Authors: Sarah J. Maas
Hunt reached her as the Archangel and his Commander paused outside. She only gave Hunt a winning, bland smile and began closing the door on him before he could step onto the dusty street. He wedged a foot between the door and jamb, and the enchantments zinged and snapped against his skin as they tried to align around him. Her amber eyes flared.
Hunt gave her a sharp grin. “Make a list of suspects today. Anyone who might have wanted Danika and her pack dead.” If Danika knew her murderer, odds were that Bryce probably did, too. “And make a list of Danika’s locations and activities during the last few days of her life.”
Bryce only smiled again, as if she hadn’t heard a damn word he said. But then she hit some button beside the door that had the enchantments
Hunt jumped back, his lightning flaring, defending against an enemy that was not there.
The door shut. She purred through the intercom, “I’ll call you. Don’t bother me until then.”
Urd fucking spare him.
top the roof of the gallery a moment later, Isaiah silent at his side, Hunt watched the late morning sunlight gild Micah’s pristine white wings and set the strands of gold in his hair to near-glowing as the Archangel inspected the walled city sprawled around them.
Hunt instead surveyed the flat roof, broken up only by equipment and the doorway to the gallery below.
Micah’s wings shifted, his only warning that he was about to speak. “Time is not our ally.”
Hunt just said, “Do you really think Quinlan can find whoever is behind this?” He let the question convey the extent of his own faith in her.
Micah angled his head. An ancient, lethal predator sizing up prey. “I think this is a matter that requires us to use every weapon in our arsenal, no matter how unorthodox.” He sighed as he looked out at the city again.
Lunathion had been built as a model of the ancient coastal cities around the Rhagan Sea, a near-exact replica that included its sandstone walls, the arid climate, the olive groves and little farms that lined distant hills beyond the city borders to the north, even the great temple to a patron goddess in the very center. But unlike those cities, this one had been allowed to adapt: streets lay in an orderly grid, not a tangle; and modern buildings jutted up like lances in
the heart of the CBD, far surpassing the strict height codes of Pangera.
Micah had been responsible for it—for seeing this city as a tribute to the old model, but also a place for the future to thrive. He’d even embraced using the name Crescent City over Lunathion.
A male of progress. Of tolerance, they said.
Hunt often wondered what it would feel like to rip out his throat.
He’d contemplated it so many times he’d lost count. Had contemplated blasting a bolt of his lightning into that beautiful face, that perfect mask for the brutal, demanding bastard inside.
Maybe it was unfair. Micah had been born into his power, had never known a life as anything but one of the major forces on this planet. A near-god who was unused to having his authority questioned and would put down any threats to it.
A rebellion led by a fellow Archangel and three thousand warriors had been just that. Even though nearly all of his triarii was now made up of the Fallen. Offering them a second chance, apparently. Hunt couldn’t fathom why he’d bother being that merciful.
Micah said, “Sabine is certainly already putting her people on this case and will be visiting my office to tell me precisely what she thinks of the fuckup with Briggs.” An icy glance between them. “I want
to find the murderer, not the wolves.”
Hunt said coolly, “Dead or alive?”
“Alive, preferably. But dead is better than letting the person run free.”
Hunt dared ask, “And will this investigation count toward my quota? It could take months.”
Isaiah tensed. But Micah’s mouth curled upward. For a long moment, he said nothing. Hunt didn’t so much as blink.
Then Micah said, “How about this incentive, Athalar: you solve this case quickly—you solve it before the Summit, and I’ll lower your debts to ten.”
The very wind seemed to halt.
“Ten,” Hunt managed to say, “more assignments?”
It was outrageous. Micah had no reason to offer him anything. Not when his word was all that was needed for Hunt to obey.
“Ten more assignments,” Micah said, as if he hadn’t dropped a fucking bomb into the middle of Hunt’s life.
It could be a fool’s bargain. Micah might draw out those ten assignments over decades, but … Burning fucking Solas.
The Archangel added, “You tell no one about this, Athalar.” That he didn’t bother to also warn Isaiah suggested enough about how much he trusted his commander.
Hunt said, as calmly as he could, “All right.”
Micah’s stare turned merciless, though. He scanned Hunt from head to toe. Then the gallery beneath their booted feet. The assistant within it. Micah growled, “Keep your dick in your pants and your hands to yourself. Or you’ll find yourself without either for a long while.”
Hunt would regrow both, of course. Any immortal who made the Drop could regrow just about anything if they weren’t beheaded or severely mutilated, with arteries bleeding out, but … the recovery would be painful. Slow. And being dickless, even for a few months, wasn’t high up on Hunt’s to-do list.
Fucking around with a half-human assistant was the least of his priorities, anyway, with freedom potentially ten kills away.
Isaiah nodded for both of them. “We’ll keep it professional.”
Micah twisted toward the CBD, assessing the river breeze, his pristine wings twitching. He said to Isaiah, “Be in my office in an hour.”
Isaiah bowed at the waist to the Archangel, a Pangeran gesture that made Hunt’s hackles rise. He’d been forced to do that, at the risk of having his feathers pulled out, burned off, sliced apart. Those initial decades after the Fall had not been kind.
The wings he knew were mounted to the wall in the Asteri throne room were proof.
But Isaiah had always known how to play the game, how to stomach their protocols and hierarchies. How to dress like them, dine and fuck like them. He’d Fallen and risen back to the rank of commander because of it. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Micah recommended that Isaiah’s halo be removed at the next Governors’ Council with the Asteri after the Winter Solstice.
No assassinating, butchering, or torturing required.
Micah didn’t so much as glance at them before he shot into the skies. Within seconds he’d become a white speck in the sea of blue.
Isaiah blew out a breath, frowning toward the spires atop the five towers of the Comitium, a glass-and-steel crown rising from the heart of the CBD.
“You think there’s a catch?” Hunt asked his friend.
“He doesn’t scheme like that.” Like Sandriel and most of the other Archangels. “He means what he says. He’s got to be desperate, if he wants to give you that kind of motivation.”
“He owns me. His word is my command.”
“With Sandriel coming, maybe he realized it’d be advantageous if you were inclined to be … loyal.”
“Then I don’t fucking know, Hunt. Maybe he was just feeling generous.” Isaiah shook his head again. “Don’t question the hand Urd dealt you.”
Hunt blew out a breath. “I know.” Odds were, the truth was a combination of those things.
Isaiah arched a brow. “You think you can find whoever is behind this?”
“I don’t have a choice.” Not with this new bargain on the table. He tasted the dry wind, half listening to its rasping song through the sacred cypresses lining the street below—the thousands of them in this city planted in honor of its patron goddess.
“You’ll find them,” Isaiah said. “I know you will.”
“If I can stop thinking about Sandriel’s visit.” Hunt blew out a breath, dragging his hands through his hair. “I can’t believe she’s coming
. With that piece of shit Pollux.”
Isaiah said carefully, “Tell me you realize that Micah threw you
big fucking bone just now in stationing you to protect Quinlan instead of keeping you around the Comitium with Sandriel there.”
Hunt knew that, knew Micah was well aware of how Hunt felt about Sandriel and Pollux, but rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Trumpet all you want about how fantastic Micah is, but remember that the bastard is welcoming her with open arms.”
“The Asteri ordered her to come for the Summit,” Isaiah countered. “It’s standard for them to send one of the Archangels as their emissary to these meetings. Governor Ephraim came to the last one here. Micah welcomed him, too.”
Hunt said, “The fact remains that she’ll be here for a whole month. In that fucking complex.” He pointed to the five buildings of the Comitium. “Lunathion isn’t her scene. There’s nothing to amuse her here.”
With most of the Fallen either scattered to the four winds or dead, Sandriel enjoyed nothing better than strolling through her castle dungeons, crammed full of human rebels, and selecting one, two, or three at a time. The arena at the heart of her city was just for the pleasure of destroying these prisoners in various ways. Battles to the death, public torture, unleashing Lowers and basic animals against them … There was no end to her creativity. Hunt had seen and endured it all.
With the conflict currently surging, those dungeons were sure to be packed. Sandriel and Pollux must have been enjoying the Hel out of the pain that flowed from that arena.
The thought made Hunt stiffen. “Pollux will be a fucking menace in this city.” The Hammer was well known for his favorite activities: slaughter and torture.
“Pollux will be dealt with. Micah knows what he’s like—what he does. The Asteri might have ordered him to welcome Sandriel, but he isn’t going to let her give Pollux free rein.” Isaiah paused, eyes going distant as he seemed to weigh something internally. “But I can make you unavailable while Sandriel visits—permanently.”
Hunt lifted an eyebrow. “If you’re referring to Micah’s promise to make me dickless, I’ll pass.”
Isaiah laughed quietly. “Micah gave you an order to investigate with Quinlan. Orders that will make you very, very busy. Especially if he wants Bryce protected.”
Hunt threw him a half grin. “So busy that I won’t have time to be around the Comitium.”
“So busy that you’ll be staying on the roof across from Quinlan’s building to monitor her.”
“I’ve slept in worse conditions.” So had Isaiah. “And it’d be an easy cover for keeping an eye on Quinlan for more than protection.”
Isaiah frowned. “You honestly mark her as a suspect?”
“I’m not ruling it out,” Hunt said, shrugging. “Micah didn’t clear her, either. So until she proves otherwise, she’s not off
list.” He wondered who the Hel might make it onto Quinlan’s list of suspects. When Isaiah only nodded, Hunt asked, “You’re not going to tell Micah I’m watching her around the clock?”
“If he notices that you’re not sleeping at the barracks, I’ll tell him. But until then, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
“Thanks.” It wasn’t a word in Hunt’s normal vocabulary, not to anyone with wings, but he meant it. Isaiah had always been the best of them—the best of the Fallen, and all the legionaries Hunt had ever served with. Isaiah should have been in the Asterian Guard, with those skills and those pristine white wings, but like Hunt, Isaiah had come from the gutter. Only the highborn would do for the Asteri’s elite private legion. Even if it meant passing over good soldiers like Isaiah.
Hunt, with his gray wings and common blood, despite his lightning, had never even been in the running. Being asked to join Shahar’s elite 18th had been privilege enough. He’d loved her almost instantly for seeing his worth—and Isaiah’s. All of the 18th had been like that: soldiers she’d selected not for their status, but their skills. Their true value.
Isaiah gestured toward the CBD and the Comitium within it. “Grab your gear from the barracks. I need to make a stop before I meet with Micah.” At Hunt’s blink, Isaiah winced. “I owe Prince Ruhn a visit to confirm Quinlan’s alibi.”
It was the last fucking thing Hunt wanted to do, and the last fucking thing he knew Isaiah wanted to do, but protocols were protocols. “You want me to go with you?” Hunt offered. It was the least he could offer.
The corner of Isaiah’s mouth lifted. “Considering that you broke Danaan’s nose the last time you were in a room together, I’m going to say no.”
Wise move. Hunt drawled, “He deserved it.”
Micah, mercifully, had found the entire event—the Incident, as Naomi called it—amusing. It wasn’t every day that the Fae had their asses handed to them, so even the Governor had discreetly gloated over the altercation at the Spring Equinox celebrations the previous year. He’d given Hunt a whole week off for it.
, Micah had claimed—but that suspension had come with an especially padded paycheck. And three less deaths to atone for.
Isaiah said, “I’ll call you later to check in.”
Isaiah threw him a weary, worn smile—the only hint of the grind of all these years with those two tattoos—and went to track down Ruhn Danaan, the Crown Prince of the Fae.
Bryce paced the showroom once, hissed at the pain in her leg, and kicked off her heels hard enough that one slammed into the wall, setting an ancient vase shuddering.
A cool voice asked behind her, “When you nail Hunt Athalar’s balls to the wall, will you do me a favor and take a picture?”
She glared at the vidscreen that had come on again—and the sorceress still sitting there. “You really want to get mixed up in this, boss?”
Jesiba leaned back in her gilded chair, a queen at ease. “Good old-fashioned revenge doesn’t hold any appeal?”
“I have no idea who wanted Danika and the pack dead. None.” It had made sense when it seemed like Briggs had summoned the demon to do it: he’d been released that day, Danika was on edge and upset about it, and then she had died. But if it wasn’t Briggs, and with Maximus Tertian killed … She didn’t know where to start.
But she’d do it. Find whoever had done this. A small part of it was just to make Micah Domitus eat his words hinting that she might be
in this case, but … She ground her teeth. She’d find whoever had done this and make them regret ever being born.
Bryce walked over to the desk, stifling the limp. She perched on the edge. “The Governor must be desperate.” And insane, if he was asking for her help.
“I don’t care about the Governor’s agenda,” Jesiba said. “Play vengeful detective all you want, Bryce, but do remember that you have a job. Client meetings will not take a back seat.”
“I know.” Bryce chewed on the inside of her cheek. “If whoever is behind this is strong enough to summon a demon like that to do their dirty work, I’ll likely wind up dead, too.” Very likely, given that she hadn’t decided if or when to make the Drop yet.
Those gray glittering eyes roved over her face. “Then keep Athalar close.”
Bryce bristled. As if she were some little female in need of a big, strong warrior to guard her.