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Chapter no 5

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

Ithan’s heart stalled as Sabine smiled savagely, advancing toward the warehouse’s side door. The alley behind her was empty—no witnesses. Exactly what Ithan and all those who served under Sabine had been trained to ensure.

Sigrid backed up a step, right into Declan. The sprites clung to her neck, yellow flames trembling.

“I knew my brother let me find him and your sister too easily,” Sabine snarled, eyes fixed wholly on Sigrid, as if the two Fae warriors with guns pointed at her head were nothing. “I knew he lied about how many pups he had.”

Sigrid halted her retreat. Ithan didn’t dare take his eyes off Sabine to read her face.

“All that effort—for you?” Sabine surveyed her curving claws. “I promise to make this quick, at least. It’s more than I can say for your sister. Poor pup.”

“Leave her alone,” Ithan snarled, balancing on the balls of his feet, readying to leap for Sabine. To make this final, disastrous stand.

Sabine laughed humorlessly, acknowledging his existence at last. “Some guard, Holstrom.”

“You have two fucking seconds, Sabine, to get lost,” Declan said.

Sabine’s smile crinkled her nose—sheer lupine fury. “You’ll need more than bullets to down me, Faeling.” Ithan had told Flynn that Sabine wasn’t dumb enough to start shit on the Viper Queen’s turf, but at the sight of the Prime Apparent’s hateful expression, he wondered if her rage and fear had overridden any scrap of common sense.

He unsheathed his claws. “How about these?” He snarled again. “You’re dead fucking meat when we tell the authorities about this.”

Sabine’s smile became icy cold. “Who will you tell? Celestina won’t care. And the Autumn King wants a clean slate for the Valbaran Fae. He’ll have nothing to do with this.”

A low, thunderous growl rattled from behind Ithan.

The hair on his arms rose. It was a growl of pure challenge. One he’d heard from Danika. From Connor. The challenge of a wolf who wouldn’t back down.

Sabine glanced to Sigrid in surprise.

“I went into the tank for my sister,” Sigrid rasped, agony and rage contorting her face. “To keep her fed. To keep her safe. And you killed her.” Her voice rose, full of command that had the wolf in him sitting up, readying to strike at her signal. “I’ll rip out your throat, you soulless thief. I’m going to piss on your rotting corpse—”

Sabine leapt.

Declan fired his gun at the same time Flynn unleashed a second, blasting shot.

Sigrid dropped to her knees, claws scratching at her face as she shielded her ears against the noise. Flynn advanced, gun at the ready, firing again at the downed wolf leaking blood onto the grimy alley pavement.

Dec’s shot had been for Sabine’s knee—to incapacitate her. But Flynn had blasted Sabine’s face clean off.

“Hurry,” Flynn said, grabbing Sigrid’s arm. The trembling sprites leapt onto his shoulders. “We have to get to the river—we’ll grab one of the boats.”

Yet Ithan could only stare at Sabine’s body, the blood and gore splattered around the alley. She would no doubt heal from this wound, but not soon enough to stop them from leaving.

Every muscle in his body locked up. As if screaming, Help her! Protect and save your Alpha! Even if something in his gut whispered, Rip her to pieces.

The others began running for the alley, but Ithan didn’t move.

“Stop,” he said. They didn’t hear him. “Stop!” His shout echoed over stone and corpse and blood—and they halted within steps of the alley exit.

“What?” Marc said, his cat’s eyes gleaming in the dimness.

“The other wolves … they went quiet.” The howls that had been closing in behind them had stopped entirely.

“Glad someone finally noticed,” drawled a female voice from the end of the alley.

The Viper Queen lounged against a filthy wall, cigarette smoldering between her fingers, her white jumpsuit glowing like the moon in the flickering firstlight from the lampposts. Her eyes dropped to Sabine’s body. Her purple-painted lips curved upward as her gaze lifted to Ithan’s.

“Bad dog,” she purred.


“This is a most unorthodox request, Lidia.”

Lidia kept her chin high, hands tucked behind her back as she walked with clipped precision along the crystal hallway. The perfect imperial soldier. “Yes, but I believe Irithys might be … motivating for Athalar.”

Rigelus kept pace beside her, graceful despite his long, gangly legs. The teenage Fae body masked the immortal monster beneath.

As they began to descend a winding staircase, lit only by firstlights guttering in tiny alcoves, Rigelus sniffed, “She is mostly cooperative, but she might balk at the order.”

Now a step behind him, Lidia fixed her gaze on his scrawny neck. It would be so easy, were he any other being, to wrap her hands around it and twist. She could almost feel the echo of his crunching bones reverberating against her palms.

“Irithys will do what she’s told,” Lidia said as they descended into the gloom.

Rigelus said nothing more as they wound around and around, into the earth beneath the Eternal Palace. Even deeper than the dungeons where Ruhn and the others were kept. Most believed this place little more than myth.

Rigelus at last halted before a metal door. Lead—six inches thick.

Lidia had been here only once over her time with the Asteri. Accompanied by Rigelus then as well, along with her father.

A private tour of the palace, given by the Bright Hand himself to one of his most loyal subjects—and one of his wealthiest. And Lidia, young and still brimming with hate and disdain for the world, had been all too willing to join them.

She became that person again as Rigelus laid a hand on the door. The lead glowed, and then the door swung open.

The oppressive heat and humidity of this place hadn’t changed since that first visit. As Lidia stepped inside after Rigelus, it once again pushed with damp fingers on her face, her neck.

The hall stretched ahead, the one thousand sunken tubs in the stone floor shining with pale light that illuminated the bodies floating within. Masks and tubes and machines hummed and hissed; salt crusted the stones between the tanks, some sections piled thick with it. And before the machines, already bowing at the waist to Rigelus …

A withered humanoid form, veiled and dressed in gray robes, the material gauzy enough to reveal the bony body beneath, stood at the massive desk at the entrance of the room. The Mistress of the Mystics. If she had a name, Lidia had never heard it uttered.

Above her veiled head, a hologram of images spun, stars and planets whizzing by. Every constellation and galaxy the mystics now searched for Bryce Quinlan. How many corners of the universe remained?

That wasn’t Lidia’s concern—not today. Not as Rigelus said, “I have need of Irithys.”

The mistress lifted her head, but her body remained stooped with age, so thin the knobs of her spine jutted from beneath her gauzy robe. “The queen has been sullen, Your Brilliance. I fear she will not be amenable to your requests.”

Rigelus only gestured to the hall, bored. “We shall try, nonetheless.”

The mistress bowed again and hobbled past the sunken tubs and machinery, the trail of her robes white with salt.

Rigelus strode past the mystics without so much as a downward glance. They were mere cogs in a machine to help facilitate his needs. But Lidia couldn’t help assessing the watery faces as she passed. All slumbering, whether they wanted to or not.

Where had they come from, the dreamers locked down here? What Hel had they or their families endured to make it worth it? And what skills did they possess to warrant this alleged honor of honors, to serve the Asteri themselves?

Rigelus neared the dimly glowing center of the hall. There, in a crystal bubble the size of a cantaloupe, a female made of pure flame slumbered.

Her long hair lay draped around her in golden waves and curls of fire, her lean, graceful limbs nude. The Sprite Queen was perhaps no bigger than Lidia’s hand, yet even in repose, she had a presence. Like she was the small sun around which this place orbited.

It was close to the truth, Lidia supposed.

The mistress hobbled to the warded and bespelled orb and rapped on it with her knobbly knuckles. “Get up. Your master’s here to see you.”

Irithys opened eyes like glowing coals. Even crafted of flame, she seemed to simmer with hate. Especially as her gaze landed on Rigelus.

The Bright Hand inclined his head mockingly. “Your Majesty.”

Slowly, with dancer-like grace, Irithys sat up. Her eyes slid from Rigelus to her mistress to Lidia. Nothing but calculation and resentment shone on her face—an uncommonly plain face, considering the usual beauty of her kind.

Rigelus gestured to Lidia, the golden rings on his long fingers sparkling in Irithys’s light. “My Hind has a request of you.”

My Hind. Lidia ignored the possession in the words. The way they raked down her very soul.

She stepped closer to the bubble, hands once again clasped behind her back. “I have three prisoners in the dungeon who will find your sort of fire particularly motivating. I require you to come to the dungeons, to help me convince them to talk.”

The Mistress of the Mystics whipped her head to Lidia. “You can’t mean for her to leave here—”

Not sparing the crone a look, Lidia said, “Surely, as mistress of this place, you can find it in yourself to protect your wards for a few hours.”

Beneath the thin veil, she could have sworn the mistress’s eyes sparked with hostility. “Irithys is here because of the need for her specific kind of protection. Because of her light, a beacon against the darkness of Hel—”

Lidia only leveled a bored look at Rigelus.

He smirked, always amused by the cruelty of others, and said to the mistress, “Should Hel come knocking, send word and I will assist you personally.” A huge honor—and an indication of how badly he needed Athalar broken. Ruhn and Baxian, she wasn’t entirely sure about, but Athalar …

The mistress bowed her head. Leaving Irithys now staring at Lidia.

Lidia lifted her chin. “Will you be amenable to assisting me?”

Irithys glanced down at herself, as if she could see the small band of tattoos around her throat. A halo of sorts—inked on the Sprite Queen by an imperial hag to keep her power in check.

The queen’s gesture was a silent question.

Rigelus said, “The ink remains. You can wield enough of your powers to prove useful.”

Lidia kept quiet. Let Irithys study her.

She’d been kept down here more than a century. Had not seen daylight or left that crystal bubble in all that time. There was a good chance that behind the glimmering eyes, the queen had gone mad.

But Lidia didn’t need her sanity. She could do the thinking for the two of them.

Irithys’s chin dipped slightly.

Rigelus turned to Lidia. “You have a week with her.”

Lidia held the sprite’s blazing stare, let her see the cold fire within her own soul. “Breaking Athalar won’t take that long.”


Bryce left what she assumed was dinner—roast chicken, more bread, and some herbed potatoes—uneaten on the tray. No one had come by in the hours that had passed, so she assumed they’d either check in with her tomorrow, or perhaps wait until she was banging on that wall of night and howling for someone to come talk to her.

Neither of which seemed like an appealing option.

That left two choices, really. See if she could break through the magical barrier, then make her way out of this mountain and into a strange new world with no idea where she was going, or …

She glanced down. Or she could see what lay at the bottom of the grate, if there was some opening beyond the beasts that might take her out of this place … and into a strange new world with no idea where she was going.

Hours, and that was the best she could come up with.

“Pathetic,” she muttered, zipping the Archesian amulet along its chain. “Fucking pathetic.”

What was happening to Hunt? To Ruhn? Were they even—

She wouldn’t let herself think about it.

Her captors had taken her phone before bringing her here, so she had no idea what time it was. Or at least what time it was on Midgard. She didn’t even want to wade into the tangle of how time might pass faster or slower on this world. And how long had actually passed since that run down the hallway in the Eternal Palace—

Bryce stood from her crouched position against the wall. Stalked to the grate in the center of the room. A chorus of hissing rose from it as she approached.

“Yeah, yeah, I hear you,” she murmured, kneeling and prying the grate out of the floor, her fingers straining painfully with the effort. But inch by inch, it pulled away, scraping too loudly against the stone floor.

She waited a moment, listening for the sounds of her approaching captors. When no one came to investigate the noise, Bryce peered into the yawning dark pit she’d opened.

She lowered her head a little toward the hole. The hissing stopped.

Bryce willed starlight to her hand and held it up. Nothing but emptiness waited below. Bryce fisted her palm, balling the starlight into an orb, and dropped it down—

A writhing sea of black, scaled bodies silvered by her light appeared.

Bryce scrambled back.

Sobeks—or their dark twins. Tharion had faced them when they’d escaped the Bone Quarter, concentrating his water magic into lethal spears that pierced their thick hides, but …“Fuck,” she breathed.

She glanced over a shoulder to the door. To the shield that echoed there with a sense of Rhysand. Power the likes of which she’d never encountered—at least, other than from the Asteri.

If he had as much power as an Asteri … It was all a hunch, really, but if he could be manipulated into helping her, somehow coming back to Midgard with her and kicking ass—

She might very well replace six conquerors for another. And something had to change, the cycle had to stop now, but not if it began anew with another overlord. And if Rhysand did indeed have that much power, she doubted these interrogations would continue so peaceably for much longer. Especially now that they knew she had something of importance tattooed on her back. Whatever Made meant, it held considerable weight with them. She had little doubt their patience would soon wear thin.

And whether it’d manifest in Rhysand going against his oh-so-polite insistence on her consent to be mentally probed or in Azriel carving her up with that black knife … she didn’t want to be around to find out.

Bryce peered at the hole, the beasts below.

That kernel of magic that had altered the language in her brain and set the Horn glowing had left something in her chest. Just enough fuel.

She’d have a nanosecond to teleport—winnow, as they called it here—down to the beasts. To that sliver of rock she’d noted jutting above them, little wider than her foot. Then she’d have to see if there was any way out. Some tunnel through which they moved beneath this place.

Unless it was only a pit, a veritable cage where they sat in darkness and waited for meat—dead or alive—to be thrown to them.

It would be a true leap of faith.

Her hands shook, but she balled them into fists. She’d outrun an Asteri. Granted, that was with Hunt’s lightning, but …

Every minute here counted. Every minute left Hunt and Ruhn in Rigelus’s hands. If they were even still alive.

“Hunt. Ruhn. Mom. Dad. Fury. June. Syrinx.” She whispered their names, fighting the tightness in her throat.

She had to get out of here. Before these people decided the risk she posed was too great, and dealt with her the smart way. Or before they decided they liked the sound of Midgard, of Rigelus, and knew she’d be a wonderful peace offering—

“Get the fuck up,” she grunted. “Get the fuck up and do something.”

Hunt would tell her she was out of her mind. Ruhn would tell her to try to spin some more bullshit, try to win her captors over. But Danika …

Danika would have jumped.

Danika had jumped—down into the depths of the Drop with Bryce. Knowing there’d be no return trip for her.

Danika, whose death Rigelus had engineered, manipulating Micah into killing her.

A white haze blurred Bryce’s vision. Primal wrath pumped through her, the sort only the Fae could descend into. It sharpened her vision. Tautened her muscles. The star on her chest flared with soft light.

“Fuck this,” she growled.

And teleported into the pit.


Tharion supposed he was still high, still hallucinating, when Ithan Holstrom, Declan Emmet, Tristan Flynn, Marc Rosarin, and an unfamiliar female wolf—carrying three very familiar sprites—walked into the suite. They were escorted by the Viper Queen and six of her drugged-out Fae bodyguards.

Lying on the couch in front of the TV, so chill it was as if his very bones had melted into the cushions, Tharion could barely lift his head as the group filed in. He gave them a lazy, blissed-out smile. “Hi, friends.”

Declan blew out a breath. “Burning fucking Solas, Tharion.”

Tharion’s face heated. He had a good idea how he looked. But he couldn’t convince his body to move. His head was too heavy, limbs too limp. He closed his eyes, sinking back into that sweet heaviness.

“What the fuck is happening here?” Flynn growled. “Did you do that to him?”

Tharion only realized that Ari had entered the living space when she hissed at Flynn, “Me? You think I go around drugging helpless people?”

“You go around abandoning them,” Flynn countered. “Or was that reserved for Bryce and Hypaxia?”

“Go back to your partying, pretty boy,” Ari spat.

“I’ll leave you all to catch up,” the Viper Queen crooned, and stalked out, shutting the door behind her with a soft click.

Tharion managed to open his eyes. “Why are you guys here?” Ogenas, his mouth felt so far away.

Declan paced a few steps. “Bryce, Athalar, and Ruhn didn’t make it out of the Eternal Palace.”

Was it the news or the venom that made his entire world spin? “Dead?” The word was like ash on his tongue.

“No,” Declan said. “As far as we know. Bryce disappeared, and Ruhn and Hunt are now being held in the Asteri’s dungeons.”

Tharion just stared at the Fae warrior—Declan’s form blurring at the edges—and let the news sink in.

“Dude, your pupils are huge,” Flynn said. No wonder his vision was so foggy. “What are you on?”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Her venom,” Ari snapped. “That’s what he’s on.”

“You look terrible,” Declan said, stepping closer to peer down at Tharion. “Your shoulder—”

“Minotaur,” Tharion grunted. “It’s healing. And I don’t want to talk about it. Where did Bryce go?”

“We don’t know,” Declan said.

“Fuck.” Tharion said the word on a long exhale. It echoed in every bone and blood vessel. Before he could ask more, he noticed Ari sizing up the group, her gaze landing on the female wolf beside Holstrom. “I know you.”

The female wolf’s chin lifted. “Likewise, dragon.”

Tharion must have made a confused face, because Holstrom said, “This is Sigrid … Fendyr.”

Yeah, he was hallucinating. There was only one Fendyr other than the Prime: Sabine. And he was pretty sure she didn’t have any secret daughters.

“We’ll get to the particulars later,” Declan said, and slumped into the nearest chair. His boyfriend stood beside him, a hand on his shoulder. “We have to sort through this clusterfuck.”

Flynn swore. “What is there to sort through? We killed Sabine.”

Tharion jolted—or tried to. His body wouldn’t move.

You killed Sabine,” Declan said. “I shot her in the leg.”

“She’s not dead-dead,” Flynn said.

“She doesn’t have a face,” Dec countered. “That’s pretty—”

“What happened to the other wolves?” Holstrom asked none of them in particular.

Oh, wait—he was asking Tharion and Ari. Ari gave Holstrom a blank look. “What wolves?”

“We were being chased by the Black Rose Pack,” Ithan explained, “and then … we weren’t. Where did the Viper Queen take them?”

“Start looking in the river,” Tharion mumbled.

“She wouldn’t have killed them,” Marc said. “It’d be a headache, even for her. Her goons must have knocked them out and moved them elsewhere.”

“What about Sabine?” Holstrom asked.

Gods, Tharion’s head was throbbing. This had to be some weird dream.

“The Viper Queen will twist this to her own advantage somehow,” Marc said. “She’ll either present herself as Sabine’s rescuer or hand us over.”

Tharion lifted his brows at Marc.

Marc caught the look and explained, “I’ve had a few clients get into trouble with the Viper Queen over the years. I learned a thing or two about her tactics.”

Tharion nodded, as if this was perfectly fucking normal, and closed his eyes again.

“Pathetic,” Ari hissed—probably at him. But then she asked the others, “So you’re all the Viper Queen’s captives?”

“Not sure,” Declan said. “She caught us in the act of, uh … downing Sabine. When she told us to follow, it seemed like an order.”

“But she said nothing else?” Ari asked. Tharion cracked an eye, fighting to stay present.

“Just that we can crash here tonight,” Flynn said, plopping on the couch beside Tharion and grabbing the remote. He flipped to some sports highlights.

“We should make a run for Tiberian or for the river,” Declan said.

“You’re not getting out if the Viper Queen doesn’t want you to,” Tharion rasped.

“So we’re trapped?” Sigrid’s voice hitched with something like panic.

“No,” Holstrom said. “But we need to think through our steps carefully. It’s a question of strategy.”

“Lead on, oh great sunball captain,” Flynn intoned with mock solemnity.

Ithan rolled his eyes, and the gesture was so normal, so friendly, that something in Tharion’s chest tightened. He’d thrown all this away, any shot at a normal life. And now his friends were here … seeing him like this.

Tharion closed his eyes once more, this time because he couldn’t stand the sight of his friends. Couldn’t stand the worry and pity in Holstrom’s eyes as the wolf took in his sorry state.

Captain Whatever. More like Captain Worthless.


The beasts were much larger, much fouler-smelling up close. Bryce’s magic sputtered as they turned her way. She teetered on the rock ledge before steadying herself.

One leap upward, and they’d devour her. Her star illuminated only the closest ones, all hissing mouths, writhing bodies, slashing tails—

She rallied her power, but … nothing. Just glittering stardust in her veins. Only enough to keep that star glowing on her chest. No teleporting, then. Could these creatures see enough to be blinded? They dwelled in the darkness. Could they have evolved past the need for sight?

The thoughts raced and crashed through her. The grate was thirty feet up—no way to go back now. And the floor of the pit was covered with these things, all smelling her, assessing her.

But not … advancing. Like something about her gave them pause.

Made. Maybe it also meant something to these creatures.

Bryce tugged the neckline of her T-shirt down, revealing the star in all its glory. The beasts shrank back, hissing, tossing massive, scaled heads. Their teeth glinted in the starlight.

A tunnel stretched on either side of the pit. She could only make out the cavernous mouths, but it seemed like this pit sat in the middle of a passage. To where, though? This was the stupidest thing she’d ever done. In a life full of stupid ideas and mistakes, that was saying something, but …

Bryce turned toward one of the tunnels, trying to better see what lay beyond. The star in her chest dimmed. Like her magic was rapidly fading. She whirled toward the other tunnel, trying to see what she could before the magic vanished—

The star flared brightly again.

“Huh,” she murmured. Bryce turned back the other way. The star faded. To the opposite side: it brightened.

Rigelus had said the star reacted to people—those loyal to her, her chosen knights or whatever. He’d also said that Theia herself had borne this star on her chest. And in this world, this home planet of Theia and the Starborn …

Bryce had no choice but to trust that star.

“That way, then,” she said, her voice echoing in the chamber. But she still had to get over the gulf of those beasts between her and the next rocky outcropping in the tunnel wall.

She’d never before wished for wings, but fuck if they wouldn’t have been handy right then. If Hunt had been here with her—

Her throat closed up. The beasts hissed, tails lashing. As if they could sense her shift in attention.

Bryce focused on her breathing, as she’d learned to do in the wake of losing Danika, as she’d learned to do in the face of all those Vanir and Fae who’d sneered at her. The star kept glowing, pointing the way. The creatures settled, as if her emotions were theirs.

She willed herself to calm. To feel no fear. The creatures settled further. Some laid their heads down.

She glanced at the star in her chest. Still glowing brightly. They are your champions, too, it seemed to say. The star hadn’t been wrong about Hunt. Or Cormac.

So Bryce stuck one foot over the ledge. The beasts didn’t move. She let her foot drop a little lower, dangling bait—

Nothing.

Her heartbeat ratcheted up, and a massive head rose, pivoting her way—

Through love, all is possible. She called up the memory of Danika’s love and let it course through her, steady her as she lowered herself onto the ground.

Into the beasts’ nest.

They lay before her like obedient dogs. She didn’t question it. Didn’t think of anything but the star on her chest and the tunnel it pointed toward and the desire to see the faces of those she loved once more.

Bryce took a step, her neon-pink sneaker outrageously bright amid the dark scales so terrifyingly close. Then another step. The creatures watched, but they didn’t move a single talon.

Ruhn had called her a queen before she left. And for the first time in her life, as she walked through that sea of death … she might have lifted her chin a bit higher. Might have felt a mantle settle on her shoulders, a train of starlight in her wake.

Might have felt something like a crown settle upon her head. Guiding her into the dark.


Tharion finally worked up enough concentration and energy to get to his feet and amble toward his room. Holstrom cornered him a second later.

“What the Hel happened?” the wolf asked, halting Tharion on the threshold.

“The River Queen was gunning for me.” Gods, his voice sounded dead, even to his ears. “It was either death or imprisonment at her hands or … this.”

“You should have come to me.”

“For what?” Tharion’s laugh was as dead as his voice. “You’re a defector, too. We’re packless wolves.” Tharion nodded to the wolf now sitting on the couch beside Flynn. “Speaking of which … Sigrid Fendyr?”

“Long story. She’s Sabine’s niece.” Ithan’s mouth tightened. “She was the female mystic in the Astronomer’s place. I pulled her out two days ago.”

Tharion’s head spun. “So what are you doing here?”

“Before Sabine showed up to kill Sigrid, we were just getting to the part where I convinced everyone to come free you from this shithole so we could get onto the Depth Charger and save Ruhn and Athalar.”

“That’s … a lot of words.” Tharion’s heart was swimming with them.

Or maybe that was the venom. His stomach was churning, and he really needed a toilet or a bed or a single moment of peace.

“You can’t stay here,” Ithan said, but his voice seemed distant as Tharion walked to his bed and collapsed face-first onto the mattress. “We’re gonna find a way to get you out.”

“Too late, wolf,” Tharion said, words muffled against the pillows. They slurred further as sleep grabbed him with sharp talons and tugged him down. “There’s no saving me.”


Ithan found Sigrid pacing before the window overlooking the now-dim fighting pit. It was late enough that even its lights had been shut off.

“You should sleep—the couch is yours.”

Dec, Flynn, and Marc had all claimed spots on the floor—though from their breathing patterns, Ithan knew they were awake. After the night they’d had, how could any of them sleep?

Sigrid wrapped her arms around her thin body. “We’re trapped here.”

“No,” Ithan insisted. “I won’t let that happen.”

“I can’t be trapped again.” Her voice broke. “I can’t.”

“You’re getting out of here,” Ithan said. “No matter what.”

“Then why not go for the door right now?” she demanded, waving a hand toward the exterior door to the suite.

“Because there are six drugged-up Fae assassins on the other side, waiting to kill us if we do.”

Her face blanched and she rubbed at her chest. “Trapping us. I need to get out.”

“You will.”

She closed her eyes, breathing shallowly, losing herself in panic.

Ithan glanced across the room. The three sprites—now curled up beside Flynn and dozing as violet balls of flame—hadn’t seemed too panicked. Quiet, but … focused. Like they were accustomed to facing fear. It made his guts twist to think about it.

“Sabine will come for me again,” Sigrid said. “Won’t she?”

“She’ll try, but we’ll be long out of the city by the time she recovers.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Why didn’t we leave immediately? When you took me out of the tank?”

Ithan stiffened. “Because I didn’t know where else to go.”

“A house with those buffoons was the best—”

“Those buffoons are my friends, and some of the best fighters I know,” Ithan warned, temper flaring. “Those buffoons risked their lives for you tonight—saved you tonight.”

Her teeth bared. “If Sabine will recover, then let me get to her body and rip it to—”

“Believe me, the thought crossed my mind. But …”

He didn’t finish the thought.

“But what?”

He shook his head, not letting himself go there, even mentally. “It’s late,” he said. “You should sleep.”

“I won’t be able to.”

“Then try,” he said, perhaps a bit more sharply than necessary.

Sigrid glared at him, then glanced toward the door to Tharion’s bedroom. “Was that the mer you wanted to get to help us?”

“Yes.”

She snorted. “I don’t think he’ll be much help to anyone. Not even himself.”

“You should sleep,” he said again. He’d had enough of this.

“Is this a thing you do frequently?” she asked suddenly. “Liberate people enslaved to others?”

“Only recently,” he said wearily.

He didn’t wait for her to reply before he walked to Tharion’s room, threw himself on the ground beside the heavily sleeping male, and closed his eyes.

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