Chapter no 60

House of Earth and Blood

“It’s a stretch,” Hunt said an hour later from his spot beside her on the sectional. She’d filled him in on her latest theory, his brows rising with each word out of her mouth.

Bryce clicked through the pages on Redner Industries’ website. “Danika worked part-time at Redner. She rarely talked about the shit she did for them. Some kind of security division.” She pulled up the login page. “Maybe her old work account still has info on her assignments.”

Her fingers shook only slightly as she typed in Danika’s username, having seen it so many times on her phone in the past: dfendyr.

DFendyr—Defender. She’d never realized it until now. Fury’s harsh words rang through her head. Bryce ignored them.

She typed in one of Danika’s usual half-assed passwords: 1234567.


“Again,” Hunt said warily, “it’s a stretch.” He leaned back against the cushions. “We’re better off doubling down with Danaan on looking for the Horn, not chasing down this drug.”

Bryce countered, “Danika was involved in this synth stuff and never said a word. You don’t think that’s weird? You don’t think there might be something more here?”

“She also didn’t tell you the truth about Philip Briggs,” Hunt said carefully. “Or that she stole the Horn. Keeping things from you could have been standard for her.”

Bryce just typed in another password. Then another. And another. “We need the full picture, Hunt,” she said, trying again. She needed

the full picture. “It all ties together somehow.”

But every password failed. Every one of Danika’s usual combinations.

Bryce shut her eyes, foot bouncing on the carpet as she recited, “The Horn could possibly be healed by the synth in a large enough dose. Synthetic magic has obsidian salt as one of its ingredients. The kristallos can be summoned by obsidian salt …” Hunt remained silent as she thought it through. “The kristallos was bred to track the Horn. The kristallos’s venom can eat away at magic. The medwitch wants some venom to test if it’s possible to create an antidote to synth with her magic or something.”


Her eyes opened. “Ruhn told me.” She filled him in on Ruhn’s half-joking request for more venom to give the medwitch.

Hunt’s eyes darkened. “Interesting. If the synth is on the verge of becoming a deadly street drug … we should help her get the venom.”

“What about the Horn?”

His jaw tightened. “We’ll keep looking. But if this drug explodes— not just in this city but across the territory, the world … that antidote is vital.” He scanned her face. “How can we get our hands on some venom for her?”

Bryce breathed, “If we summon a kristallos—”

“We don’t take that risk,” Hunt snarled. “We’ll figure out how to get the venom another way.”

“I can handle myself—”

can’t fucking handle myself, Quinlan. Not if you might be in danger.”

His words rippled between them. Emotion glinted in his eyes, if she dared to read what was there.

But Hunt’s phone buzzed, and he lifted his hips off the couch to pull it from the back pocket of his pants. He glanced at the screen, and his wings shifted, tucking in slightly.

“Micah?” she dared ask.

“Just some legion shit,” he murmured, and stood. “I gotta head out for a few. Naomi will take watch.” He gestured to the computer. “Keep trying if you want, but let’s think, Bryce, before we do anything drastic to get our hands on that venom.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

It was apparently acceptance enough for Hunt to leave, but not before ruffling her hair and leaning down to whisper, his lips brushing the curve of her ear, “JJ would be proud of you.” Her toes curled in her slippers, and stayed that way long after he’d left.

After trying another few password options, Bryce sighed and shut the computer. They were narrowing in on it—the truth. She could feel it.

But would she be ready for it?

Her cycle arrived the next morning like a gods-damned train barreling into her body, which Bryce decided was fitting, given what day it was.

She stepped into the great room to find Hunt making breakfast, his hair still mussed with sleep. He stiffened at her approach, though. Then he turned, his eyes darting over her. His preternatural sense of smell missed nothing. “You’re bleeding.”

“Every three months, like clockwork.” Pure-blooded Fae rarely had a cycle at all; humans had it monthly—she’d somehow settled somewhere in between.

She slid onto a stool at the kitchen counter. A glance at her phone showed no messages from Juniper or Fury. Not even a message from her mom biting her head off about bailing on the medwitch appointment.

“You need anything?” Hunt extended a plate of eggs and bacon toward her. Then a cup of coffee.

“I took something for the cramps.” She sipped her coffee. “But thanks.”

He grunted, going back to plating his own breakfast. He stood on the other side of the counter and wolfed down a few bites before he said, “Beyond the synth stuff and the antidote, I think the Horn ties everything together. We should concentrate on looking for it. There hasn’t been a murder since the temple guard, but I doubt the person has dropped the search for it since they’ve already gone to such trouble. If we get our hands on the Horn, I still feel like the killer will save us the trouble of looking for them and come right to us.”

“Or maybe they found wherever Danika hid it already.” She took another bite. “Maybe they’re just waiting until the Summit or something.”

“Maybe. If that’s the case, then we need to figure out who has it.


“But even Ruhn can’t find it. Danika didn’t leave any hint of where she hid it. None of her last known locations were likely hiding spots.”

“So maybe today we go back to square one. Look at everything we’ve learned and—”

“I can’t today.” She finished off her breakfast and brought the plate over to the sink. “I’ve got some meetings.”

“Reschedule them.”

“Jesiba needs them held today.”

He looked at her for a long moment, as if he could see through everything she’d said, but finally nodded.

She ignored the disappointment and concern in his face, his tone, as he said, “All right.”

Lehabah sighed. “You’re being mean today, BB. And don’t blame it on your cycle.”

Seated at the table in the heart of the gallery’s library, Bryce massaged her brows with her thumb and forefinger. “Sorry.”

Her phone lay dark and quiet on the table beside her. “You didn’t invite Athie down here for lunch.”

“I didn’t need the distraction.” The lie was smooth. Hunt hadn’t called her on the other lie, either—that Jesiba was watching the gallery cameras today, so he should stay on the roof.

But despite needing him, needing everyone, at arm’s length today, and despite claiming she couldn’t look for the Horn, she’d been combing over various texts regarding it for hours now. There was nothing in them but the same information, over and over.

A faint scratching sound stretched across the entire length of the library. Bryce pulled over Lehabah’s tablet and cranked up the volume on the speakers, blasting music through the space.

A loud, angry thump sounded. From the corner of her eye, she watched the nøkk swim off, its translucent tail slashing through the dim water.

Pop music: Who would have thought it was such a strong deterrent for the creature?

“He wants to kill me,” Lehabah whispered. “I can tell.”

“I doubt you’d make a very satisfying snack,” Bryce said. “Not even a mouthful.”

“He knows that if I’m submerged in water, I’m dead in a heartbeat.”

It was another form of torture for the sprite, Bryce had realized early on. A way for Jesiba to keep Lehabah in line down here, caged within a cage, as surely as all the other animals throughout the space. No better way to intimidate a fire sprite than to have a hundred-thousand-gallon tank looming.

“He wants to kill you, too,” Lehabah whispered. “You ignore him, and he hates that. I can see the rage and hunger in his eyes when he looks at you, BB. Be careful when you feed him.”

“I am.” The feeding hatch was too small for it to fit through anyway. And since the nøkk wouldn’t dare bring its head above the water for fear of the air, only its arms were a threat if the hatch was opened and the feeding platform was lowered into the water. But it kept to the bottom of the tank, hiding among the rocks whenever she dumped in the steaks, letting them drift lazily down.

It wanted to hunt. Wanted something big, juicy, and frightened.

Bryce glanced toward the dim tank, illuminated by three built-in spotlights. “Jesiba will get bored with him soon and gift him to a client,” she lied to Lehabah.

“Why does she collect us at all?” the sprite whispered. “Am I not a person, too?” She pointed to the tattoo on her wrist. “Why do they insist on this?”

“Because we live in a republic that has decided that threats to its order have to be punished—and punished so thoroughly that it makes others hesitate to rebel, too.” Her words were flat. Cold.

“Have you ever thought of what it might be like—without the Asteri?”

Bryce shot her a look. “Be quiet, Lehabah.” “But BB—”

“Be quiet, Lehabah.” There were cameras everywhere in this library, all with audio. They were exclusive to Jesiba, yes, but to speak of it here

Lehabah drifted to her little couch. “Athie would talk to me about it.” “Athie is a slave with little left to lose.”

“Don’t say such things, BB,” Lehabah hissed. “There is always

something left to lose.”

Bryce was in a foul spirit. Maybe there was something going on with Ruhn or Juniper. Hunt had seen her checking her phone frequently this morning, as if waiting for a call or message. None had come. At least, as far as he could tell on the walk to the gallery. And, judging by the distant, sharp look still on her face as she left just before sunset, none had come in during the day, either.

But she didn’t head home. She went to a bakery.

Hunt kept to the rooftops nearby, watching while she walked into the aqua-painted interior and walked out three minutes later with a white box in her hands.

Then she turned her steps toward the river, dodging workers and tourists and shoppers all enjoying the end of the day. If she was aware

that he followed, she didn’t seem to care. Didn’t even look up once as she aimed for a wooden bench along the river walkway.

The setting sun gilded the mists veiling the Bone Quarter. A few feet down the paved walkway, the dark arches of the Black Dock loomed. No mourning families stood beneath them today, waiting for the onyx boat to take their coffin.

Bryce sat on the bench overlooking the river and the Sleeping City, the white bakery box beside her, and checked her phone again.

Sick of waiting until she deigned to talk to him about whatever was eating her up, Hunt landed quietly before sliding onto the bench’s wooden planks, the box between them. “What’s up?”

Bryce stared out at the river. She looked drained. Like that first night he’d seen her, in the legion’s holding center.

She still wasn’t looking at him when she said, “Danika would have been twenty-five today.”

Hunt went still. “It’s … Today’s Danika’s birthday.”

She glanced to her phone, discarded at her side. “No one remembered. Not Juniper or Fury—not even my mom. Last year, they remembered, but … I guess it was a onetime thing.”

“You could have asked them.”

“I know they’re busy. And …” She ran a hand through her hair. “Honestly, I thought they’d remember. I wanted them to remember. Even just a message saying something bullshitty, like I miss her or whatever.”

“What’s in the box?”

“Chocolate croissants,” she said hoarsely. “Danika always wanted them on her birthday. They were her favorite.”

Hunt looked from the box to her, then to the looming Bone Quarter across the river. How many croissants had he seen her eating these weeks? Perhaps in part because they connected her to Danika the same way that scar on her thigh did. When he looked back at her, her mouth was a tight, trembling line.

“It sucks,” she said, her voice thick. “It sucks that everyone just … moves on, and forgets. They expect me to forget. But I can’t.” She rubbed at her chest. “I can’t forget. And maybe it’s fucking weird that I bought my dead friend a bunch of birthday croissants. But the world moved on. Like she never existed.”

He watched her for a long moment. Then he said, “Shahar was that for me. I’d never met anyone like her. I think I loved her from the moment I laid eyes on her in her palace, even though she was so high above me that she might as well have been the moon. But she saw me

too. And somehow, she picked me. Out of all of them, she picked me.” He shook his head, the words creaking from him as they crept from that box he’d locked them in all this while. “I would have done anything for her. I did anything for her. Anything she asked. And when it all went to Hel, when they told me it was over, I refused to believe it. How could she be gone? It was like saying the sun was gone. It just … there was nothing left if she wasn’t there.” He ran a hand through his hair. “This won’t be a consolation, but it took me about fifty years before I really believed it. That it was over. Yet even now …”

“You still love her that much?”

He held her gaze, unflinching. “After my mother died, I basically fell into my grief. But Shahar—she brought me out of that. Made me feel alive for the first time. Aware of myself, of my potential. I’ll always love her, if only for that.”

She looked to the river. “I never realized it,” she murmured. “That you and I are mirrors.”

He hadn’t, either. But a voice floated back to him. You look how I feel every day, she’d whispered when she’d cleaned him up after Micah’s latest assignment. “Is it a bad thing?”

A half smile tugged at a corner of her mouth. “No. No, it isn’t.” “No issue with the Umbra Mortis being your emotional twin?”

But her face grew serious again. “That’s what they call you, but that’s not who you are.”

“And who am I?”

“A pain in my ass.” Her smile was brighter than the setting sun on the river. He laughed, but she added, “You’re my friend. Who watches trashy TV with me and puts up with my shit. You’re the person I don’t need to explain myself to—not when it matters. You see everything I am, and you don’t run away from it.”

He smiled at her, let it convey everything that glowed inside him at her words. “I like that.”

Color stained her cheeks, but she blew out a breath as she turned toward the box. “Well, Danika,” she said. “Happy birthday.”

She peeled off the tape and flipped back the top.

Her smile vanished. She shut the lid before Hunt could see what was inside.

“What is it?”

She shook her head, making to grab the box—but Hunt grabbed it first, pulling it onto his lap and opening the lid.

Inside lay half a dozen croissants, carefully arranged in a pile. And on the top one, artfully written in a chocolate drizzle, was one word: Trash.

It wasn’t the hateful word that tore through him. No, it was the way Bryce’s hands shook, the way her face turned red, and her mouth became a thin line.

“Just throw it out,” she whispered.

No hint of the loyal defiance and anger. Just exhausted, humiliated pain.

His head went quiet. Terribly, terribly quiet.

“Just throw it out, Hunt,” she whispered again. Tears shone in her eyes.

So Hunt took the box. And he stood.

He had a good idea of who had done it. Who’d had the message altered. Who had shouted that same word—trash—at Bryce the other week, when they’d left the Den.

“Don’t,” Bryce pleaded. But Hunt was already airborne.

Amelie Ravenscroft was laughing with her friends, swigging from a beer, when Hunt exploded into the Moonwood bar. People screamed and fell back, magic flaring.

But Hunt only saw her. Saw her claws form as she smirked at him.

He set the pastry box on the wooden bar with careful precision.

A phone call to the Aux had given him the info he needed about the shifter’s whereabouts. And Amelie seemed to have been waiting for him, or at least Bryce, when she leaned back against the bar and sneered, “Well, isn’t this—”

Hunt pinned her against the wall by the throat.

The growls and attempted attacks of her pack against the wall of rippling lightning he threw up were background noise. Fear gleamed in Amelie’s wide, shocked eyes as Hunt snarled in her face.

But he said softly, “You don’t speak to her, you don’t go near her, you don’t even fucking think about her again.” He sent enough of his lightning through his touch that he knew pain lashed through her body. Amelie choked. “Do you understand me?”

People were on their phones, dialing for the 33rd Legion or the Auxiliary.

Amelie scratched at his wrists, her boots kicking at his shins. He only tightened his grip. Lightning wrapped around her throat. “Do you

understand?” His voice was frozen. Utterly calm. The voice of the Umbra Mortis.

A male approached his periphery. Ithan Holstrom.

But Ithan’s eyes were on Amelie as he breathed, “What did you do, Amelie?”

Hunt only said, snarling again in Amelie’s face, “Don’t play dumb, Holstrom.”

Ithan noticed the pastry box on the bar then. Amelie thrashed, but Hunt held her still as her Second opened the lid and looked inside. Ithan asked softly, “What is this?”

“Ask your Alpha,” Hunt ground out.

Ithan went utterly still. But whatever he was thinking wasn’t Hunt’s concern, not as he met Amelie’s burning stare again. Hunt said, “You leave her the fuck alone. Forever. Got it?”

Amelie looked like she’d spit on him, but he sent another casual zap of power into her, flaying her from the inside out. She winced, hissing and gagging. But nodded.

Hunt immediately released her, but his power kept her pinned against the wall. He surveyed her, then her pack. Then Ithan, whose face had gone from horror to something near grief as he must have realized what day it was and pieced enough of it together—thought about who had always wanted chocolate croissants on this day, at least.

Hunt said, “You’re all pathetic.”

And then he walked out. Took a damn while flying home.

Bryce was waiting for him on the roof. A phone in her hand. “No,” she was saying to someone on the line. “No, he’s back.”

“Good,” he heard Isaiah say, and it sounded like the male was about to add something else when she hung up.

Bryce wrapped her arms around herself. “You’re a fucking idiot.” Hunt didn’t deny it.

“Is Amelie dead?” There was fear—actual fear—in her face. “No.” The word rumbled from him, lightning hissing in its wake. “You …” She rubbed at her face. “I didn’t—”

“Don’t tell me I’m an alphahole, or possessive and aggressive or whatever terms you use.”

She lowered her hands, her face stark with dread. “You’ll get in so much trouble for this, Hunt. There’s no way you won’t—”

It was fear for him. Terror for him.

Hunt crossed the distance between them. Took her hands. “You’re my mirror. You said so yourself.”

He was shaking. For some reason, he was shaking as he waited for her to respond.

Bryce looked at her hands, gripped in his, as she answered, “Yes.”

The next morning, Bryce messaged her brother. What’s your medwitch’s number?

Ruhn sent it immediately, no questions asked.

Bryce called her office a minute later, hands shaking. The fair-voiced medwitch could squeeze her in—immediately. So Bryce didn’t give herself the time to reconsider as she slid on her running shorts and a T-shirt, then messaged Jesiba:

Medical appointment this morning. Be at the gallery by lunch.

She found Hunt making breakfast. His brows rose when she just stared at him.

“I know where we can get kristallos venom for the medwitch’s antidote tests,” she said.

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