Chapter no 23

House of Earth and Blood

The next morning, Bryce was sitting at the reception desk in the gallery’s showroom, staring at her list of Danika’s last locations, when her phone rang.

“The deal with the leopard went through,” she said to Jesiba by way of greeting. The paperwork had been finalized an hour ago.

“I need you to go up into my office and send me a file from my computer.”

Bryce rolled her eyes, refraining from snipping, You’re welcome, and asked, “You don’t have access to it?”

“I made sure this one wasn’t on the network.”

Nostrils flaring, Bryce rose, her leg throbbing slightly, and walked to the small door in the wall adjacent to the desk. A hand on the metal panel beside it had the enchantments unlocking, the door swinging open to reveal the tight, carpeted staircase upward.

“When I want things done, Bryce, you’re to do them. No questions.” “Yes, Jesiba,” Bryce muttered, climbing the stairs. Dodging the

reaching hands of the leopard shifter yesterday had twinged something in her bad leg.

“Would you like to be a worm, Bryce?” Jesiba purred, voice sliding into something eerily close to a Reaper’s rasp. At least Jesiba wasn’t one of them—even if Bryce knew the sorceress often dealt with them in the House of Flame and Shadow. Thank the gods none had ever shown up at the gallery, though. “Would you like to be a dung beetle or a centipede?”

“I’d prefer to be a dragonfly.” Bryce entered the small, plush office upstairs. One wall was a pane of glass that overlooked the gallery floor a level below, the material utterly soundproof.

“Be careful what you ask of me,” Jesiba went on. “You’d find that smart mouth of yours shut up fairly quickly if I transform you. You wouldn’t have any voice at all.”

Bryce calculated the time difference between Lunathion and the western shores of Pangera and realized Jesiba had probably just come back from dinner. “That Pangeran red wine is heady stuff, isn’t it?” She was almost to the wooden desk when the firstlights flicked on. A rack of them illuminated the dismantled gun hanging on the wall behind the desk, the Godslayer Rifle gleaming as fresh as it had the day it’d been forged. She could have sworn a faint whine radiated from the gold and steel—like the legendary, lethal gun was still ringing after a shot.

It unnerved her that it was in here, despite the fact that Jesiba had split it into four pieces, mounted like a work of art behind her desk. Four pieces that could still be easily assembled, but it put her clients at ease, even while it reminded them that she was in charge.

Bryce knew the sorceress never told them about the six-inch engraved golden bullet in the safe beside the painting on the right wall. Jesiba had shown it to her just once, letting her read the words etched onto the bullet: Memento Mori.

The same words that appeared in the mosaic in the Meat Market.

It’d seemed melodramatic, but some part of her had marveled at it— at the bullet and at the rifle, so rare only a few existed in Midgard.

Bryce powered up Jesiba’s computer, letting the female rattle off instructions before sending the file. Bryce was halfway down the stairs again when she asked her boss, “Have you heard anything new about Luna’s Horn?”

A long, contemplative pause. “Does it have to do with this investigation of yours?”


Jesiba’s low, cold voice was an embodiment of the House she served. “I haven’t heard anything.” Then she hung up. Bryce gritted her teeth as she headed back to her desk on the showroom floor.

Lehabah interrupted her by whispering through the iron door, “Can I see Athie now?”

“No, Lele.”

He’d kept his distance this morning, too. Good.

Look toward where it hurts the most.

She had her list of Danika’s locations. Unfortunately, she knew what she had to do next. What she’d woken up this morning dreading. Her

phone rang in her clenched hand, and Bryce steeled herself for Jesiba calling to bitch that she’d fucked up the file, but it was Hunt.

“Yeah?” she asked by way of greeting.

“There’s been another murder.” His voice was tight—cold. She nearly dropped the phone. “Who—”

“I’m still getting the details. But it was about ten blocks from here— near the Gate in the Old Square.”

Her heart beat so fast she could scarcely draw breath to say, “Any witnesses?”

“No. But let’s go over there.”

Her hands shook. “I’m busy,” she lied.

Hunt paused. “I’m not fucking around, Quinlan.” No. No, she couldn’t do it, endure it, see it again—

Bryce forced herself to breathe, practically inhaling the peppermint vapors from the diffuser. “There’s a client coming—”

He banged on the gallery door, sealing her fate. “We’re leaving.”

Bryce’s entire body was taut to the point of near-trembling as she and Hunt approached the magi-screens blocking the alley a few blocks away from the Old Square Gate.

She tried to breathe through it, tried all the techniques she’d read and heard about regarding reining in her dread, that sickening plunging feeling in her stomach. None of them worked.

Angels and Fae and shifters milled about the alley, some on radios or phones.

“A jogger found the remains,” Hunt said as people parted to let him pass. “They think it happened sometime last night.” He added carefully, “The 33rd’s still working on getting an ID, but from the clothes, it looks like an acolyte from Luna’s Temple. Isaiah is already asking the temple priestesses who might be missing.”

All sounds turned into a blaring drone. She didn’t entirely remember the walk over.

Hunt edged around the magi-screen blocking the crime scene from view, took one look at what lay there, and swore. He whirled toward her, as if realizing what he was dragging her back into, but too late.

Blood had splashed across the bricks of the building, pooled on the cracked stones of the alley floor, splattered on the sides of the dumpster. And beside that dumpster, as if someone had chucked them out of a bucket, sat clumps of red pulp. A torn robe lay beside the carnage.

The droning turned into a roar. Her body pulled farther away.

Danika howling with laughter, Connor winking at her, Bronson and Zach and Zelda and Nathalie and Thorne all in hysterics—

Then nothing but red pulp. All of them, all they had been, all she had been with them, became nothing more than piles of red pulp.

Gone, gone, gone—

A hand gripped her shoulder. But not Athalar’s. No, Hunt remained where he was, face now hard as stone.

She flinched as Ruhn said at her ear, “You don’t need to see this.” This was another murder. Another body. Another year.

A medwitch even knelt before the body, a wand buzzing with firstlight in her hands, trying to piece the corpse—the girl—back together.

Ruhn tugged her away, toward the screen and open air beyond— The movement shook her loose. Snapped the droning in her ears.

She yanked her body free from his grip, not caring if anyone else saw, not caring that he, as head of the Fae Aux units, had the right to be here. “Don’t fucking touch me.”

Ruhn’s mouth tightened. But he looked over her shoulder to Hunt. “You’re an asshole.”

Hunt’s eyes glittered. “I warned her on the walk over what she’d see.” He added a touch ruefully, “I didn’t realize what a mess it’d be.” He had warned her, hadn’t he? She’d drifted so far away that she’d barely listened to Hunt on the walk. As dazed as if she’d snorted a heap of lightseeker. Hunt added, “She’s a grown woman. She doesn’t need you deciding what she can handle.” He nodded toward the alley exit. “Shouldn’t you be researching? We’ll call you if you’re needed, princeling.”

“Fuck you,” Ruhn shot back, shadows twining through his hair. Others were noticing now. “You don’t think it’s more than a coincidence that an acolyte was killed right after we went to the temple?”

Their words didn’t register. None of it registered.

Bryce turned from the alley, the swarming investigators. Ruhn said, “Bryce—”

“Leave me alone,” she said quietly, and kept walking. She shouldn’t have let Athalar bully her into coming, shouldn’t have seen this, shouldn’t have had to remember.

Once, she might have gone right to the dance studio. Would have danced and moved until the world made sense again. It had always been her haven, her way of puzzling out the world. She’d gone to the studio whenever she’d had a shit day.

It had been two years since she’d set foot in one. She’d thrown out all her dance clothes and shoes. Her bags. The one at the apartment had all been splattered with blood anyway—Danika’s, Connor’s, and Thorne’s on the clothes in the bedroom, and Zelda’s and Bronson’s on her secondary bag, which had been left hanging beside the door. Blood patterns just like—

A rain-kissed scent brushed her nose as Hunt fell into step beside her.

And there he was. Another memory from that night. “Hey,” Hunt said.

Hey, he’d said to her, so long ago. She’d been a wreck, a ghost, and then he’d been there, kneeling beside her, those dark eyes unreadable as he’d said, Hey.

She hadn’t told him—that she remembered that night in the interrogation room. She sure as Hel didn’t feel like telling him now.

If she had to talk to someone, she’d explode. If she had to do anything right now, she’d sink into one of those primal Fae wraths and— The haze started to creep over her vision, her muscles seizing painfully, her fingertips curled as if imagining shredding into someone—

“Walk it off,” Hunt murmured.

“Leave me alone, Athalar.” She wouldn’t look at him. Couldn’t stand him or her brother or anyone. If the acolyte’s murder had been because of their presence at the temple, either as a warning or because the girl might have seen something related to the Horn, if they’d accidentally brought her death about … Her legs kept moving, swifter and swifter. Hunt didn’t falter for a beat.

She wouldn’t cry. Wouldn’t dissolve into a hyperventilating mess on the street corner. Wouldn’t scream or puke or—

After another block, Hunt said roughly, “I was there that night.” She kept walking, her heels eating up the pavement.

Hunt asked, “How did you survive the kristallos?”

He’d no doubt been looking at the body just now and wondering this. How did she, a pathetic half-breed, survive when full-blooded Vanir hadn’t?

“I didn’t survive,” she mumbled, crossing a street and edging around a car idling in the intersection. “It got away.”

“But the kristallos pinned Micah, ripped open his chest—”

She nearly tripped over the curb, and whipped around to gape at him. “That was Micah?”

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