Chapter no 17

House of Earth and Blood

Bryce had just succeeded in nudging Hunt into oncoming traffic when he asked, “Do I get an explanation for why I’ve had to trail you like a dog all night?”

Bryce shoved her hand into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out a piece of paper. Then silently handed it to Hunt.

His brow furrowed. “What’s this?”

“My list of suspects,” she said, letting him glance at the names before she snatched it away.

“When did you make this?”

She said sweetly, “Last night. On the couch.”

A muscle ticked in his jaw. “And you were going to tell me when?” “After you’d spent a whole day assuming I was a dumb, vapid

female more interested in getting my nails done than solving this case.” “You did get your nails done.”

She waved her pretty ombre fingernails in his face. He looked half-inclined to bite them. “Do you know what else I did last night?” His silence was delightful. “I looked up Maximus Tertian some more. Because despite what the Governor says, there was no fucking way Danika knew him. And you know what? I was right. And you know how I know I’m right?”

“Cthona fucking save me,” Hunt muttered. “Because I looked up his profile on Spark.” “The dating site?”

“The dating site. Turns out even creepy vamps are looking for love, deep down. And it showed that he was in a relationship. Which apparently did nothing to stop him from hitting on me, but that’s beside the point. So I did some more digging. And found his girlfriend.”


“Aren’t there people at the 33rd who should be doing this shit?” When he refused to answer, she grinned. “Guess where Tertian’s girlfriend works.”

Hunt’s eyes simmered. He said through his teeth, “At the nail salon on Samson.”

“And guess who did my nails and got to chatting about the terrible loss of her rich-ass boyfriend?”

He ran his hands through his hair, looking so disbelieving that she chuckled. He snarled, “Stop with the fucking questions and just tell me, Quinlan.”

She examined her gorgeous new nails. “Tertian’s girlfriend didn’t know anything about who might have wanted to murder him. She said the 33rd did vaguely question her, but that was it. So I told her that I’d lost someone, too.” It was an effort to keep her voice steady as the memory of that bloody apartment flashed. “She asked me who, I told her, and she looked so shocked that I asked if Tertian was friends with Danika. She told me no. She said she would have known if Maximus was, because Danika was famous enough that he’d have been bragging about it. The closest to Danika she or Tertian got was through two degrees of separation—through the Viper Queen. Whose nails she does on Sundays.”

“Danika knew the Viper Queen?”

Bryce held up the list. “Danika’s job in the Aux made her a friend and enemy to a lot of people. The Viper Queen was one of them.”

Hunt paled. “You honestly think the Viper Queen killed Danika?” “Tertian was found dead just over her borders. Ruhn said she pulled

her people in last night. And no one knows what kind of powers she has. She could have summoned that demon.”

“That is a big fucking accusation to make.”

“Which is why we need to feel her out. This is the only clue we have to go on.”

Hunt shook his head. “All right. I can buy the possibility. But we need to go through the right channels to contact her. It could be days or weeks before she deigns to meet with us. Longer, if she gets a whiff that we’re onto her.”

With someone like the Viper Queen, even the law was flexible. Bryce scoffed. “Don’t be such a stickler for the rules.”

“The rules are there to keep us alive. We follow them, or we don’t go after her at all.”

She waved a hand. “Fine.”

A muscle ticked in his jaw again. “And what about Ruhn? You just dragged your cousin into our business.”

“My cousin,” she said tightly, “will be unable to resist the urge to inform his father that a member of the Fae race has been commandeered for an imperial investigation. How he reacts, who he contacts, might be worth noting.”

“What—you think the Autumn King could have done this?”

“No. But Ruhn was given an order to warn me to keep out of trouble the night of Maximus’s murder—maybe the old bastard knew something, too. I’d suggest telling your people to watch him. See what he does and where he goes.”

“Gods,” Hunt breathed, striding past gawking pedestrians. “You want me to just put a tail on the Autumn King like it’s not a violation of about ten different laws?”

“Micah said to do whatever was necessary.”

“The Autumn King has free rein to kill anyone found stalking him like that.”

“Then you better tell your spies to keep themselves hidden.”

Hunt snapped his wings. “Don’t play games again. If you know something, tell me.”

“I was going to tell you everything when I finished up at the nail salon this morning.” She put her hands on her hips. “But then you bit my head off.”

“Whatever, Quinlan. Don’t do it again. You tell me before you make a move.”

“I’m getting real bored with you giving me orders and forbidding me to do things.”

“Whatever,” he said again. She rolled her eyes, but they’d reached her building. Neither bothered to say goodbye before Hunt leapt into the skies, aiming for the adjacent roof, a phone already at his ear.

Bryce rode the elevator up to her floor, mulling everything over in the silence. She’d meant what she said to Hunt—she didn’t think her father was behind Danika’s and the pack’s deaths. She had little doubt he’d killed others, though. And would do anything to keep his crown.

The Autumn King was a courtesy title in addition to her father’s role as a City Head—as for all the seven Fae Kings. No kingdom was truly their own. Even Avallen, the green isle ruled by the Stag King, still bowed to the Republic.

The Fae had coexisted with the Republic since its founding, answerable to its laws, but ultimately left to govern themselves and retain their ancient titles of kings and princes and the like. Still respected by all—and feared. Not as much as the angels, with their destructive, hideous storm-and-sky powers, but they could inflict pain if they wished. Choke the air from your lungs or freeze you or burn you from the inside out. Solas knew Ruhn and his two friends could raise Hel when provoked.

But she wasn’t looking to raise Hel tonight. She was looking to quietly slip into its Midgard equivalent.

Which was precisely why she waited thirty minutes before tucking a knife into her black leather ankle boots, and placed something that packed a bigger punch into the back of her dark jeans, hidden beneath her leather jacket. She kept the lights and television on, the curtains partially closed—just enough to block Hunt’s view of her front door as she left.

Sneaking out the rear stairwell of her building to the small alley where her scooter was chained, Bryce took a swift, bracing breath before fitting on her helmet.

Traffic wasn’t moving as she unchained the ivory Firebright 3500 scooter from the alley lamppost and waddled it onto the cobblestones. She waited for other scooters, pedicabs, and motorcycles to zip past, then launched into the flow, the world stark through the visor of her helmet.

Her mother still complained about the scooter, begging her to use a car until after the Drop, but Randall had always insisted Bryce was fine. Of course, she never told them of the various incidents on this scooter, but … her mother had a mortal life span. Bryce didn’t need to shave off any more years than necessary.

Bryce cruised down one of the city’s main arteries, losing herself in the rhythm of weaving between cars and swerving around pedestrians. The world was a blur of golden light and deep shadows, neon glaring above, all of it accented by pops and flittering shimmers of street magic. Even the little bridges she crossed, spanning the countless tributaries to the Istros, were strung with sparkling lights that danced on the dim, drifting water below.

High above Main Street, a silvery sheen filled the night sky, limning the drifting clouds where the malakim partied and dined. Only a flare of red interrupted the pale glow, courtesy of Redner Industries’ massive sign atop their skyscraper in the heart of the district.

Few people walked the streets of the CBD at this hour, and Bryce made sure to get through its canyons of high-rises as swiftly as possible. She knew she’d entered the Meat Market not by any street or marker, but by the shift in the darkness.

No lights stained the skies above the low brick buildings crammed together. And here the shadows became permanent, tucked into alleys and under cars, the streetlamps mostly shattered and never repaired.

Bryce pulled down a cramped street where a few dented delivery trucks were in the process of unloading boxes of spiky green fruit and crates of crustacean-looking creatures that seemed far too aware of their captivity and oncoming demise via boiling pots of water in one of the food stalls.

Bryce tried not to meet their googly black eyes pleading with her through the wooden bars as she parked a few feet away from a nondescript warehouse, removed her helmet, and waited.

Vendors and shoppers alike eyed her to glean if she was selling or for sale. In the warrens below, carved deep into Midgard’s womb, lay three different levels just for flesh. Mostly human; mostly living, though she’d heard of some places that specialized in certain tastes. Every fetish could be bought; no taboo was too foul. Half-breeds were prized: they could heal faster and better than full-humans. A smarter long-term investment. And occasional Vanir were enslaved and bound with so many enchantments that they had no hope of escape. Only the wealthiest could afford to purchase a few hours with them.

Bryce checked the time on her scooter’s dash clock. Crossing her arms, she leaned against the black leather seat.

The Umbra Mortis slammed to the ground, cracking the cobblestones in a rippling circle.

Hunt’s eyes practically glowed as he said, in full view of those cowering along the street, “I am going to kill you.”

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