Chapter no 18

House of Earth and Blood

Hunt stormed toward Bryce, stepping over the cobblestones fragmented from his landing. He’d detected her lilac-and-nutmeg scent on the wind the moment she’d stepped outside the back door of her building, and when he’d discovered where, precisely, she was driving on that scooter

Bryce had the nerve to push back the sleeve of her leather jacket, frown at her bare wrist as if she were reading a gods-damned watch, and say, “You’re two minutes late.”

He was going to throttle her. Someone should have done it a long fucking time ago.

Bryce smiled in a way that said she’d like to see him try, and sauntered toward him, scooter and helmet left behind.

Unbelievable. Un-fucking-believable.

Hunt growled, “There’s no way that scooter is there when we get back.”

Bryce batted her eyelashes, fluffing out her helmet hair. “Good thing you’ve made such a big entrance. No one would dare touch it now. Not with the Umbra Mortis as my wrathful companion.”

Indeed, people shrank from his gaze, some stepping behind the stacked crates as Bryce aimed for one of the open doors into the labyrinth of subterraneanly interconnected warehouses that made up the blocks of the district.

Even Micah didn’t station legionaries here. The Meat Market had its own laws and methods of enforcing them.

Hunt ground out, “I told you that there are protocols to follow if we want to stand a chance of contacting the Viper Queen—”

“I’m not here to contact the Viper Queen.”

“What?” The Viper Queen had ruled the Meat Market for longer than anyone could remember. Hunt made a point—all the angels, whether civilians or legionaries, made a point—of staying the fuck away from the serpentine shifter, whose snake form, rumor claimed, was a true horror to behold. Before Bryce could answer, Hunt said, “I’m growing tired of this bullshit, Quinlan.”

She bared her teeth. “I’m sorry,” she seethed, “if your fragile ego can’t handle that I know what I’m fucking doing.”

Hunt opened and closed his mouth. Fine, he’d misjudged her earlier today, but she hadn’t exactly given him any hint of being remotely interested in this investigation. Or that she wasn’t trying to hinder it.

Bryce continued through the open doors to the warehouse without saying another word.

Being in the 33rd—or any legion—was as good as putting a target on your back, and Hunt checked that his weapons were in place in the cleverly constructed sheaths along his suit as he followed her.

The reek of bodies and smoke coated his face like oil. Hunt tucked in his wings tightly.

Whatever fear he’d instilled in people on the streets was of no consequence inside the market, packed with ramshackle stalls and vendors and food stands, smoke drifting throughout, the tang of blood and spark of magic acrid in his nostrils. And above it all, against the far wall of the enormous space, was a towering mosaic, the tiles taken from an ancient temple in Pangera, restored and re-created here in loving detail, despite its gruesome depiction: cloaked and hooded death, the skeleton’s face grinning out from the cowl, a scythe in one hand and an hourglass in the other. Above its head, words had been crafted in the Republic’s most ancient language:

Memento Mori.

Remember that you will die. It was meant to be an invitation for merriment, to seize each moment as if it were one’s last, as if tomorrow were not guaranteed, even for slow-aging Vanir. Remember that you will die, and enjoy each pleasure the world has to offerRemember that you will die, and none of this illegal shit will matter anyway. Remember that you will die, so who cares how many people suffer from your actions?

Bryce swept past it, her swaying hair shining like the heart of a ruby. The lights illuminated the worn black leather of her jacket, bringing into stark relief the painted words along the back in feminine, colorful script. It was instinct to translate—also from the ancient language, as if Urd

herself had chosen this moment to lay the two ancient phrases before him.

Through love, all is possible.

Such a pretty phrase was a fucking joke in a place like this. Glimmering eyes that tracked Quinlan from the stalls and shadows quickly looked away when they noticed him at her side.

It was an effort not to haul her out of this shithole. Even though he wanted this case solved, having only ten beautiful kills standing between him and freedom, coming here was a colossal risk. What was the use of his freedom if he was left in a dumpster behind one of these warehouses? Maybe that was what she wanted. To lure him here—use the Meat

Market itself to kill him. It seemed unlikely, but he kept one eye on her.

Bryce knew her way around. Knew a few of the vendors, from the nods they exchanged. Hunt marked each one: a metalworker specializing in intricate little mechanisms; a fruit vendor with exotic produce for sale; an owl-faced female who had a spread of scrolls and books bound in materials that were everything but cow leather.

“The metalworker helps me identify if an artifact is a fake,” Bryce said under her breath as they wound through the steam and smoke of a food pit. How she’d noticed his observing, he had no idea. “And the fruit lady gets shipments of durian in the early spring and fall—Syrinx’s favorite food. Stinks up the whole house, but he goes nuts for it.” She edged around a garbage pail near-overflowing with discarded plates and bones and soiled napkins before ascending a rickety set of stairs to the mezzanine flanking either side of the warehouse floor, doors stationed every few feet.

“The books?” Hunt couldn’t help asking. She seemed to be counting doors, rather than looking at the numbers. There were no numbers, he realized.

“The books,” Bryce said, “are a story for another time.” She paused outside a pea-green door, chipped and deeply gouged in spots. Hunt sniffed, trying to detect what lay beyond. Nothing, as far as he could detect. He subtly braced himself, keeping his hands within range of his weapons.

Bryce opened the door, not bothering to knock, revealing flickering candles and—brine. Salt. Smoke and something that dried out his eyes.

Bryce stalked down the cramped hallway to the open, rotting sitting room beyond. Scowling, he shut the door and followed, wings tucked in to keep from brushing the oily, crumbling walls. If Quinlan died, Micah’s offer would be off the table.

White and ivory candles guttered as Bryce walked onto the worn green carpet, and Hunt held in his cringe. A sagging, ripped couch was shoved against a wall, a filthy leather armchair with half its stuffing bursting from it sat against the other, and around the room, on tables and stacks of books and half-broken chairs, were jars and bowls and cups full of salt.

White salt, black salt, gray salt—in grains of every size: from near-powder to flakes to great, rough hunks of it. Salts for protection against darker powers. Against demons. Many Vanir built their houses with slabs of salt at the cornerstones. Rumor claimed that the entire base of the Asteri’s crystal palace was a slab of salt. That it had been built atop a natural deposit.

Fucking Hel. He’d never seen such an assortment. As Bryce peered down the darkened hall to the left, where the shadows yielded three doors, Hunt hissed, “Please tell me—”

“Just keep your snarling and eye rolling to yourself,” she snapped at him, and called into the gloom, “I’m here to buy, not collect.”

One of the doors cracked open, and a pale-skinned, dark-haired satyr hobbled toward them, his furred legs hidden by trousers. His pageboy hat must have hid little, curling horns. The clopping of the hooves gave him away.

The male barely came up to Bryce’s chest, his shrunken, twisted body half the size of the bulls that Hunt had witnessed tearing people into shreds on battlefields. And that he had faced himself in Sandriel’s arena. The male’s slitted pupils, knobbed at either side like a goat’s, expanded.

Fear—and not at Hunt’s presence, he realized with a jolt.

Bryce dipped her fingers into a lead bowl of pink salt, plucking up a few pieces and letting them drop into the dish with faint, hollow cracks. “I need the obsidian.”

The satyr shifted, hooves clopping faintly, rubbing his hairy, pale neck. “Don’t deal in that.”

She smiled slightly. “Oh?” She went over to another bowl, stirring the powder-fine black salt in there. “Grade A, whole-rock obsidian salt. Seven pounds, seven ounces. Now.”

The male’s throat bobbed. “It’s illegal.”

“Are you quoting the motto of the Meat Market, or trying to tell me that you somehow don’t have precisely what I need?”

Hunt scanned the room. White salt for purification; pink for protection; gray for spellwork; red for … he forgot what the Hel red was

for. But obsidian … Shit.

Hunt fell back on centuries of training to keep the shock off his face. Black salts were used for summoning demons directly—bypassing the Northern Rift entirely—or for various dark spellwork. A salt that went beyond black, a salt like the obsidian … It could summon something big. Hel was severed from them by time and space, but still accessible through the twin sealed portals at the north and south poles—the Northern Rift and the Southern Rift, respectively. Or by idiots who tried

to summon demons through salts of varying powers.

A lot of fucked-up shit, Hunt had always thought. The benefit of using salts, at least, was that only one demon could be summoned at a time. Though if things went badly, the summoner could wind up dead. And a demon could wind up stuck in Midgard, hungry.

It was why the creeps existed in their world at all: most had been hunted after those long-ago wars between realms, but every so often, demons got loose. Reproduced, usually by force.

The result of those horrible unions: the daemonaki. Most walking the streets were diluted, weaker incarnations and hybrids of the purebred demons in Hel. Many were pariahs, through no fault of their own beyond genetics, and they usually worked hard to integrate into the Republic. But the lowest-level purebred demon fresh out of Hel could bring an entire city to a standstill as it went on a rampage. And for centuries now, Hunt had been tasked with tracking them down.

This satyr had to be a big-time dealer then, if he peddled obsidian salt.

Bryce took a step toward the satyr. The male retreated. Her amber eyes gleamed with feral amusement, no doubt from her Fae side. A far cry from the party girl getting her nails done.

Hunt tensed. She couldn’t be that foolish, could she? To show him that she knew how to and could easily acquire the same type of salt that had probably been used to summon the demon that killed Tertian and Danika? Another tally scratched itself into the Suspect column in his mind.

Bryce shrugged with one shoulder. “I could call your queen. See what she makes of it.”

“You—you don’t have the rank to summon her.”

“No,” Bryce said, “I don’t. But I bet if I go down to the main floor and start screaming for the Viper Queen, she’ll drag herself out of that fighting pit to see what the fuss is about.”

Burning Solas, she was serious, wasn’t she?

Sweat beaded the satyr’s brow. “Obsidian’s too dangerous. I can’t in good conscience sell it.”

Bryce crooned, “Did you say that when you sold it to Philip Briggs for his bombs?”

Hunt stilled, and the male went a sickly white. He glanced to Hunt, noting the tattoo across his brow, the armor he wore. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I—I was cleared by the investigators. I never sold Briggs anything.”

“I’m sure he paid you in cash to hide the money trail,” Bryce said. She yawned. “Look, I’m tired and hungry, and I don’t feel like playing this game. Name your price so I can be on my way.”

Those goatlike eyes snapped to hers. “Fifty thousand gold marks.”

Bryce smiled as Hunt held in his curse. “Do you know my boss paid fifty thousand to watch a pack of Helhounds rip apart a satyr? Said it was the best minute of her miserable life.”


“Don’t waste my time with nonsense offers.”

“I won’t go below thirty. Not for that much obsidian.”

“Ten.” Ten thousand gold marks was still outrageous. But summoning salts were extraordinarily valuable. How many demons had he hunted because of them? How many dismembered bodies had he seen from summonings gone wrong? Or right, if it was a targeted attack?

Bryce held up her phone. “In five minutes, I’m expected to call Jesiba, and say that the obsidian salt is in my possession. In six minutes, if I do not make that phone call, someone will knock on that door. And it will not be someone for me.”

Hunt honestly couldn’t tell if Quinlan was bluffing. She likely wouldn’t have told him—could have gotten that order from her boss while he was sitting on the roof. If Jesiba Roga was dealing with whatever shit the obsidian implied, either for her own uses or on behalf of the Under-King … Maybe Bryce hadn’t committed the murder, but rather abetted it.

“Four minutes,” Bryce said.

Sweat slid down the satyr’s temple and into his thick beard. Silence.

Despite his suspicions, Hunt had the creeping feeling that this assignment was either going to be a fuck-ton of fun or a nightmare. If it got him to his end goal, he didn’t care one way or another.

Bryce perched on the rotting arm of the chair and began typing into her phone, no more than a bored young woman avoiding social interaction.

The satyr whirled toward Hunt. “You’re the Umbra Mortis.” He swallowed audibly. “You’re one of the triarii. You protect us—you serve the Governor.”

Before Hunt could reply, Bryce lifted her phone to show him a photo of two fat, roly-poly puppies. “Look what my cousin just adopted,” she told him. “That one is Osirys, and the one on the right is Set.” She lowered the phone before he could come up with a response, thumbs flying.

But she glanced at Hunt from under her thick lashes. Play along, please, she seemed to say.

So Hunt said, “Cute dogs.”

The satyr let out a small whine of distress. Bryce lifted her head, curtain of red hair limned with silver in her screen’s light. “I thought you’d be running to get the salt by now. Maybe you should, considering you’ve got”—a glance at the phone, fingers flying—“oh. Ninety seconds.”

She opened what looked like a message thread and began typing. The satyr whispered, “T-twenty thousand.”

She held up a finger. “I’m writing back to my cousin. Give me two seconds.” The satyr was trembling enough that Hunt almost felt bad. Almost, until—

“Ten, ten, damn you! Ten!”

Bryce smiled. “No need to shout,” she purred, pressing a button that had her phone ringing.

“Yes?” The sorceress picked up after the first ring. “Call off your dogs.”

A breathy, feminine laugh. “Done.” Bryce lowered the phone. “Well?”

The satyr rushed to the back, hooves thumping on the worn floors, and procured a wrapped bundle a moment later. It reeked of mold and dirt. Bryce lifted a brow. “Put it in a bag.”

“I don’t have a—” Bryce gave him a look. The satyr found one. A stained, reusable grocery bag, but better than holding the slab in public.

Bryce weighed the salt in her hands. “It’s two ounces over.”

“It’s seven and seven! Just what you asked for! It’s all cut to sevens.” Seven—the holy number. Or unholy, depending on who was worshipping. Seven Asteri, seven hills in their Eternal City, seven neighborhoods and seven Gates in Crescent City; seven planets, and seven circles in Hel, with seven princes who ruled them, each darker

than the last.

Bryce inclined her head. “If I measure it and it’s not—” “It is!” the satyr cried. “Dark Hel, it is!”

Bryce tapped some buttons on her phone. “Ten grand, transferred right to you.”

Hunt kept at her back as she strode out, the satyr half-seething, half-trembling behind them.

She opened the door, grinning to herself, and Hunt was about to start demanding answers when she halted. When he also beheld who stood outside.

The tall, moon-skinned woman was dressed in a gold jumpsuit, emerald hoop earrings hanging lower than her chin-length black bob. Her full lips were painted in purple so dark it was nearly black, and her remarkable green eyes … Hunt knew her by the eyes alone.

Humanoid in every aspect, but for them. Green entirely, marbled with veins of jade and gold. Interrupted only by a slitted pupil now razor-thin in the warehouse lights. A snake’s eyes.

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