It took Viktoria two days to find anything unusual on the city cameras and the power grid. But when she did, she didn’t call Hunt. No, she sent a messenger.
“Vik told me to get your ass to her office—the one at the lab,” Isaiah said by way of greeting as he landed on the roof of the gallery.
Leaning against the doorway that led downstairs, Hunt sized up his commander. Isaiah’s usual glow had dimmed, and shadows lay beneath his eyes. “It’s that bad with Sandriel there?”
Isaiah folded in his wings. Tightly. “Micah’s keeping her in check, but I was up all night dealing with petrified people.”
“Soldiers, staff, employees, nearby residents … She’s rattled them.” Isaiah shook his head. “She’s keeping the timing of Pollux’s arrival quiet, too, to put us all on edge. She knows what kind of fear he drags up.”
“Maybe we’ll get lucky and that piece of shit will stay in Pangera.” “We’re never that lucky, are we?”
“No. We’re not.” Hunt let out a bitter laugh. “The Summit’s still a month away.” A month of enduring Sandriel’s presence. “I … If you need anything from me, let me know.”
Isaiah blinked, surveying Hunt from head to boot tip. It shouldn’t have shamed him, that surprise on the commander’s face at his offer. Isaiah’s gaze shifted to the tiled roof beneath their matching boots, as if contemplating what or who might be responsible for his turn toward the altruistic. But Isaiah just asked, “Do you think Roga really turns her exes and enemies into animals?”
Having observed the creatures in the small tanks throughout the library, Hunt could only say, “I hope not.” Especially for the sake of the assistant who had been pretending she wasn’t falling asleep at her desk when he’d called to check in twenty minutes ago.
Since Declan had dropped the bomb about Sabine, she’d been broody. Hunt had advised her to be cautious about going after the future Prime, and she’d seemed inclined to wait for Viktoria to find any hint of the demon’s patterns—any proof that Sabine was indeed using the power of the ley lines to summon it, since her own power levels weren’t strong enough. Most shifters’ powers weren’t, though Danika had been an exception. Another reason for her mother’s jealousy—and motive.
They’d heard nothing from Ruhn, only a message yesterday about doing more research on the Horn. But if Vik had found something … Hunt asked, “Vik can’t come here with the news?”
“She wanted to show you in person. And I doubt Jesiba will be pleased if Vik comes here.”
“Considerate of you.”
Isaiah shrugged. “Jesiba is assisting us—we need her resources. It’d be stupid to push her limits. I have no interest in seeing any of you turned into pigs if we step on her toes too much.”
And there it was. The meaningful, too-long glance.
Hunt held up his hands with a grin. “No need to worry on my front.” “Micah will come down on you like a hammer if you jeopardize
“Bryce already told Micah she wasn’t interested.”
“He won’t forget that anytime soon.” Fuck, Hunt certainly knew that. The kill Micah had ordered last week as punishment for Hunt and Bryce embarrassing him in the Comitium lobby … It had lingered. “But I don’t mean that. I meant if we don’t find out who’s behind this, if it turns out you’re wrong about Sabine—not only will your reduced sentence be off the table, but Micah will find you responsible.”
“Of course he will.” Hunt’s phone buzzed, and he pulled it from his pocket.
He choked. Not just at the message from Bryce: The gallery roof isn’t a pigeon roost, you know, but what she’d changed her contact name to, presumably when he’d gone to the bathroom or showered or just left his phone on the coffee table: Bryce Rocks My Socks.
And there, beneath the ridiculous name, she’d added a photo to her contact: the one she’d snapped of herself in the phone store, grinning from ear to ear.
Hunt suppressed a growl of irritation and typed back, Shouldn’t you be working?
Bryce Rocks My Socks wrote back a second later, How can I work when you two are thumping around up there?
He wrote back, How’d you get my password? She hadn’t needed it to activate the camera feature, but to have gotten into his contacts, she would have needed the seven-digit combination.
I paid attention. She added a second later, And might have observed you typing it in a few times while you were watching some dumb sunball game.
Hunt rolled his eyes and pocketed his phone without replying. Well, at least she was coming out of that quiet cloud she’d been in for days.
He found Isaiah watching him carefully. “There are worse fates than death, you know.”
Hunt looked toward the Comitium, the female Archangel lurking in it. “I know.”
Bryce frowned out the gallery door. “The forecast didn’t call for rain.” She scowled at the sky. “Someone must be throwing a tantrum.”
“It’s illegal to interfere with the weather,” Hunt recited from beside her, thumbing a message into his phone. He hadn’t changed the new contact name she’d given herself, Bryce had noticed. Or erased that absurd photo she’d added to her contact listing.
She silently mimicked his words, then said, “I don’t have an umbrella.”
“It’s not a far flight to the lab.” “It’d be easier to call a car.”
“At this hour? In the rain?” He sent off his message and pocketed his phone. “It’ll take you an hour just to cross Central Avenue.”
The rain swept through the city in sheets. “I could get electrocuted up there.”
Hunt’s eyes glittered as he offered her a hand. “Good thing I can keep you safe.”
With all that lightning in his veins, she supposed it was true.
Bryce sighed and frowned at her dress, the black suede heels that would surely be ruined. “I’m not in flying-appropriate attire—”
The word ended on a yelp as Hunt hauled her into the sky.
She clung to him, hissing like a cat. “We have to go back before closing for Syrinx.”
Hunt soared over the congested, rain-battered streets as Vanir and humans ducked into doorways and under awnings to escape the weather. The only ones on the streets were those with umbrellas or magical shields up. Bryce buried her face against his chest, as if it’d shield her from the rain—and the terrible drop. What it amounted to was a face full of his scent and the warmth of his body against her cheek.
“Slow down,” she ordered, fingers digging into his shoulders and neck.
“Don’t be a baby,” he crooned in her ear, the richness of his voice skittering over every bone of her body. “Look around, Quinlan. Enjoy the view.” He added, “I like the city in the rain.”
When she kept her head ducked against his chest, he gave her a squeeze. “Come on,” he teased over the honking horns and splash of tires through puddles. He added, voice nearly a purr, “I’ll buy you a milkshake if you do.”
Her toes curled in her shoes at the low, coaxing voice.
“Only for ice cream,” she muttered, earning a chuckle from him, and cracked open an eye. She forced the other one open, too. Clutching his shoulders nearly hard enough to pierce through to his skin, working against every instinct that screamed for her body to lock up, she squinted through the water lashing her face at the passing city.
In the rain, the marble buildings gleamed like they were made from moonstone, the gray cobblestone streets appeared polished a silvery blue splashed with the gold of the firstlight lamps. To her right, the Gates in the Old Square, Moonwood, and FiRo rose through the sprawl, like the humped spine of some twining beast breaking the surface of a lake, their crystal gleaming like melting ice. From this high, the avenues that linked them all—the ley lines beneath them—shot like spears through the city.
The wind rattled the palms, tossing the fronds to and fro, their hissing almost drowning out the cranky honking of drivers now in a traffic standstill. The whole city, in fact, seemed to have stopped for a moment—except for them, swiftly passing above it all.
“Not so bad, huh?”
She pinched Athalar’s neck, and his answering laugh brushed over her ear. She might have pressed her body a little harder against the solid wall of his. He might have tightened his grip, too. Just a bit.
In silence, they watched the buildings shift from ancient stone and brick to sleek metal and glass. The cars turned fancier, too—worn taxis exchanged for black sedans with tinted windows, uniformed drivers idling in the front seats while they waited in lines outside the towering
high-rises. Fewer people occupied the much-cleaner streets—certainly there was no music or restaurants overflowing with food and drink and laughter. This was a sanitized, orderly pocket of the city, where the point was not to look around, but to look up. High in the rain-veiled gloom that wreathed the upper portions of the buildings, lights and shimmering whorls of color stained the mists. A splotch of red gleamed to her left, and she didn’t need to look to know it came from Redner Industries’ headquarters. She hadn’t seen or heard from Reid in the two years since Danika’s murder—he’d never even sent his condolences afterward. Even though Danika herself had worked part-time at the company. Prick.
Hunt steered for a solid concrete building that Bryce had tried to block from her memory, landing smoothly on a second-story balcony. Hunt was opening the glass doors, flashing some sort of entry ID into a scanner, when he said to her, “Viktoria’s a wraith.”
She almost said I know, but only nodded, following him inside. She and Hunt had barely spoken about that night. About what she remembered.
The air-conditioning was on full blast, and she instantly wrapped her arms around herself, teeth chattering at the shock of going from the storm into crisp cold.
“Walk fast” was the only help Hunt offered, wiping the rain off his face.
A cramped elevator ride and two hallways later, Bryce found herself shivering in the doorway of a spacious office overlooking a small park.
Watching as Hunt and Viktoria clasped hands over the wraith’s curved glass desk.
Hunt gestured to her, “Bryce Quinlan, this is Viktoria Vargos.” Viktoria, to her credit, pretended to be meeting her for the first time.
So much of that night was a blur. But Bryce remembered the sanitized room. Remembered Viktoria playing that recording.
At least Bryce could now appreciate the beauty before her: the dark hair and pale skin and stunning green eyes were all Pangeran heritage, speaking of vineyards and carved marble palaces. But the grace with which Viktoria moved … Viktoria must have been old as Hel to have that sort of fluid beauty. To be able to steer her body so smoothly.
A halo had been tattooed on her brow as well. Bryce hid her surprise
—her memory had failed to provide that detail. She knew the sprites had fought in the angels’ rebellion, but hadn’t realized any other non-malakim had marched under Shahar’s Daystar banner.
Warmth glowed in Viktoria’s eyes as she purred, “Pleasure.”
Somehow, Athalar only looked better soaked with rain, his shirt clinging to every hard, sculpted muscle. Bryce was all too aware, as she extended a hand, of how her hair now lay flat on her head thanks to the rain, of the makeup that had probably smeared down her face.
Viktoria took Bryce’s hand, her grip firm but friendly, and smiled.
Hunt grumbled, “She does that flirty smile with everyone, so don’t bother being flattered.”
Bryce settled into one of the twin black leather seats on the other side of the desk, batting her eyelashes at Hunt. “Does she do it for you, too?”
Viktoria barked a laugh, the sound rich and lovely. “You earned that one, Athalar.”
Hunt scowled, dropping into another chair—one with the back cut low, Bryce realized, to accommodate anyone with wings.
“Isaiah said you found something,” Hunt said, crossing an ankle over a knee.
“Yes, though not quite what you requested.” Viktoria came around the desk and handed a file to Bryce. Hunt leaned in to peer over her shoulder. His wing brushed against the back of Bryce’s head, but he didn’t remove it.
Bryce squinted at the grainy photo, the sole clawed foot in the lower right corner. “Is that—”
“Spotted in Moonwood just last night. I was tracking temperature fluctuations around the main avenues like you said, and noticed a dip— just for two seconds.”
“A summoning,” Hunt said.
“Yes,” Viktoria said. “The camera only got this tiny image of the foot
—it mostly stayed out of sight. But it was just off a main avenue, like you suspected. We have a few more grainy captures from other locations last night, but those show it even less—a talon, rather than this entire foot.”
The photo was blurry, but there it was—those shredding claws she’d never forget.
It was an effort not to touch her leg. To remember the clear teeth that had ripped into it.
Both of them looked to her. Waiting. Bryce managed to say, “That’s a kristallos demon.”
Hunt’s wing spread a little farther around her, but he said nothing.
“I couldn’t find temperature fluctuations from the night of every murder,” Vik said, face turning grim. “But I did find one from when
Maximus Tertian died. Ten minutes and two blocks away from him. No video footage, but it was the same seventy-seven-degree dip, made in the span of two seconds.”
“Did it attack anyone last night?” Bryce’s voice had turned a bit distant—even to her ears.
“No,” Viktoria said. “Not as far as we know.”
Hunt kept studying the image. “Did the kristallos go anywhere specific?”
Viktoria handed over another document. It was a map of Moonwood, full of sprawling parks and riverfront walkways, palatial villas and complexes for Vanir and a few wealthy humans, peppered with the best schools and many of the fanciest restaurants in town. In its heart: the Den. About six red dots surrounded it. The creature had crawled around its towering walls. Right in the heart of Sabine’s territory.
“Burning Solas,” Bryce breathed, a chill slithering along her spine. “It would have found a way inside the Den’s walls if what it hunts
was there,” Hunt mused quietly. “Maybe it was just following an old scent.”
Bryce traced a finger between the various dots. “No bigger pattern, though?”
“I ran it through the system and nothing came up beyond what you two figured out about the proximity to the ley lines beneath those roads and the temperature dips.” Viktoria sighed. “It seems like it was looking for something. Or someone.”
Blood and bone and gore, sprayed and shredded and in chunks— Glass ripping into her feet; fangs ripping into her skin—
A warm, strong hand gently gripped her thigh. Squeezed once.
But when Bryce looked over at Hunt, his attention was upon Viktoria
—even as his hand remained upon her bare leg, his wing still slightly curved around her. “How’d you lose track of it?”
“It was simply there one moment, and gone the next.”
Hunt’s thumb stroked her leg, just above her knee. An idle, reassuring touch.
One that was far too distracting as Viktoria leaned forward to tap another spot on the map, her green eyes lifting from it only to note Hunt’s hand as well. Wariness flooded her stare, but she said, “This was its last known location, at least as far as what our cameras could find.” The Rose Gate in FiRo. Nowhere near Sabine’s territory. “As I said, one moment it was there, then it was gone. I’ve had two different units and one Auxiliary pack hunting for it all day, but no luck.”
Hunt’s hand slid from her leg, leaving a cold spot in its wake. A glance at his face and she saw the cause: Viktoria now held his gaze, her own full of warning.
Bryce tapped her dusky nails on the chrome arm of the chair. Well, at least she knew what they were doing after dinner tonight.