—

The female said quietly to the others, voice flat, almost bored, “I told you earlier: There’s something Made on her. Beyond that sword she carried.”

“Made?” Bryce, caution be damned, asked the newcomer—Nesta, she could only assume—at the same time Amren pointed to Bryce’s back and asked, “Is it that tattoo?”

Nesta just said, “Yes.”

All of them stared at Bryce once more, expressions unreadable. Which one would strike first? Four against one—she wasn’t getting out of here alive.

Amren said quietly to Rhysand, “What do you want to do with her, Rhys?”

Bryce clenched her jaw. Even if she stood zero chance of winning, like Hel would she take her death lying down. She’d fight in whatever way she could—

Nesta jerked her chin at Bryce, haughty and aloof. “You can fight us, but you’ll lose.”

Fuck that. Bryce held the female’s stare, finding a will of pure steel gleaming in it. “You try to touch that tattoo and you’ll find out why the Asteri want me dead so badly.”

She regretted the retort instantly. Azriel’s hand drifted toward the dagger at his side. But Nesta stepped closer, unimpressed and unintimidated.

“What is it?” Nesta asked Bryce, motioning to her back. “How is a bit of writing on your skin … Made?”

“I can’t answer the question until you tell me what the fuck Made means.”

“Don’t tell her anything,” Amren warned Nesta. She pointed to the doorway. “You did your job and told us what we needed. We’ll see you later.”

Nesta’s brows rose at the dismissal. But she looked at Bryce and smiled sharply. “It’s in your best interests to cooperate with them, you know.”

“So they’ve told me,” Bryce said, fingers curling into fists at the sides of her chair. She tucked them under her thighs to keep from doing anything stupid.

Nesta’s eyes gleamed with amusement, marking the movement.

“Our … visitor needs rest,” Rhysand said, and gracefully stalked to the door. Order given, Amren and Azriel strode after him, Nesta following only after staring at Bryce for another heartbeat. A taunting, daring look.

Yet as Azriel reached the threshold, Bryce blurted to the winged warrior, “The sword—where is it?”

Azriel paused, glancing over a shoulder. “Somewhere safe.”

Bryce held Azriel’s gaze, meeting his ice with her own—with that expression she knew Ruhn always thought looked so much like their father’s. The face she’d let the world see so very rarely. “The sword is mine. I want it back.”

Azriel’s mouth kicked up at the corners. “Then give us a good reason to return it to you.”

Time dripped by. Trays of simple food appeared at fairly regular intervals: bread, beef stew—or what she assumed was beef stew—hard cheese. Foods similar to ones back home.

Even the herbs were familiar—had the Fae of this world introduced them to Midgard? Or were plants like thyme and rosemary somehow universal? Strewn across space?

Or maybe the Asteri had brought those herbs from their own home world and planted them on all their conquered planets.

She knew it was a stupid thing to contemplate. That she had way bigger things to consider than an intergalactic garden. But she quickly lost interest in eating, and thinking about everything else was … too much.

No one else came to see her. Bryce entertained herself by tossing peas from her stew into the grate in the center of the floor, counting the long seconds until she heard a faint plink, and then the hiss and roar of whatever lurked down there.

She didn’t want to know. Her imagination conjured plenty of options, all with sharp teeth and ravenous appetites.

She tried the door only once. It wasn’t locked, but a wall of black night filled the doorway, obscuring the hall beyond from sight. Blocking anyone from going in or out. She’d flared her starlight, but even it had muted in the face of that darkness.

Maybe it was some kind of fucked-up test. To see if she could get through their strongest powers and wards. To feel her out as an opponent. Maybe to see what the Horn—whatever was Made about it—could do. But she didn’t need to throw her starlight against that darkness to know it wasn’t budging. Its might thundered in her very bones.

Bryce scoured her memory for any alternative escape tactic, reviewing everything Randall had taught her, but none of it was applicable to getting through that impenetrable power.

So Bryce sat. And ate. And threw peas at the monsters below.

Even if she got out of here, she couldn’t get off-planet. Not without someone to power her up, activating the Horn in the process. And from Apollion’s hints, Hunt’s power was far more compatible with hers than most. Granted, Hypaxia had powered her up against the deathstalker, but there was no guarantee the witch-queen’s magic would have been enough to open a gate.

And did she need a gate to get home? Micah had used the Horn in her back to open all seven Gates in Crescent City, blocks away. When she’d landed here, there had been no gate-like structure nearby. Just a grassy front lawn, the river, and the house she could barely make out through the dense mists.

Only the dagger—and Azriel wielding it—had been there. Like that was where she’d needed to be.

“When knife and sword are reunited, so shall our people be,” Bryce murmured into the quiet.

To what end, though? The Fae were horrible. The ones here weren’t much different from the ones she knew, as far as she could tell. And the Fae on Midgard had proved their moral rot again this spring, locking vulnerable people out of their villas during the demon attack. Proved it with their laws and rules keeping females oppressed, little more than chattel. Bryce had twisted their rules against them at the Autumn Equinox to marry Hunt, but according to those same rules, she now technically belonged to him. She was a princess, for Urd’s sake, and yet she was still the property of the untitled male she’d married.

Maybe the Fae weren’t worth uniting.

But it still left her with the problem of getting off this planet—one of the few worlds to have ever succeeded in ousting the Asteri. Daglan. Whatever they were called.

Bryce leaned against a wall of the cell, knees to her chest, and tried to sort through it all, laying out the pieces before her.

Hours stretched on. Nothing came to her.

Bryce rubbed at her face. She’d stumbled into the home world of the Fae. The world from which the Starborn Fae—Theia and Pelias and Helena—had come. From which the Starsword had come, and where its knife had been waiting. If Urd had some intention in sending her here … she sure as fuck had no idea what it was.

Or how she’d get out of this mess.

“We shouldn’t have brought her with us,” Flynn murmured as they hurried through the stalls of the Meat Market, aiming for an alternate exit on the quieter side of the warehouse. “I fucking told you, Holstrom—”

“I ordered him to bring me,” Sigrid cut in, keeping pace beside Ithan, the sprites dimmed to a pale yellow as they hunched on her shoulders. Something in Ithan twinged at that—an Alpha, defending him. Taking the responsibility, even if it implied that he could be ordered. The Alphas he’d lived under for the past few years had used their power and dominance for themselves. Danika had used her position to support those under her, in her own brash way, but Danika was gone. He’d thought he’d never encounter another like her, but maybe—

“Sabine would have found us anyway,” Ithan said, “whether we were here or at the house. It was only a matter of time.”

They entered a long service corridor with a dented metal door at its other end, a half-assed EXIT painted on it in white lettering. Definitely not up to code. Though he doubted a city health and safety inspector had ever set foot in this warren of misery.

“Do we split up?” Dec asked. “Try to shake them that way?”

“No,” Marc said, claws glinting at his fingertips. “Their sense of smell’s too good. They’ll be able to tell which of us she’s with.”

As if in answer, howls rent the warehouse proper. Ithan’s entire body locked up. He knew the tenor of those howls. Prey on the run. He gritted his teeth to keep from answering, to clamp his responding howl inside his body.

Beside him, Sigrid was a live wire. Like the howls had triggered a response in her, too.

“So we make a run for it,” Flynn said. “Where do we rendezvous if we get separated?”

The question hung in the air. Where the fuck was safe in this city, on this planet? Considering their connections to imprisoned traitors, the list of options was short as fuck. Where would Bryce have gone? She would have found someone bigger and badder … or smarter, at least. She would have gone to the gallery, maybe, to its protective wards, but Jesiba Roga’s sanctum was gone. Griffin Antiquities had never been repaired or reopened. Which left—

“We make it to the Comitium,” Ithan said. “Isaiah Tiberian will shelter us.”

Dec lifted a brow. “You know Tiberian?”

“No, but Athalar’s his friend. And I’ve heard he’s a good male.”

“For an angel,” Flynn muttered.

Sigrid demanded, “We’re going to the angels?” Disdain and distrust spiked each word.

The howls in the warehouse closed in: We stalk the darkness together.

“I don’t see another option,” Dec admitted. “It’s a gamble, though. Tiberian might go right to Celestina.”

“The Governor’s cool,” Flynn said.

“I don’t trust any Archangel,” Marc said. “They’re bred and raised into unchecked power. They go to those secretive academies, ripped away from any family. It’s not conducive to raising well-balanced people. Good people.”

At the exit, they paused, listening carefully to the sounds beyond. They couldn’t smell anything through the metal door, but the howls behind them drew closer. Whoever was in the warehouse would reach this hall in a matter of moments.

Another howl—this one familiar. “Amelie,” Ithan breathed. If they turned back, they’d face a fight with the second-most powerful wolf pack in Lunathion. Yet to go through that door into the unforgiving city, no certain allies to shelter them—

Sigrid did them all a favor and shoved the door open.

And there, standing in the alley beyond, stood Sabine Fendyr.

Sabine let out a joyless laugh. Her eyes met Ithan’s, filled with nothing but hate, and then she faced Sigrid, Ithan’s dismissal clear. He was nothing and no one to her. Not even a wolf to acknowledge.

Ithan bared his teeth. Flynn, Dec, and Marc clicked off the safeties on their guns.

But Sabine just said to Sigrid through a mouth full of fangs, “You look exactly like him.”

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