By the time Danika emerged on the gallery’s showroom floor, Bryce had endured a mildly threatening reprimand from Jesiba about her ineptitude, one email from a fussy client demanding Bryce expedite the paperwork on the ancient urn she’d bought so she could show it off to her equally fussy friends at her cocktail party on Monday, and two messages from members of Danika’s pack inquiring about whether their Alpha was about to kill someone over Briggs’s release.
Nathalie, Danika’s Third, had gotten straight to the point: Has she lost her shit about Briggs yet?
Connor Holstrom, Danika’s Second, took a little more care with what he sent out into the ether. There was always a chance of a leak. Have you spoken to Danika? was all he’d asked.
Bryce was writing back to Connor—Yes. I’ve got it covered—when a gray wolf the size of a small horse pushed the iron archives door shut with a paw, claws clicking on the metal.
“You hated my clothes that much?” Bryce asked, rising from her seat. Only Danika’s caramel eyes remained the same in this form—and only those eyes softened the pure menace and grace the wolf radiated with each step toward the desk.
“I’ve got them on, don’t worry.” Long, sharp fangs flashed with each word. Danika cocked her fuzzy ears, taking in the computer that had been shut down, the purse Bryce had set on the desk. “You’re coming out with me?”
“I’ve got to do some sleuthing for Jesiba.” Bryce grabbed the ring of keys that opened doors into various parts of her life. “She’s been hounding me about finding Luna’s Horn again. As if I haven’t been trying to find it nonstop for the last week.”
Danika glanced to one of the visible cameras in the showroom, mounted behind a decapitated statue of a dancing faun dating back ten thousand years. Her bushy tail swished once. “Why does she even want it?”
Bryce shrugged. “I haven’t had the balls to ask.”
Danika stalked to the front door, careful not to let her claws snag a single thread in the carpet. “I doubt she’s going to return it to the temple out of the goodness of her heart.”
“I have a feeling Jesiba would leverage its return to her advantage,” Bryce said. They strode onto the quiet street a block off the Istros, the midday sun baking the cobblestones, Danika a solid wall of fur and muscle between Bryce and the curb.
The theft of the sacred horn during the power outage had been the biggest news story out of the disaster: looters had used the cover of darkness to break into Luna’s Temple and swipe the ancient Fae relic from its resting place atop the lap of the massive, enthroned deity.
The Archangel Micah himself had offered a hefty reward for any information regarding its return and promised that the sacrilegious bastard who’d stolen it would be brought to justice.
Also known as public crucifixion.
Bryce always made a point of not going near the square in the CBD, where they were usually held. On certain days, depending on the wind and heat, the smell of blood and rotting flesh could carry for blocks.
Bryce fell into step beside Danika as the massive wolf scanned the street, nostrils sniffing for any hint of a threat. Bryce, as half-Fae, could scent people in greater detail than the average human. She’d entertained her parents endlessly as a kid by describing the scents of everyone in their little mountain town, Nidaros—humans possessed no such way to interpret the world. But her abilities had nothing on her friend’s.
As Danika scented the street, her tail wagged once—and not from happiness.
“Chill,” Bryce said. “You’ll make your case to the Heads, then they’ll figure it out.”
Danika’s ears flattened. “It’s all fucked, B. All of it.”
Bryce frowned. “You really mean to tell me that any of the Heads want a rebel like Briggs at large? They’ll find some technicality and throw his ass right back in jail.” She added, because Danika still wouldn’t look at her, “There’s no way the 33rd’s not monitoring his every breath. Briggs so much as blinks wrong and he’ll see what kind of pain angels can rain down on us all. Hel, the Governor might even send
the Umbra Mortis after him.” Micah’s personal assassin, with the rare gift of lightning in his veins, could eliminate almost any threat.
Danika snarled, teeth gleaming. “I can handle Briggs myself.” “I know you can. Everyone knows you can, Danika.”
Danika surveyed the street ahead, glancing past a poster of the six enthroned Asteri tacked up on a wall—with an empty throne to honor their fallen sister—but loosed a breath.
She would always have burdens and expectations to shoulder that Bryce would never have to endure, and Bryce was thankful as Hel for that privilege. When Bryce fucked up, Jesiba usually griped for a few minutes and that was that. When Danika fucked up, it was blasted on news reports and across the interweb.
Sabine made sure of it.
Bryce and Sabine had hated each other from the moment the Alpha had sneered at her only child’s improper, half-breed roommate that first day at CCU. And Bryce had loved Danika from the moment her new roommate had offered her a hand in greeting anyway, and then said Sabine was just pissy because she’d been hoping for a muscle-bound vampyr to drool over.
Danika rarely let the opinions of others—especially Sabine—eat away at her swagger and joy, yet on rough days like this … Bryce lifted a hand and ran it down Danika’s muscled ribs, a comforting, sweeping stroke.
“Do you think Briggs will come after you or the pack?” Bryce asked, her stomach twisting. Danika hadn’t busted Briggs alone—he had a score to settle with all of them.
Danika’s snout wrinkled. “I don’t know.”
The words echoed between them. In hand-to-hand combat, Briggs would never survive against Danika. But one of those bombs would change everything. If Danika had made the Drop into immortality, she’d probably survive. But since she hadn’t—since she was the only one of the Pack of Devils who hadn’t yet done it … Bryce’s mouth turned dry.
“Be careful,” Bryce said quietly.
“I will,” Danika said, her warm eyes still full of shadows. But then she tossed her head, as if shaking it free of water—the movement purely canine. Bryce often marveled at this, that Danika could clear away her fears, or at least bury them, enough to move onward. Indeed, Danika changed the subject. “Your brother will be at the meeting today.”
Half brother. Bryce didn’t bother to correct her. Half brother and full-Fae prick. “And?”
“Just thought I’d warn you that I’ll be seeing him.” The wolf’s face softened slightly. “He’s going to ask me how you’re doing.”
“Tell Ruhn I’m busy doing important shit and to go to Hel.”
Danika huffed a laugh. “Where, exactly, are you doing this sleuthing for the Horn?”
“The temple,” Bryce said with a sigh. “Honestly, I’ve been looking into this thing for days on end, and can’t figure out anything. No suspects, no murmurings at the Meat Market about it being for sale, no motive for who’d even bother with it. It’s famous enough that whoever’s got it has it wrapped up tight.” She frowned at the clear sky. “I almost wonder if the power outage was tied to it—if someone shut down the city’s grid to steal it in the chaos. There are about twenty people in this city capable of being that crafty, and half of them possess the resources to pull it off.”
Danika’s tail twitched. “If they’re able to do something like that, I’d suggest staying away. Lead Jesiba around a bit, make her think you’re looking for it, and then let it drop. Either the Horn will show up by then, or she’ll move on to her next stupid quest.”
Bryce admitted, “I just … It’d be good to find the Horn. For my own career.” Whatever the Hel that would be. A year of working at the gallery hadn’t sparked anything beyond disgust at the obscene amounts of money that rich people squandered on old-ass shit.
Danika’s eyes flickered. “Yeah, I know.”
Bryce zipped a tiny golden pendant—a knot of three entwined circles
—along the delicate chain around her neck.
Danika went on patrol armed with claws, a sword, and guns, but Bryce’s daily armor consisted solely of this: an Archesian amulet barely the size of her thumbnail, gifted by Jesiba on the first day of work.
A hazmat suit in a necklace, Danika had marveled when Bryce had shown off the amulet’s considerable protections against the influence of various magical objects. Archesian amulets didn’t come cheap, but Bryce didn’t bother to delude herself into thinking her boss’s gift was given out of anything but self-interest. It would have been an insurance nightmare if Bryce didn’t have one.
Danika nodded to the necklace. “Don’t take that off. Especially if you’re looking into shit like the Horn.” Even though the Horn’s mighty powers had long been dead—if it had been stolen by someone powerful, she’d need every magical defense against them.
“Yeah, yeah,” Bryce said, though Danika was right. She’d never taken the necklace off since getting it. If Jesiba ever kicked her to the
curb, she knew she’d have to find some way to make sure the necklace came with her. Danika had said as much several times, unable to stop that Alpha wolf’s instinct to protect at all costs. It was part of why Bryce loved her—and why her chest tightened in that moment with that same love and gratitude.
Bryce’s phone buzzed in her purse, and she fished it out. Danika peered over, noted who was calling, and wagged her tail, ears perking up. “Do not say a word about Briggs,” Bryce warned, and accepted the
call. “Hi, Mom.”
“Hey, sweetie.” Ember Quinlan’s clear voice filled her ear, drawing a smile from Bryce even with three hundred miles between them. “I wanted to double-check that next weekend is still okay to visit.”
“Hi, Mommy!” Danika barked toward the phone.
Ember laughed. Ember had always been Mom to Danika, even from their first meeting. And Ember, who had never borne any children beyond Bryce, had been more than glad to find herself with a second— equally willful and troublesome—daughter. “Danika’s with you?”
Bryce rolled her eyes and held out the phone to her friend. Between one step and the next, Danika shifted in a flash of light, the massive wolf shrinking into the lithe humanoid form.
Snatching the phone from Bryce, Danika pinned it between her ear and shoulder as she adjusted the white silk blouse Bryce had loaned her, tucking it into her stained jeans. She’d managed to wipe a good amount of the nightstalker gunk off both the pants and leather jacket, but the T-shirt had apparently been a lost cause. Danika said into the phone, “Bryce and I are taking a walk.”
With Bryce’s arched ears, she could hear her mother perfectly as she said, “Where?”
Ember Quinlan made overprotectiveness a competitive sport.
Moving here, to Lunathion, had been a test of wills. Ember had only relented when she’d learned who Bryce’s freshman-year roommate was
—and then gave Danika a lecture on how to make sure Bryce stayed safe. Randall, Bryce’s stepfather, had mercifully cut his wife off after thirty minutes.
Bryce knows how to defend herself, Randall had reminded Ember. We saw to that. And Bryce will keep up her training while she’s here, won’t she?
Bryce certainly had. She’d hit up the gun range just a few days ago, going through the motions Randall—her true father, as far as she was
concerned—had taught her since childhood: assembling a gun, taking aim at a target, controlling her breathing.
Most days, she found guns to be brutal killing machines, and felt grateful that they were highly regulated by the Republic. But given that she had little more to defend herself beyond speed and a few well-placed maneuvers, she’d learned that for a human, a gun could mean the difference between life and slaughter.
Danika fibbed, “We’re just heading to one of the hawker stalls in the Old Square—we wanted some lamb kofta.”
Before Ember could continue the interrogation, Danika added, “Hey, B must have forgotten to tell you that we’re actually heading down to Kalaxos next weekend—Ithan’s got a sunball game there, and we’re all going to cheer him on.”
A half-truth. The game was happening, but there had been no discussion of going to watch Connor’s younger brother, CCU’s star player. This afternoon, the Pack of Devils was actually heading over to the CCU arena to cheer for Ithan, but Bryce and Danika hadn’t bothered to attend an away game since sophomore year, when Danika had been sleeping with one of the defensemen.
“That’s too bad,” Ember said. Bryce could practically hear the frown in her mother’s tone. “We were really looking forward to it.”
Burning Solas, this woman was a master of the guilt trip. Bryce cringed and snatched back the phone. “So were we, but let’s reschedule for next month.”
“But that’s so long from now—”
“Shit, a client’s coming down the street,” Bryce lied. “I gotta go.” “Bryce Adelaide Quinlan—”
“Bye, Mom!” Danika echoed, just as Bryce hung up.
Bryce sighed toward the sky, ignoring the angels soaring and flapping past, their shadows dancing over the sun-washed streets. “Message incoming in three, two …”
Her phone buzzed.
Ember had written, If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were avoiding us, Bryce. Your father will be very hurt.
Danika let out a whistle. “Oh, she’s good.”
Bryce groaned. “I’m not letting them come to the city if Briggs is running free.”
Danika’s smile faded. “I know. We’ll keep pushing them off until it’s sorted out.” Thank Cthona for Danika—she always had a plan for
Bryce slid her phone into her purse, leaving her mother’s message unanswered.
When they reached the Gate at the heart of the Old Square, its quartz archway as clear as a frozen pond, the sun was just hitting its upper edge, refracting and casting small rainbows against one of the buildings flanking it. On Summer Solstice, when the sun lined up perfectly with the Gate, it filled the entire square with rainbows, so many that it was like walking inside a diamond.
Tourists milled about, a line of them snaking across the square itself, all waiting for the chance at a photo with the twenty-foot-high landmark. One of seven in this city, all carved from enormous blocks of quartz hewn from the Laconian Mountains to the north, the Old Square Gate was often called the Heart Gate, thanks to its location in the dead center of Lunathion, with the other six Gates located equidistant from it, each
one opening onto a road out of the walled city.
“They should make a special access lane for residents to cross the square,” Bryce muttered as they edged around tourists and hawkers.
“And give tourists fines for slow walking,” Danika muttered back, but flashed a lupine grin at a young human couple that recognized her, gawked, and began snapping photos.
“I wonder what they’d think if they knew that nightstalker’s special sauce is all over you,” Bryce murmured.
Danika elbowed her. “Asshole.” She threw a friendly wave to the tourists and continued on.
On the other side of the Heart Gate, amid a small army of vendors selling food and touristy crap, a second line of people waited to access the golden block sticking out of its southern side. “We’ll have to cut through them to get across,” Bryce said, scowling at the tourists idling in the wilting heat.
But Danika halted, her angular face turned to the Gate and the plaque. “Let’s make a wish.”
“I’m not waiting in that line.” Usually, they just shouted their wishes drunkenly into the ether late at night when they were staggering home from the White Raven and the square was empty. Bryce checked the time on her phone. “Don’t you have to get over to the Comitium?” The Governor’s five-towered stronghold was at least a fifteen-minute walk away.
“I’ve got time,” Danika said, and grabbed Bryce’s hand, tugging her through the crowds and toward the real tourist draw of the Gate.
Jutting out of the quartz about four feet off the ground lay the dial pad: a solid-gold block embedded with seven different gems, each for a different quarter of the city, the insignia of each district etched beneath it. Emerald and a rose for Five Roses. Opal and a pair of wings for the CBD. Ruby and a heart for the Old Square. Sapphire and an oak tree for Moonwood. Amethyst and a human hand for Asphodel Meadows. Tiger’s-eye and a serpent for the Meat Market. And onyx—so black it gobbled the light—and a set of skull and crossbones for the Bone
Beneath the arc of stones and etched emblems, a small, round disk rose up slightly, its metal worn down by countless hands and paws and fins and any other manner of limb.
A sign beside it read: Touch at your own risk. Do not use between sundown and sunrise. Violators will be fined.
The people in line, waiting for access to the disk, seemed to have no problem with the risks.
A pair of giggling teenage male shifters—some kind of feline from their scents—goaded each other forward, elbowing and taunting, daring the other to touch the disk.
“Pathetic,” Danika said, striding past the line, the ropes, and a bored-looking city guard—a young Fae female—to the very front. She fished a badge from inside her leather coat and flashed it at the guard, who stiffened as she realized who’d cut the line. She didn’t even look at the golden emblem of the crescent moon bow with an arrow nocked through it before stepping back.
“Official Aux business,” Danika declared with an unnervingly straight face. “It’ll just be a minute.”
Bryce stifled her laughter, well aware of the glares fixed on their backs from the line.
Danika drawled to the teenage boys, “If you’re not going to do it, then clear off.”
They whirled toward her, and went white as death.
Danika smiled, showing nearly all her teeth. It wasn’t a pleasant sight.
“Holy shit,” whispered one of them.
Bryce hid her smile as well. It never got old—the awe. Mostly because she knew Danika had earned it. Every damned day, Danika earned the awe that bloomed across the faces of strangers when they
spotted her corn-silk hair and that neck tattoo. And the fear that made the lowlifes in this city think twice before fucking with her and the Pack of Devils.
Except for Philip Briggs. Bryce sent a prayer to Ogenas’s blue depths that the sea goddess would whisper her wisdom to Briggs to keep his distance from Danika if he ever really did walk free.
The boys stepped aside, and it only took a few milliseconds for them to notice Bryce, too. The awe on their faces turned to blatant interest.
Bryce snorted. Keep dreaming.
One of them stammered, turning his attention from Bryce to Danika, “My—my history teacher said the Gates were originally communication devices.”
“I bet you get all the ladies with those stellar factoids,” Danika said without looking back at them, unimpressed and uninterested.
Message received, they slunk back to the line. Bryce smirked and stepped up to her friend’s side, peering down at the dial pad.
The teenager was right, though. The seven Gates of this city, each set along a ley line running through Lunathion, had been designed as a quick way for the guards in the districts to speak to each other centuries ago. When someone merely placed a hand against the golden disk in the center of the pad and spoke, the wielder’s voice would travel to the other Gates, a gem lighting up with the district from which the voice originated.
Of course, it required a drop of magic to do so—literally sucked it like a vampyr from the veins of the person who touched the pad, a tickling zap of power, gone forever.
Bryce raised her eyes to the bronze plaque above her head. The quartz Gates were memorials, though she didn’t know for which conflict or war. But each bore the same plaque: The power shall always belong to those who give their lives to the city.
Considering it was a statement that could be construed as being in opposition to the Asteri’s rule, Bryce was always surprised that they allowed the Gates to continue to stand. But after becoming obsolete with the advent of phones, the Gates had found a second life when kids and tourists began using them, having their friends go to the other Gates in the city so they could whisper dirty words or marvel at the sheer novelty of such an antiquated method of communication. Not surprisingly, come weekends, drunk assholes—a category to which Bryce and Danika firmly belonged—became such a pain in the ass with their shouting through the Gates that the city had instituted hours of operation.
And then dumb superstition grew, claiming the Gate could make wishes come true, and that to give over a droplet of your power was to make an offering to the five gods.
It was bullshit, Bryce knew—but if it made Danika not dread Briggs’s release so much, well, it was worth it.
“What are you going to wish for?” Bryce asked when Danika stared down at the disk, the gems dark above it.
The emerald for FiRo lit up, a young female voice coming through to shriek, “Titties!”
People laughed around them, the sound like water trickling over stone, and Bryce chuckled.
But Danika’s face had gone solemn. “I’ve got too many things to wish for,” she said. Before Bryce could ask, Danika shrugged. “But I think I’ll wish for Ithan to win his sunball game tonight.”
With that, she set her palm onto the disk. Bryce watched as her friend let out a shiver and quietly laughed, stepping back. Her caramel eyes shone. “Your turn.”
“You know I have barely any magic worth taking, but okay,” Bryce said, not to be outdone, even by an Alpha wolf. From the moment Bryce walked into her dorm room freshman year, they’d done everything together. Just the two of them, as it always would be.
They even planned to make the Drop together—to freeze into immortality at the same breath, with members of the Pack of Devils Anchoring them.
Technically, it wasn’t true immortality—the Vanir did age and die, either of natural causes or other methods, but the aging process was so slowed after the Drop that, depending on one’s species, it could take centuries to show a wrinkle. The Fae could last a thousand years, the shifters and witches usually five centuries, the angels somewhere between. Full humans did not make the Drop, as they bore no magic. And compared to humans, with their ordinary life spans and slow healing, the Vanir were essentially immortal—some species bore children who didn’t even enter maturity until they were in their eighties. And most were very, very hard to kill.
But Bryce had rarely thought about where she’d fall on that spectrum
—whether her half-Fae heritage would grant her a hundred years or a thousand. It didn’t matter, so long as Danika was there for all of it. Starting with the Drop. They’d take the deadly plunge into their matured power together, encounter whatever lay at the bottom of their souls, and
then race back up to life before the lack of oxygen rendered them brain-dead. Or just plain dead.
Yet while Bryce would inherit barely enough power to do cool party tricks, Danika was expected to claim a sea of power that would put her ranking far past Sabine’s—likely equal to that of Fae royalty, maybe even beyond the Autumn King himself.
It was unheard of, for a shifter to have that sort of power, yet all the standard childhood tests had confirmed it: once Danika Dropped, she’d become a considerable power among the wolves, the likes of which had not been seen since the elder days across the sea.
Danika wouldn’t just become the Prime of the Crescent City wolves. No, she had the potential to be the Alpha of all wolves. On the fucking planet.
Danika never seemed to give two shits about it. Didn’t plan for her future based on it.
Twenty-seven was the ideal age to make the Drop, they’d decided together, after years of mercilessly judging the various immortals who marked their lives by centuries and millennia. Right before any permanent lines or wrinkles or gray hairs. They merely said to anyone who inquired, What’s the point of being immortal badasses if we have sagging tits?
Vain assholes, Fury had hissed when they’d explained it the first time.
Fury, who had made the Drop at age twenty-one, hadn’t chosen the age for herself. It’d just happened, or had been forced upon her—they didn’t know for sure. Fury’s attendance at CCU had only been a front for a mission; most of her time was spent doing truly fucked-up things for disgusting amounts of money over in Pangera. She made it a point never to give details.
Assassin, Danika claimed. Even sweet Juniper, the faun who occupied the fourth side of their little friendship-square, admitted the odds were that Fury was a merc. Whether Fury was occasionally employed by the Asteri and their puppet Imperial Senate was up for debate, too. But none of them really cared—not when Fury always had their back when they needed it. And even when they didn’t.
Bryce’s hand hovered over the golden disk. Danika’s gaze was a cool weight on her.
“Come on, B, don’t be a wimp.”
Bryce sighed, and set her hand on the pad. “I wish Danika would get a manicure. Her nails look like shit.”
Lightning zapped through her, a slight vacuuming around her belly button, and then Danika was laughing, shoving her. “You fucking dick.”
Bryce slung an arm around Danika’s shoulders. “You deserved it.”
Danika thanked the security guard, who beamed at the attention, and ignored the tourists still snapping photos. They didn’t speak until they reached the northern edge of the square—where Danika would head toward the angel-filled skies and towers of the CBD, to the sprawling Comitium complex in its heart, and Bryce toward Luna’s Temple, three blocks up.
Danika jerked her chin toward the streets behind Bryce. “I’ll see you at home, all right?”
“Be careful.” Bryce blew out a breath, trying to shake her unease.
“I know how to look out for myself, B,” Danika said, but love shone in her eyes—gratitude that crushed Bryce’s chest—merely for the fact that someone cared whether she lived or died.
Sabine was a piece of shit. Had never whispered or hinted who Danika’s father might be—so Danika had grown up with absolutely no one except her grandfather, who was too old and withdrawn to spare Danika from her mother’s cruelty.
Bryce inclined her head toward the CBD. “Good luck. Don’t piss off too many people.”
“You know I will,” Danika said with a grin that didn’t meet her eyes.