Chapter no 86

House of Earth and Blood

The city was starting to go quiet. Every time Declan checked the audio in another district, more screams had diminished, cut off one by one.

Not from any calm or salvation, Hunt knew.

The voids in the Gates remained open. The sunset gave way to bruised purple skies. When true night fell, he could imagine what sort of horrors Hel would send through. The kind that did not like the light, that had been bred and learned to hunt in the dark.

Bryce was still out there. One mistake, one misstep, and she would be dead.

There would be no healing, no regeneration. Not without the Drop.

She made it over the border of the Old Square. But she didn’t run for safety. No, she seemed to be running for the Heart Gate, where the flow of demons had halted. As if Hel were indeed waiting for true night to begin before its second round.

His heart thundered as she paused down the block from the Gate. As she ducked into the alcove of a nearby shelter. Illuminated by the firstlight lamp mounted outside it, she slid to the ground, her sword loosely gripped in one hand.

Hunt knew that position, that angle of the head.

A soldier who had fought a good, hard battle. A soldier who was exhausted, but would take this moment, this last moment, to rally before their final stand.

Hunt bared his teeth at the screen, “Get up, Bryce.”

Ruhn was shaking his head, terror stark on his face. The Autumn King said nothing. Did nothing as he watched his daughter on the feed Declan placed on the main screen.

Bryce reached into her shirt to pull out her phone. Her hands were shaking so hard she could barely hold it. But she hit a button on the screen and lifted it to her ear. Hunt knew what that was, too. Her final chance to say goodbye to her parents, her loved ones.

A faint ringing sounded in the conference room. From the table at its center. Hunt looked to Jesiba, but her phone remained dark. Ruhn’s stayed dark as well. Everyone went silent as Sandriel pulled a phone from her pocket. Hunt’s phone.

Sandriel glanced toward him, shock slackening her face. Every thought eddied from Hunt’s head.

“Give him the phone,” Ruhn said softly. Sandriel just stared at the screen. Debating. “Give him the fucking phone,” Ruhn ordered her.

Sandriel, to Hunt’s shock, did. With trembling hands, he picked up. “Bryce?”

On the video feed, he could see her wide eyes. “Hunt?” Her voice was so raw. “I—I thought it would go to audiomail—”

“Help is coming soon, Bryce.”

The stark terror on her face as she surveyed the last of the sunlight destroyed him. “No—no, it’ll be too late.”

“It won’t. I need you to get up, Bryce. Get to a safer location. Do not

go any closer to that Gate.”

She bit her lip, trembling. “It’s still wide open—”

“Go to your apartment and stay there until help comes.” The panicked terror on her face hardened into something calm at his order. Focused. Good.

“Hunt, I need you to call my mom.”

“Don’t start making those kinds of goodbyes—”

“I need you to call my mom,” she said quietly. “I need you to tell her that I love her, and that everything I am is because of her. Her strength and her courage and her love. And I’m sorry for all the bullshit I put her through.”


“Tell my dad …,” she whispered. The Autumn King stiffened. Looked back toward Hunt. “Tell Randall,” she clarified, “that I’m so proud I got to call him my father. That he was the only one that ever mattered.”

Hunt could have sworn something like shame flitted across the Autumn King’s face. But Hunt implored, “Bryce, you need to move to safer ground now.”

She did no such thing. “Tell Fury I’m sorry I lied. That I would have told her the truth eventually.” Across the room, the assassin had tears running down her face. “Tell Juniper …” Bryce’s voice broke. “Tell her thank you—for that night on the roof.” She swallowed a sob. “Tell her that I know now why she stopped me from jumping. It was so I could get here—to help today.”

Hunt’s heart cracked entirely. He hadn’t known, hadn’t guessed that things had ever been that bad for her—

From the pure devastation on Ruhn’s face, her brother hadn’t known, either.

“Tell Ruhn I forgive him,” Bryce said, shaking again. Tears streamed down the prince’s face.

“I forgave him a long time ago,” Bryce said. “I just didn’t know how to tell him. Tell him I’m sorry I hid the truth, and that I only did it because I love him and didn’t want to take anything away from him. He’ll always be the better one of us.”

The agony on Ruhn’s face turned to confusion.

But Hunt couldn’t bear it. He couldn’t take another word of this. “Bryce, please—”

“Hunt.” The entire world went quiet. “I was waiting for you.” “Bryce, sweetheart, just get back to your apartment and give me an

hour and—”

“No,” she whispered, closing her eyes. She put her hand on her chest. Over her heart. “I was waiting for you—in here.”

Hunt couldn’t stop his own tears then. “I was waiting for you, too.” She smiled, even as she sobbed again.

“Please,” Hunt begged. “Please, Bryce. You have to go now. Before more come through.”

She opened her eyes and got to her feet as true night fell. Faced the Gate halfway down the block. “I forgive you—for the shit with the synth. For all of it. None of it matters. Not anymore.” She ended the call and leaned Danika’s sword against the wall of the shelter alcove. Placed her phone carefully on the ground next to it.

Hunt shot from his seat. “BRYCE

She ran for the Gate.

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