Authors: Sarah J. Maas
Ruhn’s stare met hers, questioning and wary, but Bryce stepped back. The sword stopped singing.
It’s not going to bite, you know
Bryce nearly flinched as her brother’s voice filled her mind. He
used the mind-speaking rarely enough that she often entirely forgot he had the gift.
It’s your sword. Not mine. You’re as much a Starborn Prince as I am a princess.
He shot back, eyes glinting with stars,
I’m not the kind of male whose sense of pride is so brittle that I need to cling to a shiny weapon. If you want to use it, it’s yours.
She shook her head.
You retrieved the blade—and apparently had to deal with Cormac while doing it. That fact alone entitles you to keep it.
Ruhn’s laughter filled her mind, full of amusement and relief. But his face remained serious as he said to the group, now staring at them, “I didn’t pay attention in class when we covered Fae law. Sorry.”
“Well, I did,” Marc said. “And I’ve already put some of my firm’s associates on researching it. Any legal case or precedent that’s been uploaded into a database, short of whatever’s hidden in the Asteri Archives, we’ll be able to comb through.”
Declan added, “I’ll go hunting, too.” But even Dec, with his hacking skills, couldn’t pierce the security around the private, ancient files of the Asteri.
“Thank you,” Bryce said, but she didn’t allow that shred of hope to balloon in her chest. “Update me when you have anything.”
Ruhn started talking, but Bryce tuned him out, handing off the bottle of whiskey to Juniper before slipping out onto the sagging front porch, dodging discarded cups and cans. Hunt was a storm wind at her back as she strode onto the small slice of grassy front lawn and breathed in the bustle of the Old Square before her.
“Why are you being so calm about this?” Hunt asked, his arms crossed. The dry, warm night breeze ruffled his hair, his gray wings.
“Because this is some move in a game the Autumn King is playing,” Bryce said. “He’s anticipating that I’m going to run to his house and fight him. I’m trying to figure out why that would help him. What his endgame is.”
And what her own might be.
“Connecting the two most powerful Fae royal bloodlines is a
pretty clear endgame,” Hunt growled. “And you’re Starborn on top of it—you told me you’ve got the gifts of one of the first of the Starborn.
you’ve got the Horn. That makes you a massive bargaining chip for more power.”
“That’s too simple for the Autumn King. His games play out over years—centuries. This engagement is the first step. Or maybe we’re already several steps along.” She just needed to find some way to get a few steps ahead of
without revealing her hand. The engagement would have to stand. For now.
Bryce steeled her spine. “I was really enjoying this summer, you know. Today seems Hel-bent on ruining it for both of us.”
Hunt ducked his head. “You’d almost think this was planned by the gods. They probably have a special task force: How to Fuck Over Bryce and Hunt in One Day.”
Bryce chuckled. “Celestina might wind up being a blessing. But …” She asked Hunt, “You think the Autumn King might have timed this to coincide with you getting the news about Celestina?”
“To what end?”
“To rattle us. To make us act, I don’t know.” She dared say, “Maybe he thought you’d go after him, and it’d make you look bad in front of the new Archangel.”
Hunt stilled, and Bryce became keenly aware of the distance between their bodies. “Again,” he said, voice husky, “to what end?”
“If you did something illegal,” Bryce mused, heart beginning to thunder as he stepped closer, “like …”
“Kill a Crown Prince of the Fae?”
Bryce chewed on her lip. “Celestina needs to set an example of how she plans to rule. And punishing a powerful angel, a
angel acting out of line … that’d be the perfect way to demonstrate her power. And thus get you out of the picture for the Autumn King. He knows we’re a team.”
“A team,” Hunt said slowly. As if, out of everything she’d laid out,
was what he chose to dwell on.
“You know what I mean,” Bryce said.
“I’m not sure I do.” Had his voice dropped lower?
“We’re roomies,” she said, her own voice getting breathy.
“Occasional Beer Pong Champions?”
Hunt snatched the hat off her head and plunked it back on his own, backward as usual. “Yes, the Autumn King truly fears our unholy beer pong alliance.”
Bryce smiled, letting it chase away the darkness lurking in her soul. But Hunt added, “We can’t forget that Avallen has their own angle. Why’d they agree to the union?”
“You know what?” Bryce said. “Who cares about any of them? My father, the Avallen Fae—screw them.” Only with Hunt could she be dismissive about this. He’d have her back, no matter what. “At least until we get my parents onto that train.”
“You still haven’t given me a convincing plan for how
will happen. For all we know, they’re learning about this on the news.”
“Oh, my phone would already be exploding if my mother had heard.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Maybe I should ask Fury to sneak into their hotel and disable their phones.”
“Is it bad if I think she should go one step further and tie them up, throw them in the trunk of a car, and drive them home so they get there before the news breaks? Because that’s what Fury will likely do if you send her to that hotel.”
Bryce laughed, and the sound sang through her like silver bells. “Okay, no Fury.” She looped her arm through Hunt’s, savoring the muscled mass of him as she steered them toward the low gate and sidewalk beyond. “Let’s watch old episodes of
Beach House Hookup
and come up with ways to trick my parents.”
One of his wings brushed along her back in the softest of caresses. Every inch it touched lit up like firstlight. “Sounds like a normal Tuesday night.”
They meandered home, and despite Bryce’s flippant words, she found herself slipping into a state of roiling darkness and thoughts like shooting stars. She’d been a fool to think she could lie low forever. She’d been willing to follow the Asteri’s order to lead a boring, normal life, but the rest of the world had different plans for her. And Hunt.
She was bringing her phone to her ear to call her parents with the news that
Oh, so sad, but Jesiba needs me to head over to her warehouse tomorrow and I think this might lead to a second chance at a job with her, so do you mind getting on the earlier train?
when she and Hunt walked off the elevator and found the door to their apartment ajar.
If her mom and Randall had come over unexpectedly …
Syrinx was barking inside, and Bryce lunged for the door, the memory of another night washing red over her senses. Now, as then, the scent of blood was a coppery tang in the air, in the hallway, on the threshold of her door—
Not again. Not her parents—
Hunt shoved her back as he angled himself at the doorway, gun out and lightning wreathing his other hand, violence written in every taut line of his body, his raised wings.
Surprise flared in his dark eyes, and then he lowered the gun. Bryce beheld what was in the center of the great room and swayed into Hunt with relief and shock.
Yes, the gods had clearly formed a How to Fuck Over Hunt and Bryce task force.
Inside lay Ithan Holstrom, bleeding all over her pale wood floors.
Tharion Ketos had royally fucked up.
Literally. The River Queen had been
Which was why he was now struggling to keep his feet on a small fishing vessel in a sea so stormy it made even his iron stomach churn. Up and down, down and up, the boat bobbed in the rain and swells, wind threatening to flay his skin to the bone, despite his thick black sweater and the tactical vest atop it.
He should be lounging on a rock in the Istros right now, preferably in plain sight of whatever females walked along the quay. He certainly enjoyed finding not-so-covert photos of him on social media, with captions like:
So hot it’s a miracle he doesn’t turn the Istros to steam!
That had been a particular favorite. Too bad it had also landed him here. Punished by the River Queen because her daughter had cried over it.
He was accustomed to cold, had explored as deep as his mer’s gifts would allow without his skull cracking like an egg, but this northern stretch of the Haldren Sea was different. It sucked the life from one’s bones, its grayness creeping into the soul.
Though swimming would be a Hel of a lot less nauseating.
Tharion ducked his head against the lashing rain, his dark red hair plastered to his scalp, dripping icy water down his neck. Gods,
he wanted to go home. Back to the dry, blistering heat of a Lunathion summer.
“Submersible’s within range,” the captain called. The female dolphin shifter was tucked in the safety of the command vestibule. Lucky asshole. “We’re starting to get a live feed.”
Barely able to maintain his grip on the rain-slick rail of the boat, Tharion aimed for the vestibule. It could only fit two people, so he had to wait until the first mate—a shark shifter—squeezed out before entering. The warmth was like a kiss from Solas himself, and Tharion sighed as he slid the door shut and observed the small screen beside the wheel.
The images from the trench were murky: flurries of floating bits in a whole lot of darkness. If they’d been on a battleship—Hel, even a yacht—they’d have had giant screens with crystal clarity. But this fishing boat, capable of slipping past the Pangeran navy’s radar, had been the best bet.
The captain stood before the screen, pointing with a brown finger to a rising number in its upper right corner. “We’re nearing the requested depth.”
Tharion sank into the swivel chair anchored into the floor. Technically, it was the captain’s chair, but he didn’t care. He was paying for this expedition. Granted, it was with his Blue Court–issued credit card, but he could damn well sit where he wanted to.
The captain raised a dark brow. “You know what you’re looking for?” She’d come highly recommended by a few spies in his employ—a discreet and bold female who wouldn’t flee at the first hint of imperial battleships.
Tharion surveyed the screen. “A body.”
The captain whistled. “You know the odds of that are—”
“She was tied to lead blocks and dropped into the water around here.” By the Hind.
“If she’s not in the House of Many Waters, she’s long dead.”
No shit. “I just need to find her.” What remained of her, after two weeks at the bottom of the sea. Frankly, her bones and body had likely exploded from the pressure.
His queen had learned of the poor girl’s fate through whatever
the rivers and seas whispered to her. He’d known it was how the River Queen kept tabs on her sisters, who ruled the other bodies of water around Midgard, but he hadn’t realized how precise the information could be—she’d been able to tell him to hunt for lead blocks, and where to look. And what manner of Vanir, exactly, Sofie was: a thunderbird. Ogenas have mercy on them all.
It was on the slim chance that Sofie’s Vanir body had survived the plunge—and hadn’t been picked apart yet by scavengers—that he’d come. His queen seemed to be under the impression that Sofie was an asset, even dead.
His queen had refused to tell him more than that. She’d only said that he was to retrieve the body and bring it back to the Blue Court. Presumably to search it for intel or weapons. He prayed he wouldn’t be the one to do it.
“We’re at depth,” the captain announced, and the camera feed halted. More white bits swirled past as the camera pivoted to reveal the silty, alien seafloor. “Any idea where to start, Captain?”
Tharion still found the title ridiculous, and more than a little painful. The case that had earned him the recent promotion had been his sister’s murder. He’d have traded in the title in a heartbeat if it meant he could have Lesia back. Hear his younger sister’s boisterous laugh one more time. Catching and killing her murderer hadn’t eased that feeling.
“Based on the current, she should have landed around here,” Tharion said, letting his water magic drift to the bottom, cringing at the ocean’s viciousness. Not at all like the clear calm of the Istros. Granted, plenty of monsters dwelled within the Blue River, but the turquoise water sang to him, laughed with him, cried with him. This sea only bellowed and raged.
Tharion monitored the camera feed. “Rotate the camera to the west—and move the submersible ahead about ten yards.”
Through the glare of the firstlight beams atop the remote submersible, more fleshy white bits floated by. This was what the wraith Viktoria had been damned by Micah to endure. The former Archangel had shoved her essence into a magically sealed box
while the wraith remained fully conscious despite having no corporeal form, and dropped her to the floor of the Melino
That the trench’s bottom was another fifteen miles deeper than the seafloor before them sent a shiver along Tharion’s tiger-striped forearms. The wraith’s shoebox-sized Helhole had been bespelled against the pressure. And Viktoria, not needing food or water, would live forever. Trapped. Alone. No light, nothing but silence, not even the comfort of her own voice.
A fate worse than death. With Micah now sitting in a trash bag in some city dump, would anyone dare retrieve the wraith? Athalar had shown no signs of rebellion, and Bryce Quinlan, the last Tharion had heard, was content to return to a normal life.
Hel, after this spring, hadn’t everyone wanted to return to normal?
The River Queen didn’t seem to want to. She’d sent him hunting for a rebel spy’s remains. To retrieve her Very Fucking Important corpse.
Even if the mere fact that the River Queen was searching for the body of a rebel spy could damn her. Damn all of them.
And he’d be first in the line of fire. But he never dared to challenge her about the contradictions of it: she punished him for making her daughter cry, yet what would happen should he be killed or harmed during one of her punishments? Wouldn’t her daughter cry then?