Chapter no 83

House of Earth and Blood

Bryce took one look at the Heart Gate in the Old Square and sprinted home, Syrinx in her arms.

Micah had indeed wielded the Horn successfully. And it had opened a portal right through the mouth of the Heart Gate, drawing upon the magic in its quartz walls. Bryce had taken one look at what sailed out of the void suspended in the Heart Gate and knew Micah had not opened a portal to unknown worlds, as he’d intended. This one went straight to Hel.

People screamed as winged, scaled demons soared out of the Gate— demons from the Pit itself.

At her building, she yelled at Marrin to get into the basement, along with any tenants he could bring with him. And to call his family, his friends, and warn them to get somewhere secure—the bomb shelters, if they could—and hunker down with whatever weapons were available.

She left Syrinx in the apartment, laid down a massive bowl of water, and took the lid off the food bin entirely. He could feed himself. She piled blankets on the couch, tucking him into them, and kissed him once on his furry head before she grabbed what she needed and ran out the door again.

She raced to the roof, shrugging on Danika’s leather jacket, then tying the Fendyr family’s sword across her back. She tucked one of Hunt’s handguns into the waist of her jeans, shouldered his rifle, and slid as many packs of ammo as she could into her pockets. She surveyed the city and her blood turned to ice. It was worse—so much worse—than she’d imagined.

Micah hadn’t just opened a portal to Hel in the Heart Gate. He’d opened one in every Gate. Every one of the seven quartz arches was a

doorway to Hel.

Screams from below rose as the demons raced from the voids and into the defenseless city.

A siren wailed. A warning cry—and an order.

Bomb shelters opened, their automatic foot-thick doors sliding aside to let in those already gathered. Bryce lifted her phone to her ear.

Juniper, for once, picked up on the first ring. “Oh gods, Bryce—”

“Get somewhere safe!”

“I am, I am,” Juniper sobbed. “We were having a dress rehearsal with some big donors, and we’re all in the shelter down the block, and

—” Another sob. “Bryce, they’re saying they’re going to shut the door early.”

Horror lurched through her. “People need to get in. They need every moment you can spare.”

Juniper wept. “I told them that, but they’re frantic and won’t listen.

They won’t let humans in.”

“Fucking bastards,” Bryce breathed, studying the shelter still open down her block—the people streaming inside. The shelters could be shut manually at any time, but all would close within an hour. Sealed until the threat was dealt with.

Juniper’s voice crackled. “I’ll make them hold the doors. But Bryce, it’s—” Reception cut out as she presumably moved farther into the shelter, and Bryce glanced northward, toward the theaters. Mere blocks from the Heart Gate. “Mess of—” Another crackle. “Safe?”

“I’m safe,” Bryce lied. “Stay in the shelter. Hold the doors for as long as you can.”

But Juniper, sweet and determined and brave, wouldn’t be able to calm a panicked crowd. Especially one draped in finery—and convinced of their right to live at the expense of all others.

Juniper’s voice crackled again, so Bryce just said, “I love you, June.” And hung up.

She fired off a message to Jesiba about the literal Hel being unleashed, and when she received no instantaneous reply, added another saying that she was heading out into it. Because someone had to.

Demons soared into the skies from the Moonwood Gate. Bryce could only pray the Den had gone into lockdown already. But the Den had guards by the dozen and powerful enchantments. Parts of this city had no protection at all.

It was enough to send her sprinting for the stairs off the roof. Down through the building.

And into the chaotic streets below.

“Demons are coming out of every Gate,” Declan reported over the clamor of various leaders and their teams shouting into their phones. The Gates now held black voids within their archways. As if an invisible set of doors had been opened within them.

He could only see six of them on his screens, since the Bone Quarter had no cameras, but Declan supposed he could safely assume the Dead Gate across the Istros held the same darkness. Jesiba Roga made no attempt to contact the Under-King, but kept her eyes fixed on the feeds. Her face was ashen.

It didn’t matter, Hunt thought, looking over Declan’s shoulder. The denizens of the Bone Quarter were already dead.

Calls were going out—many weren’t being answered. Sabine barked orders at Amelie, both of them pressing phones to their ears as they tried to reach the Alphas of the city packs.

On every screen in the conference center, cameras from around Crescent City revealed a land of nightmares. Hunt didn’t know where to look. Each new image was more awful than the last. Demons he recognized with chilling clarity—the worst of the worst—poured into the city through the Gates. Demons that had been an effort for him to kill. The people of Lunathion didn’t stand a chance.

Not the urbane, clever demons like Aidas. No, these were the grunts.

The beasts of the Pit. Its wild dogs, hungry for easy prey.

In FiRo, the iridescent bubbles of the villas’ defense enchantments already gleamed. Locking out anyone poor or unlucky enough to be on the streets. It was there, in front of the ironclad walls of the city’s richest citizens, that the Aux had been ordered to go. To protect the already safe.

Hunt snarled at Sabine, “Tell your packs there are defenseless homes where they’re needed—”

“These are the protocols,” Sabine snarled back. Amelie Ravenscroft, at least, had the decency to flush with shame and lower her head. But she didn’t dare speak out of turn.

Hunt growled, “Fuck the protocols.” He pointed to the screens. “Those assholes have enchantments and panic rooms in their villas. The people on the streets have nothing.”

Sabine ignored him. But Ruhn ordered his father, “Pull our forces from FiRo. Send them where they’re needed.”

The Autumn King’s jaw worked. But he said, “The protocols are in place for a reason. We will not abandon them to chaos.”

Hunt demanded, “Are you both fucking kidding me?”

The afternoon sun inched toward the horizon. He didn’t want to think about how much worse it would get once night fell.

“I don’t care if they don’t want to,” Tharion was yelling into his phone. “Tell them to go to shore.” A pause. “Then tell them to take anyone they can carry under the surface!

Isaiah was on the phone across the room. “No, that time warp was just some spell that went wrong, Naomi. Yeah, it caused the Gates to open. No, get the 33rd to the Old Square. Get them to the Old Square Gate right now. I don’t care if they all get ripped to shreds—” Isaiah pulled his phone away from his ear, blinking at the screen.

Isaiah’s eyes met Hunt’s. “The CBD is under siege. The 33rd are being slaughtered.” He didn’t muse whether Naomi had just been one of them, or had merely lost her phone in the fight.

Ruhn and Flynn dialed number after number. No one answered. As if the Fae leaders left in the city were all dead, too.

Sabine got through. “Ithan—report.”

Declan wordlessly patched Sabine’s number through to the room’s speakers. Ithan Holstrom’s panting filled the space, his location pinging from outside the bespelled and impenetrable Den. Unearthly, feral growls that did not belong to wolves cut between his words. “They’re fucking everywhere. We can barely keep them away—”

“Hold positions,” Sabine commanded. “Hold your positions and await further orders.”

Humans and Vanir alike were running, children in their arms, to any open shelter they could find. Many were already shut, sealed by the frantic people inside.

Hunt asked Isaiah, “How long until the 32nd can make it down from Hilene?”

“An hour,” the angel replied, eyes on the screen. On the slaughter, on the panicking city. “They’ll be too late.” And if Naomi was down, either injured or dead … Fuck.

Flynn thundered at someone on the phone, “Get the Rose Gate surrounded now. You’re just handing the city to them.”

Hunt surveyed the bloodshed and sorted through the city’s few options. They’d need armies to surround all seven Gates that opened to Hel—and find some way to close those portals.

Hypaxia had risen from her seat. She studied the screens with grim determination and said calmly into her phone, “Suit up and move out. We’re heading in.”

Everyone turned toward her. The young queen didn’t seem to notice.

She just ordered whoever was on the line, “To the city. Now.”

Sabine hissed, “You’ll all be slaughtered.” And too late, Hunt didn’t


Hypaxia ended the call and pointed to a screen on the left wall, its

footage of the Old Square. “I would rather die like her than watch innocents die while I’m sitting in here.”

Hunt turned to where she’d pointed, the hair on his neck rising. As if knowing what he’d see.

There, racing through the streets in Danika’s leather jacket, sword in one hand and gun in the other, was Bryce.

Running not from the danger, but into it.

She roared something, over and over. Declan locked into the feeds, changing from camera to camera to follow her down the street. “I think I can pull up her audio and isolate her voice against the ambient noise,” he said to no one in particular. And then—

Get into the shelters!” she was screaming. Her words echoed off every part of the room.

Duck, slash, shoot. She moved like she’d trained with the Aux her entire life.

Get inside now!” she bellowed, whirling to aim at a winged demon blotting out the mockingly golden afternoon sun. Her gun fired, and the creature screeched, careening into an alley. Declan’s fingers flew on the keyboard as he kept her on-screen.

“Where the fuck is she going?” Fury said.

Bryce kept running. Kept firing. She did not miss.

Hunt looked at her surroundings, and realized where she was headed.

To the most defenseless place in Crescent City, full of humans with no magic. No preternatural gifts or strength.

“She’s going to the Meadows,” Hunt said.

It was worse than anything Bryce had imagined.

Her arm was numb from the bite of the gun every time she fired, reeking blood covered her, and there was no end to the snapping teeth; the leathery wings; the raging, lightless eyes. The afternoon bled toward a vibrant sunset, the sky soon matching the gore in the streets.

Bryce sprinted, her breath sharp as a knife in her chest.

Her handgun ran out. She didn’t waste time feeling for ammo she didn’t have left. No, she just hurled the gun at a winged black demon that swooped for her, knocking it off-kilter, and unslung the rifle from her

shoulder. Hunt’s rifle. His cedar-and-rain scent wrapped around her as she pumped the barrel, and by the time the demon had whirled back her way, jaws snapping, she’d fired.

Its head was blasted off in a spray of red.

Still she ran on, working her way into the city. Past the few still-open shelters, whose occupants were doing their best to defend the entrances. To buy others time to make it inside.

Another demon launched from a rooftop, curved claws reaching for her—

Bryce swiped Danika’s sword upward, splitting the demon’s mottled gray skin from gut to neck. It crashed into the pavement behind her, leathery wings snapping beneath it, but she was already moving again.

Keep going. She had to keep going.

All her training with Randall, every hour between the boulders and pines of the mountains around her home, every hour in the town rec hall, all of it had been for this.

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