Chapter no 6

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

About twenty feet into the tunnel, the beasts tapered off. They remained still, watchful, until Bryce had passed the last of them. Until she found bars blocking the way, save for a small door on the left side of the barrier. The door swung open at the touch of her hand. She had to stoop to get through, but it had clearly been designed to keep the beasts from getting out.

She made sure to shut the door behind her.

The metal groaned, and then hissing, like a swarm of angry wasps, filled the tunnel.

The beasts were writhing again, snapping jaws and heaving bodies scraping against each other, as if shutting the door had knocked them from their stupor. Bryce stumbled back in time to see one particularly massive beast lunge for the bars.

The iron shook with the impact—but held.

Bryce panted, surveying the sinuous death once again in motion. But the beasts were far too large to squeeze through the bars.

She let out a shaky breath and surveyed the tunnel ahead. The star flared brighter, as if urging her onward.

“All right,” she said, patting her chest. “All right.”

Bryce walked for hours. Or what she assumed was hours, judging by how sore her legs became, how her feet ached, even with the cushioning of her sneakers.

The tunnel could lead nowhere. It could last for a hundred miles.

She should have grabbed some supplies—stuffed some of the food from her tray into her pockets and bra. Filled up on water.

She saw no deviations, no alternate tunnels or crossroads. Just one long, endless stretch into the dark.

Her mouth dried out, and though she knew she shouldn’t, Bryce stopped. Sitting down against the age-worn wall, she swallowed the dryness in her mouth. She had no choice but to keep going.

She closed her eyes for a heartbeat. Only one—

Bryce’s eyes flew open.

She’d fallen asleep. Somehow, she’d fallen asleep, so fucking exhausted from the last gods knew how many hours that she hadn’t even realized it, and—

The star on her chest was still glowing beneath her T-shirt. She remained in the tunnel.

But it was no longer empty.

Nesta stood over her, a sword strapped down her back. The female’s blue-gray eyes seemed to gleam with power in the starlight.

Bryce didn’t dare move.

Nesta tossed her a leather-wrapped canteen. “Do yourself a favor and drink before you pass out again.”

Bryce sipped from the canteen of what seemed to be—thankfully—water, and watched the other female over the rim of the bottle. Nesta sat against the opposite wall of the tunnel, monitoring Bryce with a feline curiosity.

They’d been silent in the minutes since Bryce had awoken. Nesta had barely moved, other than to take a seat.

At last, Bryce capped the canteen and tossed it back to Nesta. The female caught it with ease. “How’d you learn that I left the cell?” No need to reveal that she could teleport.

Nesta gave her a bored look—as if Bryce should have already known the answer. “We have people who can talk to shadows. They told us you went through the grate.”

Interesting—and creepy. But Bryce asked, “So you’re here to drag me back to the cell?”

Nesta shoved the canteen into her pack and rose, the movement sure and graceful. The sword strapped down her back … it wasn’t the Starsword, though Bryce could have sworn there was something similar about the blade. A kind of presence, a tug toward it.

The female inclined her head to the tunnel behind them—the way back. “I was sent to escort you.”

“Semantics.” Bryce got to her feet. Her versus this female … decent odds, but the sword presented a problem. As did whatever sort of presence thrummed from Nesta, apparently able to detect the Horn in Bryce’s back. Battling an opponent whose skills and powers were unknown, if not wholly alien, was probably unwise. “Look. I’m not here to start trouble—”

“Then don’t. Walk back with me.”

Bryce eyed the tunnel behind them. “How’d you even get past the beasts?”

A slight smile. “It pays to know people with wings.”

Bryce grunted, despite the ache in her chest. “So someone flew you to the gate—”

“And will fly us out.” A corner of her mouth kicked up. “Or haul you, if you decide to do this the hard way.”

Bryce scanned the path behind Nesta. Only deep shadows lingered. No sign of anyone with wings waiting to snatch her. “You might be bluffing.”

She could have sworn silver fire danced in Nesta’s eyes. “Do you want to find out?”

Bryce held her stare. Clearly, they didn’t want her dead, if they’d sent someone to retrieve her, not hunt her down. But if she returned to that cell, how long would they keep her there? Even hours could make a difference for Hunt and Ruhn—

“I’m always up for a day of discovery,” Bryce said.

Then she erupted with light.

Nesta cursed, but Bryce didn’t wait to see if the light had blinded her before bolting down the passage. Without any weapons, a running head start was her best chance of making it.

A force like a stone wall hit her from behind. The world tilted, her breath rushing from her as she collided with the stone ground, bones barking in pain. Shadows had wrapped around her, pinning her, and she thrashed, kicking and swatting at them.

She flared her light, a blast of incandescence that sent the shadows splintering in every direction.

She might not have enough magic left in her veins to teleport, but she could buy herself some time with this, at least. She scrambled to her feet, the shadows leaping upon her again, a pack of wolves set on devouring her.

She let them swarm her for just a moment before her magic exploded outward, a bomb of light in every direction. It sent those shadows flying into the ceiling, the walls. Where shadow met stone, debris tumbled from the ceiling. The mountain shook.

Bryce ran. Deeper into the tunnel, into the dark, her star flaring as she raced away from the crumbling rock all around—

The world shook and roared again, sending her sprawling amid a cloud of dust.

And then there was silence, interrupted only by the skittering rocks from the wall of stones now blocking the way back. But a cave-in wouldn’t stop Vanir or Fae for long. Bryce lunged upward—

Metal bit into her throat. Icy, deathly cold.

“Do not,” Nesta said quietly, panting, “move.”

Bryce glared up at the female but didn’t shove the blade from her throat. Her very bones roared at her not to touch the sword more than necessary. “Neat trick with the shadows.”

Nesta just stared imperiously at her. “Get up.”

“Put down your sword and I will.”

Their gazes clashed, but the sword moved a fraction. Bryce got to her feet, wiping dust and debris from her clothes. “What now?”

Her knees buckled with exhaustion. Her magic was spent, her veins utterly devoid of starlight.

Nesta glanced to the cave-in. Whatever shadow magic she possessed seemed to have little ability to move it. The warrior nodded to the tunnel ahead. “I suppose you’re getting your way.”

“I didn’t mean to cause that—”

“It doesn’t matter. There’s only one way out now. If there’s a way out at all.”

Bryce sighed, frowning at the star on her chest, still gleaming into the dark through her T-shirt. Illuminating all the dirt now smeared on the white cotton. “I didn’t intend to drag anyone else into this with me.”

“Then you should have stayed in the Hewn City.”

Bryce tucked away that kernel of knowledge—the place she’d been kept was called the Hewn City. “Look, this star …” She tapped her chest. “It’s pointing me this way. I have no idea why, but I have to follow it.”

Nesta gestured with her blade to the dark path ahead. Bryce could have sworn the sword sang through the air. “So lead on.”

“You won’t stop me?”

Nesta sheathed the sword down her back with enviable grace. “We’re trapped down here. We might as well see what lies ahead.”

It was a better reaction than Bryce could have hoped for. Especially from the Fae.

With a shrug, Bryce walked into the dark, one eye on the female at her side. And prayed Urd knew where she was leading them.

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