Chapter no 50

House of Earth and Blood

Hunt didn’t realize just how badly Sabine’s bombshell had hit Bryce until the next morning. She didn’t run. Nearly didn’t get up in time for work.

She drank a cup of coffee but refused the eggs he made. Barely said three words to him.

He knew she wasn’t mad at him. Knew that she was just … processing.

Whether that processing also had to do with what they’d done on the roof, he didn’t dare ask. It wasn’t the time. Even though he’d had to take a cold, cold shower afterward. And take matters into his own hands. It was to Bryce’s face, the memory of her scent and that breathy moan she’d made as she arched against him, that he’d come, hard enough he’d seen stars.

But it was the least of his concerns, this thing between them.

Whatever it was.

Mercifully, nothing had leaked to the press about the attack in the park.

Bryce barely spoke after work. He’d made her dinner and she’d poked at it, then gone to sleep before nine. There sure as fuck were no more hugs that led to nuzzling.

The next day was the same. And the next.

He was willing to give her space. The gods knew he’d sometimes needed it. Every time he killed for Micah he needed it.

He knew better than to suggest Sabine could be lying, since there was no easier person to accuse than a dead one. Sabine was a monster, but Hunt had never known her to be a liar.

The investigation was full of dead ends, and Danika had died—for what? For an ancient artifact that didn’t work. That hadn’t worked in fifteen thousand years and never would again.

Had Danika herself wanted to repair and use the Horn? Though why, he had no idea.

He knew those thoughts weighed on Bryce. For five fucking days, she barely ate. Just went to work, slept, and went to work again.

Every morning he made her breakfast. Every morning she ignored the plate he laid out.

Micah called only once, to ask if they’d gotten proof on Sabine. Hunt had merely said, “It was a dead end,” and the Governor had hung up, his rage at the unsolved case palpable.

That had been two days ago. Hunt was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“I thought hunting for ancient, deadly weapons would be exciting,” Lehabah groused from where she sat on her little divan, half watching truly inane daytime television.

“Me too,” Bryce muttered.

Hunt looked up from the evidence report he’d been skimming and was about to answer when the front doorbell rang. Ruhn’s face appeared on the camera feed, and Bryce let out a long, long sigh before silently buzzing him in.

Hunt rotated his stiff shoulder. His arm still throbbed a bit, an echo of the lethal venom that had ripped his magic right from his body.

The prince’s black boots appeared on the green carpeted steps seconds later, apparently taking a hint about their location thanks to the open library door. Lehabah was instantly zooming across the space, sparks in her wake, as she beamed and said, “Your Highness!

Ruhn offered her a half smile, his eyes going right to Quinlan. They missed none of the quiet, brooding exhaustion. Or the tone in Bryce’s voice as she said, “To what do we owe this pleasure?”

Ruhn slid into a seat across from them at the book-strewn table. The Starsword sheathed down his back didn’t reflect the lights in the library. “I wanted to check in. Anything new?”

Neither of them had told him about Sabine. And apparently Declan hadn’t, either.

“No,” Bryce said. “Anything about the Horn?” Ruhn ignored her question. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing.” Her spine stiffened.

Ruhn looked ready to get into it with his cousin, so Hunt did both of them—and himself, if he was being honest—a favor and said, “We’ve been waiting on a Many Waters contact to get back to us about a possible pattern with the demon attacks. Have you come across any information about the kristallos negating magic?” Days later, he couldn’t stop thinking about it—how it’d felt for his power to just sputter and die in his veins.

“No. I still haven’t found anything about the creation of the kristallos except that it was made from the blood of the first Starborn Prince and the essence of the Star-Eater himself. Nothing about it negating magic.” Ruhn nodded at him. “You’ve never come across a demon that can do that?”

“Not one. Witch spells and gorsian stones negate magic, but this was different.” He’d dealt with both. Before they’d bound him using the witch-ink on his brow, they’d shackled him with manacles hewn from the gorsian stones of the Dolos Mountains, a rare metal whose properties numbed one’s access to magic. They were used on high-profile enemies of the empire—the Hind herself was particularly fond of using them as she and her interrogators broke the Vanir among the rebel spies and leaders. But for years now, rumors had swirled in the 33rd’s barracks that rebels were experimenting with ways to render the metal into a spray that could be unleashed upon Vanir warriors on the battlefields.

Ruhn motioned to the ancient book he’d left on the table days ago, still open to a passage about the Starborn Fae. “If the Star-Eater himself put his essence in the kristallos, that’s probably what gave the demon the ability to eat magic. Just as Prince Pelias’s blood gave it the ability to look for the Horn.”

Bryce frowned. “So that Chosen One sense of yours hasn’t detected a trace of the Horn?”

Ruhn tugged at the silver ring through his bottom lip. “No. But I got a message this morning from a medwitch I met the other day—the one who stitched up Hunt in the night garden. It’s a shot in the dark, but she mentioned that there’s a relatively new drug on the market that’s just starting to come into use. It’s a synthetic healing magic.” Hunt and Bryce straightened. “It can have some wicked side effects if not carefully controlled. She didn’t have access to its exact formula or the trials, but she said research showed it capable of healing at rates nearly double that of firstlight.”

Bryce said, “You think something like that could repair the Horn?”

“It’s a possibility. It’d fit with that stupid riddle about light that’s not light, magic that’s not magic repairing the Horn. That’s kind of what a synthetic compound like that is.”

Her eyes flickered. “And it’s … readily available?”

“It entered the market at some point in the past few years, apparently. No one has tested it on inanimate objects, but who knows? If real magic couldn’t heal it, maybe a synthetic compound could.”

“I’ve never heard of synthetic magic,” Hunt said. “Neither have I,” Ruhn admitted.

“So we have a potential way to repair the Horn,” Bryce mused, “but not the Horn itself.” She sighed. “And we still don’t know if Danika stole the Horn on a lark or for some actual purpose.”

Ruhn started. “Danika did what?”

Bryce winced, then filled the prince in on all they’d learned. When she finished, Ruhn leaned back in his chair, shock written on every line of his face.

Hunt said into the silence, “Regardless of whether Danika stole the Horn for fun or to do something with it, the fact remains that she stole it.”

Ruhn asked carefully, “Do you think she wanted it for herself? To repair it and use it?”

“No,” Bryce said quietly. “No, Danika might have kept things from me, but I knew her heart. She never would have sought a weapon as dangerous as the Horn—something that could jeopardize the world like that.” She ran her hands over her face. “Her killer is still out there. Danika must have taken the Horn to keep them from getting it. They killed her for it, but they must not have found it, if they’re still using the kristallos to search for it.” She waved a hand at Ruhn’s sword. “That thing can’t help you find it? I still think luring the killer with the Horn is probably the most surefire way to find them.”

Ruhn shook his head. “The sword doesn’t work like that. Aside from being picky about who draws it, the sword has no power without the knife.”

“The knife?” Hunt asked.

Ruhn drew the sword, the metal whining, and laid it on the table between them. Bryce leaned back, away from it, as a bead of starlight sang down the fuller and sparkled at the tip.

“Fancy,” Hunt said, earning a glare from Ruhn, who had raised a brow at Bryce, no doubt expecting some kind of reverence from her at a

sword that was older than this city, older than the Vanir’s first step in Midgard.

“The sword was part of a pair,” Ruhn said to him. “A long-bladed knife was forged from the iridium mined from the same meteorite, which fell on our old world.” The world the Fae had left to travel through the Northern Rift and into Midgard. “But we lost the knife eons ago. Even the Fae Archives have no record of how it might have been lost, but it seems to have been sometime during the First Wars.”

“It’s another of the Fae’s countless inane prophecies,” Bryce muttered. “When knife and sword are reunited, so shall our people be.

“It’s literally carved above the Fae Archives entrance—whatever the fuck it means,” Ruhn said. Bryce gave a small smile at that.

Hunt grinned. Her little smile was like seeing the sun after days of rain.

Bryce pretended not to notice his grin, but Ruhn gave him a sharp look.

Like he knew every filthy thing Hunt had thought about Bryce, everything he’d done to pleasure himself while imagining it was her mouth around him, her hands, her soft body.

Shit—he was in such deep, unrelenting shit.

Ruhn only snorted, as if he knew that, too, and sheathed the sword again.

“I’d like to see the Fae Archives,” Lehabah sighed. “Think of all that ancient history, all those glorious objects.”

“Kept locked away, only for their pure-blooded heirs to see,” Bryce finished with a pointed glance at Ruhn.

Ruhn held up his hands. “I’ve tried to get them to change the rules,” he said. “No luck.”

“They let in visitors on the major holidays,” Lehabah said.

“Only from an approved list,” Bryce said. “And fire sprites are not

on it.”

Lehabah rolled over onto her side, propping her head up with a fiery hand. “They would let me in. I am a descendent of Queen Ranthia Drahl.”

“Yeah, and I’m the seventh Asteri,” Bryce said dryly.

Hunt was careful not to react at the tone. The first bit of spark he’d seen in days.

“I am,” Lehabah insisted, turning to Ruhn. “She was my six-times-great-grandmother, dethroned in the Elemental Wars. Our family was cast from favor—”

“The story changes every time,” Bryce told Hunt, whose lips twitched.

“It does not,” Lehabah whined. Ruhn was smiling now, too. “We stood a chance at earning back our title, but my great-great-grandmother was booted from the Eternal City for—”


“Yes, booted. For a completely false accusation of trying to steal the royal consort from the impostor queen. She’d be thrashing in her ashes if she knew what had become of her last scion. Little more than a bird in a cage.”

Bryce sipped from her water. “This is the point, boys, where she solicits you for cash to purchase her freedom.”

Lehabah turned crimson. “That is not true.” She pointed her finger at Bryce. “My great-grandmother fought with Hunt against the angels— and that was the end of my entire people’s freedom.”

The words cracked through Hunt. All of them looked at him now. “I’m sorry.” He had no other words in his head.

“Oh, Athie,” Lehabah said, zooming over to him and turning rose pink. “I didn’t mean to …” She cupped her cheeks in her hands. “I do not blame you.”

“I led everyone into battle. I don’t see how there’s anyone else to blame for what happened to your people because of it.” His words sounded as hollow as they felt.

“But Shahar led you,” Danaan said, his blue eyes missing nothing.

Hunt bristled at the sound of her name on the prince’s lips. But he found himself looking to Quinlan, to torture himself with the damning agreement he’d find on her face.

Only sorrow lay there. And something like understanding. Like she saw him, as he’d seen her in that shooting gallery, marked every broken shard and didn’t mind the jagged bits. Under the table, the toe of her high heel brushed against his boot. A little confirmation that yes—she saw his guilt, the pain, and she wouldn’t shy from it. His chest tightened.

Lehabah cleared her throat and asked Ruhn, “Have you ever visited the Fae Archives on Avallen? I heard they’re grander than what was brought over here.” She twirled her curl of flame around a finger.

“No,” Ruhn said. “But the Fae on that misty island are even less welcoming than the ones here.”

“They do like to hoard all their wealth, don’t they,” Lehabah said, eyeing Bryce. “Just like you, BB. Only spending on yourself, and never anything nice for me.”

Bryce removed her foot. “Do I not buy you strawberry shisha every other week?”

Lehabah crossed her arms. “That’s barely a gift.”

“Says the sprite who hotboxes herself in that little glass dome and burns it all night and tells me not to bother her until she’s done.” She leaned back in her chair, smug as a cat, and Hunt nearly grinned again at the spark in her eyes.

Bryce grabbed his phone from the table and snapped a photo of him before he could object. Then one of Lehabah. And another of Syrinx.

If Ruhn noticed she didn’t bother with a photo of him, he said nothing. Though Hunt could have sworn the shadows in the room deepened.

“All I want, BB,” Lehabah said, “is a little appreciation.” “Gods spare me,” Bryce muttered. Even Ruhn smiled at that.

The prince’s phone rang, and he picked up before Hunt could see who it was. “Flynn.”

Hunt heard Flynn’s voice faintly. “You’re needed at the barracks. Some bullshit fight broke out about somebody’s girlfriend sleeping with someone else and I honestly don’t give two fucks about it, but they bloodied each other up pretty damn good.”

Ruhn sighed. “I’ll be there in fifteen,” he said, and hung up. Hunt asked, “You really have to moderate petty fights like that?” Ruhn ran a hand down the hilt of the Starsword. “Why not?” “You’re a prince.”

“I don’t understand why you make that sound like an insult,” Ruhn growled.

Hunt said, “Why not do … bigger shit?”

Bryce answered for him. “Because his daddy is scared of him.”

Ruhn shot her a warning look. “He outranks me power-wise and


“And yet he made sure to get you under his thumb as early as possible—as if you were some sort of animal to be tamed.” She said the words mildly, but Ruhn tensed.

“It was going well,” Ruhn said tightly, “until you came along.” Hunt braced himself for the brewing storm.

Bryce said, “He was alive the last time a Starborn Prince appeared, you know. You ever ask what happened to him? Why he died before he made the Drop?”

Ruhn paled. “Don’t be stupid. That was an accident during his Ordeal.”

Hunt kept his face neutral, but Bryce just leaned back in her chair. “If you say so.”

“You still believe this shit you tried to sell me as a kid?”

She crossed her arms. “I wanted your eyes open to what he really is before it was too late for you, too.”

Ruhn blinked, but straightened, shaking his head as he rose from the table. “Trust me, Bryce, I’ve known for a while what he is. I had to fucking live with him.” Ruhn nodded toward the messy table. “If I hear anything new about the Horn or this synthetic healing magic, I’ll let you know.” He met Hunt’s stare and added, “Be careful.”

Hunt gave him a half smile that told the prince he knew exactly what that be careful was about. And didn’t give a shit.

Two minutes after Ruhn left, the front door buzzed again.

“What does he fucking want now?” Bryce muttered, grabbing the tablet Lehabah had been using to watch her trash TV and pulling up the video feed for the front cameras.

A squeal escaped her. An otter in a reflective yellow vest stood on its hind legs, a little paw on the lower buzzer she’d had Jesiba install for shorter patrons. Out of the hope that one day, somehow, she’d find a fuzzy, whiskery messenger standing on the doorstep.

Bryce bolted from her chair a second later, her heels eating up the carpet as she ran upstairs.

The message the otter bore from Tharion was short and sweet.

I think you’ll find this of interest. Kisses, Tharion

“Kisses?” Hunt asked.

“They’re for you, obviously,” Bryce said, still smiling about the otter. She’d handed him a silver mark, for which she’d earned a twitch of the whiskers and a little fanged grin.

Easily the highlight of her day. Week. Year. Honestly, her entire life.

At the desk in the showroom, Bryce removed Tharion’s letter from the top of the pile, while Hunt began to leaf through some of the pages beneath.

The blood rushed from her face at a photograph in Hunt’s hand. “Is that a body?”

Hunt grunted. “It’s what’s left of one after Tharion pried it from a sobek’s lair.”

Bryce couldn’t stop the shudder down her spine. Clocking in at more than twenty-five feet and nearly three thousand pounds of scale-covered

muscle, sobeks were among the worst of the apex predators who prowled the river. Mean, strong, and with teeth that could snap you in two, a full-grown male sobek could make most Vanir back away. “He’s insane.”

Hunt chuckled. “Oh, he most certainly is.”

Bryce frowned at the gruesome photo, then read through Tharion’s notes. “He says the bite marks on the torso aren’t consistent with sobek teeth. This person was already dead when they were dumped into the Istros. The sobek must have seen an easy meal and hauled it down to its lair to eat later.” She swallowed the dryness in her mouth and again looked at the body. A dryad female. Her chest cavity had been ripped open, heart and internal organs removed, and bite marks peppered—

“These wounds look like the ones you got from the kristallos. And the mer’s lab figured this body was probably five days old, judging by the level of decay.”

“The night we were attacked.”

Bryce studied the analysis. “There was clear venom in the wounds. Tharion says he could feel it inside the corpse even before the mer did tests on it.” Most of those in the House of Many Waters could sense what flowed in someone’s body—illnesses and weaknesses and, apparently, venom. “But when they tested it …” She blew out a breath. “It negated magic.” It had to be the kristallos. Bryce cringed, reading on, “He looked into records of all unidentified bodies the mer found in the past couple years. They found two with identical wounds and this clear venom right around the time of …” She swallowed. “Around when Danika and the pack died. A dryad and a fox shifter male. Both reported missing. This month, they’ve found five with these marks and the venom. All reported missing, but a few weeks after the fact.”

“So they’re people who might not have had many close friends or family,” Hunt said.

“Maybe.” Bryce again studied the photograph. Made herself look at the wounds. Silence fell, interrupted only by the distant sounds of Lehabah’s show downstairs.

She said quietly, “That’s not the creature that killed Danika.”

Hunt ran a hand through his hair. “There might have been multiple kristallos—”

“No,” she insisted, setting down the papers. “The kristallos isn’t what killed Danika.”

Hunt’s brow furrowed. “You were on the scene, though. You saw it.” “I saw it in the hall, not in the apartment. Danika, the pack, and the other three recent victims were in piles.” She could barely stand to say it,

to think about it again.

These past five days had been … not easy. Putting one foot in front of the other had been the only thing to get her through it after the disaster with Sabine. After the bomb she’d dropped about Danika. And if they’d been looking for the wrong fucking thing all this time …

Bryce held up the photo. “These wounds aren’t the same. The kristallos wanted to get at your heart, your organs. Not turn you into a—a heap. Danika, the Pack of Devils, Tertian, the acolyte and temple guard

none of them had wounds like this. And none had this venom in their system.” Hunt just blinked at her. Bryce’s voice cracked. “What if something else came through? What if the kristallos was summoned to look for the Horn, but something worse was also there that night? If you had the power to summon the kristallos, why not summon multiple types of demons?”

Hunt considered. “I can’t think of a demon that demolishes its victims like that, though. Unless it’s another ancient horror straight from the Pit.” He rubbed his neck. “If the kristallos killed this dryad—killed these people whose bodies washed into the river through the sewers— then why summon two kinds of demons? The kristallos is already lethal as Hel.” Literally.

Bryce threw up her hands. “I have no idea. But if everything we know about Danika’s death is wrong, then we need to figure out how she died. We need someone who can weigh in.”

He rubbed his jaw. “Any ideas?”

She nodded slowly, dread curling in her gut. “Promise me you won’t go ballistic.”

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