Chapter no 33

House of Earth and Blood

The Oracle’s black chamber reeked of sulfur and roasted meat—the former from the natural gases rising from the hole in the center of the space, the latter from the pile of bull bones currently smoldering atop the altar against the far wall, an offering to Ogenas, Keeper of Mysteries.

After last night, what he’d done, a sacred temple was the last place he wanted to be. The last place he deserved to be.

The twenty-foot doors shut behind Hunt as he strode across the silent chamber, aiming for the hole in the center and wall of smoke behind it. His eyes burned with the various acrid scents, and he summoned a wind to keep them out of his face.

Behind the smoke, a figure moved. “I wondered when the Shadow of Death would darken my chamber,” a lovely voice said. Young, full of light and amusement—and yet tinged with ancient cruelty.

Hunt halted at the edge of the hole, avoiding the urge to peer into the endless blackness. “I won’t take much of your time,” he said, his voice swallowed by the room, the pit, the smoke.

“I shall give you what time Ogenas offers.” The smoke parted, and he sucked in a breath at the being that emerged.

Sphinxes were rare—only a few dozen walked the earth, and all of them had been called to the service of the gods. No one knew how old they were, and this one before him … She was so beautiful he forgot what to do with his body. The golden lioness’s form moved with fluid grace, pacing the other side of the hole, weaving in and out of the mist. Golden wings lay folded against the slender body, shimmering as if they were crafted from molten metal. And above that winged lion’s body … the golden-haired woman’s face was as flawless as Shahar’s had been.

No one knew her name. She was simply her title: Oracle. He wondered if she was so old that she’d forgotten her true name.

The sphinx blinked large brown eyes at him, lashes brushing against her light brown cheeks. “Ask me your question, and I shall tell you what the smoke whispers to me.” The words rumbled over his bones, luring him in. Not in the way he sometimes let himself be lured in by beautiful females, but in the manner that a spider might lure a fly to its web.

Maybe Quinlan and her cousin had a point about not wanting to come here. Hel, Quinlan had refused to even set foot in the park surrounding the black-stoned temple, opting to wait on a bench at its edge with Ruhn.

“What I say here is confidential, right?” he asked.

“Once the gods speak, I become the conduit through which their words pass.” She arranged herself on the floor before the hole, folding her front paws, claws glinting in the dim light of the braziers smoldering to either side of them. “But yes—this shall be confidential.”

It sounded like a whole bunch of bullshit, but he blew out a breath, meeting those large brown eyes, and said, “Why does someone want Luna’s Horn?”

He didn’t ask who had taken it—he knew from the reports that she had already been asked that question two years ago and had refused to answer.

She blinked, wings rustling as if in surprise, but settled herself. Breathed in the fumes rising from the hole. Minutes passed, and Hunt’s head began to throb with the various scents—especially the reeking sulfur.

Smoke swirled, masking the sphinx from sight even though she sat only ten feet away.

Hunt forced himself to keep still.

A rasping voice slithered out of the smoke. “To open the doorway between worlds.” A chill seized Hunt. “They wish to use the Horn to reopen the Northern Rift. The Horn’s purpose wasn’t merely to close doors—it opens them, too. It depends on what the bearer wishes.”

“But the Horn is broken.” “It can be healed.”

Hunt’s heart stalled. “How?”

A long, long pause. Then, “It is veiled. I cannot see. None can see.” “The Fae legends say it can’t be repaired.”

“Those are legends. This is truth. The Horn can be repaired.” “Who wants to do this?” He had to ask, even if it was foolish.

“This, too, is veiled.” “Helpful.”

“Be grateful, Lord of Lightning, that you learned anything at all.” That voice—that title … His mouth went dry. “Do you wish to know what I see in your future, Orion Athalar?”

He recoiled at the sound of his birth name like he’d been punched in the gut. “No one has spoken that name in two hundred years,” he whispered.

“The name your mother gave you.”

“Yes,” he ground out, his gut twisting at the memory of his mother’s face, the love that had always shone in her eyes for him. Utterly undeserved, that love—especially when he had not been there to protect her.

The Oracle whispered, “Shall I tell you what I see, Orion?” “I’m not sure I want to know.”

The smoke peeled back enough for him to see her sensuous lips part in a cruel smile that did not wholly belong in this world. “People come from across Midgard to plead for my visions, yet you do not wish to know?”

The hair on the back of his neck stood. “I thank you, but no.” Thanks seemed wise—like something that might appease a god.

Her teeth shone, her canines long enough to shred flesh. “Did Bryce Quinlan tell you what occurred when she stood in this chamber twelve years ago?”

His blood turned to ice. “That’s Quinlan’s business.”

That smile didn’t falter. “You do not wish to know what I saw for her, either?”

“No.” He spoke from his heart. “It’s her business,” he repeated. His lightning rose within him, rallying against a foe he could not slay.

The Oracle blinked, a slow bob of those thick lashes. “You remind me of that which was lost long ago,” she said quietly. “I had not realized it might ever appear again.”

Before Hunt dared ask what that meant, her lion’s tail—a larger version of Syrinx’s—swayed over the floor. The doors behind him opened on a phantom wind, his dismissal clear. But the Oracle said before stalking into the vapors, “Do yourself a favor, Orion Athalar: keep well away from Bryce Quinlan.”

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