Chapter no 99

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

“It was too long,” Declan was saying as Hunt worked on Bryce’s heart, his lightning slamming into her, over and over. “She was without oxygen for too long, even for Vanir. There’s nothing my healing magic can do if she’s already—”

Hunt blasted his lightning into her chest again.

Bryce arced off the ground, but her heart didn’t start beating.

Their friends were gathered around them, shadows to his grief, this unfathomable pain.

Get up, he willed the Mask, willed her. Get the fuck up.

But it did not respond. Like one final fuck you, the Mask tumbled off his face. As if her Made essence had faded from him with her death.

“Bryce,” he ordered, voice cracking. This wasn’t happening, this couldn’t be happening to him, not when they’d been so close—

“Blessed Luna, so bright in the sky,” Flynn whispered, “spare your daughter—”

“No prayers,” Hunt growled. “No fucking prayers.”

She couldn’t be dead. She had fought so hard and done so much …

Hunt crashed his lightning into her heart again.

It had worked before. That day of the demon attack in the spring—he’d brought her back to life.

But her heart did not answer this time.

Rigelus had used his gods-damned lightning to resurrect the Harpy—why the fuck didn’t it work now? What had Rigelus known about Hunt’s own power that Hunt didn’t?

“Do something,” Hunt snarled up at Apollion and Aidas. “You’ve got a black hole in your fucking mouth—you’ve got all the power in the galaxy,” he spat at the Prince of the Pit. “Save her.”

“I cannot,” Apollion said, and Hunt had never hated anything more than he hated the grief in the prince’s eyes. The tears on Aidas’s face. “We do not have such gifts.”

“Then find Thanatos,” Ruhn ordered. “He goes around calling himself the Prince of Souls or whatever bullshit. Find him and—”

“He cannot save her, either,” Aidas said softly. “None of us can.”

Hunt looked down at his mate, so still and cold and lifeless.

The scream that came out of him shook the very world.

There was nothing but that scream, and the emptiness where she had been, where the life they were supposed to have had together should have been. And when his breath ran out, he was just … done. There was nothing left, and what the fuck was the point of it all if—

A gentle hand touched his shoulder. “I might be able to try something,” said a female voice.

Hunt looked up to find Hypaxia Enador somehow standing beside him, the Bone Crown of the House of Flame and Shadow atop her shining black curls.

His sister was gone. Ruhn looked at Bryce’s face and knew she was dead. Beyond dead.

He had no sound in his mind. Lidia stood beside him, her hand in his, her sons behind them. The boys had been the ones who’d convinced him to come back—had refused to go another step until they helped in some way.

But none of it had made a difference. Even Athalar’s lightning hadn’t revived Bryce.

And then Hypaxia had stepped forward, wearing that crown of bones. Somehow, she was now the Head of the House of Flame and Shadow. Offering to help.

“She’ll never forgive me if you raise her into some shadow of herself,” Hunt said, voice strained with tears, with his screams.

“I’m not proposing to raise her,” Hypaxia assured him.

Hunt dragged his hands through his hair. “She doesn’t have a soul—I mean, she does, but she sold it to the Under-King, so if that’s what you need, then you’re shit out of luck—”

“The Under-King is gone,” Hypaxia said. Ruhn’s knees wobbled. “Any bargains he made with the living or the dead are now null and void. Bryce’s soul is hers to do with as she wills.”

“Please—help her,” Ruhn blurted, desperate. “Help her if you can.”

Hypaxia met his eyes, then looked to Lidia beside him, their hands linked. She smiled.

Athalar whispered, “Anything. Whatever you need, I’ll give anything.”

The witch looked down at Bryce, and said to Athalar, “Not a sacrifice. A trade.”

She beckoned behind her, summoning Jesiba Roga to her side.

Hunt stared at the sorceress, but Roga was only gazing at Bryce.

“Oh, Quinlan,” Roga said, and there were tears gathering on her lashes.

“Priestess,” Apollion hissed, and Roga lifted eyes brimming with disdain and disgust to the Prince of the Pit.

“Still wondering if I’m going to do anything with those books?” Roga snapped at Apollion. She pointed to Bryce, dead on the ground. “Don’t you think if they had some power, I’d be using it right now to save that girl?”

Apollion glowered at her. “You’re a born liar, priestess—”

“We don’t have much time,” Hypaxia interrupted, and even the Prince of the Pit halted at the command in her voice. “We need to act before too much damage is done to her body.”

“Please,” Ruhn rasped, “just explain. I know you said we didn’t need to, but if we can offer something—”

“It is for me to offer,” Jesiba said, and looked down again at Bryce. Tears covered the sorceress’s cheeks. Priestess, Apollion had called her.

“To offer what?” Lidia asked.

“My life,” Roga said. “My long, wicked life.” She raised her eyes to Apollion again.

“That is not possible,” Apollion said.

“You cursed me,” Jesiba said, and as puzzled as Hunt was, he couldn’t bring himself to interrupt. “You cursed me to immortality. Now I’m making it a gift: the gift of a Vanir’s long life. I give it freely to Bryce Quinlan, if she wants it.”

Apollion snapped, “That curse is for the living.”

“Then it is a good thing I have a way with the dead,” Hypaxia declared.

Perhaps for the first time in his existence, Apollion looked surprised. Aidas asked, “Is … is such a thing possible?”

Hunt said, “I offer my life, then.”

“What would be the point?” Jesiba said, laughing harshly. “Save her, only to be dead yourself?”

“You … you’ll die?” Ruhn blurted.

Jesiba smiled softly. “After fifteen thousand years, I’ve had my fill of Midgard.”

“We must do it now,” Hypaxia said. “I can feel her thinning.”

Hunt didn’t like that word one bit, so he said to Jesiba, “Thank you. I never knew that Quinlan … that she meant anything to you.”

Jesiba’s brows rose, and a bit of the prickly sorceress he knew returned. “Of course she does. Do you know how hard it is to find a competent assistant?”

Hunt was beyond laughter, though. “Thank you,” he said again. “I … I hope you find peace.”

Jesiba’s face bloomed in a smile, and it was perhaps the first true one he’d ever seen from her. “I’ve already found it, Athalar. Thanks to you both.” With a nod to him and Bryce, she walked up to Hypaxia and offered her hand. “Lead the House of Flame and Shadow back to the light,” she said to the witch, who bowed her head.

None of them dared speak as Hypaxia began to chant.

This place was the opposite of where she’d gone during the Drop. Rather than an endless chasm, it was just … light. Soft, golden light. Gentle and easy on the gaze.

It was warm and restful, and she had nowhere else she really wanted to be except …

Except …

Bryce looked behind her. More light glowed in that direction.

“Looking for the exit?” said a dry female voice. “It’s that way.”

Bryce turned, and Jesiba was there.

The golden light rippled and faded, and they stood upon a green hill in a lush, gentle land. The land she’d glimpsed that day after the attack in the spring—when she had believed Connor and the Pack of Devils had been safe and protected in the Bone Quarter.

It was real.


She turned to Jesiba. “Are we dead?”


“Did the others—”

“Alive, though the Asteri are not.” A wry nod. “Thanks to you.”

Bryce smiled, and felt it beam through her. “Good. Good.” She breathed in a lungful of the sweet, fresh air, noted the tang of salt, a hint of sea nearby—

“Quinlan,” Jesiba said again. “You have to go back.”

Bryce angled her head. “What do you mean?”

“To life,” Jesiba said, irritable as always. “Why else do you think I’m here? I traded my life for yours.”

Bryce blinked. “What? Why?”

“Holstrom can fill you in on the particulars of my existence. But let’s just say …” Jesiba walked up to her and took her hand. “That Archesian amulet isn’t merely for protection against my books or against demons. It’s a link to Midgard itself.”

Bryce glanced down at her chest, the slender gold chain and delicate knot of circles dangling from it. “I don’t understand.”

“The amulets first belonged to the librarian-priestesses of Parthos. Each was imbued with Midgard’s innate magic—the very oldest. The sort every world has, for those who know where to look.”


“So I think Midgard knows what you did, in whatever way a planet can be sentient. How you freed Avallen, not because you wanted to claim the land for yourself, but because you believed it was right.”

At Bryce’s surprised expression, Jesiba said, “Come, Quinlan. I know how ridiculously soft-hearted you can be.” The words were dry, but her face was soft.

“What does that have to do with”—Bryce gestured around them—“all this?”

“As thanks for what you did for Midgard … we are being allowed this trade, as it were.”

Bryce blinked, still not getting it. “A trade?”

Jesiba plowed ahead, ignoring her question. “The Parthos books are yours now. Protect them, cherish them. Share them with the world.”

Bryce stammered, “How can you possibly, and why would you possibly—”

“A hundred thousand humans marched at Parthos to save the books—to save their centuries of knowledge from the Asteri. They all knew they wouldn’t walk away. I had to run, that day. To protect the books, I ran from my friends and my family, who fought to buy me time.” Her eyes gleamed. “You went into that portal today knowing you wouldn’t walk away, either. I can offer now what I couldn’t then, all those years ago. My family and friends are long gone, but I know they’d want to offer this to you, too. As our own thanks for freeing our world.”

Bryce reeled. Jesiba had been at Parthos when it fell?

“The books are yours,” Jesiba said again. “And so is the gallery’s collection. The paperwork’s done.”

“But how did you know I’d wind up—”

“You’ve got one of the worst self-sacrificing streaks I’ve ever encountered,” Jesiba said. “I had a feeling an intervention might be needed here today.” She peered up at the blue sky, and smiled to herself. “Go home, Bryce. This will all be here when you’re ready.”

“My soul—”

“Free. The Under-King is dead. Again, Holstrom will fill you in.”

Bryce’s eyes stung. “I don’t … I don’t understand. I was happy to give my life—well, not happy, but willing—”

“I know,” Jesiba said, and squeezed her hand. “That’s why I’m here.” She gestured behind Bryce, where a crystal doorway, reminiscent of Crescent City’s Gates, now glowed. “The angel is waiting for you, Quinlan.”

The angel. Hunt.

The thing she’d left behind. The thing that she’d been looking for, the reason she’d hesitated …

“This will all be here when you’re ready,” Jesiba repeated, then motioned to the green hills beyond. “We’ll all be here when you’re ready.”

Far out, on a distant hill, stood seven figures.

Bryce knew them by shape, knew them by their heights and the glow around them. She picked out Connor standing tall at the back. And standing at their front, a hand upraised …

Bryce began crying, and it was pure joy and love that burst from her as she lifted a hand in greeting toward Danika.

Danika, here—with everyone. Safe and loved.

She heard the words on the wind, carried from her friend’s soul to hers.

Light it up, Bryce.

And Bryce was laughing, laughing and sobbing as she yelled back across the lush plain and hills, “Light it up, Danika!”

Wolfish laughter flowed to her. And then there was a spark of light by Danika’s shoulder, and Bryce knew that fire …

She blew a kiss to Lehabah. Through her tears, she turned back to Jesiba. “How? The secondlight—”

“It took their power. But what is eternal, what is made of love … that can never be destroyed.”

Bryce stared at her in wonder.

Jesiba laughed. “And that’s about as sentimental as I’ll ever get, even here.” She gave Bryce a nudge toward the crystal archway. “Live your life, Quinlan. And live it well.”

Bryce nodded, and hugged Jesiba, conveying all that was in her heart.

Jesiba hugged her back—first awkwardly, then wholeheartedly. And as Bryce hugged her, she looked one more time toward the hill where Danika and Lehabah and Connor and the Pack of Devils had waved.

But they were already gone. Off to enjoy the wonders and peace of this place. It filled her heart with joy to know it.

So Bryce turned from Jesiba. From what awaited them, all of them, and walked back toward the archway.

Toward life.

Toward Hunt.

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