House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City) (7 page)

BOOK: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City)
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Her breath tore apart her lungs as she hurtled along the alley, dodging piles of trash. Whatever she was chasing had gotten only a brief head start.

Where was it, where was it?

Every logical thought was a ribbon floating above her head. She read them, as if following a stock ticker mounted on a building’s side in the CBD.

One glimpse, even if she couldn’t kill it. One glimpse, just to ID it, for Danika—

Bryce cleared the alley, careening onto bustling Central Avenue, the street full of fleeing people and honking cars. She leapt over their hoods, scaling them one after another, every movement as smooth as one of her dance steps.
Leap, twirl, arch
—her body did
not fail her. Not as she followed the creature’s rotting stench to another alley. Another and another.

They were almost at the Istros. A snarl and roar rent the air ahead. It had come from another connected alley, more of a dead-end alcove between two brick buildings.

She hefted the table leg, wishing she’d grabbed Danika’s sword instead, wondering if Danika had even had time to unsheathe it—

No. The sword was in the gallery, where Danika had ignored Jesiba’s warning and left it in the supply closet. Bryce launched herself around the alley’s corner.

Blood everywhere.
Everywhere
.

And the thing halfway down the alley … not Vanir. Not one she’d encountered before.

A demon? Some feral thing with smooth, near-translucent gray skin. It crawled on four long, spindly limbs, but looked vaguely humanoid. And it was feasting on someone else.

On—on a malakh.

Blood covered the angel’s face, soaking his hair and veiling the swollen, battered features beneath. His white wings were splayed and snapped, his powerful body arced in agony as the beast ripped at his chest with a maw of clear, crystalline fangs that easily dug through skin and bone—

She did not think, did not feel.

She moved, fast like Randall had taught her, brutal like he’d made her learn to be.

She slammed the table leg into the creature’s head so hard that bone and wood cracked.

It was thrown off the angel and whirled, its back legs twisting beneath it while its front legs—
arms
—gouged lines in the cobblestones.

The creature had no eyes. Only smooth planes of bone above deep slits—its nose.

And the blood that leaked from its temple … it was clear, not red.

Bryce panted, the malakh male groaning some wordless plea as the creature sniffed at her.

She blinked and blinked, willing the lightseeker and mirthroot out of her system, willing the image ahead to stop blurring—

The creature lunged. Not for her—but the angel. Right back to the chest and heart it was trying to get to. The more considerable prey.

Bryce launched forward, table leg swinging again. The reverberations against bone bit into her palm. The creature roared, blindly surging at her.

She dodged, but its sharp, clear fangs ripped her thigh clean open as she twisted away.

She screamed, losing her balance, and swung upward as it leapt again, this time for her throat.

Wood smashed those clear teeth. The demon shrieked, so loudly that her Fae ears nearly ruptured, and she dared all of one blink—

Claws scraped, hissing sounded, and then it was gone.

It was just clearing the lip of the brick building the malakh lay slumped against. She could track it from the streets, could keep it in sight long enough for the Aux or 33rd to come—

Bryce had dared one step when the angel groaned again. His hand was against his chest, pushing weakly. Not hard enough to stop the death-bite from gushing blood. Even with his fast healing, even if he’d made the Drop, the injuries were substantial enough to be fatal.

Someone screamed in a nearby street as the creature jumped between buildings.

Go, go,
go
.

The angel’s face was so battered it was barely more than a slab of swollen flesh.

The table leg clattered into a puddle of the angel’s blood as she dove for him, biting down her scream at the burning gash in her thigh. Someone had poured
acid
onto her skin, her bones.

Unbearable, impenetrable darkness swept through her, blanketing everything within.

But she shoved her hand against the angel’s wound, not allowing herself to feel the wet, torn flesh, the jagged bone of his cleaved sternum. The creature had been eating its way into his heart—

“Phone,” she panted. “Do you have a phone?”

The angel’s white wing was so shredded it was mostly red splinters. But it shifted slightly to reveal the pocket of his black jeans. The square lump in them.

How she managed to pull out the phone with one hand was beyond her. Time was still snagging, speeding and stopping. Pain lanced through her leg with every breath.

But she gripped the sleek black device in her wrecked hands, her red nails almost snapping with the force as she punched in the emergency number.

A male voice answered on the first ring. “Crescent City Rescue—”

“Help.” Her voice broke.
“Help.”

A pause. “Miss, I need you to specify where you are, what the situation is.”

“Old Square. River—off the river, near Cygnet Street …” But that was where she lived. She was blocks away from that. Didn’t know the cross streets. “Please—please help.”

The angel’s blood soaked her lap. Her knees were bleeding, scraped raw.

And Danika was

And Danika was

And Danika was

“Miss, I need you to tell me where you are—we can have wolves on the scene in a minute.”

She sobbed then, and the angel’s limp fingers brushed against her torn knee. As if in comfort.

“Phone,” she managed, interrupting the responder. “His phone—track it, track us. Find us.”

“Miss, are you—”

“Track this phone number.”

“Miss, I need a moment to—”

She pulled up the main screen of the phone, clicking through pages in a haze until she found the number herself.
“112 03 0577.”

“Miss, the records are—”

“112 03 0577!”
she screamed into the phone. Over and over.
“112 03 0577!”

It was all she could remember. That stupid number.

“Miss—holy gods.” The line crackled. “They’re coming,” the responder breathed.

He tried to inquire about the injuries on the male, but she dropped the angel’s phone as the drugs pulled her back, yanked her down, and she swayed. The alley warped and rippled.

The angel’s gaze met hers, so full of agony she thought it was what her soul must look like.

His blood poured out between her fingers. It did not stop.

 

6

T
he half-Fae female looked like Hel.

No, not Hel, Isaiah Tiberian realized as he studied her through the one-way mirror in the legion’s holding center. She looked like death.

Looked like the soldiers he’d seen crawl off the blood-drenched battlefields of Pangera.

She sat at the metal table in the center of the interrogation room, staring at nothing. Just as she had done for hours now.

A far cry from the screaming, thrashing female Isaiah and his unit had found in the Old Square alley, her gray dress ripped, her left thigh gushing enough blood that he wondered if she’d faint. She’d been half-wild, either from the sheer terror of what had occurred, the grief sinking in, or the drugs that had been coursing through her system.

Likely a combination of all three. And considering that she was not only a source of information regarding the attack, but also currently a danger to herself, Isaiah had made the call to bring her into the sterile, subterranean processing center a few blocks from the Comitium. A witness, he’d made damn sure the records stated. Not a suspect.

He blew out a long breath, resisting the urge to rest his forehead
against the observation window. Only the incessant hum of the firstlights overhead filled the space.

The first bit of quiet he’d had in hours. He had little doubt it would end soon.

As if the thought had tempted Urd herself, a rough male voice spoke from the door behind him. “She’s still not talking?”

It took all two centuries of Isaiah’s training on and off the battlefield to avoid flinching at that voice. To turn slowly toward the angel he knew would be leaning against the doorway, wearing his usual black battle-suit—an angel who reason and history reminded him was an ally, though every instinct roared the opposite.

Predator. Killer. Monster.

Hunt Athalar’s angular dark eyes, however, remained fixed on the window. On Bryce Quinlan. Not one gray feather on his wings rustled. Ever since their first days in the 17th Legion in southern Pangera, Isaiah had tried to ignore the fact that Hunt seemed to exist within a permanent ripple of stillness. It was the bated silence before a thunderclap, like the entire land held its breath when he was near.

Given what he’d seen Hunt do to his enemies and chosen targets, it came as no surprise.

Hunt’s stare slid toward him.

Right. He’d been asked a question. Isaiah shifted his white wings. “She hasn’t said a word since she was brought in.”

Hunt again regarded the female through the window. “Has the order come down yet to move her to another room?”

Isaiah knew exactly what sort of room Hunt referred to. Rooms designed to get people to talk. Even witnesses.

Isaiah straightened his black silk tie and offered up a half-hearted plea to the five gods that his charcoal business suit wouldn’t be stained with blood by sunrise. “Not yet.”

Hunt nodded once, his golden-brown face betraying nothing.

Isaiah scanned the angel, since Hunt sure as Hel wasn’t going to volunteer anything without being prompted. No sign of the
skull-faced helmet that had earned Hunt a nickname whispered down every corridor and street in Crescent City: the Umbra Mortis.

The Shadow of Death.

Unable to decide whether to be relieved or worried at the absence of Hunt’s infamous helmet, Isaiah wordlessly handed Micah’s personal assassin a thin file.

He made sure his dark brown fingers didn’t touch Hunt’s gloved ones. Not when blood still coated the leather, its scent creeping through the room. He recognized the angelic scent in that blood, so the other scent had to be Bryce Quinlan’s.

Isaiah jerked his chin to the white-tiled interrogation room. “Bryce Quinlan, twenty-three years old, half-Fae, half-human. Blood test from ten years ago confirmed she’ll have an immortal life span. Power rating near-negligible. Hasn’t made the Drop yet. Listed as a full civitas. Found in the alley with one of our own, trying to keep his heart from falling out with her bare hands.”

The words sounded so damn clinical. But he knew Hunt was well versed in the details. They both were. They’d been in that alley, after all. And they knew that even here, in the secure observation room, they’d be fools to risk saying anything delicate aloud.

It had taken both of them to get Bryce to her feet, only for her to collapse against Isaiah—not from grief but from pain.

Hunt had realized it first: her thigh had been shredded open.

She’d still been nearly feral, had thrashed as they guided her back to the ground, Isaiah calling for a medwitch as the blood gushed out of her thigh. An artery had been hit. It was a gods-damn miracle she wasn’t dead before they arrived.

Hunt had cursed up a storm as he knelt before her, and she’d bucked, nearly kicking him in the balls. But then he’d pulled off his helmet. Looked her right in the eye.

And told her to calm the fuck down.

She’d fallen completely silent. Just stared at Hunt, blank and hollow. She didn’t so much as flinch with each punch of the staple gun Hunt had pulled from the small medkit built into his battle-suit. She just stared and stared and stared at the Umbra Mortis.

Yet Hunt hadn’t lingered after he’d stapled her leg shut—he’d
launched into the night to do what he did best: find their enemies and obliterate them.

As if noticing the blood on his gloves, Hunt swore and peeled them off, dumping them into the metal trash can by the door.

Then the male leafed through Quinlan’s thin file, his shoulder-length black hair slipping over his unreadable face.

“Seems like she’s your standard spoiled party girl,” he said, turning the pages. A corner of Hunt’s mouth curved upward, anything but amused. “And what a surprise: she’s Danika Fendyr’s roommate. The Party Princess herself.”

No one but the 33rd used that term—because no one else in Lunathion, not even the Fae royals, would have dared. But Isaiah motioned to keep reading. Hunt had left the alley before he’d learned the entire scope of this disaster.

Hunt kept reading. His brows rose. “Holy fucking Urd.”

Isaiah waited for it.

Hunt’s dark eyes widened. “Danika Fendyr is dead?” He read further. “Along with the entire Pack of Devils.” He shook his head and repeated, “Holy fucking Urd.”

Isaiah took back the file. “It is totally and completely fucked, my friend.”

Hunt’s jaw clenched. “I didn’t find any trace of the demon that did this.”

“I know.” At Hunt’s questioning glance, Isaiah clarified, “If you had, you’d be holding a severed head in your hands right now and not a file.”

Isaiah had been there—on many occasions—when Hunt had done just that, returning triumphant from a demon-hunting mission he’d been ordered to go on by whatever Archangel currently held their reins.

Hunt’s mouth twitched slightly, as if remembering the last time he’d presented a kill in such a manner, but he crossed his powerful arms. Isaiah ignored the inherent dominance in the position. There was a pecking order among them, the five-warrior team who made up the triarii—the most elite of all the Imperial Legion units. Micah’s little cabal.

Though Micah had appointed Isaiah the Commander of the 33rd, he’d never formally declared him its leader. But Isaiah had always assumed he stood right at the top, the unspoken finest soldier of the triarii, despite his fancy suit and tie.

Where Hunt fell, however … no one had really decided in the two years since he’d arrived from Pangera. Isaiah wasn’t entirely sure he really wanted to know, either.

Tracking down and eliminating any demons who crept through cracks in the Northern Rift or entered this world through an illegal summoning was his official role, and one well suited to Hunt’s particular skill set. The gods knew how many of them he’d tracked down over the centuries, starting from that very first Pangeran unit they’d been in together—the 17th—dedicated to sending the creatures into the afterlife.

But the work Hunt did in the shadows for the Archangels—for Micah, currently—that was what had earned him his nickname. Hunt answered directly to Micah, and the rest of them stayed out of his way.

“Naomi just arrested Philip Briggs for the murders,” Isaiah said, naming the captain of the 33rd’s infantry. “Briggs got out of jail today—and Danika and the Pack of Devils were the ones who busted him in the first place.” That the honor hadn’t gone to the 33rd had irked Isaiah to no end. At least Naomi had been the one to apprehend him tonight. “How the fuck a human like Briggs could summon a demon that powerful, I don’t know.”

“I suppose we’ll find out soon enough,” Hunt said darkly.

Yeah, they fucking would. “Briggs has to be ten kinds of stupid to have been released only to go for a kill that big.” The leader of the Keres rebels—an offshoot of the larger rebellion movement, the Ophion—hadn’t seemed dumb, though. Just a fanatic hell-bent on starting a conflict to mirror the war raging across the sea.

“Or maybe Briggs acted on the sole chance of freedom he had before we found an excuse to bring him back into custody,” Hunt countered. “He knew his time was limited and wanted to make sure he got one up on the Vanir first.”

Isaiah shook his head. “What a mess.” Understatement of the century.

Hunt blew out a breath. “Has the press gotten wind of anything?”

“Not yet,” Isaiah said. “And I got the order a few minutes ago that we’re to keep it quiet—even if it’ll be all over the news tomorrow morning.”

Hunt’s eyes gleamed. “I’ve got no one to tell.”

Indeed, Hunt and the concept of
friends
didn’t mesh well. Even among the triarii, even after being here for two years, Hunt still kept to himself. Still worked relentlessly toward one thing: freedom. Or rather, the slim chance of it.

Isaiah sighed. “How soon until Sabine gets here?”

Hunt checked his phone. “Sabine’s on her way downstairs right—” The door blew open. Hunt’s eyes flickered. “Now.”

Sabine looked barely older than Bryce Quinlan, with her fine-boned face and long, silvery blond hair, but there was only an immortal’s rage in her blue eyes. “Where is that half-breed whore—” She simmered as she spotted Bryce through the window. “I’ll fucking
kill
her—”

Isaiah extended a white wing to block the Prime Apparent’s path back out the door and into the interrogation room, a few steps to its left.

Hunt fell into a casual stance on her other side. Lightning danced along his knuckles.

A mild showing of the power Isaiah had witnessed being unleashed upon their enemies: lightning, capable of bringing down a building.

Whether ordinary angel or Archangel, the power was always some variation of the same: rain, storms, the occasional tornado—Isaiah himself could summon wind capable of keeping a charging enemy at bay, but none in living memory possessed Hunt’s ability to harness lightning to his will. Or the depth of power to make it truly destructive. It had been Hunt’s salvation and destruction.

Isaiah let one of his cold breezes sift through Sabine’s corn-silk hair, over to Hunt.

They’d always worked well together—Micah had known it when he put Hunt with Isaiah two years ago, despite the entwined thorns tattooed across both their brows. Most of Hunt’s mark was hidden by his dark hair, but there was no concealing the thin black band on his forehead.

Isaiah could barely remember what his friend had looked like before those Pangeran witches had branded him, working their infernal spells into the ink itself so they might never let his crimes be forgotten, so the witch-magic bound the majority of his power.

The halo, they called it—a mockery of the divine auras early humans had once portrayed angels as possessing.

There was no hiding it on Isaiah’s brow, either, the tattoo on it the same as on Hunt’s, and on the brows of the nearly two thousand rebel angels who had been such idealistic, brave fools two centuries ago.

The Asteri had created the angels to be their perfect soldiers and loyal servants. The angels, gifted with such power, had relished their role in the world. Until Shahar, the Archangel they’d once called the Daystar. Until Hunt and the others who’d flown in Shahar’s elite 18th Legion.

Their rebellion had failed—only for the humans to begin their own forty years ago. A different cause, a different group and species of fighters, but the sentiment was essentially the same: the Republic was the enemy, the rigid hierarchies utter bullshit.

When the human rebels had started their war, one of the idiots should have asked the Fallen angels how their rebellion had failed, long before those humans were even born. Isaiah certainly could have given them some pointers on what not to do. And enlightened them about the consequences.

For there was also no hiding the second tattoo, stamped on their right wrists:
SPQM
.

It adorned every flag and letterhead of the Republic—the four letters encircled with seven stars—and adorned the wrist of every being owned by it. Even if Isaiah chopped off his arm, the limb
that regrew would bear the mark. Such was the power of the witch-ink.

A fate worse than death: to become an eternal servant to those they’d sought to overthrow.

Deciding to spare Sabine from Hunt’s way of dealing with things, Isaiah asked mildly, “I understand you are grieving, but do you have reason, Sabine, to want Bryce dead?”

Sabine snarled, pointing at Bryce, “She took the sword. That wannabe wolf took Danika’s sword. I know she did, it’s not at the apartment—and it’s
mine
.”

Isaiah had seen those details: that the heirloom of the Fendyr family was missing. But there was no sign of Bryce Quinlan possessing it. “What does the sword have to do with your daughter’s death?”

Rage and grief warred in that feral face. Sabine shook her head, ignoring his question, and said, “Danika couldn’t stay out of trouble. She could never keep her mouth
shut
and know when to be quiet around her enemies. And look what became of her. That stupid little bitch in there is still breathing, and Danika is
not
.” Her voice nearly cracked. “Danika should have known better.”

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