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I start to crumple, brace myself for the impact of the ground and whatever else will come from Cyrus when I’m finally lying there defenseless.

But I never hit the ground, because just as suddenly as Cyrus struck, Hudson is here, beside me. Catching me.

Like I was yesterday’s trash, Cyrus has already turned and walked away. I stare at his tall form stalking across the field, and I wonder if anyone will ever challenge this brutal vampire. How much longer until the entire world is on its knees before him? How naïve was I to think I could temper his reign? Me. A tiny half-human gargoyle.

Hudson scoops me up into his arms, his face ravaged with a fear and rage like I’ve never seen from him before. “Grace!” he shouts hoarsely. “Grace, hang on.”

There’s nothing removed about him now. Nothing sardonic or defensive or even snarky at all. And I suddenly realize, even through the pain, that I might be looking at the real Hudson for the very first time.

I like what I see. Except…the sudden tears in his blue eyes only make them look deeper.

I reach a hand up and brush them away. “Hey, it’s okay,” I tell him even though I know it’s not. “Don’t do that.”

I know this is bad, even without Hudson’s tears. It’s not like it’s exactly a surprise as pain and burning continue to spread through every part of my body. It doesn’t mean I’m not sad, though. I was looking forward to getting to know him when he wasn’t in my head.

I was looking forward to a lot of things.

I glance over to where Jaxon and Macy are trying to get to me. They’re halfway across the field, but Jaxon is struggling—I can’t imagine what it must have taken for him to rip that magical dome apart, especially as depleted as he already was.

I wish I could go to him, wish I could hold him one more time.

But I’m already cold, the rain and sleet able to reach the stadium with the magical wall gone, and I can already feel everywhere Cyrus’s venom touches as it works its way deeper and deeper into my system.

“Grace, look at me,” Hudson says with an urgency I’ve never heard from him before. “I need you to look at me.”

I slowly turn my head back to him, even as I wonder how much longer it’s going to take the venom to kill me. Everything hurts so much, I can barely breathe, barely think.

“You have to hang on,” Hudson whispers. “We can fix this—I know we can. I just need you to stay with me a little longer.”

“Eternal bite,” I whisper to him. A reminder that I know what’s happening here. Just like I know that he’s lying. Because no one ever recovers from Cyrus’s eternal bite—not even gargoyles. History has proven that.

“Fuck the eternal bite,” he answers. “You’re not dying on my watch, Grace.”

I laugh—just a little—because the pain makes it hurt too much. “I don’t think even you can stop this.”

“You have no idea what I can do.”

Speaking of which… “I think I have something that belongs to you,” I whisper.

Another wave of pain racks my body so hard, I almost pass out. I vaguely register Hudson’s shouting at me, pleading with me, though I’m not sure why. He doesn’t want me to do something…probably not die. Yeah, I don’t want that, either. But if I’m going to die, I’m going to at least give him a fighting chance at living again.

As the pain finally recedes, I reach my hand up, lay it on his cheek. Then reach inside me to find the brilliant blue thread that’s never been there before—it’s right on top, laid over all the others like it’s just been waiting for this moment.

Then again, maybe it has. I’m sure Hudson knows what to do with his powers much better than I ever will.

With the last remaining strength I can muster, I wrap my hand around the string and channel Hudson’s power back into him.

There’s a lot of it, more than I’ve ever imagined was possible for one person to hold, let alone wield. I’ve seen Jaxon’s power, felt it through the mating bond, and it’s immense. But this…this feels limitless.

The exchange goes on and on, Hudson’s eyes glowing a little brighter with every second that passes, his lips moving, but I can’t make out the words he’s saying over the sound of his power rushing in my ears as it leaves me. Until finally, finally I’m empty. Finally, the last remnant of Hudson is gone, and I am well and truly alone.

Which seems fair, actually. I guess when it all comes down to it, everybody dies alone.

“I’m sorry,” I tell him, tears blooming in my eyes once more and mingling with the soft rain on my face. “I should have—”

“You,” Cyrus says, his fury barely contained as he stares down at the son he so recently lost. “How are you here?”

Someone must have told him Hudson was beside me, and he came back to see for himself. I wish he would leave. I can tell I only have a few more minutes left, and I want to spend them with Hudson.

“Does it matter?” Hudson responds. “You were always going to pay for this, whether I was here or not.”

“She cheated. The rules are very clear—only a mate can help you pass the test, and she has no mate. Cole made sure—”

My heart stutters in my chest, rage and regret burning inside me at what Cyrus just revealed. He did know what Cole had planned—had maybe even put him up to it.

I want to say something to Cyrus, want to call him on the atrocity—or atrocities—he committed today, but I don’t have the strength to fight anymore. It’s taking every inch of strength I have left to try to follow what’s going on. Arguing is impossible. And it wouldn’t matter anyway—what’s done is done, and it’s not like getting him to admit his complicity changes anything. I just want him to leave me to die in peace.

Hudson doesn’t argue, either. He just stares his father down, face blank and eyes blazing, until it’s obvious that Cyrus starts to get uncomfortable, his face growing pale as he shifts back and forth. But still he blusters. Still he pits his arrogance against Hudson’s strength.

“You know the rules,” he says. “She cheated.”

“She did not cheat,” Hudson tells him. And neither says a word for a second, maybe more. “And I will find a way to heal her. She will rule the Circle one day.”

Cyrus turns pale and panicked at Hudson’s words, his eyes darting back and forth between us. “No gargoyle will ever rule the Circle again,” he tells us. “Just suggesting it is to invite genocide against your own species, Hudson.”

“No, that’s your trick. That’s what you brought to your people,” Hudson snaps back. “And to too many others. Besides, pretty soon you’ll be too busy healing to worry about who sits on the Circle and who doesn’t.”

“Healing from what? I’m—”

Hudson cuts him off with a wave of his hand.

And just like that, Cyrus screams in agony…as he seems to melt before my very eyes.


It All Comes

Crashing Down

“What was that?” I whisper, torn between trying to watch what happens to Cyrus and closing my eyes and resting my head against Hudson’s chest.

The closed eyes win, mostly because I’m so tired and everything hurts so much. But also because the little bit I just saw—Cyrus’s body literally caving in on itself like he imploded from the inside—might be the most terrifying thing I’ve ever witnessed.

“Nothing for you to worry about. The bastard’s bones will regrow…eventually,” Hudson answers softly and smooths the hair around my face. But when I lay my head on his chest and try to block out the stomach-churning pain, he tells me firmly, “Don’t go to sleep, Grace.”

“I don’t think vampire bites work the same way as concussions.” I drag each word from my screaming lungs, trying to make a joke so I can see Hudson smile one last time.

“Yeah, because that’s what I’m worried about,” he jokes back as he scoops me up into his arms and carries me across the field. “You having a concussion.”

Jaxon and Macy finally get to us, and Jaxon demands, “Let me have her,” but Hudson barely glances his way. He just keeps moving. He’s not fading, but he is striding out of the arena like a man on a mission.

The only thing he bothers to say is, “Push everyone back, make them leave this arena.”

I don’t know if Jaxon follows Hudson’s directions, but I no longer hear voices coming closer. Everything seems to be receding. Then again, that could be the poison working its way through my system.

“Grace, just hold on a little longer,” Macy tells me, her voice thick with tears. “We’ll figure this out. I swear, there has to be a spell, something. My dad is talking to all the witches and vampires on staff right now. They’re trying to find a way—”

She breaks off, unwilling to say what all of us are thinking, which is that it will take a lot more than a spell to save me now. Cyrus is too powerful, his bite too irrevocable. They can look all they want, but if what Hudson told me about his father the other night was true, they won’t find anything.

And much as I don’t want it to be true, the pain coursing through me right now says otherwise.

Still, I hate to see Macy like this. She’s devastated, her face crumpled and wet with tears she doesn’t even bother to try to stem. “It’s okay,” I soothe, because someone needs to. “You’re going to be okay.” I rub my hand against her arm, which is the only part of her I can reach.

“Where are you going?” Jaxon demands as Hudson continues to stride through the arena. “Where are you taking her?”

“I’ve got an idea,” he grinds out from between clenched teeth, his arms tightening around me. “It’s a long shot, but it’s better than sitting here waiting for her to die.”

The others wince, but I’m glad someone finally said it out loud. I’m going to die.