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House of Flame and Shadow by Sarah J. Maas

House of Flame and Shadow

by Sarah J. Maas

Published by Bloomsbury

Book 3 in the Crescent City Series

Bryce Quinlan never expected to see a world other than Midgard, but now that she has, all she wants is to get back.

Everything she loves is in Midgard: her family, her friends, her mate. Stranded in a strange new world, she's going to need all her wits about her to get home again. And that's no easy feat when she has no idea who to trust.

Hunt Athalar has found himself in some deep holes in his life, but this one might be the deepest of all. After a few brief months with everything he ever wanted, he's in the Asteri's dungeons again, stripped of his freedom and without a clue as to Bryce's fate. He's desperate to help her, but until he can escape the Asteri's leash, his hands are quite literally tied.

In this sexy, breathtaking sequel to the #1 bestsellers House of Earth and Blood and House of Sky and Breath, Sarah J. Maas's Crescent City series reaches new heights as Bryce and Hunt's world is brought to the brink of collapse-with its future resting on their shoulders.



Violence, Death, Graphic Torture


Before I being, I need to warn you.

This spewing of thoughts is full of spoilers. If you want my review minus the spoilers - click here.

Not just for this book, and the whole series. But also for Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses.

So don't read on unless you have read everything.

I'm serious.

Go read them, then come back and let me know your thoughts as well. Also, come back, and read why I'm changing my glowing 5-star review to a 4-star.

I'm not going to get to much into my thoughts on the story arc, romance, character arcs, etc ...

I already did that in my spoiler free review.

  • If you don't want to read it, or have and forget it, here is the short version: I loved it so much that I couldn't put it down. I finished it in 48 hours and endured headaches and sore eyes.

  • It was fast-paced and entertaining

  • Despite the amount of information we get, it's weaved organically into the story

  • Loved the character arcs, because not one person was perfect, and they were all complicated in their own ways

  • A little cheesy at the end, but well deserved.

  • Enough plot lines tied up, and just enough to make me want more

  • I just know that one of these days someone is going to make a figurine of Cthona giving birth to Midguard and that shit will be on my bookshelf one day LOL

There is so much in this book that I need to do this by characters, couples, etc ...

Too many thoughts for my ADHD brain to handle without a list.

So here goes.

The CROSSOVER Anyone else mentally scream when Bryce describes Azriel's wings as touching each tide of the tunnel? Biggest wingspan indeed.

I both loved, and was let down by the crossover. I loved it, because the "maasverse" coming together is everything I want. I'm one of those fans that would love an ultimate crossover. I was let down because I didn't get enough.

I get why, but damn.

This is Crescent City. They are at the climax of a war. Bryce is in a panic to get back home and save Hunt, Ruhn, and Baxion. To get reinforcements. I get why she couldn't stay in Velaris and have all the moments I wanted her to have with our ACOTAR characters. Sarah made the right decision in regards to not spending too much time there. I just wanted more.

I loved the ... not friendship, but understanding, and respect that built between Bryce and Nesta and Azriel. You know - before Bryce deceived them. While I wanted more of Rhysand and Amren - wanted the others - I loved Sarah's choice of pairing ACOTAR's most complicated characters with Bryce. It was an unexpected trio, but I truly enjoyed it. It hinted a little of what is to come in the ACOTAR world, and that Nesta's story, while complete, isn't truly finished. She is still healing, and coming to terms with her life now. She still needs answers. Answers that she would have never had the possibility of one day answering without Bryce. And Az ... well, I'm pretty sure the next book is about him. I love that we get a little bit more of Az's personality and dry humor. I loved how effortlessly he worked with Nesta. Their friendship and partnership didn't feel like it was forced on either end because of her relationship with Cassian. It felt like mutual respect and trust.

And who else loved the parts where Bryce was explaining how certain technologies worked in her world? Nesta admitting that trying to figure out how her phone worked was driving them all nuts ... it made me giggle.


It's not something I fully took note of, but was aware of just the same. The fact that the fae in Crescent City were not as gifted as Sarah's other worlds, and were growing weaker generation by generation. The scientific element of the Asteri adding a parasite to the planets water was interesting and not at all what I was expecting. The characters who got to experience the difference of potency of their magic really showcases just how much the Asteri took from these people, and just how powerful every fae in all the worlds are.


Bryce had some insane, kick ass moments in this book.

I didn't think Sarah could write a moment that was quite as badass as Bryce killing Micah and vacuuming up his ashes, but Bryce had a couple of them in this book, and they were so much fun to read. The only thing I didn't quite understand, was her overall character arc. Her arc throughout House of Earth and Blood and House of Sky and Breath was intriguing and wonderful to read. She went from a carefree party girl, to someone in the tight grip of grief and depression, to someone who decided to live - to heal. And while she immersed herself in the rebellion, her choices made sense to her personality. But in this book ... while the bones of her character were the same, she seemed to be channeling Aelin from Throne of Glass more than being herself, which was frustrating. Bryce also seems to have lost a bit of her humanity, which is ironic, considering how much she clings to that part of herself. By the end of the book, I felt like we got old Bryce back, but if Sarah wanted a conflict between Hunt and Bryce, she picked the wrong one. The Bryce we know and love would never, ever, tell Hunt to get over his incredibly traumatic experiences - even for the greater good.

I'm not saying it's wrong for her to be frustrated.

I'm not saying her desire to defeat the powers that are literally consuming their magic and causing so much horror is wrong.

But how dare she diminish Hunt's pain and fears? Bryce from the first two books would have never done that - and nothing that happened in Velaris would have caused that personality shift.

It just felt ... wrong.

Aside the rage that brought to me, I enjoyed Bryce. I love her feisty personality and inner-strength. I love that she will do anything for those she loves. I love that she sent her parents to Velaris, trusting Nesta to keep them safe despite how she betrayed them. Her sarcastic humor was a highlight in this book, and needed to balance out the darkness.


Who else felt sick over the torture? I mean, I knew it was going to be bad. But it was bad. I'm no stranger to reading torture in books - which is so odd considering I read romance - but the love and connection I have to these characters made it so much worse. Their immortality, and the amount of damage they could endure without death, made it worse.

I need to admit something though. I can't decide if I am upset about the lack of development for his character in this book. I love Hunt's character, and I wanted more for him in this book. Wanted more layers. I just didn't feel like we got that. If I really think about it, Hunt's major character arc happened in House of Earth and Blood, and since then, he has been more of a prop.

The mate.

The battery charger.

The warrior.

I'm not saying he has had it easy. He is one of the characters that is punished relentlessly in this series.

It's just since the first book, his character has seemed very one-layered. The revelations we get on his power, and who his father is, while interesting, don't change anything. Even the halo that Regulus put on his brow doesn't really lead to anything, other than being an inconvenience he is able to shuck off himself, and rather easily. Considering the horror and trauma of having it placed on him once again, it just felt very lacking.

Bryce & Hunt

When you look back to House of Earth and Blood, the tension, and these two healing one another from their traumas, this couple has done a complete 180.

I'm not trashing on them, or this book.

I loved this book.

I just didn't like some of the thinks Bryce did in this book - especially with Hunt.

As much as I love my fiery, strong Bryce, I didn't love how much she took Hunt for granted. How did Sarah write Bryce from the woman who washed and held Hunt in the shower after he was once again forced to be the "Umbra Mortis", to brushing off his very legitimate fears.

Of course Bryce has the power to save her world. Eliminate the Asteri. I get the bigger picture, absolutely. But she didn't want to take a pause and listen. Listen to the person who was tortured for so long before he even met her, and this time was tortured beside people he cared about.

It bothers me.

And while in the end Bryce felt like Bryce again, and they both get a happy ending - it's sad that a couple that was probably my favorite of the three main mated couples - Aelin + Rowan, Feyre + Rhysand and Bryce + Hunt - I just didn't love their overall arc in the romantic sense of this book.

Lidia & Ruhn

Lidia and Ruhn's overall arc is one of my favorites of the book. Not just because of the tension, or unpredictable nature of their match, but because of them both as individuals. Ruhn's overall character arc was mostly complete by time this book began, so it made sense that Ruhn's journey was mostly within himself. Could he get over Lidia's past? How would it work if could?

But not just that.

Ruhn facing his father for a final time with his sister - him doing the killing blow - and passing over the torch to Bryce and supporting her ending the royal lines, was a great, overall conclusion to his character's story. No more pressure, no more abuse, just a happily ever after with his mate.

And while I love Ruhn, I absolutely love Lidia.

She did terrible things. She was raised to only know hate and violence.

But she changed. She discovered what love was in the purest form, and changed her way of thinking.

Motherhood does that.

That was not a twist I saw coming. I never came across a single theory that Lidia had children. And while I tend to not love tropes involving children/pregnancy, I loved Lidia's story. Her absolute love and devotion to her sons, the pain of striking the deal with the Ocean Queen - protection for them and she will continue her role as the Hind as a spy - it was just heart wrenching.

And Lidia's anger towards Ruhn - absolutely justified. Her anger at him for not taking a moment to listen to her. To talk to her. What a powerful moment for her.

But honestly, even learning of the twins didn't blow me away like chapter 94 did.

Now, I know there have been theories about Lidia's heritage and it's ties to Throne of Glass. It didn't escape some devoted SJM readers that not only are Lidia and Aelin's physical descriptions a match, but the ring that Lidia wears on her finger is a match to Rowan's wedding band, and Lidia is a deer shifter - and a stag is the symbol of Terrasen. I knew this was a possibility going in.

But chapter 94.

Her running on the battle field and releasing her fire magic?

Holy fuck.

It's been a week and a half since I finished reading the book, and I'm still mentally SCREAMING.

The touch of her naming her son after Brannon, and thinking how she comes from an old line of fae - screaming. Absolutely feral screaming.

I'm actually surprised that Lidia and Ruhn's story ends in this book. That they end up together and happy in the end of this book. I honestly thought that Sarah would have them angry and hurting until the next book. But I'm glad she didn't wait.

Ruhn needed a win.

And before I wrap this up - how kick ass was it when Lidia killed The Hawk during the escape?


And who else started BAWLING when Lidia nuzzles Ruhn before running, knowing that it might be the last time she see's or smells him. Just writing about it hurts.

Starsword & Truth Teller

Interesting. The prophecy could be interpreted in different ways, and I do think Bryce's assessment was closer to the truth of it, besides the literal explanation of the fae learning each other from different planets. I just find it interesting that two weapons in combination with starlight can become such a massive weapon. Black holes are no joke. I'm curious, now that Bryce has returned Truth Teller to Nesta and given her the Starsword, what more will be discovered in ACOTAR. Because, as Bryce said, there is more to learn.


Who was expecting that storyline? I certainly wasn't.

I mean, it's been heavily hinted that Ithan has alpha blood, and just chooses to not step up. That they both backed Danika. But I honestly thought that Ithan's need to save *********** from the Astronomer was because she was his mate, and they would lead together.

But nope. And I don't hate it. It definitely seems like there is a possibility that the sweet and artistic wolf - *********** - just may be his mate, considering he keeps seeing something in her that he didn't see before, and that she isn't an omega.

I'm excited to see where this goes!

Tharion and Sathia Tharion is an interesting character in this series, because while he was loved in the first book when we didn't know a whole lot about him, the general consensus by the end of House of Sky and Breath was people were not jiving with him. And I get it. Hell, by the end of the second book, I wasn't a Tharion fan. I understood why he did the things he did, but I wasn't invested enough in his character to get on board with his morally grey personality.

After House of Flame and Shadow ... I'm interested.

I like that he is flawed. Like ... really flawed.

He is selfish, but has enough goodness in him that he was willing to help during this war. Enough goodness that he married Flynn's sister, not knowing her at all, to save her from being wed to some horrible fae. And didn't expect anything in return. And I like Sathia, which is surprising considering the bad things Flynn has hinted about with his family. I like the dynamic between her and Tharion. It's fun and a bit exciting, and by the end of the book, I was invested enough in them to want to know the rest of the story.

I really am intrigued with where his story is going, because it's obvious there is much more to his overall arc.


Obviously, we are going to get way more of a story with her in the next book, as a lot of story happens behind the scenes in this book. She shows up a little before 50% into the book - way longer than I expected - and announces that she has been dethroned by the witches, and to protect herself from execution, she swears allegiance to the House of Flame and Shadow. She had a weird part in this book. She is so important to the book, coming up with a cure for the parasite, but it felt like she was cast aside. And I get it. It's a big book with a lot of characters, but it would have been nice to see more of her.

Jesiba Anyone else fall in love with her in this book? I did.

I loved learning who she was, and why she was the way she was. I mean - I think after 15,000 years of enduring a curse, with the sole purpose of protecting the books, we would all get a little bit sharper around the edges. But how she finally got to end her existence was perfect - and I love that Bryce gets to carry on her legacy of protecting the books and knowledge they have. That she trusted Bryce would do it. After all, she said she wasn't willing to age out and pass until she knew the books were in a world where they would be kept safe, and she saw that Bryce would make sure that world would come to pass.


I'm a little bummed that his role was so small in this book. One of the captured at the beginning, but after the rescue, completely pushed to the side as a side character. Danika's mate. And now that it's been revealed, his arc is done. I hope we get more from him in the next book. We haven't encountered a character who had a mate and lost them yet, and it would be interesting to read an arc where he can find happiness again. I will admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Baxion looking over towards Bryce, Juniper and Fury and wincing, knowing that Danika's best friends would be relentless in their pursuit to learn more about him, and embrace him into their group. Knowing the pain Danika put herself through, keeping him at a distance for most of their relationship, I bet she loved that the people she loved the most coming together like that.

I am thoroughly enjoyed Hunt and him becoming best friends though. While Ruhn and Hunt are a great pair, Ruhn said in this book that Bryce is his best friend. Hunt needs someone separate, that gets what he has been through, has lived a similar life, as a best friend.

The Princes of Hel

If Sarah J Maas doesn't write a series about the 7 brothers, I will fucking riot.


That hint that their other brother's are on another world helping them with a problem?

I need all the stories. For every brother.


I'm so curious about this land. There is a lot about it that SCREAMED Throne of Glass to me, and it could be a coincidence, but are there coincidence's in the maasverse? Not that I know of. The white boat that drifts to them as they "ring the bell" to Avallen, has had it's prow carved into a Stag's head, with lanterns hanging from his mighty horns. It's not just the white stag that makes me think of the Lord of the North from Throne of Glass. The lanterns also remind me that the Lord of the North has flaming antlers. It was just a little too one the nose for me.

There is also Morven's throne itself, crafted from a single set of antlers, a beast so large that Bryce knew that it didn't come from Midgard. That is interesting ... and worrying. I mean, I hope it's not the Lord of the North. But he is described as massive. I have a theory on this. But put a pin in that for another post.


Tell me you don't picture the teen leader of the skins on Roswell whenever you see Rigelus on page.

I can't not picture him any other way.

Thankfully, he is now dead and gone, and we never have to hear from him again ... because this dude sucks.


We finally get to meet the sprite queen! I really liked her. She ended up embodying everything the sprites said about her - and I love that the sprites were able to help in the final battle against the Asteri and their captors.


We didn't get a lot of her in this book. But am I still absolutely intrigued with her character? Hell yes. There is so much mystery surrounding her, I need so, so much more.

Einar (The Autumn King)

Ding dong the bastard is dead. And I'm glad for it, his ending was delicious to read, especially because it was both his children doing the deed, but I am going to miss the smart ass quips Bryce always had for him.

I do wonder - did he know about Hunt's parentage? When he says that Hunt complicates his desire to marry Bryce off to another fae and strengthen the fae more than Bryce knows, it makes me think he does. Which makes me wonder - how? He knew things others did. He knew there were other worlds - other worlds with fae. How did he know all this? Something I will think on later.

Gotta say ... I love what Bryce did with all his properties and money. A last fuck you to her dad.


Aren't you glad this dumb fuck is dead too? I sure am!

I find the shadow magic ... very interesting. I know it's not unheard of in the maasverse. Ruhn has it. Rhysand and Azriel have it. But Morven's seemed ... darker. Described as snakelike, and his crown made from them. When Bryce pissed him off, his shadows were so dark behind his throne that it looked like a void. It just seemed very ... Valg-like to me. And it wasn't the only thing that reminded me of the Valg.

Viper Queen

I hate that I can't like her anymore. I liked how unusual and terrible her character was. How street smart she is. I just can't like her anymore after when she did so many of the characters in this book.

Ocean Queen

I don't like her. I was hoping that she would be someone better, considering she was against the Asteri, but she is definitely in the grey area morally. Only providing safety for Lidia's boys if she gave them up, and continued to serve the Asteri as the Hind? So fucking cruel. Not only the pain of giving up your babies that you have raised for the first year of their lives, but to go back and do things that disgust you?

Nope, she is just as bad.

River Queen

As much as I don't like the River Queen, I respected her in this book. She not only agreed to take Crescent City's citizens under the water to protect them from the Asteri and their army, but when Tharion was willing to divorce Sathia to marry her bratty daughter in exchange for the people's citizens, she refused. I mean, she wasn't overly nice about it, but I agreed with her sentiment. She wanted more for her daughter than that, and that was it. I don't think we are done with underwater politics, and I am interested to see how it plays out.

Randall & Ember

I love these two. Ember and Bryce's relationship is so on the nose a typically mother-daughter relationship between two women who are exactly alike and feisty. One of my favorite parts of this book was Bryce telling the Autumn King how Randall fell in love with her mother, and how he picked up a gun and did something he vowed never to do again to protect them. That Randall, despite not being her blood, was her true father, and that Ember and him taught her to fight to the death for those you love.

My. Heart.

And while I didn't love how Bryce went about it, I loved that Bryce sent her parents to Velaris for protection. That despite how she left Nesta and Azriel, she knew their intent, that they were good people, and left them there. I loved that Nesta, despite being the badass she was, softened her heart to Bryce, understanding this sacrifice. That even if she wouldn't lend the mask to her, she still wanted her parents there and safe. I loved Ember's motherly embrace for Nesta as well. Us ACOTAR readers know that Nesta had a complicated relationship with her mother, and how much she craved unconditional love. It was a sweet moment that I appreciated.

The Prime

What a sad end for someone who has stood behind Danika and Bryce ... and Ithan. It was a great moment to disinherit Sabine - too late, of course - but a great moment nonetheless.


My freaking heart. Issac needed that final goodbye with his brother, and Connor and the others needed to help in the only way they could. It was a beautiful goodbye to Bryce too. Just because Bryce is alive, and has a mate ... Connor died loving her. That won't change. It was perfect, and turned out well for those who died. Obviously, the Asteri and the Valg Under-King was somehow able to trap the souls, keeping them from truly passing on. Proved when even after the souls turned themselves to secondlight, and the infused bullet was used, AND after Danika gave the last of her soul/secondlight to help Bryce during her drop, they were all together in the afterlife. There was an after for them, despite their sacrifices.

Which I find very interesting. I don't know what I think about it yet. I think I will have to mull on it a bit more.

Urd - or better known as Wyrd

How fucking cool was this? That the Goddess that birthed the other Gods and Goddesses Midgard believe in, is connected to Throne of Glass's world? That she isn't a goddess at all, but the force that created everything. I just loved how blended it was, and loved the juxtaposition of the real world, and religion. How bastardized things can become after knowledge is shared through the centuries.


I wish his death was more drawn out. But I loved that Lidia is the one who did it, and I loved how she did it. Glad that piece of shit is dead and gone.

I also hate that when he picked up Ruhn's hand that Baxion had just bite off, and made it give them all the middle finger, I snorted.

I'm a terrible person. I think I was just shocked to read that in an SJM book, honestly.




I will be interested in whether or not electricity will continue to be a part of this world.

I hope so.

One of the things I loved about this world was how unique it was to Sarah's other worlds. I'm curious how they will go about it. And the politics. Because you just know it's going to be a mess.

Well, that is it. For now.

I will have a couple posts coming up involving this book. One with links to all the extra chapters - which were great, by the way - and another with my theories for the future for this series, and Sarah's other series'. I have lots of thoughts. Too many to post here. So for now ... enjoy by thoughts on the book itself!



Polux: “Wake up,”

the Hammer sneered.

Polux: “It’s a beautiful day.”

Athalar’s swollen eyes cracked open. Hate blazed in their dark depths. The halo inked anew upon his brow seemed darker than the shadows of the dungeon. His battered mouth parted in a feral smile, revealing bloodstained teeth.

Hunt: “Morning, sunshine.”

Let them think her rambling. An idiot. The party girl most of Midgard had labeled her, that Micah had believed her to be, until she was vacuuming up his fucking ashes.

Rhysand: “We will not torture it from you, nor will I pry it from your mind. If you choose not to talk, it is indeed your choice. Precisely as it will be my choice to keep you down here until you decide otherwise.”

Bryce couldn’t stop herself from coolly surveying the room, her attention lingering on the grate and the hissing that drifted up from it.

Bryce: “I’ll be sure to recommend it to my friends as a vacation spot.”

Ariadne halted at a sink a few feet away, surveying the angles of her face in the mirror as she washed her hands.

Tharion: “Still as pretty as ever,”

Tharion managed to tease. That earned him a sidelong assessment.

Ariadne: “You look like shit.” '

Tharion: “Nice to see you, too,”

he drawled, the healing potion tingling through him. Her nostrils flared delicately. It wasn’t wise to taunt a dragon. But he’d been on a hot streak of making stupid decisions lately, so why stop now?

Ariadne: “You have a hole in your shoulder,”

she said without taking her gaze from his. Tharion peered at the ghastly wound, even as his skin knitted closed, the sensation like spiders crawling over the area.

Tharion: “Builds character.”

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.

Viper Queen: “Bad dog,”

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.

Bryce: “You might be bluffing.”

She could have sworn silver fire danced in Nesta’s eyes.

Nesta: “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—

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

Bryce: “Who’d you piss off to get sent to retrieve me, anyway?”

She could have sworn Nesta’s lips curved into a smile.

Nesta: “On a good day, too many people to count. But today … I volunteered.”

Bryce arched a brow.

Bryce: “Why?”

That silvery flame flashed in Nesta’s eyes. A shiver slithered along Bryce’s spine. Fae and yet … not.

Nesta: “Call it intuition,”

Nesta said, and stepped onto the bridge.

Nesta: “If we encounter something that wants to eat us again, don’t stare at it like a startled deer. Either run, or fight.”

Apollion: “What a sorry state you’re in,”

the Prince of the Pit purred.

He remained hidden in the shifting shadows. The demon prince inhaled, as if tasting the air.

Apollion: “What delicious pain you feel.”

Hunt: “I’d be happy to share.”

Apollion: “We must leave.”

Hunt: “Then what was the point of all this watching me from the shadows?”

Apollion: “To ensure that we can continue to rely on you when the time comes.”

Hunt: “To do what?”

Apollion: “What you were born to do—to accomplish the task for which your father brought you into existence,”

Apollion said before fading into nothing, leaving Aidas standing alone before the prisoners.

But Flynn asked her, brow arching,

Flynn: “And you’re an authority on the Vipe now?”

Ariadne: “I’m an authority on assholes,”

Ari countered smoothly, giving Flynn a look as if to indicate that he was included on that list.

Nesta peered at the writing beneath the image.

Nesta: “That’s all it says?”

Bryce shrugged.

Bryce: “Old-school Fae. Lots of fancy titles and lineage. You know how they liked to preen.”

Nesta’s lips quirked upward.

Bryce: “And Rhysand is … your king?”

Nesta snorted.

Nesta: “He’d like to be. But no. He’s the High Lord of the Night Court.”

Declan: “Guessed? Or someone sold us out?”

Lidia: “Don’t flatter yourself,”

the Hind said, crossing her arms.

Lidia: “You’re extremely predictable.”

Lidia: “I would never hurt him. Everything I’ve done recently, everything I’m doing now, has been to keep Ruhn alive. Do you know how hard it is to keep Pollux at bay? To convince him to go slow? Do you have any idea what that’s like?”

She screamed the last part at Flynn, who backed away a step. The Hind heaved a breath, shaking.

Lidia: “I need to get him out. If you don’t help me, then his death is on you. And I will destroy you, Tristan Flynn.”

Rithi: “She is noble, and brave—”

Lidia: “Is she trustworthy?”

Rithi ducked behind Flynn’s ear again, but Sasa snapped,

Sasa: “She is our queen. She is honor itself.”

Lidia looked coolly at the sprite.

Lidia: “I know plenty of rulers who don’t embody that virtue one bit.”

Bryce: “High Fae? As opposed to … normal Fae?”

Nesta shrugged.

Nesta: “They use the High part to make themselves sound more important than they are.”

Bryce’s mouth twitched upward.

Bryce: “Sounds like the Fae in my world.”

Bryce peered over a shoulder at the male, trying to calm her shivers.

Bryce: “Those were your shadows against my light earlier?”

Azriel: “Yes,”

Nesta chuckled.

Nesta: “And he’s probably been put out about it ever since.”

Azriel: “Seeing you go into that freezing river helped,”

Azriel said mildly, and Bryce could have sworn she caught a hint of a smile gracing his beautiful face.

Bryce: “So Rhysand is Illyrian, too? He’s got the wings.”

Nesta: “Half. Half High Fae, half Illyrian.”

Azriel cleared his throat as if to warn her to stop talking so much, and Nesta added sharply,

Nesta: “And with the combined arrogance of both.”

Azriel really cleared his throat then, and Bryce couldn’t help her smile, despite her clacking teeth.

Nesta: “I’m sorry about your brother’s suffering.”

The words steadied Bryce, focused her.

Bryce: “I’ll make sure my sire pays for it one day.”

Nesta: “Good”

was all Nesta said. “Good.”

Nesta: “I had a tattoo on my back—recently. A magical one, now gone. But it was of an eight-pointed star.”

Bryce: “And?”

Nesta: “And the magic, the power of the bargain that caused the tattoo to appear … it chose the design. The star meant nothing to me. I thought maybe it was related to my training, but its shape was identical to the scar on your chest.”

Bryce: “So we’re obviously destined to be best friends,”

Solas burn her. Randall would kill her for being so stupid.

Bryce: “You lured me here.”

Nesta nodded to Azriel, who withdrew his blade but kept a hand on Bryce’s shoulder, either to prevent her from moving or to hold her steady in the river’s current.

Nesta: “You saved me from the traps in the walls. It only made sense that you’d have a guilty conscience to go with that soft heart.”

Scratch that: her mother would kill her for being so stupid.

Bryce: “We need to help her,”

Bryce panted to Azriel.

Azriel: “I promise you, she’s fine,”

Azriel countered, urging them further into the tunnel.

Lidia: " has him worried.”

Ruhn: “I don’t see how it could make any difference.”

Lidia: “Then you underestimate your sister.”

Ruhn: “Fuck you,”

Lidia: “Rigelus isn’t underestimating Bryce for one moment,”

she went on, tone sharpening.

Lidia: “One thousand mystics, Ruhn—all looking for her. Do you know how many tasks he usually has them doing? But they are all focused on finding her. That tells me he’s very, very scared.”

Azriel: “Give me a reason to believe you won’t winnow out of here and leave us.”

Bryce: “I can’t. You’ll have to trust me.”

Azriel: “After what you just pulled?”

Bryce: “Remember that I’ll be trusting you not to blast a hole through my heart.”

She tapped the star.

Bryce: “Aim right there.”

Azriel: “I told you already: we don’t want to kill you.”

Bryce: “Then aim carefully.”

Bryce: “Hit the star.”

Azriel: “How much power?”

Gods, this was potentially a really bad idea. Experimenting with power she didn’t know or understand—

Bryce: “A little. Just make sure you don’t deep-fry me.”

After the shit with the Wyrm, he’d probably like nothing more than to do exactly that. But Azriel’s lips tugged upward.

Azriel: “I’ll try my best.”

Nesta: “When we stop again … can you show me how that contraption works?”

Bryce: “The phone?”

The word couldn’t be translated into their language, and it sounded outright silly in their accent. But Nesta nodded, her eyes fixed on the tunnel ahead.

Nesta: “Trying to figure out what it does has been driving us all crazy.”

Flynn: “She’ll try to distract you,”

Flynn said from beside him, staring at the empty ring.

Flynn: “But get around her flames, and I think you can take her.”

Declan: “I thought you had the hots for the dragon. No pun intended.”

Flynn: “Not when she’s about to toast my friend.”

Ithan tried and failed to smile.

Hunt: “I’m not biting off your fucking hand,”

Hunt managed to say.

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

Baxian: “This is insane,”

Ruhn nodded to Hunt.

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

Hunt: “A badass, not a cannibal.”

Ruhn: “Desperate times,”

Ruhn said, meeting Hunt’s stare.

Silene: It was not enough for my mother. Possessing all she had ever wanted was not enough.

Bryce: “Classic stage mom,”

Silene: To leave this account for one whose blood will summon it, child of my child, heir of my heir. To you—I leave my story, your story. To you, in this very stone, I leave the inheritance and the burden that my own mother passed to me.

The image blurred, and there she was again. That old, weary face.

Silene: I hope the Mother will forgive me,

Silene said, and the hologram dissolved.

Bryce: “Well, I fucking don’t,”

Bryce spat, and flipped off the place where Silene had stood.

Bryce: “I don’t want to fight you,”

Bryce said, voice oddly hollow, like the surge of magic she’d taken from Silene’s store had emptied out her soul.

Bryce: “I’m not your enemy.”

Nesta: “Then let us bring you back to our High Lord,”

Ataraxia flashed in answer.

Bryce: “To do what? Lock me up? Cut the Horn out of my skin?”

Nesta: “If that’s what’s necessary,”

Nesta said coldly, knees bending, readying to strike.

Nesta: “If that’s what it takes to keep our world safe.”

Bryce bared her teeth in a feral grin. More spikes of rock shot up from the ground, angling toward Nesta and Azriel.

Bryce: “Then come and take it.”

Lidia: “Can I trust you?”

Irithys began to glow white again—white-hot.

Irithys: “You don’t have any other choice now, do you?”

Lidia extended her arm once more.

Lidia: “Make it hurt, Your Majesty.”

Nesta: “You’re as much of a monster as they are,”

Bryce knew. She’d always known.

Bryce: “Love will do that to you.”

Einar: "If I were to guess, you managed to reach a place I have long desired to go.”

He glanced up at the orrery.

Bryce: “You might want to reconsider before packing your bags. They don’t take kindly to assholes.”

Einar: “Your journey hasn’t impacted that smart mouth of yours, I see.”

She smiled with saccharine sweetness.

Bryce: “You’re still an absolute bastard, I see.”

Bryce: “He’s your son, for fuck’s sake.”

Einar: “I can have others.”

Bryce: “Not if I kill you first.”

Einar: “I once asked your brother to provide me with a seed of his starlight.”

Bryce: “Gross. Don’t call it that.”

He arched a brow.

Einar: “Your imagination does run rampant.”

Bryce: “Oh, totally. But you took zero interest in me as a kid. And now suddenly, once I revealed my magic light, you want me to be part of your fucked-up little family.”

Einar: “My only interest in you lies in the bloodline you stand to pass on.”

Bryce: “Too bad Hunt complicates that.”

Einar: “More than you know.”

The Autumn King smiled. It was a thing of nightmarish beauty.

Einar: “You truly are my child. More so than Ruhn ever was.”

Bryce: “That’s not a compliment.”

Bryce: “Let’s talk about how we can add another notch to my Magical Starborn Princess belt: I united the sword and knife. Prophecy fulfilled.”

Einar: “You don’t know anything about that prophecy,”

the Autumn King said, and returned to his work. She asked sweetly,

Bryce: “So my interpretation is wrong? When knife and sword are reunited, so shall our people be. Well, I went to our old world. Met some people. Reminded them we exist. Came back here. Thus, two people reunited.”

Einar: “Ruhn doesn’t possess the raw power to handle such a thing correctly.”

Bryce: “But I do?”

she asked innocently.

Bryce: “Is that why I’m here? We’re going to cooperate in some kind of training montage so I can take down the Asteri for you?”

Einar: “Does it matter who is in power, so long as the Fae survive?”

Bryce: “Um, yeah. One option is a parasitic blight upon this world. Let’s not go with that choice.”

Einar: “So all the water on Midgard is contaminated.”

Bryce: “I don’t think a filter’s gonna help you, if that’s what you’re planning.”

Bryce: “Maybe that sword and dagger can cleanse the parasite, though.”

She hummed again, as if thinking it over.

Bryce: “Maybe you should let me impale you with them and we can see what happens.”

Hunt squinted as he lowered his wing and met the shithead’s eyes.

Hunt: “Fuck you.”

Like Hel would these assholes make him beg and grovel—either for his own life or Ruhn’s. Lidia said mildly,

Lidia: “I couldn’t have said it better myself, Athalar.”

Hunt looked, but not fast enough. The Hawk certainly didn’t look fast enough. And Hunt knew he’d treasure this moment forever: the moment when Lidia Cervos pulled out her gun and fired it right between the Hawk’s eyes.

Jesiba: “That big crate marked Lasivus needs unpacking and cataloging. There’s an extra laptop on the credenza over there. Password JellyJubilee. Both words capitalized, no spaces. Don’t give me that look, Holstrom. Quinlan set it.”

Einar: “What is there to get? I am a king. Kings do not need to explain themselves.”

Bryce: “Fathers do.”

Einar: “It is on Avallen, and females are not allowed beyond the lobby of the archives.”

Bryce: “Yeah, our periods would probably get all over the books.”

Flynn: “Ruhn, buddy—you gotta sleep.”

Flynn finally stepped into the room, dropping into the chair beside his.

Flynn: “If she gets up, I’ll call you. If she even moves, I will call you.”

Ruhn just stared at the too-pale female on the bed.

Flynn: "Ruhn.”

Ruhn: “The last thing I said to her was that she was dead to me.”

Flynn blew out a breath.

Flynn: “I’m sure she knew you didn’t mean it.”

Ruhn: “I did mean it.”

His friend swallowed.

Flynn: “I didn’t realize things between you guys had become so … intense.”

Ruhn: “She did all this to save me anyway,”

He wished Bryce were with him. Not just to sleep beside him, and to remind him that he’d made it out, but … he needed his best friend.

Jesiba: “A great civilization lived on Midgard long before the Asteri conquered it.”

He could have sworn she sounded sad.

Jesiba: “One that prized knowledge in all its forms. So much so that a hundred thousand humans marched at Parthos to save these books from the Asteri and Vanir who came to burn them.”

She shook her head, face distant.

Jesiba: “A world where people loved and valued books and learning so much that they were willing to die for them. Can you imagine what such a civilization was like? A hundred thousand men and women marched to defend a library—it sounds like a bad joke these days.”

Her eyes blazed.

Jesiba: “But they fought, and they died. All to buy the library priestesses enough time to smuggle the books out on ships."

Ithan: “Do you want to … start aging again?”

It was a dangerously personal question, but to his surprise, she answered.

Jesiba: “Not yet,”

Jesiba said a shade quietly.

Jesiba: “Not until it’s time.”

Ithan: “For what?”

She looked over a shoulder at the small library, at the feisty book that had at last simmered down, as if sulking.

Jesiba: “For a world to emerge where these books will be truly safe at last.”

Bryce: “Randall hadn’t picked up a gun in years. Not since he’d gotten home from the front and vowed he’d never use one again. He was on the verge of swearing his vows to Solas when he got the request from the High Priest to go help a single mom and her three-year-old daughter get away from you. And that night your loser guards caught up with us … that was the first time Randall picked up a gun again. He put a bullet right through your chief security officer’s head. Randall hated every single fucking second of it. But he did it. Because in that moment, even after only three days on the run, he knew that he was already in love with my mom. And that there was nothing he wouldn’t do for her.”

The Autumn King’s nose crinkled with annoyance.

Einar: “Is there a point to this story?”

Bryce: “My point,”

she said, leaning closer to her father,

Bryce: “is that I didn’t just learn about love from my mom. I learned about it from my dad, too. My true dad. My weak human dad who you’re so jealous of that you can’t stand it. He taught me to fight like Hel for the people I love.”

Pure death loomed in his eyes.

Einar: “The Asteri will kill you.”

Bryce: “Maybe. But you’re not going to help them by telling them about this.”

She extended the Starsword toward his face. He didn’t dare move as she bopped him on the nose with its tip.

The Autumn King growled as he backed into the closet,

Einar: “I will kill you and your bitch mother for this.”

She motioned him further inside.

Bryce: “I’ll pencil you in for tomorrow.”

Ocean Queen: “Tharion Ketos.”

She spoke his name like it left a foul taste in her mouth.

Ocean Queen: “How is it that you have not one, but two queens demanding your head?”

He winced and put forth his brightest charm—his first and best line of defense.

Tharion: “I tend to have that effect on females?”

Ocean Queen: “The River Queen and Viper Queen only want you. I would like one good reason why I shouldn’t hand you over—let them squabble over your carcass.”

He scrambled for some way to disarm the moment, to win her, but came up empty. His unnaturally deep pool of luck had finally and officially run dry—

Bryce: “You hand him over,”

a female voice drawled from the open doorway,

Bryce: “and you’ll have a third queen pissed at you.”

Tharion’s stomach bottomed out. Bryce Quinlan swept through the doorway and winked at the Ocean Queen.

Bryce: “Tharion serves me.”

Ocean Queen: “Does your father the Autumn King still draw breath?”

Bryce smiled slowly.

Bryce: “For the time being.”

The Ocean Queen weighed the words—then answered Bryce’s smile with her own, revealing all those hooked shark’s teeth.

Ocean Queen: “I don’t recall inviting you onto this ship.”

Bryce checked her nails—it was such a thoroughly Bryce movement that Hunt’s chest tightened.

Bryce: “Well, someone sent me an e-vite.”

Ocean Queen: “You are young. And idealistic. And inexperienced.”

Bryce: “Don’t forget ill qualified and always inappropriately dressed.”

Hunt: “What the fuck—”

Hunt exploded.

Bryce: “Are you all right—”

she started.

Tharion: “The home world of the Fae?”

Tharion demanded at the same time Baxian chuckled,

Baxian: “That was epic.”

Hunt: “The thought of you kept me going.”

He might as well have punched her in the heart.

Bryce: “You kept me going, too.”

Hunt: “Yeah?”

The love in his voice threatened to shatter her heart.

Hunt: “I knew these smoldering good looks would come in handy one day.”

Ruhn: “What happened?”

Lidia: “What difference does it make?”

she asked, wary and sharp.

Lidia: “I thought you didn’t wish to hear my sob story, as you put it.”

Well, he’d earned that.

Ruhn: “Look, you can’t expect me to learn who you are, what you are, and be immediately cool with it, okay? I’m still processing all this shit.”

Lidia: “What is there to process? I am who I am, and I’ve done what I’ve done. The fact that I have children doesn’t erase that.”

All right. She was pissed off.

Ruhn: “It’s almost like you want me to resent you.”

Lidia: “I wanted you to listen, but you wouldn’t. Yet now that I fit some sort of acceptably sad female backstory, you’re willing to hear me out.”

Ruhn: “That’s bullshit.”

Fuck, she and Bryce would get along well. The fact that both of them were on this ship … Part of him wanted to run and hide. Lidia went on,

Lidia: “Would you have listened if I had no backstory other than realizing what was right and wanting to fight for it? Of doing whatever it took to make sure that good prevailed against tyranny? Or does my being a mother somehow make my choices more palatable to you?”

Ruhn: “Most dudes run when they find out the female they’re into has kids.”

Her eyes flickered with cold fire.

Lidia: “That’s male strength for you.”

Ruhn: “You seemed to like my strength plenty, sweetheart.”

She snorted, turning back toward her door. Dismissing him. His temper coiled.

Ruhn: “So what’s the sob story, Lidia?”

Slowly, she looked back, her face a mask of utter contempt, and said before she shut the door in his face,

Lidia: “You don’t deserve to hear it.”

Ruhn: “And,”

Ruhn added, wincing,

Ruhn: “females aren’t permitted in the archives.”

Tharion rolled his eyes.

Tharion: “Please,”

Bryce: “Yeah, yeah,”

Bryce said, waving a dismissive hand.

Bryce: “The Autumn King made sure I was aware of their No Girls Allowed rules. But too bad for Morven: I’m going in.”

Hunt nudged her with a gray wing.

Hunt: “I’m assuming you have some plan up your sleeve that you’re going to spring on us at the worst possible moment.”

Bryce: “I think you mean the coolest possible moment,”

Bryce said, and Tharion, despite himself, smiled again.

Hunt: “Note how she didn’t answer that,”

Hunt said darkly to Baxian, who chuckled and said,

Baxian: “Danika was the same.”

Bryce: “I mean it. Aside from the Autumn King’s notes, my only other bargaining chip with him is my breeding potential. And since you and I are married …”

Hunt: “Are you asking for a divorce?”

She chuckled.

Bryce: “No. I’m saying that I’ve got no worth to these shitheads. Since my uterus is … spoken for.”

Hunt: “Mmm. Sexy.”

Hunt: “I love you.”

She pressed even closer, arm wrapping around his waist.

Bryce: “I love you, too. Team Caves, all the way.”

He huffed a laugh.

Hunt: “Let’s get T-shirts.”

Bryce: “Don’t tempt me. If Avallen wasn’t a backwater island with no interweb, I would have already ordered them to arrive at Morven’s castle.”

Jesiba gave him a warning look, as if to say, Do not fucking breathe a word about that. Ithan returned her a look, as if to say, Do you think I’m that dumb?

She glanced pointedly at his CCU SUNBALL T-shirt.

He rolled his eyes and turned to the witch-queen facing off against the Astronomer.

Jesiba: “It’s a tax write-off for the House,”

Jesiba said, waving a hand.

Jesiba: “And I’m growing tired of all these questions from you. You’re asking things you have no right to know.”

Ithan: “Then stop telling me so much.”

She smirked.

Jesiba: “You’re not as boring as you seem.”

Ithan: “I’m flattered,”

Hunt: “How?”

Ruhn jerked his chin to where the sword was sheathed down her back.

Ruhn: “Draw it and you’ll see.”

Bryce and Hunt swapped wary glances, and Ruhn sighed.

Ruhn: “What, you think this is some sort of prank?” Bryce said,

Bryce: “I don’t know! You’re being awfully cryptic!”

Morven: “You bring traitors and enemies of the empire to my home,”

The shadows around him halted their twining—predators readying to attack. But Bryce pointed to herself, then to Ruhn, the portrait of innocent confusion, and said,

Bryce: “Are you talking to me or him?”

Ruhn: "Cormac gave his life to make this world a better place.”

Morven: “He was a liar and a traitor—not just to the empire, but to his birthright.”

Bryce: “And we can’t have that. All that precious breeding stock—gone.”

Morven: “I will remind you that royal you might be, but you are still female. And Fae females speak only when spoken to.”

Bryce smiled slowly.

Hunt: “Now you’ve done it,”

Hunt grumbled, and decided it was a good time to step up to his mate’s side. He said to the king,

Hunt: “Telling her to shut up doesn’t end well for anyone. Trust me.”

Morven: “I will not be addressed by a slave,”

Morven seethed, nodding toward Hunt’s wrist, the mark barely visible past his black sleeve. Then he nodded to Hunt’s haloed brow.

Morven: “Least of all a Fallen angel, disgraced by the world.”

Bryce: “Oh boy,”

Bryce said, sighing at the ceiling. She whirled to their group.

Bryce: “Okay, let’s do a head count. If you’re disowned, disgraced, or both, raise your hand.”

Tharion, Baxian, Lidia, Hunt, and Ruhn raised their hands. Bryce surveyed Flynn and Dec, both still in their usual black jeans and T-shirts, and sighed again. She gestured expansively, giving them the floor.

Flynn smirked, sauntering to Bryce’s side.

Flynn: “Far as I know, I’m still my father’s heir. Good to see you again, Morven.”

Bryce sized them up, and found both males already smiling at her. And then, deep in her mind, twin dark shadows snarled, readying to strike— She incinerated them with a mental wall of starlight. The twins hissed, one of them blinking as if that light had physically blinded him. Bryce bared her teeth, and kept that shining wall in her mind. A second later, there was a polite tap against it and Ruhn said,

Ruhn: Keep this up. No matter what.

Bryce: Tell Hunt and the others to put up a wall as well,

Bryce replied, glaring daggers at the twins.

Ruhn: Already did. You should see the lightning around Athalar’s mind. He burned their probes into crisps.

Bryce: Yuck. Don’t say probes.

Bryce: "Are you saying you’re requiring any females who seek refuge here to marry?”

Morven: “It would be unsafe for so many unwed females to be running about without a male relative or husband,”

Morven said, picking at an invisible fleck of dirt on his night-black pants.

Bryce: “Yeah, the gods know what would happen if all us females were unsupervised. Absolute anarchy. Cities would crumble.”

Morven: “I shall decide who is worthy of accessing my realm,”

Bryce: “The starlight says otherwise,”

She drew the Starsword—and the dagger.

Bryce: “And so do these.”

As if their sheaths had kept their power contained, the naked metal now throbbed against her palm, up her arms, tugging toward each other so violently it took all her strength to keep them apart.

Morven paled. Even his shadows receded.

Morven: “What is that in your left hand?”

Even the Murder Twins and Sathia had their eyes trained on her, as if they couldn’t look away.

Bryce: “Some major prophecy fulfillment,”

Bryce: “Well, that makes it easier,”

She sheathed both weapons. Mercifully, the pulling eased with the action.

Bryce: “Less explaining for me.”

She nodded to Morven, and he glowered.

Bryce: “I’ll be in and out of here before you know it.”

His shadows returned, darkening the air behind his antler-throne until it seemed Morven sat before a void.

Morven: “Females are forbidden in both the Avallen Archives and the Cave of Princes.”

Bryce: “I don’t really care,”

Morven: “You spit on our sacred traditions.”

Bryce: “Get over it.”

Morven: “This is my kingdom—”

Bryce: “I’m not challenging that. I just want to look through your archives. A few days, then we’ll all be out of your hair.”

She pulled the Autumn King’s notebook from her jacket.

Bryce: “I’ll even sweeten the deal: Here’s my sire’s private journal. Well, his most current one. All his recent scheming, written down. It’s pretty stupid, if you ask me. Dear Diary, today I made a list of all my enemies and how I plan to kill them. It’s so hard being king—I wish I had a friend!”

Bryce: “It’s super hard, to try to play both sides, isn’t it?”

Morven: “I am not playing either side. I am loyal to the Asteri.”

Bryce: “Then open the mists—invite them here. Let’s have them over for brunch.”

Morven’s silence was damning. Bryce smiled.

Bryce: “I thought so.”

Sathia: “So you really intend to go into the Cave of Princes?”

Sathia asked Bryce as they entered the dim space.

Bryce: “I know my female presence will probably cause the caves to collapse from sheer outrage,”

Bryce said, voice echoing off the massive dome above them,

Bryce: “but yes.”

Sathia: “Is that part of … whatever plan you have? To unite the Fae?”

Bryce surveyed the rows and rows of shelves and said coldly,

Bryce: “The Fae don’t deserve to be united.”

Bryce: “Look for any mention of the sword and knife, anything about the mists guarding this place, Pelias and Helena … Maybe even stuff about the earliest days of Avallen, either during the First Wars or right after.”

Flynn: “That is … a lot to look for,”

Sathia: “Bet you’re wishing you’d learned to read,”

Sathia trilled, striding for the catalog.

Flynn: “I can read!”

Flynn sulked. Then mumbled,

Flynn: “It’s just boring.”

Tharion: “You seem, uh … relatively cool with this whole marriage thing.”

Sathia: “I’ve grown up knowing my fate would lead me to the marriage altar.”

The words were flat.

Tharion: “But you thought that would be marriage to a Fae—”

Sathia: “I don’t particularly want to talk about the things that have been expected of me my entire life,”

she said with the imperiousness of a queen.

Sathia: “Or the doors that are now closed to me. I am alive, and I didn’t have to marry Goon One or Goon Two, so—yes, I’m cool with that.”

Lidia let out a low laugh, and glanced toward the five figures heading out into the greenery of the countryside. Toward the red-haired female in the center of the group.

Lidia: “I’ve never had a leader to stir the sentiment.”

Morven noted the direction of her gaze and scowled.

Morven: “You’re a fool to follow her.”

Lidia gave him a sidelong look, pushing off the stone wall of the balcony.

Lidia: “You’re a fool not to,”

she said quietly, striding for the archway into the castle proper.

Lidia: “It will be your doom. And Avallen’s.”

Tharion: “Well,”

Tharion said, gesturing dramatically,

Tharion: “ladies first, Legs.”

Bryce: “Such chivalry,”

Hunt: “You’re the one with a built-in flashlight,”

Bryce: “It’s good to have another female around here.”

She nodded to Baxian, Tharion, and Hunt.

Bryce: “The Alphahole Club was getting too crowded for my liking.”

Tharion: “Here’s hoping we see daylight again,”

Tharion said with equal quiet from a step behind them.

Hunt: “We will,”

Hunt said, adjusting the heavy pack strapped between his wings.

Hunt: “Nothing to worry about except some ghouls. And wraiths. And ‘scary shit,’ Ruhn claimed.”

Bryce: “Oh, just that,”

Bryce said, throwing him a wry glance.

Hunt: “Fair enough,”

Hunt said, reading Sathia’s tone, too.

Hunt: “But Ruhn warned me that most of what’s in here is old, and wicked, and likes to drink blood. And eat souls. I’m not sure of the order, though.”

Bryce: “Sounds like your run-of-the-mill Fae nobility, then,”

Bryce said, hefting her heavy pack higher. She winked at Sathia.

Bryce: “You’ll be right at home.”

Declan asked Lidia,

Declan: “Any chance Morven will run to the Asteri?”

Lidia: “Not yet. Bryce’s claims yesterday were true—she handled him well.”

She added, turning toward Ruhn,

Lidia: “You could learn a thing or two from your sister.”

Ruhn: “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Flynn and Dec pretended to be busy looking into a closed butcher shop as they passed by.

Lidia: “You’re a prince. Start acting like one.”

Flynn: “You could, uh, talk to her,”

Flynn said from beside Ruhn, shutting yet another useless drawer full of catalog cards.

Flynn: “I can literally feel you brooding.”

Ruhn: “I’m not brooding.”

Declan: “You’re brooding,”

Ruhn: “You’re brooding,”

Ruhn said, nodding to Dec’s taut face.

Bryce: “Once you’ve seen a Middengard Wyrm feeding,”

Bryce muttered in the soupy darkness, waving away the mist in front of her face to no avail,

Bryce: “nothing’s as bad.”

Baxian: “I don’t want to know what that is,”

Hunt appreciated that Baxian hadn’t needed to be asked before flanking Bryce’s exposed side. Tharion and Sathia walked close behind, saying little as the pathway descended. Ruhn had said the carvings on the walls started a little ways in, but they hadn’t found a hint of them yet. Just rock—and mist, so thick they could only see a few feet ahead. Bryce said,

Bryce: “Think an earthworm with a mouth full of double rows of teeth. The size of two city buses.”

Baxian: “I said I didn’t want to know what that was,”

She looked coolly between his cousins.

Lidia: “Seamus. Duncan. I’ll thank you to stay out of my mind.”

Seamus bristled, pure Fae menace.

Seamus: “Did we talk to you, bitch?”

Ruhn clenched his jaw so hard it hurt, but Lidia lifted those golden eyes to the twin princes and said,

Lidia: “Shall I demonstrate how I make males like you talk to me?”

Duncan snarled.

Duncan: “You’re lucky our uncle gave the word to stand down. Or else we’d have already told the Asteri you’re here, Hind.”

Lidia: “Good dogs. I’ll be sure to advise Morven to give you both a treat.”

But Bryce seethed at Sathia,

Bryce: “I just want the Fae to leave me the fuck alone. And I’ll leave them the fuck alone.”

Sathia pointed at the Starsword on Bryce’s back.

Sathia: “But the prophecy—when those blades are reunited, so shall our people be. That has to mean you, uniting all the Fae peoples—”

Bryce: “I already did that. I connected the Fae of Midgard to the ones in our home world. Prophecy fulfilled. Or were you hoping for something else?”

Sathia’s gaze simmered. An unbroken female, despite the life she’d led.

Sathia: “I was hoping for a Fae Queen. Someone who might change things for the better.”

Females had never been allowed in here. Now two Fae females had entered. She hoped all the long-dead princes buried in the caves were thrashing in their sarcophagi.

Lidia: “I know the kind of monsters you’re going up against.”

She dipped her eyes to his forearms, where the childhood burn scars were now mostly gone, but a few shiny pink streaks remained, untouched even by Pollux’s ministrations.

Ruhn: “I can look after myself,”

he said tightly, fitting the kettle onto the hook over the fire and swinging it above the flame.

Lidia: “I know you can,”

she tried, failing miserably at explaining.

Lidia: “I’m just … I see how good you are, Ruhn. You wear your emotions on your face because you feel in a way that Morven and the Autumn King do not. I don’t want them to use that against you. To figure out how to hurt you.”

He slowly faced her, those beautiful blue eyes wary, yet tender.

Ruhn: “I think that’s a compliment?”

She huffed a laugh, and plopped two tea bags into the least dusty mugs she’d found.

Lidia: “It’s a compliment, Ruhn.”

She met his gaze, and offered him a small smile.

Lidia: “Take it and move on.”

Baxian: “You know every Fae on Midgard?”

Bryce: “I can judge them by their collective actions. How they locked people out during the attack—”

Baxian: “Yeah, that was fucked up. But until Holstrom defied orders, the wolves weren’t helping, either.”

Bryce: “What’s your point?”

Baxian: “That the right leader makes all the difference.”

Bryce: “The Valbaran Fae might not be the most charitable people in our world, but think about who’s led them for the last five hundred years. And long before that. Same with the wolves. The Prime isn’t bad, but he’s only one decent guy in a string of brutal leaders. Danika was working to change that, and she was killed for it.”

Bryce: “Rigelus told me they killed her to keep the information about their true nature contained,”

Baxian cut her a look.

Baxian: “And you believe everything Rigelus says? Besides, why can’t it be both? They wanted to keep their secrets to themselves, yes, but also to destroy the kernel of hope Danika offered. Not only to the wolves, but all of Midgard. That things could be different. Better.”

Bryce massaged her aching chest, the starlight unusually dim.

Bryce: “They definitely would have killed her for that, too.”

Baxian’s face tightened with pain.

Baxian: “Then make her death count for something, Bryce.”

Baxian smiled slightly.

Baxian: “I just wanted you to know that Danika was thinking about a lot of the same things.”

Bryce: “I wish she’d talked to me about it.”

Bryce sighed.

Bryce: “About a lot of stuff.”

Baxian: “She wanted to. And I think putting that Horn in your back was her way of perhaps … manipulating you onto a similar path.”

Bryce: “Typical Danika.

Morven: “You disgrace our people and history by bearing those blades,”

Morven accused.

Bryce: “Don’t forget that I also bear this,”

Bryce said, and held up a hand. Light—pure, concentrated light—fizzed there.

Morven: “Oh, you believe mere light can best true darkness?”

Morven seethed, shadows rising behind him in a black wave. They were deep, suffocating—lifeless. Hunt gathered his lightning again, a chain twining around his wrist and forearm. One whip of it, and he’d fry the ghouls holding Dec and Flynn, freeing up two more allies in this fight— But the Autumn King beheld that concentrated seed of light at Bryce’s finger. His flames banked. Any amusement or rage leached from his expression as he murmured to Morven,

Einar: “Run.”

Bryce: “Now that’s the first wise decision you’ve made,”

Bryce mocked.

Ruhn: “Finding out who you are … it fucked with my head. To know you’re the Hind, but also Lidia—also Day. My Day. But now …”

He swallowed.

Lidia: “Now?”

Her gaze dipped to his mouth. His cock tightened at that gaze. He said, voice near guttural,

Ruhn: “Now I don’t fucking care who you are, so long as you’re mine.”

Her eyes shot to his, again full of surprise.

Ruhn: “Because I’m yours, Day. I’m fucking yours.”

Aidas was smiling faintly—joy and hope brightening his remarkable eyes.

Aidas: “It seems you got a little lost on your way to find me, Bryce Quinlan. But welcome to Hel.”

Aidas: “The black salt only repels the Asteri; the mists repel everyone else. But certain people, with certain gifts, can access the power of thin places—on any world. World-walkers.”

Aidas gestured gracefully to Bryce.

Aidas: “You are one of them. So were Helena and Theia. Their natural abilities lent themselves to moving through the mists.”

Bryce brushed invisible dirt off her shoulders,

Hunt: “Add it to Bryce’s list of Magical Starborn Princess crap,”

Hunt said, chuckling.

Bryce: “What blinds an Oracle?”

Bryce whispered.

Aidas: “Theia’s star. I told you: The Oracle did not see that day … but I did. I saw you, so young and bright and brave, and the starlight Helena had told me to wait for. That third of Theia’s power, passed down through Helena’s line.”

Aidas: “The three of us,”

Aidas amended.

Aidas: Our four other brothers are currently engaged in other conflicts, helping other worlds.”

Bryce: “I didn’t realize you guys were, like, intergalactic saviors,”

Bryce said. Aidas’s mouth quirked upward. She could have sworn Apollion’s did, too.

Aidas: “If you find that final piece of Theia’s power … if the cost of uniting the sword and knife is too much, Bryce Quinlan, then don’t do it. Choose life.”

He glanced to Hunt.

Aidas: “Choose each other. I have lived with the alternative for millennia—the loss never gets easier to bear.”

Ruhn said into his mind, into all their minds,

Ruhn: I lied about what the Oracle said to me.

His father’s eyes flared with shock at Ruhn’s voice in his head, the secret his son had kept all these years. Ruhn didn’t care what Morven made of it, didn’t even bother to look at the Stag King. Bryce and Athalar could handle the shadows, if Morven was dumb enough to attack. So Ruhn stared into his father’s hateful face and said,

Ruhn: The Oracle didn’t tell me that I would be a fair and just king. She told me that the royal bloodline would end with me.

He had the sense that his friends were watching with wide eyes. But he only had words for the pathetic male before him.

Ruhn: I thought it meant your bloodline.

Ruhn lifted the bloodied Starsword. Flame simmered along his father’s body, limning his powerful form. But Ruhn was no longer a cowering boy, inking himself with tattoos to hide the scarring.

Ruhn: I was wrong. I think the Oracle meant all of them,

Ruhn went on, mind-to-mind.

Ruhn: The male lines. The Starborn Princes included—all you fucks who have corrupted and stolen and never once apologized for it. The entire system. This bullshit of crowns and inheritance.

His father’s sneering voice filled his mind.

Einar: You’re a spoiled, ungrateful brat who never deserved to carry my crown—

Ruhn: I don’t want it,

Ruhn snapped, and shut down the bridge between their minds that allowed his father to speak. He’d had enough of listening to this male. Blood trickled from his father’s lips as his Vanir body sought to heal him—to rally his strength to attack.

Ruhn: The line will end with me, you fucking prick,

Ruhn said into his father’s mind,

Ruhn: because I yield my crown, my title, to the queen.

Ruhn: I always assumed the Oracle’s prophecy meant that I would die.

He let his kernel of starlight flicker down the blade, an answer to Bryce’s beckoning blaze. One last time.

Ruhn: But I am going to live. And I am going to live well—without you.

Bryce: “If we win, this new world will be a fair one. No more hierarchies and bullshit.”

The very things Hunt had fought for. That he and the Fallen had suffered for.

Bryce: “But right now, I’m Queen of the Valbaran Fae.”

She nodded to the Autumn King’s body cooling on the ground, then smirked at Morven.

Bryce: “And of Avallen.”

Morven hissed,

Morven: “You’ll be Queen of Avallen over my dead …”

He trailed off at the smile on her face. And paled.

Bryce: “As I was saying,”

Bryce drawled,

Bryce: “for the moment, I’m queen. I’m judge, jury …”

Bryce looked to Sathia, still shaken and wide-eyed from the twins’ attack—yet unafraid. Unbroken, despite what the males in her life, what this male, had tried to do to her. So Bryce peered down at Morven and finished sweetly,

Bryce: “And I’m your motherfucking executioner.”

Sathia: “Hail Bryce, Queen of the Midgardian Fae.”

Bryce: “Oof,”

Bryce said, wincing.

Bryce: “Let’s start with Avallen and Valbara and see where we wind up.”

But Flynn and Declan knelt, too. And Ruhn turned to his sister and knelt as well, offering up the Starsword with both hands.

Ruhn: “To right an old wrong. And on behalf of all the Starborn Princes before me. This is yours.”

Ruhn: “The Fae won’t be happy to share.”

Bryce motioned to the ruins, the damage she’d unleashed, however unknowingly.

Bryce: “They don’t have any choice.”

Ruhn snorted.

Ruhn: “Long live the queen, indeed.”

Bryce: “I think Urd wanted me to see and learn all that, and have to decide whether to stay, or leave this safety behind and fight. Urd wanted to tempt me.”

Hunt: “Maybe it was a gift. Not a test or challenge, Bryce, but a gift.”

At her raised eyebrows, he explained,

Hunt: “For Urd to let the people you love be safe here—while you go kick some Asteri ass.”

Her smile was unspeakably sad.

Bryce: “To know they’ll be protected here … even if we fail.”

He didn’t try to reassure her that they’d succeed. Instead, he promised gently,

Hunt: “We’ll do it together. You and me—we’ll end it together.”

He brushed a strand of her hair behind a delicately pointed ear.

Hunt: “I’m with you. All of me. You and I, we’ll finish this.”

Bryce: “I want to wipe them off the face of the planet,”

she said, and though her voice was soft, nothing but pure, predatory rage filled it.

Hunt: “I’ll get the mop and bucket,”

he said, and flashed her a smile.

Flynn: “We could do that,”

Bryce: “No,”

Bryce said coolly.

Bryce: “You can’t. The Fae are more scared of him, so he’ll be the most effective.”

Flynn: “Says who? We’re plenty scary.”

Flynn: “Please don’t fuck right next to us,”

Flynn muttered from a few feet away.

Bryce: “Ugh,”

Bryce called from across the stables.

Bryce: “Really?”

Ruhn squeezed his eyes shut, fighting his arousal. But Lidia laughed quietly.

Lidia: “Sorry.”

Declan: “Pervs,”

Declan muttered, hay crinkling as he turned over.

And Bryce couldn’t stop her laugh of pure joy as her mother leapt out of the helicopter behind them, took one look at Bryce kneeling in the meadow, and said,

Ember: “Bryce Adelaide Quinlan, what’s all this talk about you jumping around between worlds?”

Juniper: “I’ll admit, I’m looking forward to grilling Baxian about him and Danika.”

They stared toward the handsome male, who must have sensed their attention and turned from where he’d been talking to Tharion and Ruhn. Baxian winced. Juniper laughed.

Juniper: “We won’t bite!”

she called to the Helhound.

Fury: “Liar,”

Fury muttered, earning another laugh from Juniper.

Ember: “I’m so proud of you. Not for … dealing with him, but for all of it. I’m so, so proud, Bryce.”

Bryce couldn’t stop the stinging in her eyes.

Bryce: “I could only do it because I was raised by a badass mom.”

Ember: “You look different.”

Bryce: “Good different or bad different?”

Ember: “Good. Like a functioning adult.”

Bryce smiled.

Bryce: “Thanks, Mom.”

Hunt didn’t wait before lifting her mother in his arms and spreading his wings. Bryce grabbed Randall and said,

Bryce: “Surprise: I can teleport. Don’t barf.”

Thankfully, Randall didn’t vomit as she teleported them the twenty-four and a half miles to the center of the walled ring. But he did when they arrived. They beat Hunt and her mother there, leaving Bryce with nothing to do but watch her dad puke his guts up in the snow as the dizziness of teleporting hit him again and again.

Randall: “That is …,”

Randall said, and retched again.

Randall: “Useful, but horrible.”

Bryce: “I think that sums me up in a nutshell,”

Prime: “Danika might have led us back to what we were before we allowed ourselves to be collared by the Asteri. I have long believed that she was killed for this goal—by the powers who wish the status quo to remain in place.”

The Prime looked down at the wolf kneeling at his feet.

Prime: “But it must be broken.”

He extended the sword to Ithan.

Prime: “Ithan Holstrom is my heir.”

Ruhn: “Right. Got it.”

He rolled his neck. She eyed him.

Lidia: “You seem … nervous.”

He snorted.

Ruhn: “It’s my first mission with my girlfriend. I want to impress her.”

Her lips quirked up, and Ruhn led the way down another tunnel.

Lidia: “Am I your girlfriend, then?”

Ruhn: “Is that … okay with you?”

She gave him a true smile. It made her seem younger, lighter—the person she might have been if Urd hadn’t taken her down her particular fucked-up life path. It knocked the breath from him.

Lidia:Yeah, Ruhn. It’s okay with me.”

An otter in a bright yellow vest leapt onto the quay, dripping everywhere. It rose onto its hind legs in front of Tharion, whiskers twitching, spraying droplets of water. Sathia grinned.

Tharion: “Stop it. It only encourages them to be cuter.”

River Queen: “And yet you have brought your wife—for what? To soften me? Or as a shield to hide behind?”

Tharion: “Considering she’s barely up to my chest. I don’t think she’d make much of a shield.”

Sathia glared at him, but the River Queen frowned.

River Queen: “Always making jokes. Always playing the fool.”

She waved a hand adorned in rings of shell and coral toward Sathia.

River Queen: “I suppose I should wish you congratulations on your nuptials, but I instead wish you luck. With a male like that for a husband, you’ll need it in droves.”

Sathia: “I thank you,”

Sathia said with such sincerity that Tharion nearly bought it, too.

Sathia: “May your good wishes fly straight to Urd’s ears.”

Holy gods, his wife had balls. Tharion wisely wiped any sort of reaction from his face, but Ogenas damn him, if they survived this meeting, he wanted Sathia to teach him everything she knew.

Bryce: “I’m not going to harm you, or your world,”

Nesta: “Then why is there a giant portal in my living room?”

Nesta: “How did you know I’d be alone?”

Bryce: “I didn’t. Urd threw me a bone.”

Ithan: “You were right, about needing a plan. I have no idea what I’m doing.”

Jesiba: “You could take some lessons from Quinlan about thinking two steps ahead.”

Ithan glared at her.

Issac: “But if you … if you turn into secondlight—”

Connor: “I’m already gone, Ithan. And I can think of no better way to end my existence than by striking a blow for all our ancestors who’ve been trapped and consumed by the Asteri.”

He nodded to the bullet, the glowing Gate illuminating his face.

Connor: “Look at the engraving.”

Memento Mori. The letters gleamed in the Gate’s pale light. Jesiba let out a quiet laugh.

Jesiba: “Got the idea from me, did you?”

Connor’s mouth quirked up at a corner. Ithan nearly broke down at that half smile. Gods, he’d missed it. Missed his big brother. But the Dead Gate glowed brighter—as if the time had come. As if it couldn’t hold all those souls, the secondlight they’d become, much longer.

Connor: “You do make me proud, you know. Every day before now, and every day after. Nothing you do will ever change that.”

Something ruptured in Ithan’s chest.

Ithan: “Connor—”

Connor: “Tell Bryce,”

Connor said, eyes shining as he stepped toward the glowing Gate, a wall of light now shimmering in the empty arch,

Connor: “to make the shot count.”

He glanced up, bleak fear in his eyes as he said hoarsely,

Hunt: “The last time I took a stand like this, with the Fallen … it cost me everything.”

He swallowed hard, but he kept his gaze on her. She could have sworn lightning sparked along his wings.

Hunt: “But this time I have Bryce Adelaide Quinlan at my side.”

She took his hand in hers, squeezing tightly.

Bryce: “I’ve got you, sweetheart,”

she whispered to him, and his eyes flickered in recognition.

He’d said the same thing to her once—that day she’d had the kristallos venom removed from her leg. He squeezed her hand back.

Hunt: “Let’s light it up.”

Hunt waggled his eyebrows at her.

Hunt: “Want to do something other than sleeping?”

Despite all that weighed on her, despite what awaited them the next day, Bryce smirked.

Bryce: “Oh?”

She half reclined, leaning back on her elbows. The bed let out a wailing creaaak.

Bryce: “Oof,”

Bryce said, wincing.

Bryce: “If anyone has any doubt that we’re about to fuck each other’s brains out, this bed will clue them right in.”

Hunt’s mouth kicked up at a corner, but his eyes had darkened, going right to her mouth.

Hunt: “I’m down for some noisy sex.”

Bryce: “I love you.”

She lifted her hand to cup his face, drawing his gaze to her own.

Bryce: “I love you more than anything in this world—or any other.”

He closed his eyes, pressing a kiss to her temple.

Hunt: “I thought you said no goodbyes.”

Bryce: “It’s not a goodbye.”

She ran her hands down the groove of his spine, his wings like velvet against her fingertips.

Bryce: “It’s the truth.”

Bryce: “Commando?”

Bryce said, choking. Hunt smirked.

Hunt: “All the underwear they gave me on the Depth Charger was too small for this.”