Chapter no 29

House of Earth and Blood

Micah Domitus might have been an asshole, but at least he gave his triarii the weekend off—or its equivalent if a particular duty required them to work through it.

Jesiba Roga, no surprise, didn’t seem to believe in weekends. And since Quinlan was expected at work, Hunt had decided they’d hit the barracks at the Comitium during lunch, while most people were distracted.

The thick veils of morning mist hadn’t burned off by the time Hunt trailed Bryce on her way to work. No new updates had been delivered to him on the bombing, and there was no mention of further attacks that matched the kristallos’s usual methods.

But Hunt still kept his focus sharp, assessing every person who passed the redhead below. Most people spotted Syrinx, prancing at the end of his leash, and gave her a healthy berth. Chimeras were volatile pets—prone to small magics and biting. No matter that Syrinx seemed more interested in whatever food he could swindle out of people.

Bryce wore a little black dress today, her makeup more subdued, heavier on the eyes, lighter on the lipstick … Armor, he realized as she and Syrinx wound through other commuters and tourists, dodging cars already honking with impatience at the usual Old Square traffic. The clothes, the hair, the makeup—they were like the leather and steel and guns he donned every morning.

Except he didn’t wear lingerie beneath it.

For whatever reason, he found himself dropping onto the cobblestones behind her. She didn’t so much as flinch, her sky-high black heels unfaltering. Impressive as Hel, for her to walk on the ancient streets without snapping an ankle. Syrinx huffed his greeting and kept

trotting, proud as an imperial parade horse. “Your boss ever give you a day off?”

She sipped from the coffee she balanced in her free hand. She drank a surely illegal amount of the stuff throughout the day. Starting with no less than three cups before they’d left the apartment. “I get Sundays off,” she said. Palm fronds hissed in the chill breeze above them. The tan skin of her legs pebbled with the cold. “Many of our clients are busy enough that they can’t come in during the workweek. Saturday is their day of leisure.”

“Do you get holidays off at least?”

“The store is closed on the major ones.” She idly jangled the tri-knot amulet around her neck.

An Archesian charm like that had to cost … Burning Solas, it had to cost a fuck-ton. Hunt thought about the heavy iron door to the archives. Perhaps it hadn’t been put there to keep thieves out … but to keep things in.

He had a feeling she wouldn’t tell him any details about why the art required her to wear such an amulet, so he instead asked, “What’s the deal with you and your cousin?” Who would be arriving at the gallery at some point this morning.

Bryce gently pulled on Syrinx’s leash when he lunged for a squirrel scampering up a palm tree. “Ruhn and I were close for a few years when I was a teenager, and then we had a big fight. I stopped speaking to him after that. And things have been … well, you see how things are now.”

“What’d you fight about?”

The morning mist swirled past as she fell quiet, as if debating what to reveal. She said, “It started off as a fight about his father. What a piece of shit the Autumn King is, and how Ruhn was wrapped around his finger. It devolved into a screaming match about each other’s flaws. I walked out when Ruhn said that I was flirting with his friends like a shameless hussy and to stay away from them.”

Ruhn had said far worse than that, Hunt recalled. At Luna’s Temple, he’d heard Bryce refer to him calling her a half-breed slut. “I’ve always known Danaan was an asshole, but even for him, that’s low.”

“It was,” she admitted softly, “But … honestly, I think he was being protective of me. That’s what the argument was about, really. He was acting like every other domineering Fae asshole out there. And just like my father.”

Hunt asked, “You ever have contact with him?” There were a few dozen Fae nobles that might be monstrous enough to have prompted

Ember Quinlan to bail all those years ago.

“Only when I can’t avoid it. I think I hate him more than anyone else in Midgard. Except for Sabine.” She sighed skyward, watching angels and witches zoom past above the buildings around them. “Who’s number one on your shit list?”

Hunt waited until they’d passed a reptilian-looking Vanir typing on their phone before he replied, mindful of every camera mounted on the buildings or hidden in trees or garbage cans. “Sandriel.”

“Ah.” Only Sandriel’s first name was necessary for anyone on Midgard. “From what I’ve seen on TV, she seems …” Bryce grimaced.

“Whatever you’ve seen is the pleasant version. The reality is ten times worse. She’s a sadistic monster.” To say the least. He added, “I was forced to … work for her for more than half a century. Until Micah.” He couldn’t say the word—owned. He’d never let Sandriel have that kind of power over him. “She and the commander of her triarii, Pollux, take cruelty and punishment to new levels.” He clenched his jaw, shaking off the blood-soaked memories. “They’re not stories to tell on a busy street.” Or at all.

But she eyed him. “You ever want to talk about it, Athalar, I’m here.”

She said it casually, but he could read the sincerity in her face. He nodded. “Likewise.”

They passed the Old Square Gate, tourists already queued to take photos or touch the disk on the dial pad, gleefully handing over a drop of their power as they did so. None seemed aware of the body that had been found a few blocks away. In the drifting mist, the quartz Gate was almost ethereal, like it had been carved from ancient ice. Not one rainbow graced the buildings around it—not in the fog.

Syrinx sniffed at a trash can overflowing with food waste from the stands around the square. “You ever touch the disk and make a wish?” Bryce asked.

He shook his head. “I thought it was something only kids and tourists did.”

“It is. But it’s fun.” She tossed her hair over a shoulder, smiling to herself. “I made a wish here when I was thirteen—when I visited the city for the first time. Ruhn took me.”

Hunt lifted a brow. “What’d you wish for?” “For my boobs to get bigger.”

A laugh burst out of him, chasing away any lingering shadows that talk of Sandriel dragged up. But Hunt avoided looking at Bryce’s chest

as he said, “Seems your wish paid off, Quinlan.” Understatement. Big, fucking, lace-covered understatement.

She chuckled. “Crescent City: Where dreams come true.”

Hunt elbowed her ribs, unable to stop himself from making physical contact.

She batted him away. “What would you wish for, if you knew it’d come true?”

For his mother to be alive and safe and happy. For Sandriel and Micah and all the Archangels and Asteri to be dead. For his bargain with Micah to be over and the halo and slave tattoos removed. For the rigid hierarchies of the malakim to come crashing down.

But he couldn’t say any of that. Wasn’t ready to say those things aloud to her.

So Hunt said, “Since I’m perfectly happy with the size of my assets, I’d wish for you to stop being such a pain in my ass.”

“Jerk.” But Bryce grinned, and damn if the morning sun didn’t finally make an appearance at the sight of it.

The library beneath Griffin Antiquities would have made even the Autumn King jealous.

Ruhn Danaan sat at the giant worktable in its heart, still needing a moment to take in the space—and the fire sprite who’d batted her eyelashes and asked if all his piercings had hurt.

Bryce and Athalar sat on the other side of the table, the former typing at a laptop, the latter leafing through a pile of old tomes. Lehabah lay on what seemed to be a doll’s fainting couch, a digital tablet propped up before her, watching one of the more popular Vanir dramas.

“So,” Bryce said without glancing up from the computer, “are you going to look around or sit there and gawk?”

Athalar snickered, but said nothing, his finger tracing over a line of text.

Ruhn glared at him. “What are you doing?”

“Researching the kristallos,” Hunt said, his dark eyes lifting from the book. “I’ve killed about a dozen Type-Six demons over the centuries, and I want to see if there are any similarities.”

“Is the kristallos a Type-Six?” Ruhn asked.

“I’m assuming it is,” Hunt replied, studying the book again. “Type-Seven is only for the princes themselves, and given what this thing can do, I’d bet it’d be deemed a Six.” He drummed his fingers on the ancient page. “I haven’t seen any similarities, though.”

Bryce hummed. “Maybe you’re looking in the wrong spot. Maybe

…” She angled her laptop toward Athalar, fingers flying. “We’re looking for info on something that hasn’t entered this world in fifteen thousand years. The fact that no one could ID it suggests it might not have made it into many of the history books, and only a handful of those books survived this long. But …” More typing, and Ruhn craned his neck to see the database she pulled up. “Where are we right now?” she asked Athalar.

“A library.”

“An antiquities gallery, dumbass.” A page loaded, full of images of ancient vases and amphorae, mosaics, and statues. She’d typed demon + Fae into the search bar. Bryce slid the laptop to Hunt. “Maybe we can find the kristallos in ancient art.”

Hunt grumbled, but Ruhn noted the impressed gleam in his eyes before he began scanning through the pages of results.

“I’ve never met a prince before,” Lehabah sighed from the couch. “They’re overrated,” Ruhn said over a shoulder.

Athalar grunted his agreement.

“What is it like,” the sprite asked, propping her fiery head on a burning fist, “to be the Chosen One?”

“Boring,” Ruhn admitted. “Beyond the sword and some party tricks, there’s not much to it.”

“Can I see the Starsword?”

“I left it at home. I didn’t feel like having to deal with tourists stopping me on every block, wanting to take pictures.”

“Poor little prince,” Bryce cooed.

Hunt grunted his agreement again, and Ruhn bit out, “You got something to say, Athalar?”

The angel’s eyes lifted from the laptop. “She said it all.”

Ruhn snarled, but Bryce asked, surveying them, “What’s the deal with you two?”

“Oh, do tell,” Lehabah pleaded, pausing her show to perk up on the couch.

Hunt went back to perusing the results. “We beat the shit out of each other at a party. Danaan’s still sore about it.”

Bryce’s grin was the definition of shit-eating. “Why’d you fight?” Ruhn snapped, “Because he’s an arrogant asshole.”

“Likewise,” Hunt said, mouth curling in a half smile.

Bryce threw Lehabah a knowing look. “Boys and their pissing contests.”

Lehabah made a prim little sound. “Not nearly as advanced as us ladies.”

Ruhn rolled his eyes, surprised to find Athalar doing the same.

Bryce gestured to the endless shelves that filled the library. “Well, cousin,” she said, “have at it. Let your Starborn powers guide you to enlightenment.”

“Funny,” he said, but began walking toward the shelves, scanning the titles. He paused at the various tanks and terrariums built into the bookcases, the small animals within wholly uninterested in his presence. He didn’t dare ask if the rumors about them were true, especially not when Lehabah called over from her couch, “The tortoise is named Marlene.”

Ruhn gave his sister an alarmed look, but Bryce was doing something on her phone.

Music began playing a moment later, trickling in from speakers hidden in the wood panels. Ruhn listened to the first strains of the song

—just a guitar and two soaring, haunting female voices. “You’re still into this band?” As a kid, she’d been obsessed with the sister folk duo.

“Josie and Laurel keep making good music, so I keep listening.” She swiped at her phone.

Ruhn continued his idle browsing. “You always had really good taste.” He tossed it out there—a rope into the stormy sea that was their relationship.

She didn’t look up, but she said a shade quietly, “Thanks.” Athalar, wisely, didn’t say a word.

Ruhn scanned the shelves, waiting to feel a tug toward anything beyond the sister who’d spoken more to him in the past few days than she had in nine years. The titles were in the common language, the Old Language of the Fae, the mer, and a few other alphabets he didn’t recognize. “This collection is amazing.”

Ruhn reached for a blue tome whose spine glittered with gold foil.

Words of the Gods.

“Don’t touch it,” Lehabah warned. “It might bite.”

Ruhn snatched back his hand as the book stirred, rumbling on the shelf. His shadows murmured inside him, readying to strike. He willed them to settle. “Why does the book move?”

“Because they’re special—” Lehabah began.

“Enough, Lele,” Bryce warned. “Ruhn, don’t touch anything without permission.”

“From you or the book?”

“Both,” she said. As if in answer, a book high up on the shelf rustled. Ruhn craned his head to look, and saw a green tome … shining. Beckoning. His shadows murmured, as if in urging. All right, then.

It was a matter of moments to drag over the brass ladder and scale it. Bryce said, seemingly to the library itself, “Don’t bother him,” before Ruhn pulled the book from its resting place. He rolled his eyes at the title. Great Romances of the Fae.

Starborn power indeed. Tucking the book into the crook of his arm, he descended the ladder and returned to the table.

Bryce choked on a laugh at the title. “You sure that Starborn power isn’t for finding smut?” She called to Lehabah, “This one’s right up your alley.”

Lehabah burned to a raspberry pink. “BB, you’re horrible.” Athalar winked at him. “Enjoy.”

“I will,” Ruhn shot back, flipping open the book. His phone buzzed before he could begin. He fished it from his back pocket and glanced at the screen. “Dec’s got the intel you wanted.”

Bryce and Athalar went still. Ruhn opened the email, then his fingers hovered over the forwarding screen. “I, uh … is your email still the same?” he asked her. “And I don’t have yours, Athalar.”

Hunt rattled his off, but Bryce frowned at Ruhn for a long moment, as if weighing whether she wanted to open yet another door into her life. She then sighed and answered, “Yes, it’s the same.”

“Sent,” Ruhn said, and opened up the attachment Declan had emailed over.

It was full of coordinates and their correlating locations. Danika’s daily routine as Alpha of the Pack of Devils had her moving throughout the Old Square and beyond. Not to mention her healthy social life after sundown. The list covered everything from the apartment, the Den, the City Head office at the Comitium, a tattoo parlor, a burger joint, too many pizza places to count, bars, a concert venue, the CCU sunball arena, hair salons, the gym … Fuck, had she ever gotten any sleep? The list dated back two weeks prior to her death. From the silence around the table, he knew Bryce and Hunt were also skimming over the locations. Then—

Surprise lit Hunt’s dark eyes as he looked to her. Bryce murmured, “Danika wasn’t merely on duty near Luna’s Temple around that time— this says Danika was stationed at the temple for the two days before the Horn was stolen. And during the night of the blackout.”

Hunt asked, “You think she saw whoever took it and they killed her to cover it up?”

Could it be that easy? Ruhn prayed it was.

Bryce shook her head. “If Danika saw the Horn being stolen, she would have reported it.” She sighed again. “Danika wasn’t usually stationed at the temple, but Sabine often switched her schedule around for spite. Maybe Danika had some of the Horn’s scent on her from being on duty and the demon tracked her down.”

“Go through it again,” Ruhn urged. “Maybe there’s something you’re missing.”

Bryce’s mouth twisted to the side, the portrait of skepticism, but Hunt said, “Better than nothing.” Bryce held the angel’s stare for longer than most people deemed wise.

Nothing good could come of it—Bryce and Athalar working together. Living together.

But Ruhn kept his mouth shut, and began reading.

“Any good sex scenes yet?” Bryce asked Ruhn idly, going over Danika’s location data for the third time. The first few of those locations, she’d realized, had been to Philip Briggs’s bomb lab just outside the city walls. Including the night of the bust itself.

She still remembered Danika and Connor limping into the apartment that night, after making the bust on Briggs and his Keres group two years ago. Danika had been fine, but Connor had sported a split lip and black eye that screamed some shit had gone down. They never told her what, and she hadn’t asked. She’d just made Connor sit at that piece-of-shit kitchen table and let her clean him up.

He’d kept his eyes fixed on her face, her mouth, the entire time she’d gently dabbed his lip. She’d known then and there that it was coming— that Connor was done waiting. That five years of friendship, of dancing around each other, was now going to change, and he’d make his move soon. It didn’t matter that she’d been dating Reid. Connor had let her take care of him, his eyes near-glowing, and she’d known it was time.

When Ruhn didn’t immediately respond to her taunting, Bryce looked up from the laptop. Her brother had kept reading—and didn’t seem to hear her. “Ruhn.”

Hunt halted his own searching through the gallery database. “Danaan.”

Ruhn snapped his head up, blinking. Bryce asked, “You found something?”

“Yes and no,” Ruhn said, sitting back in his chair. “This is just a three-page account of Prince Pelias and his bride, Lady Helena. But I didn’t realize that Pelias was actually the high general for a Fae Queen named Theia when they entered this world during the Crossing—and Helena was her daughter. From what it sounds like, Queen Theia was also Starborn, and her daughter possessed the same power. Theia had a younger daughter with the same gift, but only Lady Helena gets mentioned.” Ruhn cleared his throat and read, “Night-haired Helena, from whose golden skin poured starlight and shadows. It seems like Pelias was one of several Fae back then with the Starborn power.”

Bryce blinked. “So? What does it have to do with the Horn?”

“It mentions here that the sacred objects were made only for Fae like them. That the Horn worked only when that starlight flowed through it, when it was filled with power. This claims that the Starborn magic, in addition to a bunch of other crap, can be channeled through the sacred objects—bringing them to life. I sure as fuck have never been able to do anything like that, even with the Starsword. But it says that’s why the Prince of the Pit had to steal Pelias’s blood to make the kristallos to hunt the Horn—it contained that essence. I think the Horn could have been wielded by any of them, though.”

Hunt said, “But if the Prince of the Pit had gotten his hands on the Horn, he wouldn’t be able to use it unless he had a Starborn Fae to operate it.” He nodded to Ruhn. “Even if whoever wants the Horn now finds it, they’d have to use you.”

Ruhn considered. “But let’s not forget that whoever is summoning the demon to track the Horn—and kill these people—doesn’t have the Horn. Someone else stole it. So we’re essentially looking for two different people: the killer and whoever has the Horn.”

“Well, the Horn is broken anyway,” Bryce said.

Ruhn tapped the book. “Permanently broken, apparently. It says here that once it was cracked, the Fae claimed it could only be repaired by light that is not light; magic that is not magic. Basically a convoluted way of saying there’s no chance in Hel of it ever working again.”

Hunt said, “So we need to find out why someone would want it, then.” He frowned at Ruhn. “Your father wants it for what—some Fae PR campaign about the good old days of Faedom?”

Ruhn snorted, and Bryce smiled slightly. With lines like that, Athalar was in danger of becoming one of her favorite people. Ruhn said, “Basically, yeah. The Fae have been declining, according to him, for the past several thousand years. He claims our ancestors could burn entire

forests to ash with half a thought—while he can probably torch a grove, and not much more.” Ruhn’s jaw tightened. “It drives him nuts that my Chosen One powers are barely more than a kernel.”

Bryce knew her own lack of power had been part of her father’s disgust with her.

Proof of the Fae’s failing influence.

She felt Hunt’s eyes on her, as if he could sense the bitterness that rippled through her. She half lied to him, “My own father never had a lick of interest in me for the same reason.”

“Especially after your visit to the Oracle,” Ruhn said.

Hunt’s brows rose, but Bryce shook her head at him, scowling. “It’s a long story.”

Hunt again looked at her in that considering, all-seeing way. So Bryce peered over at Ruhn’s tome, skimmed a few lines, and then looked back up at Ruhn. “This whole section is about your fancy Avallen cousins. Shadow-walking, mind-reading … I’m surprised they don’t claim they’re Starborn.”

“They wish they were,” Ruhn muttered. “They’re a bunch of pricks.” She had a vague memory of Ruhn telling her the details about why,

exactly, he felt that way, but asked, “No mind-reading for you?”

“It’s mind-speaking,” he grumbled, “and it has nothing to do with the Starborn stuff. Or this case.”

Hunt, apparently, seemed to agree, because he cut in, “What if we asked the Oracle about the Horn? Maybe she could see why someone would want a broken relic.”

Bryce and Ruhn straightened. But she said, “We’d be better off going to the mystics.”

Hunt cringed. “The mystics are some dark, fucked-up shit. We’ll try the Oracle first.”

“Well, I’m not going,” Bryce said quickly.

Hunt’s eyes darkened. “Because of what happened at your visit?” “Right,” she said tightly.

Ruhn cut in and said to Hunt, “You go, then.”

Hunt snickered. “You have a bad experience, too, Danaan?”

Bryce found herself carefully watching her brother. Ruhn had never mentioned the Oracle to her. But he just shrugged and said, “Yeah.”

Hunt threw up his hands. “Fine, assholes. I’ll go. I’ve never been. It always seemed too gimmicky.”

It wasn’t. Bryce blocked out the image of the golden sphinx who’d sat before the hole in the floor of her dim, black chamber—how that

human woman’s face had monitored her every breath. “You’ll need an appointment,” she managed to say.

Silence fell. A buzzing interrupted it, and Hunt sighed as he pulled out his phone. “I gotta take this,” he said, and didn’t wait for them to reply before striding up the stairs out of the library. A moment later, the front door to the gallery shut.

With Lehabah still watching her show behind them, Ruhn quietly said to Bryce, “Your power levels never mattered to me, Bryce. You know that, right?”

She went back to looking through Danika’s data. “Yeah. I know.” She lifted an eyebrow. “What’s your deal with the Oracle?”

His face shuttered. “Nothing. She told me everything the Autumn King wanted to hear.”

“What—you’re upset that it wasn’t something as disastrous as mine?”

Ruhn rose from his seat, piercings glittering in the firstlights. “Look, I’ve got an Aux meeting this afternoon that I need to prep for, but I’ll see you later.”


Ruhn paused, as if debating saying something else, but continued toward the stairs and out.

“Your cousin is dreamy,” Lehabah sighed from her couch. “I thought Athalar was your one true love,” Bryce said. “Can’t they both be?”

“Considering how terrible they are at sharing, I don’t think it’ll end well for any of you.”

Her email pinged on the laptop. Since her phone was in shards in the rubble of the Raven, Hunt had emailed, Saw your cousin leave. We’re heading to the Comitium in five minutes.

She wrote back, Don’t give me orders, Athalar. Four minutes, sweetheart.

I told you: don’t call me sweetheart. Three minutes.

Growling, she stood from the table, rubbing her leg. Her heels were already killing her, and knowing Athalar, he’d make her walk the entire Comitium complex. Her dress would look ridiculous with a different set of shoes, but fortunately, she kept a change of clothes in the bottom drawer of the library desk, mostly in case of a rainy day that threatened to ruin whatever she was wearing.

Lehabah said, “It’s nice—to have company down here.”

Something in Bryce’s chest wrenched, but she said, “I’ll be back later.”

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