Chapter no 5

House of Earth and Blood

Going on a date with Connor in a few days didn’t mean she had to behave.

So within the inner sanctum of the White Raven, Bryce savored every delight it offered.

Fury knew the owner, Riso, either through work or whatever the Hel she did in her personal life, and as such, they never had to wait in line. The flamboyant butterfly shifter always left a booth open for them.

None of the smiling, colorfully dressed waiters who brought over their drinks so much as blinked at the lines of glittering white powder Fury arranged with a sweep of her hand or the plumes of smoke that rippled from Bryce’s parted lips as she tipped her head back to the domed, mirrored ceiling and laughed.

Juniper had a studio class at dawn, so she abstained from the powder and smoke and booze. But it didn’t stop her from sneaking away for a good twenty minutes with a broad-chested Fae male who took in the dark brown skin, the exquisite face and curling black hair, the long legs that ended in delicate hooves, and practically begged on his knees for the faun to touch him.

Bryce reduced herself into the pulsing beat of the music, to the euphoria glittering through her blood faster than an angel diving out of the sky, to the sweat sliding down her body as she writhed on the ancient dance floor. She would barely be able to walk tomorrow, would have half a brain, but holy shit—more, more, more.

Laughing, she swooped over the low-lying table in their private booth between two half-crumbling pillars; laughing, she arched away, a red nail releasing its hold on one nostril as she sagged against the dark

leather bench; laughing, she knocked back water and elderberry wine and stumbled again into the dancing throng.

Life was good. Life was fucking good, and she couldn’t gods-damn wait to make the Drop with Danika and do this until the earth crumbled into dust.

She found Juniper dancing amid a pack of sylph females celebrating a friend’s successful Drop. Their silvery heads were adorned with circlets of neon glow sticks chock-full of their friend’s designated allotment of her own firstlight, which she’d generated when she successfully completed the Drop. Juniper had managed to swipe a glow-stick halo for herself, and her hair shone with blue light as she extended her hands to Bryce, their fingers linking as they danced.

Bryce’s blood pulsed in time to the music, as if she had been crafted just for this: the moment when she became the notes and rhythm and the bass, when she became song given form. Juniper’s glittering eyes told Bryce that she understood, had always understood the particular freedom and joy and unleashing that came from dancing. Like their bodies were so full of sound they could barely contain it, could barely stand it, and only dance could express it, ease it, honor it.

Males and females gathered to watch, their lust coating Bryce’s skin like sweat. Juniper’s every movement matched hers without so much as a lick of hesitation, as if they were question and answer, sun and moon.

Quiet, pretty Juniper Andromeda—the exhibitionist. Even dancing in the sacred, ancient heart of the Raven, she was sweet and mild, but she shone.

Or maybe that was all the lightseeker Bryce had ingested up her nose.

Her hair clung to her sweaty neck, her feet were utterly numb thanks to the steep angle of her heels, her throat was ravaged from screaming along to the songs that blasted through the club.

She managed to shoot a few messages to Danika—and one video, because she could barely read any of what was coming in anyway.

She’d be so royally fucked if she showed up at work tomorrow unable to read.

Time slowed and bled. Here, dancing among the pillars and upon the timeworn stones of the temple that had been reborn, no time existed at all.

Maybe she’d live here.

Quit her job at the gallery and live in the club. They could hire her to dance in one of the steel cages dangling from the glass ceiling high

above the temple ruins that made up the dance floor. They certainly wouldn’t spew bullshit about a wrong body type. No, they’d pay her to do what she loved, what made her come alive like nothing else.

It seemed like a reasonable enough plan, Bryce thought as she stumbled down her own street later with no recollection of leaving the Raven, saying goodbye to her friends, or of how the Hel she’d even gotten here. Taxi? She’d blown all her marks on the drugs. Unless someone had paid …

Whatever. She’d think about it tomorrow. If she could even sleep. She wanted to stay awake, to dance for-gods-damn-ever. Only … oh, her feet fucking hurt. And they were near-black and sticky

Bryce paused outside her building door and groaned as she unstrapped her heels and gathered them in a hand. A code. Her building had a code to get in.

Bryce contemplated the keypad as if it’d open a pair of eyes and tell her. Some buildings did that.

Shit. Shiiit. She pulled out her phone, the glaring screen light burning her eyes. Squinting, she could make out a few dozen message alerts. They blurred, her eyes trying and failing to focus enough to read one single coherent letter. Even if she somehow managed to call Danika, her friend would rip her head off.

The screech of the building buzzer would piss off Danika even more.

Bryce cringed, hopping from foot to foot.

What was the code? The code, the code, the cooooode … Oh, there it was. Tucked into a back pocket of her mind.

She cheerfully punched in the numbers, then heard the buzz as the lock opened with a faint, tinny sound.

She scowled at the reek of the stairwell. That gods-damned janitor. She’d kick his ass. Impale him with these useless, cheap stilettos that had wrecked her feet—

Bryce set a bare foot on the stairs and winced. This was going to hurt. Walking-on-glass hurt.

She let her heels clunk to the tile floor, whispering a fervent promise to find them tomorrow, and gripped the black-painted metal banister with both hands. Maybe she could straddle the banister and scoot herself up the stairs.

Gods, it stunk. What did the people in this building eat? Or, for that matter, who did they eat? Hopefully not wasted, stupid-high, half-Fae females who couldn’t manage to walk up the stairs.

If Fury had laced the lightseeker with something else, she’d fucking

kill her.

Snorting at the idea of even attempting to kill the infamous Fury Axtar, Bryce hauled herself up the stairs, step by step.

She debated sleeping on the second-level landing, but the stench was overwhelming.

Maybe she’d get lucky and Connor would still be at the apartment.

And then she’d really get lucky.

Gods, she wanted good sex. No-holds-barred, scream-your-lungs-out sex. Break-the-bed sex. She knew Connor would be like that. More than that. It’d go far beyond the physical with him. It might honestly melt whatever was left of her mind after tonight.

It was why she’d been a coward, why she’d avoided thinking about it from the moment he’d leaned in her doorway five years ago, having come to say hi to Danika and meet her new roommate, and they’d just … stared at each other.

Having Connor living four doors down freshman year had been the worst sort of temptation. But Danika had given the order to stay away until Bryce approached him, and even though they hadn’t yet formed the Pack of Devils, Connor obeyed. It seemed Danika had lifted the order tonight.

Lovely, wicked Danika. Bryce smiled as she half crawled onto the third-floor landing, found her balance, and dug her keys out of her purse

—which she’d managed to hold on to by some miracle. She took a few swaying steps down the hall they shared with one other apartment.

Oh, Danika was going to be so pissed. So pissed that Bryce had not only had fun without her, but that she’d gotten so wasted she couldn’t remember how to read. Or the code to the building.

The flickering firstlight stung her eyes enough that she again squinted them to near-darkness and staggered down the hall. She should shower, if she could remember how to operate the handles. Wash off her filthy, numb feet.

Especially after she stepped in a cold puddle beneath some dripping ceiling pipe. She shuddered, bracing a hand on the wall, but kept staggering ahead.

Fuck. Too many drugs. Even her Fae blood couldn’t clear them out fast enough.

But there was her door. Keys. Right—she had them in her hand already.

There were six. Which one was hers? One opened the gallery; one opened the various tanks and cages in the archives; one opened Syrinx’s crate; one was to the chain on her scooter; one was to her scooter … and one was to the door. This door.

The brass keys tinkled and swayed, shining in the firstlights, then blending with the painted metal of the hall. They slipped out of her slackening fingers, clanking on the tile.

“Fuuuuuuck.” The word was a long exhale.

Bracing a hand on the doorframe to keep from falling clean on her ass, Bryce stooped to pick up the keys.

Something cool and wet met her fingertips.

Bryce closed her eyes, willing the world to stop spinning. When she opened them, she focused on the tile before the door.

Red. And the smell—it wasn’t the reek of before. It was blood.

And the apartment door was already open.

The lock had been mangled, the handle wrenched off completely.

Iron—the door was iron, and enchanted with the best spells money could buy to keep out any unwanted guests, attackers, or magic. Those spells were the one thing Bryce had ever allowed Danika to purchase on her behalf. She hadn’t wanted to know how much they’d cost, not when it was likely double her parents’ annual salary.

But the door now looked like a crumpled piece of paper.

Blinking furiously, Bryce straightened. Fuck the drugs in her system

—fuck Fury. She’d promised no hallucinations.

Bryce was never drinking or polluting her body with those drugs

ever again. She’d tell Danika first thing tomorrow. No more. No. More.

She rubbed her eyes, mascara smearing on her fingertips. On her blood-soaked fingertips—

The blood remained. The mangled door, too.

“Danika?” she croaked. If the attacker was still inside …“Danika?”

That bloody hand—her own hand—pushed the half-crumpled door open farther.

Blackness greeted her.

The coppery tang of blood, and that festering odor, slammed into her.

Her entire body seized, every muscle going on alert, every instinct screaming to run, run, run

But her Fae eyes adjusted to the dark, revealing the apartment. What was left of it.

What was left of them.

Help—she needed to get help, but—

She staggered into the trashed apartment. “Danika?” The word was a raw, broken sound.

The wolves had fought. There wasn’t a piece of furniture that was intact, that wasn’t shredded and splintered.

There wasn’t a body intact, either. Piles and clumps were all that remained.


She needed to call someone, needed to scream for help, needed to get Fury, or her brother, her father, needed Sabine—

Bryce’s bedroom door was destroyed, the threshold painted in blood.

The ballet posters hung in ribbons. And on the bed …

She knew in her bones it was not a hallucination, what lay on that bed, knew in her bones that what bled out inside her chest was her heart.

Danika lay there. In pieces.

And at the foot of the bed, littering the torn carpet in even smaller pieces, as if he’d gone down defending Danika … she knew that was Connor.

Knew the heap just to the right of the bed, closest to Danika … That was Thorne.

Bryce stared. And stared.

Perhaps time stopped. Perhaps she was dead. She couldn’t feel her body.

A clanging, echoing thunk sounded from outside. Not from the apartment, but the hall.

She moved. The apartment warped, shrinking and expanding as if it were breathing, the floors rising with each inhale, but she managed to move.

The small kitchen table lay in fragments. Her blood-slick, shaking fingers wrapped around one of its wooden legs, silently lifting it over her shoulder. She peered into the hall.

It took a few blinks to clear her contracting vision. The gods-damned drugs—

The trash chute hatch lay open. Blood that smelled of wolf coated the rusty metal door, and prints that did not belong to a human stained the tile floor, aiming toward the stairs.

It was real. She blinked, over and over, swaying against the door— Real. Which meant—

From far away, she saw herself launch into the hallway.

Saw herself slam into the opposite wall and rebound off it, then scramble into a sprint toward the stairwell.

Whatever had killed them must have heard her coming and hidden inside the trash chute, waiting for the chance to leap out at her or slink away unnoticed—

Bryce hit the stairs, a glowing white haze creeping over her vision. It blazed through every inhibition, disregarded every warning bell.

The glass door at the bottom of the stairs was already shattered.

People screamed outside.

Bryce leapt from the top of the landing.

Her knees popped and buckled as she cleared the stairs, her bare feet shredding on the glass littering the lobby floor. Then they ripped open more as she hurtled through the door and into the street, scanning—

People were gasping to the right. Others were screaming. Cars had halted, drivers and passengers all staring toward a narrow alley between the building and its neighbor.

Their faces blurred and stretched, twisting their horror into something grotesque, something strange and primordial and—

This was no hallucination.

Bryce sprinted across the street, following the screams, the reek— Her breath tore apart her lungs as she hurtled along the alley,

dodging piles of trash. Whatever she was chasing had gotten only a brief head start.

Where was it, where was it?

Every logical thought was a ribbon floating above her head. She read them, as if following a stock ticker mounted on a building’s side in the CBD.

One glimpse, even if she couldn’t kill it. One glimpse, just to ID it, for Danika—

Bryce cleared the alley, careening onto bustling Central Avenue, the street full of fleeing people and honking cars. She leapt over their hoods, scaling them one after another, every movement as smooth as one of her dance steps. Leap, twirl, arch—her body did not fail her. Not as she followed the creature’s rotting stench to another alley. Another and another.

They were almost at the Istros. A snarl and roar rent the air ahead. It had come from another connected alley, more of a dead-end alcove between two brick buildings.

She hefted the table leg, wishing she’d grabbed Danika’s sword instead, wondering if Danika had even had time to unsheathe it—

No. The sword was in the gallery, where Danika had ignored Jesiba’s warning and left it in the supply closet. Bryce launched herself around the alley’s corner.

Blood everywhere. Everywhere.

And the thing halfway down the alley … not Vanir. Not one she’d encountered before.

A demon? Some feral thing with smooth, near-translucent gray skin. It crawled on four long, spindly limbs, but looked vaguely humanoid. And it was feasting on someone else.

On—on a malakh.

Blood covered the angel’s face, soaking his hair and veiling the swollen, battered features beneath. His white wings were splayed and snapped, his powerful body arced in agony as the beast ripped at his chest with a maw of clear, crystalline fangs that easily dug through skin and bone—

She did not think, did not feel.

She moved, fast like Randall had taught her, brutal like he’d made her learn to be.

She slammed the table leg into the creature’s head so hard that bone and wood cracked.

It was thrown off the angel and whirled, its back legs twisting beneath it while its front legs—arms—gouged lines in the cobblestones.

The creature had no eyes. Only smooth planes of bone above deep slits—its nose.

And the blood that leaked from its temple … it was clear, not red.

Bryce panted, the malakh male groaning some wordless plea as the creature sniffed at her.

She blinked and blinked, willing the lightseeker and mirthroot out of her system, willing the image ahead to stop blurring—

The creature lunged. Not for her—but the angel. Right back to the chest and heart it was trying to get to. The more considerable prey.

Bryce launched forward, table leg swinging again. The reverberations against bone bit into her palm. The creature roared, blindly surging at her.

She dodged, but its sharp, clear fangs ripped her thigh clean open as she twisted away.

She screamed, losing her balance, and swung upward as it leapt again, this time for her throat.

Wood smashed those clear teeth. The demon shrieked, so loudly that her Fae ears nearly ruptured, and she dared all of one blink—

Claws scraped, hissing sounded, and then it was gone.

It was just clearing the lip of the brick building the malakh lay slumped against. She could track it from the streets, could keep it in sight long enough for the Aux or 33rd to come—

Bryce had dared one step when the angel groaned again. His hand was against his chest, pushing weakly. Not hard enough to stop the death-bite from gushing blood. Even with his fast healing, even if he’d made the Drop, the injuries were substantial enough to be fatal.

Someone screamed in a nearby street as the creature jumped between buildings.

Go, go, go.

The angel’s face was so battered it was barely more than a slab of swollen flesh.

The table leg clattered into a puddle of the angel’s blood as she dove for him, biting down her scream at the burning gash in her thigh. Someone had poured acid onto her skin, her bones.

Unbearable, impenetrable darkness swept through her, blanketing everything within.

But she shoved her hand against the angel’s wound, not allowing herself to feel the wet, torn flesh, the jagged bone of his cleaved sternum. The creature had been eating its way into his heart—

“Phone,” she panted. “Do you have a phone?”

The angel’s white wing was so shredded it was mostly red splinters. But it shifted slightly to reveal the pocket of his black jeans. The square lump in them.

How she managed to pull out the phone with one hand was beyond her. Time was still snagging, speeding and stopping. Pain lanced through her leg with every breath.

But she gripped the sleek black device in her wrecked hands, her red nails almost snapping with the force as she punched in the emergency number.

A male voice answered on the first ring. “Crescent City Rescue—” “Help.” Her voice broke. “Help.”

A pause. “Miss, I need you to specify where you are, what the situation is.”

“Old Square. River—off the river, near Cygnet Street …” But that was where she lived. She was blocks away from that. Didn’t know the cross streets. “Please—please help.”

The angel’s blood soaked her lap. Her knees were bleeding, scraped raw.

And Danika was And Danika was And Danika was

“Miss, I need you to tell me where you are—we can have wolves on the scene in a minute.”

She sobbed then, and the angel’s limp fingers brushed against her torn knee. As if in comfort.

“Phone,” she managed, interrupting the responder. “His phone— track it, track us. Find us.”

“Miss, are you—”

“Track this phone number.”

“Miss, I need a moment to—”

She pulled up the main screen of the phone, clicking through pages in a haze until she found the number herself. “ 12 03 0577.”

“Miss, the records are—”

“ 12 03 0577!” she screamed into the phone. Over and over. “ 12 03 0577!”

It was all she could remember. That stupid number.

“Miss—holy gods.” The line crackled. “They’re coming,” the responder breathed.

He tried to inquire about the injuries on the male, but she dropped the angel’s phone as the drugs pulled her back, yanked her down, and she swayed. The alley warped and rippled.

The angel’s gaze met hers, so full of agony she thought it was what her soul must look like.

His blood poured out between her fingers. It did not stop.

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