Chapter no 72

House of Earth and Blood

Claws and teeth were everywhere. Ripping at her, snatching her, dragging her down.

The river was pitch-black, and there was no one, no one at all, who’d seen or would know—

Something burned along her arm, and she screamed, water rushing down her throat.

Then the claws splayed. Loosened.

Bryce kicked, shoving blindly away, the surface somewhere—in any direction—oh gods, she was going to pick wrong—

Something grabbed her by the shoulder, dragging her away, and she would have screamed if there had been any air left in her lungs—

Air broke around her face, open and fresh, and then there was a male voice at her ear saying, “I’ve got you, I’ve got you.”

She might have sobbed, if she hadn’t spewed water, hadn’t launched into a coughing fit. Hunt had said those words to her, and now Hunt was gone, and the male voice at her ear—Declan Emmet.

Ruhn shouted from a few feet away, “It’s down.”

She thrashed, but Declan held her firm, murmuring, “It’s all right.”

It wasn’t fucking all right. Hunt should have been there. He should have been with her, he should have been freed, and she should have found a way to help him—

It took half a moment for Declan to heave her out of the water. Ruhn, his face grim, hauled her the rest of the way, cursing up a storm while she shuddered on the dock.

“What the fucking fuck,” Tristan Flynn was panting, rifle aimed at the black water, ready to unload a hail of bullets at the slightest ripple.

“Are you all right?” Declan asked, water streaming down his face, red hair plastered to his head.

Bryce drew back into herself enough to survey her body. A gash sliced down her arm, but it had been made with claws, not those venomous teeth. Other slices peppered her, but …

Declan didn’t wait before kneeling before her, hands wreathed in light as he held them over the gash in her arm. It was rare—the Fae healing gift. Not as powerful as the talent of a medwitch, but a valuable strength to possess. She’d never known Dec had the ability.

Ruhn asked, “Why the fuck were you standing on the Black Dock after sundown?”

“I was kneeling,” she muttered. “Same fucking question.”

She met her brother’s gaze as her wounds healed shut. “I needed a breather.”

Flynn muttered something.

“What?” She narrowed her eyes at him.

Flynn crossed his arms. “I said I’ve known that you’re a princess for all of an hour and you’re already a pain in my ass.”

“I’m not a princess,” she said at the same moment Ruhn snapped, “She’s not a princess.”

Declan snorted. “Whatever, assholes.” He pulled back from Bryce, healing complete. “We should have realized. You’re the only one who even comes close to getting under Ruhn’s skin as easily as his father does.”

Flynn cut in, “Where did that thing come from?”

“Apparently,” she said, “people who take large quantities of synth can inadvertently summon a kristallos demon. It was probably a freak accident.”

“Or a targeted attack,” Flynn challenged.

“The case is over,” Bryce said flatly. “It’s done.”

The Fae lord’s eyes flashed with a rare show of anger. “Maybe it isn’t.”

Ruhn wiped the water off his face. “On the chance Flynn’s right, you’re staying with me.”

“Over my dead fucking body.” Bryce stood, water pouring off her. “Look, thanks for rescuing me. And thanks for royally fucking me and Hunt over back there. But you know what?” She bared her teeth and pulled out her phone, wiping water from it, praying the protective spell she’d paid good money for had held. It had. She scrolled through screens

until she got to Ruhn’s contact info. She showed it to him. “You?” She swiped her finger, and it was deleted. “Are dead to me.”

She could have sworn her brother, her fuck-you-world brother, flinched.

She looked at Dec and Flynn. “Thanks for saving my ass.”

They didn’t come after her. Bryce could barely stop shaking long enough to steer her scooter home, but she somehow made it. Made it upstairs, walked Syrinx.

The apartment was too quiet without Hunt in it. No one had come to take his things. If they had, they’d have found that sunball hat missing. Hidden in the box alongside Jelly Jubilee.

Exhausted, Bryce peeled off her clothes and stared at herself in the bathroom mirror. She lifted a palm to her chest, where the weight of the Archesian amulet had been for the past three years.

Red, angry lines marred her skin where the kristallos had swiped, but with Declan’s magic still working on her, they’d be faded to nothing by morning.

She twisted, bracing herself to see the damage to the tattoo on her back. This last shred of Danika. If that fucking demon had wrecked it …

She nearly wept to see it intact. To look at the lines in that ancient, unreadable alphabet and know that even with everything gone to Hel, this still remained: The words Danika had insisted they ink there, with Bryce too plastered to object. Danika had picked the alphabet out of some booklet at the shop, though it sure as fuck didn’t look like any Bryce recognized. Maybe the artist had just made it up, and told them it said what Danika had wanted:

Through love, all is possible.

The same words on the jacket in a pile at her feet. The same words that had been a clue—to her Redner account, to finding that flash drive.

Nonsense. It was all fucking nonsense. The tattoo, the jacket, losing that amulet, losing Danika, losing Connor and the Pack of Devils, losing Hunt—

Bryce tried and failed to wrest herself from the cycle of thoughts, the maelstrom that brought them around and around and around, until they all eddied together.

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