Chapter no 26

House of Earth and Blood

One minute, Athalar and Ruhn were talking. One minute, Bryce was about to go rip into both of them for their alphahole protectiveness, smothering her even from afar. One minute, she was just trying not to drown in the weight that had yanked her under that too-familiar black surface. No amount of running could free her from it, buy her a sip of air. The next, her ears hollowed out, the ground ripped from beneath her,

the ceiling rained down, people screamed, blood sprayed, fear scented the air, and she was twisting, lunging for Juniper—

Shrill, incessant ringing filled her head.

The world had been tipped on its side.

Or maybe that was because she lay sprawled on the wrecked floor, debris and shrapnel and body parts around her.

But Bryce kept down, stayed arched over Juniper, who might have been screaming—

That shrill ringing wouldn’t stop. It drowned out every other sound.

Coppery slickness in her mouth—blood. Plaster coated her skin.

“Get up.” Hunt’s voice cut through the ringing, the screaming, the shrieking, and his strong hands wrapped around her shoulders. She thrashed against him, reaching for Juniper—

But Ruhn was already there, blood running from his temple as he helped her friend stand—

Bryce looked over every inch of Juniper: plaster and dust and someone else’s green blood, but not a scratch, not a scratch, not a scratch

Bryce swayed back into Hunt, who gripped her shoulders. “We need to get out—now,” the angel was saying to Ruhn, ordering her brother

like a foot soldier. “There could be more.”

Juniper pushed out of Ruhn’s grip and screamed at Bryce, “Are you out of your mind?

Her ears—her ears wouldn’t stop ringing, and maybe her brain was leaking because she couldn’t talk, couldn’t seem to remember how to use her limbs—

Juniper swung. Bryce didn’t feel the impact on her cheek. Juniper sobbed as if her body would break apart. “I made the Drop, Bryce! Two years ago! You haven’t! Have you completely lost it?”

A warm, strong arm slid across her abdomen, holding her upright. Hunt said, his mouth near her ear, “Juniper, she’s shell-shocked. Give it a rest.”

Juniper snapped at him, “Stay out of this!” But people were wailing, screaming, and debris was still raining down. Pillars lay like fallen trees around them. June seemed to notice, to realize—

Her body, gods, her body wouldn’t work—

Hunt didn’t object when Ruhn gave them an address nearby and told them to go wait for him there. It was closer than her apartment, but frankly, Hunt wasn’t entirely sure Bryce would let him in—and if she went into shock and he couldn’t get past those enchantments … Well, Micah would spike his head to the front gates of the Comitium if she died on his watch.

He might very well do that just for not sensing that the attack was about to happen.

Quinlan didn’t seem to notice he was carrying her. She was heavier than she looked—her tan skin covered more muscle than he’d thought.

Hunt found the familiar white-columned house a few blocks away; the key Ruhn had given him opened a green-painted door. The cavernous foyer was laced with two male scents other than the prince’s. A flick of the light switch revealed a grand staircase that looked like it’d been through a war zone, scuffed oak floors, and a crystal chandelier hanging precariously.

Beneath it: a beer pong table painted with remarkable skill— portraying a gigantic Fae male swallowing an angel whole.

Ignoring that particular fuck you to his kind, Hunt aimed for the living room to the left of the entry. A stained sectional lay against the far wall of the long room, and Hunt set Bryce down there as he hurried for the equally worn wet bar midway down the far wall. Water—she needed some water.

There hadn’t been an attack in the city for years now—since Briggs. He’d felt the bomb’s power as it rippled through the club, shredding the former temple and its inhabitants apart. He’d leave it to the investigators to see what exactly it was, but—

Even his lightning hadn’t been fast enough to stop it, not that it would have been any protection against a bomb, not in an ambush like that. He’d destroyed enough on battlefields to know how to intercept them with his power, how to match death with death, but this hadn’t been some long-range missile fired from a tank.

It had been planted somewhere in the club, and detonated at a predetermined moment. There were a handful of people who might be capable of such a thing, and at the top of Hunt’s list … there was Philip Briggs again. Or his followers, at least—Briggs himself was still imprisoned at the Adrestia Prison. He’d think on it later, when his head wasn’t still spinning, and his lightning wasn’t still a crackle in his blood, hungry for an enemy to obliterate.

Hunt turned his attention to the woman who sat on the couch, staring at nothing.

Bryce’s green dress was wrecked, her skin was covered in plaster and someone else’s blood, her face pale—save for the red mark on her cheek.

Hunt grabbed an ice pack from the freezer under the bar counter and a dish towel to wrap it in. He set the glass of water on the stained wood coffee table, then handed her the ice. “She slugged you pretty damn good.”

Those amber eyes lifted slowly to him. Dried blood crusted inside her ears.

A moment’s searching in the sorry-looking kitchen and bathroom cabinet revealed more towels and a first aid kit.

He knelt on the worn gray carpet before her, tucking his wings in tight to keep them from tangling with the beer cans that littered the coffee table.

She kept staring at nothing as he cleaned out her bloody ears.

He didn’t have med-magic like a witch, but he knew enough battlefield healing to assess her arched ears. The Fae hearing would have made that explosion horrific—the human bloodline then slowing down the healing process. Mercifully, he found no signs of continued bleeding or damage.

He started on the left ear. And when he’d finished, he noticed her knees were scraped raw, with shards of stone embedded in them.

“Juniper stands a shot of being promoted to principal,” Bryce rasped at last. “The first faun ever. The summer season starts soon—she’s an understudy for the main roles in two of the ballets. A soloist in all five of them. This season is crucial. If she got injured, it could interfere.”

“She made the Drop. She would have bounced back quickly.” He pulled a pair of tweezers from the kit.


She hissed as he carefully pried out some shards of metal and stone from her knee. She’d hit the ground hard. Even with the club exploding, he’d seen her move.

She’d thrown herself right over Juniper, shielding her from the blast. “This will sting,” he told her, frowning at the bottle of healing

solution. Fancy, high-priced stuff. Surprising that it was even here, given that the prince and his roommates had all made the Drop. “But it’ll keep it from scarring.”

She shrugged, studying the massive, dark television screen over his shoulder.

Hunt doused her leg with the solution, and she jerked. He gripped her calf hard enough to keep her down, even as she cursed. “I warned you.”

She pushed a breath out between clenched teeth. The hem of her already short dress had ridden up with her movements, and Hunt told himself he looked only to assess if there were other injuries, but—

The thick, angry scar cut across an otherwise sleek, unnervingly perfect thigh.

Hunt stilled. She’d never gotten it healed.

And every limp he’d sometimes caught her making from the corner of his eye … Not from her dumb fucking shoes. But from this. From him. From his clumsy battlefield instincts to staple her up like a soldier.

“When males are kneeling between my legs, Athalar,” she said, “they’re not usually grimacing.”

“What?” But her words registered, just at the moment he realized his hand still gripped her calf, the silky skin beneath brushing against the calluses on his palms. Just as he realized that he was indeed kneeling between her thighs, and had leaned closer to her lap to see that scar.

Hunt reeled back, unable to help the heat rising to his face. He removed his hand from her leg. “Sorry,” he ground out.

Any amusement faded from her eyes as she said, “Who do you think did it—the club?”

The heat of her soft skin still stained his palm. “No idea.”

“Could it have anything to do with us looking into this case?” Guilt already dampened her eyes, and he knew the body of the acolyte flashed through her mind.

He shook his head. “Probably not. If someone wanted to stop us, a bullet in the head’s a lot more precise than blowing up a club. It could easily have been some rival of the club’s owner. Or the remaining Keres members looking to start more shit in this city.”

Bryce asked, “You think we’ll have war here?”

“Some humans want us to. Some Vanir want us to. To get rid of the humans, they say.”

“They’ve destroyed parts of Pangera with the war there,” she mumbled. “I’ve seen the footage.” She looked at him, letting her unspoken question hang. How bad was it?

Hunt just said, “Magic and machines. Never a good mix.”

The words rippled between them. “I want to go home,” she breathed. He peeled off his jacket and settled it around her shoulders. It nearly devoured her. “I want to shower all this off.” She gestured at the blood on her bare skin.

“Okay.” But the front door in the foyer opened. One set of booted feet.

Hunt had his gun out, hidden against his thigh as he turned, when Ruhn walked in, shadows in his wake. “You’re not going to like this,” the prince said.

She wanted to go home. Wanted to call Juniper. Wanted to call her mom and Randall just to hear their voices. Wanted to call Fury and learn what she knew, even if Fury wouldn’t pick up or answer her messages. Wanted to call Jesiba and make her find out what had happened. But she mostly just wanted to go home and shower.

Ruhn, stone-faced and blood-splattered, halted in the archway.

Hunt slid the handgun back into its holster at his thigh before sitting on the couch beside her.

Ruhn went to the wet bar and filled a glass of water from the sink. Every movement was stiff, shadows whispering around him. But the prince exhaled and the shadows, the tension, vanished.

Hunt spared her from demanding that Ruhn elaborate. “I’m assuming this has to do with whoever bombed the club?”

Ruhn nodded and tossed back a gulp of water. “All signs point to the human rebels.” Bryce’s blood chilled. She and Hunt swapped glances. Their discussion moments ago hadn’t been far from the mark. “The

bomb was smuggled into the club through some new exploding liquid hidden in a delivery of wine. They left the calling card on the crate— their own logo.”

Hunt cut in. “Any potential connection to Philip Briggs?”

Ruhn said, “Briggs is still behind bars.” A polite way of describing the punishment the rebel leader now endured at Vanir hands in Adrestia Prison.

“The rest of his Keres group isn’t,” Bryce croaked. “Danika was the one who made the raid on Briggs in the first place. Even if he didn’t kill her, he’s still doing time for his rebel crimes. He could have instructed his followers to carry out this bombing.”

Ruhn frowned. “I thought they’d disbanded—joined other factions or returned to Pangera. But here’s the part you’re not going to like. Next to the logo on the crate was a branded image. My team and your team thought it was a warped for Crescent City, but I looked at the footage of the storage area before the bomb went off. It’s hard to make out, but it could also be depicting a curved horn.”

“What does the Horn have to do with the human rebellion?” Bryce asked. Then her mouth dried out. “Wait. Do you think that Horn image was a message to us? To warn us away from looking for the Horn? As if that acolyte wasn’t enough?”

Hunt mused, “It can’t just be coincidence that the club was bombed when we were there. Or that one of the images on the crate seems like it could be the Horn, when we’re knee-deep in a search for it. Before Danika busted him, Briggs planned to blow up the Raven. The Keres sect has been inactive since he went to prison, but …”

“They could be coming back,” Bryce insisted. “Looking to pick up where Briggs left off, or somehow getting directions from him even now.”

Hunt looked somber. “Or it was one of Briggs’s followers all along

—the planned bombing, Danika’s murder, this bombing … Briggs might not be guilty, but maybe he knows who is. He could be protecting someone.” He pulled out his phone. “We need to talk to him.”

Ruhn said, “Are you fucking nuts?”

Hunt ignored him and dialed a number, rising to his feet. “He’s in Adrestia Prison, so the request might take a few days,” he said to Bryce.

“Fine.” She blocked out the thought of what, exactly, this meeting would be like. Danika had been unnerved by Briggs’s fanaticism toward the human cause, and had rarely wanted to talk about him. Busting him and his Keres group—an offshoot of the main Ophion rebellion—had

been a triumph, a legitimization of the Pack of Devils. It still hadn’t been enough to win Sabine’s approval.

Hunt tucked the phone to his ear. “Hey, Isaiah. Yeah, I’m all right.” He stepped into the foyer, and Bryce watched him go.

Ruhn said quietly, “The Autumn King knows I’ve involved you in looking for the Horn.”

She lifted heavy eyes to her brother. “How pissed is he?”

Ruhn’s grim smile wasn’t comforting. “He warned me of the poison

you’d spew in my ear.”

“I should take that as a compliment, I suppose.”

Ruhn didn’t smile this time. “He wants to know what you’ll do with the Horn if it’s found.”

“Use it as my new drinking mug on game day.”

Hunt gave a snort of laughter as he entered the room, call over. Ruhn just said, “He was serious.”

“I’ll give it back to the temple,” Bryce said. “Not to him.”

Ruhn looked at both of them as Hunt again sat on the couch. “My father said that since I have now involved you in something so dangerous, Bryce, you need a guard to … remain with you at all times. Live with you. I volunteered.”

Every part of her battered body ached. “Over my dead fucking corpse.”

Hunt crossed his arms. “Why does your king care if Quinlan lives or dies?”

Ruhn’s eyes grew cold. “I asked him the same. He said that she falls under his jurisdiction, as half-Fae, and he doesn’t want to have to clean up any messy situations. The girl is a liability, he said.” Bryce could hear the cruel tones in every word Ruhn mimicked. Could see her father’s face as he spoke them. She often imagined how it’d feel to beat in that perfect face with her fists. To give him a scar like the one her mother bore along her cheekbone—small and slender, no longer than a fingernail, but a reminder of the blow he’d given her when his hideous rage drove him too far.

The blow that had sent Ember Quinlan running—pregnant with Bryce.

Creep. Old, hateful creep.

“So he’s just concerned about the PR nightmare of Quinlan’s death before the Summit,” Hunt said roughly, disgust tightening his face.

“Don’t look so shocked,” Ruhn said, then added to Bryce, “I’m only the messenger. Consider whether it’s wise to pick this as your big battle

with him.”

No chance in Hel was she letting Ruhn into her apartment to order her around. Especially with those friends of his. It was bad enough she had to work with him on this case.

Gods, her head was pounding. “Fine,” she said, simmering. “He said I needed a guard—not you specifically, right?” At Ruhn’s tense silence, Bryce went on, “That’s what I thought. Athalar stays with me instead. Order fulfilled. Happy?”

“He won’t like that.”

Bryce smiled smugly, even as her blood simmered. “He didn’t say who the guard had to be. The bastard should have been more precise with his wording.”

Even Ruhn couldn’t argue against that.

If Athalar was shocked at Bryce’s choice of roommates, he didn’t let on.

Ruhn watched the angel glance between them—carefully.

Fuck. Had Athalar finally started putting it together—that they were more entwined than cousins should be, that Ruhn’s father shouldn’t be taking such an interest in her?

Bryce seethed at Ruhn, “Did you put your father up to this?”

“No,” Ruhn said. His father had cornered him about the temple visit right as he left the ruined club. Honestly, given how pissed the male had been, it was a miracle Ruhn wasn’t dead in a gutter. “He’s got a network of spies that even I don’t know about.”

Bryce scowled, but it morphed into a wince as she got off the couch, Athalar keeping a hand within easy reach of her elbow, should she need it.

Ruhn’s phone buzzed, and he pulled it from his pocket long enough to read the message on the screen. And the others that began flying in.

Declan had written in the group chain with Flynn, What the fuck happened?

Flynn replied, I’m at the club. Sabine sent Amelie Ravenscroft to head the Aux packs hauling away debris and helping the wounded. Amelie said she saw you leave, Ruhn. You all right?

Ruhn answered, just so they wouldn’t call. I’m fine. I’ll meet you at the club soon. He squeezed the phone in his fist as Bryce made her way toward the front door and the Helscape beyond. Blue and red sirens blared, casting their light on the oak floors of the foyer.

But his sister paused before reaching for the handle, twisting to ask him, “Why were you at the Raven earlier?”

And here it was. If he mentioned the call Riso had made to him, that Ruhn had been keeping tabs on her, he’d get his head bitten off. So Ruhn half lied, “I want to check out your boss’s library.”

Hunt paused, a step behind Bryce. It was impressive, really, to watch both of them plaster confused expressions on their faces.

“What library?” she asked, the portrait of innocence.

Ruhn could have sworn Athalar was trying not to smile. But he said tightly, “The one everyone says is beneath the gallery.”

“First I’ve heard of it,” Hunt said with a shrug.

“Fuck off, Athalar.” Ruhn’s jaw ached from clenching it so hard. Bryce said, “Look, I get that you want in on our little cool kids’ club,

but there’s a strict membership-vetting process.” Yeah, Athalar was trying really hard not to smile.

Ruhn growled, “I want to look at the books there. See if anything about the Horn jumps out.” She paused at the tone in his voice, the bit of dominance Ruhn threw into it. He wasn’t above pulling rank. Not where this was concerned.

Though Athalar was glaring daggers at him, Ruhn said to his sister, “I’ve been through the Fae Archives twice, and …” He shook his head. “I just kept thinking about the gallery. So maybe there’s something there.”

“I searched it,” she said. “There’s nothing about the Horn beyond vague mentions.”

Ruhn gave her a half smile. “So you admit there’s a library.” Bryce frowned at him. He knew that contemplative look. “What.”

Bryce flipped her hair over a dirty, torn shoulder. “I’ll make a bargain with you: you can come hunt for the Horn at the gallery, and I’ll help in whatever way I can. If—” Athalar whipped his head to her, the outrage on his face almost delightful. Bryce went on, nodding to the phone in Ruhn’s hand, “If you put Declan at my disposal.”

“I’ll have to tell him about this case, then. And what he knows, Flynn will learn two seconds later.”

“Fine. Go ahead and fill them in. But tell Dec I need intel about Danika’s last movements.”

“I don’t know where he can get that,” Ruhn admitted.

“The Den would have it,” Hunt said, eyeing Bryce with something like admiration. “Tell Emmet to hack the Den archives.”

So Ruhn nodded. “Fine. I’ll ask him later.”

Bryce gave him that smile that didn’t meet her eyes. “Then come by the gallery tomorrow.”

Ruhn had to give himself a moment to master his shock at how easy it had been to get access. Then he said, “Be careful out there.”

If she and Athalar were right and it was some Keres rebels acting on Briggs’s request or in his honor … the political mess would be a nightmare. And if he hadn’t been wrong about that actually being an image of the Horn, if this bombing and the acolyte’s murder were targeted warnings to them regarding their search for it … then the threat to all of them had just become a Hel of a lot deadlier.

Bryce said sweetly before continuing on, “Tell your daddy we say hello—and that he can go fuck himself.”

Ruhn gritted his teeth again, earning another grin from Athalar.

Winged asshole.

The two of them strode through the door, and Ruhn’s phone rang a heartbeat after that.

“Yeah,” he said.

Ruhn could have sworn he could hear his father tense before the male drawled, “Is that how you speak to your king?”

Ruhn didn’t bother replying. His father said, “Since you couldn’t stop yourself from revealing my business, I wish to make one thing clear regarding the Horn.” Ruhn braced himself. “I don’t want the angels getting it.”

“Fine.” If Ruhn had anything to say about it, no one would get the Horn. It would go straight back to the temple, with a permanent Fae guard.

“Keep an eye on that girl.” “Both eyes.”

“I mean it, boy.”

“So do I.” He let his father hear the growl of sincerity in his voice.

His father went on, “You, as Crown Prince, revealed the secrets of your king to the girl and Athalar. I have every right to punish you for this, you know.”

Go ahead, he wanted to say. Go ahead and do it. Do me a favor and take my title while you’re at it. The royal bloodline ends with me anyway. Ruhn had puked after hearing it the first time when he was thirteen, sent to the Oracle for a glimpse of his future, like all Fae. The ritual had once been to foretell marriages and alliances. Today, it was more to get a feel for a child’s career and whether they’d amount to anything. For

Ruhn—and for Bryce, years later—it had been a disaster.

Ruhn had begged the Oracle to tell him whether she meant he’d die before he could sire a child, or if she meant he was infertile. She only

repeated her words. The royal bloodline shall end with you, Prince.

He’d been too much of a coward to tell his king what he’d learned. So he’d fed his father a lie, unable to bear the male’s disappointment and rage. The Oracle said I would be a fair and just king.

His father had been disappointed, but only that the fake prophecy hadn’t been mightier.

So, yeah. If his father wanted to strip him of his title, he’d be doing him a favor. Or even unwittingly fulfilling that prophecy at last.

Ruhn had truly worried about its meaning once—the day he’d learned he had a little sister. He’d thought it might foretell an untimely death for her. But his fears had been assuaged by the fact that she was not and would never be formally recognized as part of the royal bloodline. To his relief, she’d never questioned why, in those early years when they were still close, Ruhn hadn’t lobbied their father to publicly accept her.

The Autumn King continued, “Unfortunately, the punishment you deserve would render you unable to look for the Horn.”

Ruhn’s shadows drifted around him. “I’ll take a rain check, then.” His father snarled, but Ruhn hung up.

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