Chapter no 10

House of Earth and Blood

It was barely ten in the morning, and Tuesday was already fucked.

Keeping a smile pasted on her face, Bryce lingered by her ironwood desk in the showroom of the gallery while a Fae couple browsed.

The elegant plucking of violins trickled through the hidden speakers in the two-level, wood-paneled space, the opening movement of a symphony that she’d switched on as soon as the intercom had buzzed. Given the couple’s attire—a pleated tan skirt and white silk blouse for the female, a gray suit for the male—she’d doubted they’d appreciate the thumping bass of her morning workout mix.

But they’d been browsing the art for ten minutes now, which was enough time for her to politely inquire, “Are you here for anything in particular, or just to browse?”

The blond Fae male, older-looking for one of his kind, waved a dismissive hand, leading his companion toward the nearest display: a partial marble relief from the ruins of Morrah, salvaged from a wrecked temple. The piece was about the size of a coffee table, with a rearing hippocamp filling most of it. The half-horse, half-fish creatures had once dwelled in the cerulean waters of the Rhagan Sea in Pangera, until ancient wars had destroyed them.

“Browsing,” the male replied coldly, his hand coming to rest on his companion’s slender back as they studied the waves carved in strikingly precise detail.

Bryce summoned another smile. “Take your time. I’m at your disposal.”

The female nodded her thanks, but the male sneered his dismissal.

His companion frowned deeply at him.

The silence in the small gallery turned palpable.

Bryce had gleaned from the moment they’d walked through the door that the male was here to impress the female, either by buying something outrageously expensive or pretending he could. Perhaps this was an arranged pairing, testing out the waters before committing to anything further.

Had Bryce been full-blooded Fae, had her father claimed her as his offspring, she might have been subjected to such things. Ruhn, especially with his Starborn status, would one day have to submit to an arranged marriage, when a young female deemed suitable to continue the precious royal bloodline came along.

Ruhn might sire a few children before then, but they wouldn’t be acknowledged as royalty unless their father chose that path. Unless they were worthy of it.

The Fae couple passed the mosaic from the courtyard of the once-great palace in Altium, then studied the intricate jade puzzle box that had belonged to a princess in a forgotten northern land.

Jesiba did most of the art acquisitions, which was why she was away so often, but Bryce herself had tracked down and purchased a good number of the pieces. And then resold them at a steep profit.

The couple had reached a set of fertility statues from Setmek when the front door buzzed.

Bryce glanced toward the clock on her desk. The afternoon client appointment wasn’t for another three hours. To have multiple browsers in the gallery was an oddity given the notoriously steep price tags of the art in here, but—maybe she’d get lucky and sell something today.

“Excuse me,” Bryce murmured, ducking around the massive desk and pulling up the outside camera feed on the computer. She’d barely clicked the icon when the buzzer rang again.

Bryce beheld who was standing on the sidewalk and froze. Tuesday was indeed fucked.

No windows lined the sandstone facade of the slender two-story building a block off the Istros River. Only a bronze plaque to the right of the heavy iron door revealed to Hunt Athalar that it was a business of any sort.

Griffin Antiquities had been etched there in archaic, bold lettering, the words adorned with a set of glaring owl eyes beneath them, as if daring any shoppers to enter. An intercom with a matching bronze button lay beneath.

Isaiah, in his usual suit and tie, had been staring at the buzzer for long enough that Hunt finally drawled, “There aren’t any enchantments on it, you know.” Despite the identity of its owner.

Isaiah shot him a look, straightening his tie. “I should have had a second cup of coffee,” he muttered before stabbing a finger onto the metal button. A faint buzzing sounded through the door.

No one answered.

Hunt scanned the building exterior for a hidden camera. Not a gleam or hint. The nearest one, in fact, was mounted on the chrome door of the bomb shelter halfway down the block.

Hunt scanned the sandstone facade again. There was no way Jesiba Roga wouldn’t have cameras covering every inch, both outside and within.

Hunt unleashed a crackle of his power, small tongues of lightning tasting for energy fields.

Nearly invisible in the sunny morning, the lightning bounced off a skintight enchantment coating the stone, the mortar, the door. A cold, clever spell that seemed to laugh softly at any attempt to enter.

Hunt murmured, “Roga isn’t screwing around, is she?”

Isaiah pushed the buzzer again, harder than necessary. They had their orders—ones that were pressing enough that even Isaiah, regardless of the lack of coffee, was on a short fuse.

Though it could also have been due to the fact that Isaiah had been out until four in the morning. Hunt hadn’t asked about it, though. Had only heard Naomi and Justinian gossiping in the common room, wondering if this new boyfriend meant Isaiah was finally moving on.

Hunt hadn’t bothered to tell them there was no fucking way. Not when Isaiah obeyed Micah only because of the generous weekly salary that Micah gave them all, when the law declared that slaves weren’t owed a paycheck. The money Isaiah amassed would buy someone else’s freedom. Just as the shit Hunt did for Micah went toward earning his own.

Isaiah rang the buzzer a third time. “Maybe she’s not in.”

“She’s here,” Hunt said. The scent of her still lingered on the sidewalk, lilac and nutmeg and something he couldn’t quite place—like the gleam of the first stars at nightfall.

And indeed, a moment later, a silky female voice that definitely did not belong to the gallery’s owner crackled through the intercom. “I didn’t order a pizza.”

Despite himself, despite the mental clock ticking away, Hunt choked on a laugh.

Isaiah rustled his white wings, plastering on a charming smile, and said into the intercom, “We’re from the 33rd Legion. We’re here to see Bryce Quinlan.”

The voice sharpened. “I’m with clients. Come back later.”

Hunt was pretty sure that “come back later” meant “go fuck yourselves.”

Isaiah’s charming smile strained. “This is a matter of some urgency, Miss Quinlan.”

A low hum. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to make an appointment. How about … three weeks? I’ve got the twenty-eighth of April free. I’ll pencil you in for noon.”

Well, she had balls, Hunt would give her that much.

Isaiah widened his stance. Typical legion fighting position, beaten into them from their earliest days as grunts. “We need to talk right now, I’m afraid.”

No answer came. Like she’d just walked away from the intercom.

Hunt’s snarl sent the poor faun walking behind them bolting down the street, his delicate hooves clopping on the cobblestones. “She’s a spoiled party girl. What did you expect?”

“She’s not stupid, Hunt,” Isaiah countered.

“Everything I’ve seen and heard suggests otherwise.” What he’d seen when he skimmed her file two years ago, combined with what he’d read this morning and the pictures he’d gone through, all painted a portrait that told him precisely how this meeting would go. Too bad for her it was about to get a Hel of a lot more serious.

Hunt jerked his chin toward the door. “Let’s see if a client’s even in there.” He stalked back across the street, where he leaned against a parked blue car. Some drunken reveler had used its hood as a canvas to spray-paint an unnecessarily detailed, massive cock—with wings. A mockery of the 33rd’s logo of a winged sword, he realized. Or merely the logo stripped down to its true meaning.

Isaiah noted it as well and chuckled, following Hunt’s lead and leaning against the car.

A minute passed. Hunt didn’t move an inch. Didn’t take his gaze away from the iron door. He had better things to do with this day than play games with a brat, but orders were orders. After five minutes, a sleek black sedan rolled up and the iron door opened.

The Fae driver of the car, which was worth more than most human families saw in a lifetime, got out. He was around the other side of the vehicle in a heartbeat, opening the back passenger door. Two Fae paraded out of the gallery, a male and a female. The pretty female’s every breath radiated the easy confidence gained from a lifetime of wealth and privilege.

Around her slim neck lay a strand of diamonds, each as large as Hunt’s fingernail. Worth as much as the car—more. The male climbed into the sedan, face tight as he slammed the door before his driver could do it for him. The well-heeled female just rushed down the street, phone already to her ear, grousing to whoever was on the line about No more blind dates, for Urd’s sake.

Hunt’s attention returned to the gallery door, where a curvy, red-haired woman stood.

Only when the car rounded the corner did Bryce slide her eyes toward them.

She angled her head, her silken sheet of hair sliding over the shoulder of her white skintight dress, and smiled brightly. Waved. The delicate gold amulet around her tan neck glinted.

Hunt pushed off the parked car and stalked toward her, his gray wings flaring wide.

A flick of Bryce’s amber eyes took in Hunt from his tattoo to his ass-kicking boot tips. Her smile grew. “See you in three weeks,” she said cheerfully, and slammed the door shut.

Hunt cleared the street in a matter of steps. A car screeched to a stop, but the driver wasn’t stupid enough to blast the horn. Not when lightning wreathed Hunt’s fist as he pounded it into the intercom button. “Don’t waste my fucking time, Quinlan.”

Isaiah let the near-frantic driver pass before coming up behind Hunt, his brown eyes narrowing. But Bryce replied sweetly, “My boss doesn’t like legionaries in her place. Sorry.”

Hunt slammed his fist into the iron door. That same blow had smashed cars, shattered walls, and splintered bones. And that was without the aid of the storm in his veins. The iron didn’t so much as shudder; his lightning skittered off it.

To Hel with threats, then. He’d go for the jugular, as deep and sure as any of his physical kills. So Hunt said into the intercom, “We’re here about a murder.”

Isaiah winced, scanning the street and skies for anyone who might have heard.

Hunt crossed his arms as the silence spread.

Then the iron door hissed and clicked, and inched open. Bull’s-fucking-eye.

It took Hunt a heartbeat to adjust from the sunlight to the dimmer interior, and he used that first step into the gallery to note every angle and exit and detail.

Plush pine-green carpets went wall to wood-paneled wall in the two-story showroom. Alcoves with soft-lit art displays dotted the edges of the room: chunks of ancient frescoes, paintings, and statues of Vanir so strange and rare even Hunt didn’t know their names.

Bryce Quinlan leaned against the large ironwood desk in the center of the space, her snow-white dress clinging to every generous curve and dip.

Hunt smiled slowly, showing all his teeth.

He waited for it: the realization of who he was. Waited for her to shrink back, to fumble for the panic button or gun or whatever the fuck she thought might save her from the likes of him.

But maybe she was stupid, after all, because her answering smile was saccharine in the extreme. Her red-tinted nails idly tapped on the pristine wood surface. “You have fifteen minutes.”

Hunt didn’t tell her that this meeting would likely take a good deal longer than that.

Isaiah turned to shut the door, but Hunt knew it was already locked. Just as he knew, thanks to legion intel gathered over the years, that the small wood door behind the desk led upstairs to Jesiba Roga’s office— where a floor-to-ceiling internal window overlooked the showroom they stood in—and the simple iron door to their right led down into another full level, stocked with things that legionaries weren’t supposed to find. The enchantments on those two doors were probably even more intense than those outside.

Isaiah loosed one of his long-suffering sighs. “A murder occurred on the outskirts of the Meat Market last night. We believe you knew the victim.”

Hunt marked every reaction that flitted across her face as she maintained her perch on the edge of the desk: the slight widening of her eyes, the pause in those tapping nails, the sole blink that suggested she had a short list of possible victims and none of the options were good.

“Who?” was all she said, her voice steady. Wisps of smoke from the conical diffuser beside the computer drifted past her, carrying the bright, clean scent of peppermint. Of course she was one of those aromatherapy

zealots, conned into handing over her marks for the promise of feeling happier, or being better in bed, or growing another half a brain to match the half she already had.

“Maximus Tertian,” Isaiah told her. “We have reports that you had a meeting with him in the VIP mezzanine of the White Raven two hours before his death.”

Hunt could have sworn Bryce’s shoulders sagged slightly. She said, “Maximus Tertian is dead.” They nodded. She angled her head. “Who did it?”

“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Isaiah said neutrally.

Hunt had heard of Tertian—a creep of a vamp who couldn’t take no for an answer, and whose rich, sadistic father had taught him well. And shielded him from any fallout from his hideous behavior. If Hunt was being honest, Midgard was better off without him. Except for the headache they’d now have to endure when Tertian’s father got word that his favored son had been killed … Today’s meeting would be just the start.

Isaiah went on, “You might have been one of the last people to see him alive. Can you walk us through your encounter with him? No detail is too small.”

Bryce glanced between them. “Is this your way of feeling out whether I killed him?”

Hunt smiled slightly. “You don’t seem too cut up that Tertian’s dead.”

Those amber eyes slid to him, annoyance lighting them.

He’d admit it: males would do a lot of fucked-up things for someone who looked like that.

He’d done precisely those sort of things for Shahar once. Now he bore the halo tattooed across his brow and the slave tattoo on his wrist because of it. His chest tightened.

Bryce said, “I’m sure someone’s already said that Maximus and I parted on unfriendly terms. We met to finish up a deal for the gallery, and when it was done, he thought he was entitled to some … personal time with me.”

Hunt understood her perfectly. It lined up with everything he’d heard regarding Tertian and his father. It also offered a good amount of motive. Bryce went on, “I don’t know where he went after the Raven. If he was killed on the outskirts of the Meat Market, I’d assume he was heading there to purchase what he wanted to take from me.” Cold, sharp


Isaiah’s expression grew stony. “Was his behavior last night different from how he acted during previous meetings?”

“We only interacted over emails and the phone, but I’d say no. Last night was our first face-to-face, and he acted exactly as his past behavior would indicate.”

Hunt asked, “Why not meet here? Why the Raven?”

“He got off on the thrill of acting like our deal was secretive. He claimed he didn’t trust that my boss wasn’t recording the meeting, but he really just wanted people to notice him—to see him doing deals. I had to slide him the paperwork in a bill folio, and he swapped it with one of his own, that sort of thing.” She met Hunt’s stare. “How did he die?”

The question was blunt, and she didn’t smile or blink. A girl used to being answered, obeyed, heeded. Her parents weren’t wealthy—or so her file said—yet her apartment fifteen blocks away suggested outrageous wealth. Either from this job or some shady shit that had escaped even the legion’s watchful eyes.

Isaiah sighed. “Those details are classified.”

She shook her head. “I can’t help you. Tertian and I did the deal, he got handsy, and he left.”

Every bit of the camera footage and eyewitness reports from the Raven confirmed that. But that wasn’t why they were here. What they’d been sent over to do.

Isaiah said, “And when did Prince Ruhn Danaan show up?”

“If you know everything, why bother asking me?” She didn’t wait for them to answer before she said, “You know, you two never told me your names.”

Hunt couldn’t read her expression, her relaxed body language. They hadn’t initiated contact since that night in the legion’s holding center— and neither of them had introduced themselves then. Had she even registered their faces in that drug-induced haze?

Isaiah adjusted his pristine white wings. “I’m Isaiah Tiberian, Commander of the 33rd Imperial Legion. This is Hunt Athalar, my—”

Isaiah tripped up, as if realizing that it had been a damn long time since they’d had to introduce themselves with any sort of rank attached. So Hunt did Isaiah a favor and finished with, “His Second.”

If Isaiah was surprised to hear it, that calm, pretty-boy face didn’t let on. Isaiah was, technically, his superior in the triarii and in the 33rd as a whole, even if the shit Hunt did for Micah made him directly answerable to the Governor.

Isaiah had never pulled rank, though. As if he remembered those days before the Fall, and who’d been in charge then.

As if it fucking mattered now.

No, all that mattered about that shit was that Isaiah had killed at least three dozen Imperial Legionaries that day on Mount Hermon. And Hunt now bore the burden of paying back each one of those lives to the Republic. To fulfill Micah’s bargain.

Bryce’s eyes flicked to their brows—the tattoos there. Hunt braced for the sneering remark, for any of the bullshit comments people still liked to make about the Fallen Legion and their failed rebellion. But she only said, “So, what—you two investigate crimes on the side? I thought that was Auxiliary territory. Don’t you have better things to do in the 33rd than play buddy cop?”

Isaiah, apparently not amused that there was one person in this city who didn’t fall at his feet, said a tad stiffly, “Do you have people who can verify your whereabouts after you left the White Raven?”

Bryce held Isaiah’s gaze. Then flicked her eyes to Hunt. And he still couldn’t read her mask of boredom as she pushed off the desk and took a few deliberate steps toward them before crossing her arms.

“Just my doorman … and Ruhn Danaan, but you already knew that.” How anyone could walk in heels that high was beyond him. How anyone could breathe in a dress that tight was also a mystery. It was long enough that it covered the area on her thigh where the scar from that night two years ago would be—that is, if she hadn’t paid some medwitch to erase it. For someone who clearly took pains to dress nicely, he had

little doubt she’d gotten it removed immediately.

Party girls didn’t like scars messing with how they looked in a swimsuit.

Isaiah’s white wings shifted. “Would you call Ruhn Danaan a friend?”

Bryce shrugged. “He’s a distant cousin.”

But apparently invested enough to have charged into the interrogation room two years ago. And shown up at the VIP bar last night. If he was that protective of Quinlan, that might be one Hel of a motive, too. Even if Ruhn and his father would make the interrogation a nightmare.

Bryce smiled sharply, as if she remembered that fact, too. “Have fun talking to him.”

Hunt clenched his jaw, but she strode for the front door, hips swishing like she knew precisely how spectacular her ass was.

“Just a moment, Miss Quinlan,” Isaiah said. The commander’s voice was calm, but take-no-shit.

Hunt hid his smile. Seeing Isaiah angry was always a good show. So long as you weren’t on the receiving end.

Quinlan hadn’t realized that yet as she glanced over a shoulder. “Yes?”

Hunt eyed her as Isaiah at last voiced their true reason for this little visit. “We weren’t just sent here to ask you about your whereabouts.”

She gestured to the gallery. “You want to buy something pretty for the Governor?”

Hunt’s mouth twitched upward. “Funny you should mention him.

He’s on his way here right now.”

A slow blink. Again, no sign or scent of fear. “Why?”

“Micah just told us to get information from you about last night, and then make sure you were available and have you get your boss on the line.” Given how infrequently Hunt was asked to help out on investigations, he’d been shocked as Hel to get the order. But considering that he and Isaiah had been there that night in the alley, he supposed that made them the top choices to head this sort of thing up.

“Micah is coming here.” Her throat bobbed once.

“He’ll be here in ten minutes,” Isaiah said. He nodded toward her phone. “I suggest you call your boss, Miss Quinlan.”

Her breathing turned slightly shallow. “Why?”

Hunt dropped the bomb at last. “Because Maximus Tertian’s injuries were identical to the ones inflicted upon Danika Fendyr and the Pack of Devils.” Pulped and dismembered.

Her eyes shuttered. “But—Philip Briggs killed them. He summoned that demon to kill them. And he’s in prison.” Her voice sharpened. “He’s been in prison for two years.”

In a place worse than prison, but that was beside the point.

“We know,” Hunt said, keeping his face devoid of any reaction.

“He can’t have killed Tertian. How could he possibly summon the demon from jail?” Bryce said. “He …” She swallowed, catching herself. Realizing, perhaps, why Micah was coming. Several people she’d known had been killed, all within hours of interacting with her. “You think Briggs didn’t do it. Didn’t kill Danika and her pack.”

“We don’t know that for sure,” Isaiah cut in. “But the specific details of how they all died never leaked, so we have good reason to believe this wasn’t a copycat murder.”

Bryce asked flatly, “Have you met with Sabine?”

Hunt said, “Have you?”

“We do our best to stay out of each other’s way.”

It was perhaps the only smart thing Bryce Quinlan had ever decided to do. Hunt remembered Sabine’s venom as she’d glared through the window at Bryce in the observation room two years ago, and he had no doubt Sabine was just waiting for enough time to pass for Quinlan’s unfortunate and untimely death to be considered nothing more than a fluke.

Bryce walked back to her desk, giving them a wide berth. To her credit, her gait remained unhurried and solid. She picked up the phone without so much as looking at them.

“We’ll wait outside,” Isaiah offered. Hunt opened his mouth to object, but Isaiah shot him a warning look.

Fine. He and Quinlan could spar later.

Phone held in a white-knuckled grip, Bryce listened to the other end ring. Twice. Then—

“Morning, Bryce.”

Bryce’s heartbeat pounded in her arms, her legs, her stomach. “Two legionaries are here.” She swallowed. “The Commander of the 33rd and

…” She blew out a breath. “The Umbra Mortis.”

She’d recognized Isaiah Tiberian—he graced the nightly news and gossip columns often enough that there would never be any mistaking the 33rd’s beautiful Commander.

And she’d recognized Hunt Athalar, too, though he was never on television. Everyone knew who Hunt Athalar was. She’d heard of him even while growing up in Nidaros, when Randall would talk about his battles in Pangera and whispered when he mentioned Hunt. The Umbra Mortis. The Shadow of Death.

Then, the angel hadn’t worked for Micah Domitus and his legion, but for the Archangel Sandriel—he’d flown in her 45th Legion. Demon-hunting, rumor claimed his job was. And worse.

Jesiba hissed, “Why?”

Bryce clutched the phone. “Maximus Tertian was murdered last night.”

“Burning Solas—”

“The same way as Danika and the pack.”

Bryce shut out every hazy image, breathing in the bright, calming scent of the peppermint vapors rippling from the diffuser on her desk. She’d bought the stupid plastic cone two months after Danika had been

killed, figuring it couldn’t hurt to try some aromatherapy during the long, quiet hours of the day, when her thoughts swarmed and descended, eating her up from the inside out. By the end of the week, she’d bought three more and placed them throughout her house.

Bryce breathed, “It seems like Philip Briggs might not have killed Danika.”

For two years, part of her had clung to it—that in the days following the murder, they’d found enough evidence to convict Briggs, who’d wanted Danika dead for busting his rebel bomb ring. Briggs had denied it, but it had added up: He’d been caught purchasing black summoning salts in the weeks before his initial arrest, apparently to fuel some sort of new, horrible weapon.

That Danika had then been murdered by a Pit-level demon—which would have required the deadly black salt to summon it into this world— couldn’t have been a coincidence. It seemed quite clear that Briggs had been released, gotten his hands on the black salt, summoned the demon, and set it loose upon Danika and the Pack of Devils. It had attacked the 33rd soldier who’d been patrolling the alleyway, and when its work was done, it had been sent back to Hel by Briggs. Though he’d never confessed to it, or what the breed even was, the fact remained that the demon hadn’t been seen again in two years. Since Briggs had been locked up. Case closed.

For two years, Bryce had clung to those facts. That even though her world had fallen apart, the person responsible was behind bars. Forever. Deserving of every horror his jailors inflicted on him.

Jesiba let out a long, long breath. “Did the angels accuse you of anything?”

“No.” Not quite. “The Governor is coming here.” Another pause. “To interrogate you?”

“I hope not.” She liked her body parts where they were. “He wants to talk to you, too.”

“Does Tertian’s father know he’s dead?” “I don’t know.”

“I need to make some phone calls,” Jesiba said, more to herself. “Before the Governor comes.” Bryce understood her meaning well enough: So Maximus’s father didn’t show up at the gallery, demanding answers. Blaming Bryce for his death. It’d be a mess.

Bryce wiped her sweaty palms on her thighs. “The Governor will be here soon.”

Faint tapping sounded on the iron archives door before Lehabah whispered, “BB? Are you all right?”

Bryce put a hand over the mouthpiece of her phone. “Go back to your post, Lele.”

“Were those two angels?”

Bryce ground her teeth. “Yes. Go downstairs. Keep Syrinx quiet.”

Lehabah let out a sigh, audible through six inches of iron. But the fire sprite didn’t speak further, suggesting she’d either returned to the archives beneath the gallery or was still eavesdropping. Bryce didn’t care, as long as she and the chimera stayed quiet.

Jesiba was asking, “When does Micah get there?” “Eight minutes.”

Jesiba considered. “All right.” Bryce tried not to gape at the fact that she didn’t push for more time—especially with a client’s death in the balance.

But even Jesiba knew not to screw around with an Archangel. Or maybe she’d finally found a scrap of empathy where Danika’s murder was concerned. She sure as Hel hadn’t demonstrated it when she’d ordered Bryce to get back to work or be turned into a pig two weeks after Danika’s death.

Jesiba said, “I don’t need to tell you to make sure everything is on lockdown.”

“I’ll double-check.” But she’d made sure before the angels had even set foot in the gallery.

“Then you know what to do, Quinlan,” Jesiba said, the sound of rustling sheets or clothes filling the background. Two male voices grumbled in protest. Then the line went dead.

Blowing out a breath, Bryce launched into motion.

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