Chapter no 76

House of Earth and Blood

Bryce had camped out in the gallery library for the past three days, staying well after closing and returning at dawn. There was no point in spending much time at the apartment, since her fridge was empty and Syrinx was always with her. She figured she might as well be at the office until she stopped feeling like her home was just an empty shell.

Jesiba, busy with the Summit, didn’t check the gallery video feeds. Didn’t see the takeout containers littering every surface of the library, the mini fridge mostly full of cheese, or the fact that Bryce had started wearing her athletic clothes into the office. Or that she’d begun showering in the bathroom in the back of the library. Or that she’d canceled all their client meetings. And taken a new Archesian amulet right from the wall safe in Jesiba’s office—the very last one in the territory. One of five left in the entire world.

It was only a matter of time, however, until Jesiba got bored and pulled up the dozens of feeds to see everything. Or looked at their calendar and saw all the rescheduled appointments.

Bryce had heard back about two potential new jobs, and had interviews lined up. She’d need to invent some excuse to feed Jesiba, of course. A medwitch appointment or teeth cleaning or something else normal but necessary. And if she got one of those jobs, she’d have to come up with a plan for repaying her debt for Syrinx—something that would please Jesiba’s ego enough to keep her from transforming Bryce into some awful creature just for asking to leave.

Bryce sighed, running a hand over an ancient tome full of legal jargon that required a degree to decipher. She’d never seen so many ergos and therefores and hence the followings and shall be included but not limited tos. But she kept looking.

So did Lehabah. “What about this, BB?” The sprite flared, pointing to a page before her. “It says here, A criminal’s sentence may be commuted to service if—

“We saw that one two days ago,” Bryce said. “It leads us right back to slavery.”

A faint scratching filled the room. Bryce glanced at the nøkk from under her lashes, careful not to let him see her attention.

The creature was grinning at her anyway. Like it knew something she didn’t.

She found out why a moment later.

“There’s another case beneath it,” Lehabah said. “The human woman was freed after—”

Syrinx growled. Not at the tank. At the green-carpeted stairs.

Casual footsteps thudded. Bryce was instantly standing, reaching for her phone.

A pair of boots, then dark jeans, and then— Snow-white wings. An unfairly beautiful face. Micah.

Every thought short-circuited as he stepped into the library, surveying its shelves and the stairs leading to the brass mezzanines and alcoves, the tank and the nøkk who was still grinning, the exploding-sun light high above.

He couldn’t be down here. Couldn’t see these books— “Your Grace,” Bryce blurted.

“The front door was open,” he said. The sheer power behind his stare was like being hit in the face with a brick.

Of course the locks and enchantments hadn’t kept him out. Nothing could ever keep him out.

She calmed her racing heart enough to say, “I’d be happy to meet with you upstairs, Your Grace, if you want me to phone Jesiba.”

Jesiba, who is at the Summit where you are currently supposed to be.

“Down here is fine.” He slowly stalked over to one of the towering shelves.

Syrinx was shaking on the couch; Lehabah hid behind a small stack of books. Even the animals in their various cages and small tanks cowered. Only the nøkk kept smiling.

“Why don’t you have a seat, Your Grace?” Bryce said, scooping takeout containers into her arms, not caring if she got chili oil on her white T-shirt, only that Micah got the fuck away from the shelves and those precious books.

He ignored her, examining the titles at eye level.

Urd save her. Bryce dumped the takeout containers into the overflowing trash can. “We have some fascinating art upstairs. Perhaps you can tell me what you’re looking for.” She glanced at Lehabah, who had turned a startling shade of cyan, and shook her head in a silent warning to be careful.

Micah folded his wings, and turned to her. “What I’m looking for?” “Yes,” she breathed. “I—”

He pinned her with those icy eyes. “I’m looking for you.”

Today’s meeting was by far the worst. The slowest.

Sandriel delighted in leading them in circles, lies and half-truths spewing from her lips, as if savoring the kill soon to come: the moment they yielded everything to her and the Asteri’s wishes.

Hunt leaned against the wall, standing between the Asterian Guards in their full regalia, and watched the clock inch toward four. Ruhn looked like he’d fallen asleep half an hour ago. Most of the lower-level parties had been dismissed, leaving the room barely occupied. Even Naomi had been sent back to Lunathion to make sure the 33rd remained in shape. Only skeleton staff and their leaders remained. As if everyone now knew this was over. That this republic was a sham. Either one ruled or one bowed.

“Opening a new port along the eastern coastline of Valbara,” Sandriel said for the hundredth time, “would allow us to build a secure facility for our aquatic legion—”

A phone buzzed.

Jesiba Roga, to his surprise, pulled it from an inner pocket of the gray blazer she wore over a matching dress. She shifted in her seat, angling the phone away from the curious male to her left.

A few of the other leaders had noticed Roga’s change in attention. Sandriel kept talking, unaware, but Ruhn had stirred at the sound and was looking at the woman. So was Fury, seated two rows behind her.

Jesiba’s thumbs flew over her phone, her red-painted mouth tightening as she lifted a hand. Even Sandriel shut up.

Roga said, “I’m sorry to interrupt, Governor, but there’s something that you—that all of us—need to see.”

He had no rational reason for the dread that began to curl in his stomach. Whatever was on her phone could have been about anything. Yet his mouth dried up.

“What?” Sabine demanded from across the room.

Jesiba ignored her, and glanced to Declan Emmet. “Can you link what’s on my phone to these screens?” She indicated the array of them throughout the room.

Declan, who had been half-asleep in the circle behind Ruhn, instantly straightened. “Yeah, no problem.” He was smart enough to look to Sandriel first—and the Archangel rolled her eyes but nodded. Declan’s laptop was open a heartbeat later. He frowned at what popped up on the laptop, but then he hit a button.

And revealed dozens of different video feeds—all from Griffin Antiquities. In the lower right corner, in a familiar library … Hunt forgot to breathe entirely.

Especially as Jesiba’s phone buzzed again, and a message—a continuation of a previous conversation, it seemed—popped up on the screens. His heart stalled at the name: Bryce Quinlan.

His heart wholly stopped at the message. Are the feeds on yet?

“What the fuck?” Ruhn hissed.

Bryce was standing in front of the camera, pouring what seemed to be a glass of wine. And behind her, seated at the main table of the library, was Micah.

Sandriel murmured, “He said he had a meeting …”

The camera was hidden inside one of the books, just above Bryce’s head.

Declan hit a few keys on his computer, pulling up that particular feed. Another keystroke and its audio filled the conference room.

Bryce was saying over her shoulder, throwing Micah a casual smile, “Would you like some food with your wine? Cheese?”

Micah lounged at the table, surveying a spread of books. “That would be appreciated.”

Bryce hummed, covertly typing on her phone as she fiddled on the refreshment cart.

The next message to Jesiba blared across the conference room screens.

One word that had Hunt’s blood going cold.


It was not a cheeky, charming plea. Not as Bryce lifted her gaze to the camera.

Fear shone there. Stark, bright fear. Every instinct in Hunt went on roaring alert.

“Governor,” the Autumn King said to Sandriel, “I would like an explanation.”

But before Sandriel could reply, Ruhn quietly ordered, with eyes glued to the feeds, “Flynn, send an Aux unit to Griffin Antiquities. Right now.”

Flynn instantly had his phone out, fingers flying.

“Micah has not done anything wrong,” Sandriel snapped at the Fae Prince. “Except demonstrate his poor choice in females.”

Hunt’s snarl ripped from him.

It would have earned him a whip of cold wind from Sandriel, he knew, had the sound not been hidden by matching snarls from Declan and Ruhn.

Tristan Flynn was snapping at someone, “Get over to Griffin Antiquities right now. Yes, in the Old Square. No—just go. That is a fucking order.”

Ruhn barked another command at the Fae lord, but Micah began speaking again.

“You’ve certainly been busy.” Micah motioned to the table. “Looking for a loophole?”

Bryce swallowed as she began assembling a plate for Micah. “Hunt is my friend.”

Those were—those were law books on the table. Hunt’s stomach dropped to his feet.

“Ah yes,” Micah said, leaning back in his chair. “I admire that about you.”

“What the fuck is going on?” Fury bit out.

“Loyal unto death—and beyond,” Micah continued. “Even with all the proof in the world, you still didn’t believe Danika was little better than a drug-addicted whore.”

Sabine and several wolves growled. Hunt heard Amelie Ravenscroft say to Sabine, “We should send a wolf pack.”

“All the top packs are here,” Sabine murmured, eyes fixed on the feed. “Every top security force is here. I only left a few behind.”

But like a struck match, Bryce’s entire countenance shifted. Fear pivoted into bright, sharp anger. Hunt ordinarily thrilled to see that blazing look. Not now.

Use your fucking head, he silently begged her. Be smart.

Bryce let Micah’s insult settle, surveying the platter of cheese and grapes she was assembling. “Who knows what the truth is?” she asked blandly.

“The philosophers in this library certainly had opinions on the matter.”

“On Danika?”

“Don’t play stupid.” Micah’s smile widened. He gestured to the books around them. “Do you know that harboring these volumes earns you a one-way ticket to execution?”

“Seems like a lot of fuss over some books.”

“Humans died for these books,” Micah purred, motioning to the shelves towering around them. “Banned titles, if I’m not mistaken, many of them supposed to only exist in the Asteri Archives. Evolution, mathematics, theories to disprove the superiority of the Vanir and Asteri. Some from philosophers people claimed existed before the Asteri arrived.” A soft, awful laugh. “Liars and heretics, who admitted they were wrong when the Asteri tortured them for the truth. They were burned alive with the heretical works used as kindling. And yet here, they survive. All the knowledge of the ancient world. Of a world before Asteri. And theories of a world in which the Vanir are not your masters.”

“Interesting,” Bryce said. She still did not turn to face him. Ruhn said to Jesiba, “What, exactly, is in that library?”

Jesiba said nothing. Absolutely nothing. Her gray eyes promised cold death, though.

Micah went on, unwittingly answering the prince’s question. “Do you even know what you are surrounded by, Bryce Quinlan? This is the Great Library of Parthos.”

The words clanged through the room. Jesiba refused to so much as open her mouth.

Bryce, to her credit, said, “Sounds like a lot of conspiracy theory crap. Parthos is a bedtime story for humans.”

Micah chuckled. “Says the female with the Archesian amulet around her neck. The amulet of the priestesses who once served and guarded Parthos. I think you know what’s here—that you spend your days in the midst of all that remains of the library after most of it burned at Vanir hands fifteen thousand years ago.”

Hunt’s stomach turned. He could have sworn a chill breeze drifted from Jesiba.

Micah went on idly, “Did you know that during the First Wars, when the Asteri gave the order, it was at Parthos that a doomed human army made its final stand against the Vanir? To save proof of what they were before the Rifts opened—to save the books. A hundred thousand humans marched that day knowing they would die, and lose the war.” Micah’s smile grew. “All to buy the priestesses time to grab the most vital

volumes. They loaded them onto ships and vanished. I am curious to learn how they landed with Jesiba Roga.”

The sorceress watching her truth unfold on the screens still did not speak. To acknowledge what had been suggested. Did it have something to do with why she’d left the witches? Or why she’d joined the Under-King?

Micah leaned back in his seat, wings rustling. “I’ve long suspected that the remains of Parthos were housed here—a record of two thousand years of human knowledge before the Asteri arrived. I took one look at some of the titles on the shelves and knew it to be true.”

No one so much as blinked as the truth settled. But Jesiba pointed to the screens and said to Tristan Flynn, to Sabine, her voice shaking, “Tell the Aux to move their fucking asses. Save those books. I beg you.”

Hunt ground his teeth. Of course the books were more important to her than Bryce.

“The Aux shall do no such thing,” Sandriel said coldly. She smiled at Jesiba as the female went rigid. “And whatever Micah has in mind for your little assistant is going to look mild compared to what the Asteri do to you for harboring that lying rubbish—”

But Bryce picked up the cheese tray and glass of wine. “Look, I only work here, Governor.”

She faced Micah at last. She was wearing athletic clothes: leggings and a long-sleeved white T-shirt. Her neon-pink sneakers shone like firstlight in the dim library.

“Run,” Flynn urged to the screen, as if Bryce could hear him. “Fucking run, Bryce.”

Sandriel glared at the Fae warrior. “You dare accuse a Governor of foul play?” But doubt shone in her eyes.

The Fae lord ignored her, his eyes again on the screens.

Hunt couldn’t move. Not as Bryce set down the cheese platter, the wine, and said to Micah, “You came here looking for me, and here I am.” A half smile. “That Summit must have been a real bore.” She crossed her arms behind her back, the portrait of casualness. She winked. “Are you going to ask me out again?”

Micah didn’t see the angle of the second feed that Declan pulled up

—how her fingers began flicking behind her back. Pointing to the stairs. A silent, frantic order to Lehabah and Syrinx to flee. Neither moved.

“As you once said to me,” Micah replied smoothly, “I’m not interested.”

“Too bad.” Silence throbbed in the conference room.

Bryce gestured again behind her back, her fingers shaking now. Please, those hands seemed to say. Please run. While he’s distracted by me.

“Have a seat,” Micah said, gesturing to the chair across the table. “We might as well be civilized about it.”

Bryce obeyed, batting her eyelashes. “About what?” “About you giving me Luna’s Horn.”

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