Chapter no 21

House of Earth and Blood

Ruhn Danaan leaned against one of the marble pillars of the inner sanctum of Luna’s Temple and waited for his sister to arrive. Tourists drifted past, snapping photos, none marking his presence, thanks to the shadow veil he’d pulled around himself.

The chamber was long, its ceiling lofty. It had to be, to accommodate the statue enthroned at the back.

Thirty feet high, Luna sat in a carved golden throne, the goddess lovingly rendered in shimmering moonstone. A silver tiara of a full moon held by two crescent ones graced her upswept curling hair. At her sandaled feet lay twin wolves, their baleful eyes daring any pilgrim to come closer. Across the back of her throne, a bow of solid gold had been slung, its quiver full of silver arrows. The pleats of her thigh-length robe draped across her lap, veiling the slim fingers resting there.

Both wolves and Fae claimed Luna as their patron goddess—had gone to war over whom she favored in millennia long past. And while the wolves’ connection to her had been carved into the statue with stunning detail, the nod to the Fae had been missing for two years. Maybe the Autumn King had a point about restoring the Fae to glory. Not in the haughty, sneering way his father intended, but … the lack of Fae heritage on the statue raked down Ruhn’s nerves.

Footsteps scuffed in the courtyard beyond the sanctum doors, followed by excited whispers and the click of cameras.

“The courtyard itself is modeled after the one in the Eternal City,” a female voice was saying as a new flock of tourists entered the temple, trailing their guide like ducklings.

And at the rear of the group—a wine-red head of hair. And a too-recognizable pair of gray wings.

Ruhn gritted his teeth, keeping hidden in the shadows. At least she’d shown up.

The tour group stopped in the center of the inner sanctum, the guide speaking loudly as everyone spread out, cameras flashing like Athalar’s lightning in the gloom. “And here it is, folks: the statue of Luna herself. Lunathion’s patron goddess was crafted from a single block of marble hewn from the famed Caliprian Quarries by the Melanthos River up north. This temple was the first thing built upon the city’s founding five hundred years ago; the location of this city was selected precisely because of the way the Istros River bends through the land. Can anyone tell me what shape the river makes?”

“A crescent!” someone called out, the words echoing off the marble pillars, wending through the curling smoke from the bowl of incense laid between the wolves at the goddess’s feet.

Ruhn saw Bryce and Hunt scan the sanctum for him, and he let the shadows peel back long enough for them to spy his location. Bryce’s face revealed nothing. Athalar just grinned.


With all the tourists focused on their guide, no one noticed the unusual pair crossing the space. Ruhn kept the shadows at bay until Bryce and Hunt reached him—and then willed them to encompass them as well.

Hunt just said, “Fancy trick.”

Bryce said nothing. Ruhn tried not to remember how delighted she’d once been whenever he’d demonstrated how his shadows and starlight worked—both halves of his power working as one.

Ruhn said to her, “I asked you to come. Not him.”

Bryce linked her arm through Athalar’s, the portrait they painted laughable: Bryce in her fancy work dress and heels, the angel in his black battle-suit. “We’re joined at the hip now, unfortunately for you. Best, best friends.”

“The best,” Hunt echoed, his grin unfading. Luna shoot him dead. This would not end well.

Bryce nodded to the tour group still trailing their leader through the temple. “This place might not have any cameras, but they do.”

“They’re focused on their guide,” Ruhn said. “And the noise they’re making will mask any conversation we have.” The shadows could only hide him from sight, not sound.

Through thin ripples in the shadows, they could make out a young couple edging around the statue, so busy snapping photos they didn’t

note the denser bit of darkness in the far corner. But Ruhn fell silent, and Bryce and Athalar followed suit.

As they waited for the couple to pass, the tour guide went on, “We’ll dive more into the architectural wonders of the inner sanctum in a minute, but let’s direct our attention to the statue. The quiver, of course, is real gold, the arrows pure silver with tips of diamond.”

Someone let out an appreciative whistle. “Indeed,” the tour guide agreed. “They were donated by the Archangel Micah, who is a patron and investor in various charities, foundations, and innovative companies.” The tour guide went on, “Unfortunately, two years ago, the third of Luna’s treasures was stolen from this temple. Can anyone tell me what it was?”

“The Horn,” someone said. “It was all over the news.”

“It was a terrible theft. An artifact that cannot be replaced easily.” The couple moved on, and Ruhn uncrossed his arms.

Hunt said, “All right, Danaan. Get to the point. Why’d you ask Bryce to come?”

Ruhn gestured to where the tourists were snapping photos of the goddess’s hand. Specifically, the fingers that now curled around air, where a cracked ivory hunting horn had once lain.

“Because I was tasked by the Autumn King to find Luna’s Horn.”

Athalar angled his head, but Bryce snorted. “Is that why you asked about it last night?”

They were interrupted again by the tour guide saying, as she moved toward the rear of the room, “If you’ll follow me, we’ve been granted special permission to see the chamber where the stag sacrifices are prepared to be burned in Luna’s honor.” Through the murky shadows, Bryce could make out a small door opening in the wall.

When they’d filtered out, Hunt asked, eyes narrowing, “What is the Horn, exactly?”

“A bunch of fairy-tale bullcrap,” Bryce muttered. “You really dragged me here for this? To what—help you impress your daddy?”

Growling, Ruhn pulled out his phone, making sure the shadows held around them, and brought up the photos he’d snapped in the Fae Archives last night.

But he didn’t share them, not before he said to Athalar, “Luna’s Horn was a weapon wielded by Pelias, the first Starborn Prince, during the First Wars. The Fae forged it in their home world, named it for the goddess in their new one, and used it to battle the demon hordes once they made the Crossing. Pelias wielded the Horn until he died.” Ruhn put

a hand on his chest. “My ancestor—whose power flows in my veins. I don’t know how it worked, how Pelias used it with his magic, but the Horn became enough of a nuisance for the demon princes that they did everything they could to retrieve it from him.”

Ruhn held out his phone, the picture of the illuminated manuscript glaringly bright in the thick shadows. The illustration of the carved horn lifted to the lips of a helmeted Fae male was as pristine as it had been when inked millennia ago. Above the figure gleamed an eight-pointed star, the emblem of the Starborn.

Bryce went wholly still. The stillness of the Fae, like a stag halting in a wood.

Ruhn went on, “The Star-Eater himself bred a new horror just to hunt the Horn, using some blood he managed to spill from Prince Pelias on a battlefield and his own terrible essence. A beast twisted out of the collision of light and darkness.” Ruhn swiped on his phone, and the next illustration appeared. The reason he’d had her come here—had taken this gamble.

Bryce recoiled at the grotesque, pale body, the clear teeth bared in a roar.

“You recognize it,” Ruhn said softly.

Bryce shook herself, as if to bring herself back to reality, and rubbed her thigh absently. “That’s the demon I found attacking the angel in the alley on that night.”

Hunt gave her a sharp look. “The one that attacked you, too?” Bryce gave a small, affirmative nod. “What is it?”

“It dwells in the darkest depths of the Pit,” Ruhn answered. “So lightless that the Star-Eater named it the kristallos, for its clear blood and teeth.”

Athalar said, “I’ve never heard of it.”

Bryce contemplated the drawing. “It … There was never a mention of a fucking demon in the research I did on the Horn.” She met his gaze. “No one put this together two years ago?”

“I think it’s taken two years to put it together,” Ruhn said carefully. “This volume was deep in the Fae Archives, with the stuff that’s not allowed to be scanned. None of your research would have ever pulled it up. The entire damn thing was in the Old Language of the Fae.” And had taken him most of the night to translate. Throwing in the lingering fog of the mirthroot hadn’t helped.

Bryce’s brow furrowed. “But the Horn was broken—it basically became a dud, right?”

“Right,” Ruhn said. “During the final battle of the First Wars, Prince Pelias and the Prince of the Pit faced each other. The two of them fought for like three fucking days, until the Star-Eater struck the fatal blow. But not before Pelias was able to summon all the Horn’s strength, and banished the Prince of the Pit, his brethren, and their armies back to Hel. He sealed the Northern Rift forever—so only small cracks in it or summonings with salt can bring them over now.”

Athalar frowned. “So you mean to tell me this deadly artifact, which the Prince of the Pit literally bred a new demon species to hunt, was just sitting here? In this temple? And no one from this world or Hel tried to take it until that blackout? Why?”

Bryce met Hunt’s disbelieving stare. “The Horn cracked in two when Pelias sealed the Northern Rift. Its power was broken. The Fae and Asteri tried for years to renew it through magic and spells and all that crap, but no luck. It was given a place of honor in the Asteri Archives, but when they established Lunathion a few millennia later, they had it dedicated to the temple here.”

Ruhn shook his head. “That the Fae allowed for the artifact to be given over suggests they’d dismissed its worth—that even my father might have forgotten its importance.” Until it was stolen—and he’d gotten it into his head that it would be a rallying symbol of power during a possible war.

Bryce added, “I thought it was just a replica until Jesiba made me start looking for it.” She turned to Ruhn. “So you think someone has been summoning this demon to hunt for the Horn? But why, when it no longer has any power? And how does it explain any of the deaths? You think the victims somehow … had contact with the Horn, and it brought the kristallos right to them?” She went on before either of them could answer, “And why the two-year gap?”

Hunt mused, “Maybe the murderer waited until things calmed down enough to resume searching.”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Ruhn admitted. “It doesn’t seem like coincidence that the Horn went missing right before this demon showed up, though, and for the murders to be starting again—”

“Could mean someone is hunting for the Horn once more,” Bryce finished, frowning.

Hunt said, “The kristallos’s presence in Lunathion suggests the Horn is still inside the city walls.”

Bryce pinned Ruhn with a look. “Why does the Autumn King suddenly want it?”

Ruhn chose his words carefully. “Call it pride. He wants it returned to the Fae. And wants me to find it quietly.”

Athalar asked him, “But why ask you to look for the Horn?”

The shadows veiling them rippled. “Because Prince Pelias’s Starborn power was woven into the Horn itself. And it’s in my blood. My father thinks I might have some sort of preternatural gift to find it.” He admitted, “When I was browsing the Archives last night, this book … jumped out at me.”

“Literally?” Bryce asked, brows high.

Ruhn said, “It just felt like it … shimmered. I don’t fucking know. All I know is I was down there for hours, and then I sensed the book, and when I saw that illustration of the Horn … There it was. The crap I translated confirmed it.”

“So the kristallos can track the Horn,” Bryce said, eyes glittering. “But so can you.”

Athalar’s mouth curled in a crooked grin, catching Bryce’s drift. “We find the demon, we find who’s behind this. And if we have the Horn …”

Ruhn grimaced. “The kristallos will come to us.”

Bryce glanced to the empty-handed statue behind them. “Better get cracking, Ruhn.”

Hunt leaned against the entry pillars atop the steps leading into Luna’s Temple, his phone at his ear. He’d left Quinlan inside with her cousin, needing to make this phone call before they could sort out logistics. He would have made the call right there, but the moment he’d pulled up his contacts list, he’d earned a snipe from Bryce about mobile phones in sacred spaces.

Cthona spare him. Declining to tell her to fuck off, he’d decided to spare them a public scene and stalked out through the cypress-lined courtyard and to the front steps.

Five temple acolytes emerged from the sprawling villa behind the temple itself, bearing brooms and hoses to clean the temple steps and the flagstones beyond it for their midday washing.

Unnecessary, he wanted to tell the young females. With the misting rain yet again gracing the city, the hoses were superfluous.

Teeth gritted, he listened to the phone ring and ring. “Pick the fuck up,” he muttered.

A dark-skinned temple acolyte—black-haired, white-robed, and no more than twelve—gaped at him as she walked past, clutching a broom

to her chest. He nearly winced, realizing the portrait of wrath he now presented, and checked his expression.

The Fae girl still kept back, the golden crescent moon dangling from a delicate chain across her brow glinting in the gray light. A waxing moon—until she became a full-fledged priestess upon reaching maturity, when she would trade the crescent for the full circle of Luna. And whenever her immortal body began to age and fade, her cycle vanishing with it, she would again trade the charm, this time for a waning crescent.

The priestesses all had their own reasons for offering themselves to Luna. For forsaking their lives beyond the temple grounds and embracing the goddess’s eternal maidenhood. Just as Luna had no mate or lover, so they would live.

Hunt had always thought celibacy seemed like a bore. Until Shahar had ruined him for anyone else.

Hunt offered the shrinking acolyte his best attempt at a smile. To his surprise, the Fae girl offered a small one back. The girl had courage.

Justinian Gelos answered on the sixth ring. “How’s babysitting?” Hunt straightened. “Don’t sound so amused.”

Justinian huffed a laugh. “You sure Micah’s not punishing you?” Hunt had considered the question a great deal in the past two days.

Across the empty street, the palm trees dotting the rain-soft grasses of the Oracle’s Park shone in the gray light, the domed onyx building of the Oracle’s Temple veiled in the mists that had rolled in over the river.

Even at midday, the Oracle’s Park was near-empty, save for the hunched, slumbering forms of the desperate Vanir and humans who wandered the paths and gardens, waiting for their turn to enter the incense-filled hallways.

And if the answers they sought weren’t what they’d hoped … Well, the white-stoned temple on whose steps Hunt now stood could offer some solace.

Hunt glanced over his shoulder to the dim temple interior just visible through the towering bronze doors. In the firstlight from a row of shimmering braziers, he could just barely make out the gleam of red hair in the quiet gloom of the inner sanctum, shining like molten metal as Bryce talked animatedly with Ruhn.

“No,” Hunt said at last. “I don’t think this assignment was punishment. He was out of options and knew I’d cause more trouble if he stationed me on guard duty around Sandriel.” And Pollux.

He didn’t mention the bargain he’d struck with Micah. Not when Justinian bore the halo as well and Micah had never shown much interest

in him beyond his popularity with the grunt troops of the 33rd. If there was any sort of deal to earn his freedom, Justinian had never said a word. Justinian blew out a breath. “Yeah—shit’s getting intense around here right now. People are on edge and she hasn’t even arrived yet.

You’re better off where you are.”

A glassy-eyed Fae male stumbled past the steps of the temple, got a good look at who was barring entry into the temple itself—and aimed for the street, staggering toward the Oracle’s Park and the domed building in its heart. Another lost soul looking for answers in smoke and whispers.

“I’m not so sure of that,” Hunt said. “I need you to look up something for me—an old-school demon. The kristallos. Just search through the databases and see if anything pops up.” He’d have asked Vik, but she was already busy going through the alibi footage from the Viper Queen.

“I’ll get on it,” Justinian said. “I’ll message over any results.” He added, “Good luck.”

“I’ll need it,” Hunt admitted. In a hundred fucking ways.

Justinian added slyly, “Though it doesn’t hurt that your partner is easy on the eyes.”

“I gotta go.”

“No one gets a medal for suffering the most, you know,” Justinian pushed, his voice slipping into uncharacteristic seriousness. “It’s been two centuries since Shahar died, Hunt.”

“Whatever.” He didn’t want to have this conversation. Not with Justinian or anyone.

“It’s admirable that you’re still holding out for her, but let’s be realistic about—”

Hunt hung up. Debated throwing his phone against a pillar.

He had to call Isaiah and Micah about the Horn. Fuck. When it had gone missing two years ago, top inspectors from the 33rd and the Aux had combed this temple. They’d found nothing. And since no cameras were allowed within the temple walls, there had been no hint of who might have taken it. It had been nothing more than a stupid prank, everyone had claimed.

Everyone except for the Autumn King, it seemed.

Hunt hadn’t paid much attention to the theft of the Horn, and sure as fuck hadn’t listened during history lessons as a boy about the First Wars. And after Danika’s and the Pack of Devils’ murders, they’d had bigger things to worry about.

He couldn’t tell what was worse: the Horn possibly being a vital piece of this case, or the fact that he’d now have to work alongside Ruhn Danaan to find it.

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