House of Flame and Shadow (Crescent City #3) by Sarah J. Maas


The Hind knelt before her undying masters and contemplated how it would feel to tear out their throats.

Around her own throat, a silver torque lay cool and heavy. It never warmed against her skin. As if the taken lives it symbolized wanted her to endure death’s icy grip as well.

A silver dart on a dreadwolf uniform: the trophy for a rebel wiped off the face of Midgard. Lidia had acquired so many that her imperial grays couldn’t hold them all. So many that they’d been melted down into that torque.

Did anyone in this chamber see the necklace for what it truly was?

A collar. With a golden leash leading right to the monsters before her.

And did those monsters ever suspect that their faithful pet sat at their feet and pondered the taste and texture of their blood on her tongue? On her teeth?

But here she would kneel, until given leave to rise. As this world would kneel until the six enthroned Asteri drained it dry and left its carcass to rot in the emptiness of space.

The staff of the Eternal Palace had cleaned the blood from the shining crystal floor beneath her knees. No coppery tang lingered in the sterile air, no errant drops marred the columns flanking the chamber. As if the events of two days ago had never occurred.

But Lidia Cervos could not let herself dwell on those events. Not while surrounded by her enemies. Not with Pollux kneeling beside her, one of his shining wings resting atop her calf. From another, it might have been a gesture of comfort, of solidarity.

From Pollux, from the Hammer, it meant nothing but possession.

Lidia willed her eyes dead and cold. Willed her heart to be the same, and focused on the two Fae Kings pleading their cases.

“My late son acted of his own accord,” declared Morven, King of the Avallen Fae, his bone-white face grave. The tall, dark-haired male wore all black, but no heavy air of mourning lay upon him. “Had I known of Cormac’s treason, I would have handed him over myself.”

Lidia flicked her gaze to the panel of parasites seated on their crystal thrones.

Rigelus, veiled as usual in the body of a Fae teenage boy, propped his delicate chin on a fist. “I find it difficult to believe that you had no knowledge of your son’s activities, considering how tightly you held his reins.”

Shadows whispered over Morven’s broad shoulders, trailing off his scaled armor. “He was a defiant boy. I thought I’d beaten it out of him long ago.”

“You thought wrong,” sneered Hesperus, the Evening Star, who’d taken on the shape of a blond nymph. Her long, slim fingers tapped the glimmering arm of her throne. “We can only assume that his treachery stemmed from some decay within your royal house. One that must now be scourged.”

For the first time in the decades the Hind had known him, King Morven held his tongue. He’d had no choice but to answer the Asteri’s summons yesterday, but he clearly did not appreciate the reminder that his autonomy was a mere illusion, even on the misty isle of Avallen.

Some small part of her relished it—seeing the male who’d strutted through Summits and meetings and balls now weighing his every word. Knowing it might be his last.

Morven growled, “I had no knowledge of my son’s activities or of his craven heart. I swear it upon Luna’s golden bow.” His voice rang clear as he added with impressive fury, “I condemn all that Cormac was and stood for. He shall not be honored with a grave nor a burial. There will be no ship to sail his body into the Summerlands. I will ensure that his name is wiped from all records of my house.”

For a heartbeat, Lidia allowed herself a shred of pity for the Ophion agent she’d known. For the Fae Prince of Avallen who’d given everything to destroy the beings before her.

As she had given everything. Would still give everything.

Polaris, the North Star—wearing the body of a white-winged, dark-skinned female angel—drawled, “There will be no ship to sail Cormac’s body to the Summerlands because the boy immolated himself. And tried to take us with him.” Polaris let out a soft, hateful laugh that raked talons down Lidia’s skin. “As if a paltry flame might do such a thing.”

Morven said nothing. He’d offered what he could, short of getting on his knees to plead. It might very well come to that, but for now, the Fae King of Avallen held his head high.

Legend claimed that even the Asteri could not pierce the mists that shrouded Avallen, but Lidia had never heard of it being tested. Perhaps that was also why Morven had come—to keep the Asteri from having a reason to explore whether the legend was true.

If they were somehow repelled by whatever ancient power lay around Avallen, that would be a secret worth abasing oneself to keep.

Rigelus crossed an ankle over his knee. Lidia had seen the Bright Hand order entire families executed with the same casual air. “And you, Einar? What have you to say for your son?”

“Traitorous shit,” spat Pollux from where he knelt beside Lidia. His wing still rested on her leg like he owned it. Owned her.

The Autumn King ignored the Hammer. Ignored everyone except Rigelus as he flatly replied, “Ruhn has been wild since birth. I did what I could to contain him. I have little doubt that he was lured into this business through his sister’s machinations.”

Lidia kept her fingers loose, even as they ached to curl into fists. Steadied her heart into a sluggish, ordinary beat that no Vanir ears would detect as unusual.