Chapter no 62

House of Earth and Blood

Jesiba hadn’t seemed to care when Bryce explained that she needed the rest of the day off. She’d just demanded that Bryce be in first thing tomorrow or be turned into a donkey.

Hunt flew her home from the medwitch’s office, going so far as to carry her down the stairs from the roof of the apartment building and through her door. He deposited her on the couch, where he insisted she stay for the remainder of the day, curled up beside him, snuggled into his warmth.

She might have stayed there all afternoon and evening if Hunt’s phone hadn’t rung.

He’d been in the midst of making her lunch when he picked up. “Hi, Micah.”

Even from across the room, Bryce could hear the Archangel’s cold, beautiful voice. “My office. Immediately. Bring Bryce Quinlan with you.”

While he dressed in his battle-suit and gathered his helmet and weapons, Hunt debated telling Bryce to get on a train and get the fuck out of the city. He knew this meeting with Micah wasn’t going to be pleasant.

Bryce was limping, her wound still tender enough that he’d grabbed her a pair of loose workout pants and helped her put them on in the middle of the living room. She’d registered for a follow-up appointment in a month, and it only now occurred to Hunt that he might not be there to see it.

Either because this case had wrapped up, or because of whatever the fuck was about to go down in the Comitium.

Bryce tried to take all of one step before Hunt picked her up, carrying her out of the apartment and into the skies. She barely spoke, and neither did he. After this morning, what use were words? That too-brief kiss he’d given her had said enough. So had the light he could have sworn glowed in her eyes as he’d pulled away.

A line had been crossed, one from which there was no walking away. Hunt landed on a balcony of the Governor’s spire—the central of the Comitium’s five. The usually bustling hall of his public office was hushed. Bad sign. He carried Bryce toward the chamber. If people had

run, or Micah ordered them out …

If he saw Sandriel right now, if she realized Bryce was injured … Hunt’s temper became a living, deadly thing. His lightning pushed

against his skin, coiling through him, a cobra readying to strike.

He gently set Bryce down before the shut fogged-glass office doors. Made sure she was steady on her feet before he let go, stepping back to study every inch of her face.

Worry shone in her eyes, enough of it that he leaned in, brushing a kiss over her temple. “Chin up, Quinlan,” he murmured against her soft skin. “Let’s see you do that fancy trick where you somehow look down your nose at people a foot taller than you.”

She chuckled, smacking him lightly on the arm. Hunt pulled away with a half smile of his own before opening the doors and guiding Bryce through with a hand on her back. He knew it would likely be his last smile for a long while. But he’d be damned if he let Quinlan know it. Even as they beheld who stood in Micah’s office.

To the left of the Governor’s desk stood Sabine, arms crossed and spine rigid, the portrait of cold fury. A tight-faced Amelie lingered at her side.

He knew precisely what this meeting was about.

Micah stood at the window, his face glacial with distaste. Isaiah and Viktoria flanked his desk. The former’s eyes flashed with warning.

Bryce glanced between them all and hesitated.

Hunt said quietly to Micah, to Sabine, “Quinlan doesn’t need to be here for this.”

Sabine’s silvery blond hair shimmered in the firstlight lamps as she said, “Oh, she does. I want her here for every second.”

“I won’t bother asking if it’s true,” Micah said to Hunt as he and Bryce stopped in the center of the room. The doors shut behind them. Locking.

Hunt braced himself.

Micah said, “There were six cameras in the bar. They all captured what you did and said to Amelie Ravenscroft. She reported your behavior to Sabine, and Sabine brought it directly to me.”

Amelie flushed. “I just mentioned it to her,” she amended. “I didn’t howl like a pup about it.”

“It is unacceptable,” Sabine hissed to Micah. “You think you can set your assassin on a member of one of my packs? My heir?”

“I will tell you again, Sabine,” Micah said, bored, “I did not set Hunt Athalar upon her. He acted of his own free will.” A glance at Bryce. “He acted on behalf of his companion.”

Hunt said quickly, “Bryce had nothing to do with this. Amelie pulled a bullshit prank and I decided to pay her a visit.” He bared his teeth at the young Alpha, who swallowed hard.

Sabine snapped, “You assaulted my captain.”

“I told Amelie to stay the fuck away,” Hunt bit out. “To leave her alone.” He angled his head, unable to stop the words. “Or are you unaware that Amelie has been gunning for Bryce since your daughter died? Taunting her about it? Calling her trash?”

Sabine’s face didn’t so much as flinch. “What does it matter, if it’s true?”

Hunt’s head filled with roaring. But Bryce just stood there. And lowered her eyes.

Sabine said to Micah, “This cannot go unpunished. You fumbled the investigation of my daughter’s murder. You allowed these two to poke their noses into it, to accuse me of killing her. And now this. I’m one breath away from telling this city how your slaves cannot even stay in line. I’m sure your current guest will be highly interested in that little fact.”

Micah’s power rumbled at the mention of Sandriel. “Athalar will be punished.”

“Now. Here.” Sabine’s face was positively lupine. “Where I can see


“Sabine,” Amelie murmured. Sabine growled at her young captain. Sabine had been hoping for this moment—had used Amelie as an

excuse. No doubt dragged the wolf here. Sabine had sworn they’d pay for accusing her of murdering Danika. And Sabine was, Hunt supposed, a female of her word.

“Your position among the wolves,” Micah said with terrifying calm, “does not entitle you to tell a Governor of the Republic what to do.”

Sabine didn’t back down. Not an inch.

Micah just loosed a long breath. He met Hunt’s eyes, disappointed. “You acted foolishly. I’d have thought you, at least, would know better.”

Bryce was shaking. But Hunt didn’t dare touch her.

“History indicates that a slave assaulting a free citizen should automatically forfeit their life.”

Hunt suppressed a bitter laugh at her words. Wasn’t that what he’d been doing for the Archangels for centuries now?

“Please,” Bryce whispered.

And perhaps it was sympathy that softened the Archangel’s face as Micah said, “Those are old traditions. For Pangera, not Valbara.” Sabine opened her mouth, objecting, but Micah lifted a hand. “Hunt Athalar will be punished. And he shall die—in the way that angels die.”

Bryce lurched a limping step toward Micah. Hunt grabbed her by the shoulder, halting her.

Micah said, “The Living Death.”

Hunt’s blood chilled. But he bowed his head. He had been ready to face the consequences since he’d shot into the skies yesterday, pastry box in his hands.

Bryce looked at Isaiah, whose face was grim, for an explanation. The commander said to her, to the confused Amelie, “The Living Death is when an angel’s wings are cut off.”

Bryce shook her head. “No, please—”

But Hunt met Micah’s rock-solid stare, read the fairness in it. He lowered himself to his knees and removed his jacket, then his shirt.

“I don’t need to press charges,” Amelie insisted. “Sabine, I don’t want this. Let it go.”

Micah stalked toward Hunt, a shining double-edged sword appearing in his hand.

Bryce flung herself in the Archangel’s path. “Please—please—” The scent of her tears filled the office.

Viktoria instantly appeared at her side. Holding her back. The wraith’s whisper was so quiet Hunt barely heard it. “They will grow back. In several weeks, his wings will grow back.”

But it would hurt like Hel. Hurt so badly that Hunt now took steadying, bracing breaths. Plunged down into himself, into that place where he rode out everything that had ever been done to him, every task he’d been assigned, every life he’d been ordered to take.

“Sabine, no,” Amelie insisted. “It’s gone far enough.” Sabine said nothing. Just stood there.

Hunt spread his wings and lifted them, holding them high over his back so the slice might be clean.

Bryce began shouting something, but Hunt only looked at Micah. “Do it.”

Micah didn’t so much as nod before his sword moved.

Pain, such as Hunt had not experienced in two hundred years, raced through him, short-circuiting every—

Hunt jolted into consciousness to Bryce screaming.

It was enough of a summons that he forced his head to clear, even around the agony down his back, his soul.

He must have blacked out only for a moment, because his wings were still spurting blood from where they lay like two fallen branches on the floor of Micah’s office.

Amelie looked like she was going to be sick; Sabine was smirking, and Bryce was now at his side, his blood soaking her pants, her hands, as she sobbed, “Oh gods, oh gods—”

“We’re settled,” Sabine said to Micah, who punched a button on his phone to call for a medwitch.

He’d paid for his actions, and it was over, and he could go home with Bryce—

“You are a disgrace, Sabine.” Bryce’s words speared through the room as she bared her teeth at the Prime Apparent. “You are a disgrace to every wolf who has ever walked this planet.”

Sabine said, “I don’t care what a half-breed thinks of me.”

“You didn’t deserve Danika,” Bryce growled, shaking. “You didn’t deserve her for one second.”

Sabine halted. “I didn’t deserve a selfish, spineless brat for a daughter, but that’s not how it turned out, is it?”

Dimly, from far away, Bryce’s snarl cut through Hunt’s pain. He couldn’t reach her in time, though, as she surged to her feet, wincing in agony at her still-healing leg.

Micah stepped in front of her. Bryce panted, sobbing through her teeth. But Micah stood there, immovable as a mountain. “Take Athalar out of here,” the Archangel said calmly, the dismissal clear. “To your home, the barracks, I don’t care.”

But Sabine, it seemed, had decided to stay. To give Bryce a piece of her vicious mind.

Sabine said to her, low and venomous, “I sought out the Under-King last winter, did you know that? To get answers from my daughter, with

whatever speck of her energy lives on in the Sleeping City.”

Bryce stilled. The pure stillness of the Fae. Dread filled her eyes. “Do you know what he told me?” Sabine’s face was inhuman. “He

said that Danika would not come. She would not obey my summons. My pathetic daughter would not even deign to meet me in her afterlife. For the shame of what she did. How she died, helpless and screaming, begging like one of you.” Sabine seemed to hum with rage. “And do you know what the Under-King told me when I demanded again that he summon her?”

No one else dared speak.

“He told me that you, you piece of trash, had made a bargain with him. For her. That you had gone to him after her death and traded your spot in the Bone Quarter in exchange for Danika’s passage. That you worried she would be denied access because of her cowardly death and begged him to take her in your stead.”

Even Hunt’s pain paused at that.

“That wasn’t why I went!” Bryce snapped. “Danika wasn’t a coward for one fucking moment of her life!” Her voice broke as she shouted the last words.

“You had no right,” Sabine exploded. “She was a coward, and died like one, and deserved to be dumped into the river!” The Alpha was screaming. “And now she is left with eons of shame because of you! Because she should not be there, you stupid whore. And now she must suffer for it!”

“That’s enough,” Micah said, his words conveying his order. Get out. Sabine just let out a dead, cold laugh and turned on her heel.

Bryce was still sobbing when Sabine strutted out, a stunned Amelie on her heels. The latter murmured as she shut the door, “I’m sorry.”

Bryce spat at her.

It was the last thing Hunt saw before darkness swept in again.

She would never forgive them. Any of them.

Hunt remained unconscious while the medwitches worked on him in Micah’s office, stitching him up so that the stumps where his wings had been stopped spurting blood onto the floor, then dressing the wounds in bandages that would promote quick growth. No firstlight—apparently, its aid in healing wasn’t allowed for the Living Death. It would delegitimize the punishment.

Bryce knelt with Hunt the entire time, his head in her lap. She didn’t hear Micah telling her how the alternative was Hunt being dead—

officially and irrevocably dead.

She stroked Hunt’s hair as they lay in her bed an hour later, his breathing still deep and even. Give him the healing potion every six hours, the medwitch ordered her. It will stave off the pain, too.

Isaiah and Naomi had carried them home, and she’d barely let them lay Hunt facedown on her mattress before she’d ordered them to get out.

She hadn’t expected Sabine to understand why she’d given up her place in the Bone Quarter for Danika. Sabine never listened when Danika spoke about how she’d one day be buried there, in full honor, with all the other great heroes of her House. Living on, as that small speck of energy, for eternity. Still a part of the city she loved so much.

Bryce had seen people’s boats tip. Would never forget Danika’s half-muffled pleading on the audio of the apartment building’s hall camera.

Bryce hadn’t been willing to make the gamble that the boat might not reach the far shore. Not for Danika.

She’d tossed a Death Mark into the Istros, payment to the Under-King—a coin of pure iron from an ancient, long-gone kingdom across the sea. Passage for a mortal on a boat.

And then she’d knelt on the crumbling stone steps, the river mere feet behind her, the arches of the bone gates above her, and waited.

The Under-King, veiled in black and silent as death, had appeared moments later.

It has been an age since a mortal dared set foot on my isle.

The voice had been old and young, male and female, kind and full of hatred. She’d never heard anything so hideous—and beckoning.

I wish to trade my place.

I know why you are here, Bryce Quinlan. Whose passage you seek to barter. An amused pause. Do you not wish to one day dwell here among the honored dead? Your balance remains skewed toward acceptance— continue on your path, and you shall be welcomed when your time comes.

I wish to trade my place. For Danika Fendyr.

Do this and know that no other Quiet Realms of Midgard shall be open to you. Not the Bone Quarter, not the Catacombs of the Eternal City, not the Summer Isles of the north. None, Bryce Quinlan. To barter your resting place here is to barter your place everywhere.

I wish to trade my place.

You are young, and you are weighed with grief. Consider that your life may seem long, but it is a mere flutter of eternity.

I wish to trade my place.

Are you so certain Danika Fendyr will be denied welcome? Have you so little faith in her actions and deeds that you must make this bargain?

I wish to trade my place. She’d sobbed the words.

There is no undoing this. I wish to trade my place.

Then say it, Bryce Quinlan, and let the trade be done. Say it a seventh and final time, and let the gods and the dead and all those between hear your vow. Say it, and it shall be done.

She hadn’t hesitated, knowing this was the ancient rite. She’d looked it up in the gallery archives. Had stolen the Death Mark from there, too. It had been given to Jesiba by the Under-King himself, the sorceress had told her, when she’d sworn fealty to the House of Flame and Shadow.

I wish to trade my place. And so it had been done.

Bryce had not felt any different afterward, when she’d been sent back over the river. Or in the days after that. Even her mother had not been able to tell—hadn’t noticed that Bryce had snuck from her hotel room in the dead of night.

In the two years since, Bryce had sometimes wondered if she’d dreamed it, but then she’d look through the drawer in the gallery where all the old coins were kept and see the empty, dark spot where the Death Mark had been. Jesiba had never noticed it was gone.

Bryce liked to think of her chance at eternal rest as missing with it. To imagine the coins nestled in their velvet compartments in the drawer as all the souls of those she loved, dwelling together forever. And there was hers—missing and drifting, wiped away the moment she died.

But what Sabine had claimed about Danika suffering in the Bone Quarter … Bryce refused to believe it. Because the alternative—No. Danika had deserved to go to the Bone Quarter, had nothing to be ashamed about, whether Sabine or the other assholes disagreed or not. Whether the Under-King or whoever the Hel deemed their souls worthy disagreed or not.

Bryce ran her hand through Hunt’s silken hair, the sounds of his breathing filling the room.

It sucked. This stupid fucking world they lived in.

It sucked, and it was full of awful people. And the good ones always paid for it.

She pulled her phone from the nightstand and began typing out a message.

She fired it off a moment later, not giving herself time to reconsider what she’d written to Ithan. Her first message to him in two years. His frantic messages from that horrible night, then his cold order to stay away, were still the last things in a thread that went back five years before that.

You tell your Alpha that Connor never bothered to notice her because he always knew what a piece of shit she was. And tell Sabine that if I see her again, I will kill her.

Bryce lay down next to Hunt, not daring to touch his ravaged back.

Her phone buzzed. Ithan had written, I had no part in what went down today.

Bryce wrote back, You disgust me. All of you.

Ithan didn’t reply, and she put her phone on silent before she let out a long breath and leaned her brow against Hunt’s shoulder.

She’d find a way to make this right. Somehow. Someday.

Hunt’s eyes cracked open, pain a steady throb through him. Its sharpness was dulled—likely by some sort of potion or concoction of drugs.

The steady counterweight that should have been on his back was gone. The emptiness hit him like a semitruck. But soft, feminine breathing filled the darkness. A scent like paradise filled his nose, settled him. Soothed the pain.

His eyes adjusted to the dark enough to know that he was in Bryce’s bedroom. That she was lying beside him. Medical supplies and vials lay next to the bed. All for him, many looking used. The clock read four in the morning. How many hours had she sat up, tending to him?

Her hands were tucked in at her chest, as if she had fallen asleep beseeching the gods.

He mouthed her name, his tongue as dry as sandpaper.

Pain rippled through his body, but he managed to stretch out an arm. Managed to slide it over her waist and tuck her into him. She made a soft sound and nuzzled her head into his neck.

Something deep in him shifted and settled. What she’d said and done today, what she’d revealed to the world in her pleading for him … It was dangerous. For both of them. So, so dangerous.

If he were wise, he’d find somehow to pull away. Before this thing between them met its inevitable, horrible end. As all things in the Republic met a horrible end.

And yet Hunt couldn’t bring himself to remove his arm. To avoid the instinct to breathe in her scent and listen to her soft breathing.

He didn’t regret it, what he’d done. Not one bit of it.

But there might come a day when that wouldn’t be true. A day that might dawn very soon.

So Hunt savored the feel of Bryce. Her scent and breathing. Savored every second of it.

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