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House of Earth and Blood: Part 3 – Chapter 66


Bryce didn’t know how she wound up on the barge. What she said to Tharion to make him pull up. How she climbed off the wave skimmer and onto the boat itself.

But it happened fast. Fast enough that Hunt had made it only three steps before Bryce was there, soaked and wondering if she’d puke.

Guns clicked, pointing at her. She didn’t see them.

She only saw Hunt whirl toward her, his eyes wide.

Of course she hadn’t recognized him from a distance. He had no wings. But the powerful build, the height, the angle of his head … That was all him.

And his colleague behind him, the one who’d handed over the money—Viktoria. Justinian emerged from the shadows beyond them, his wings painted black to conceal them in the moonlight.

Bryce was distantly aware of Tharion behind her, telling the Viper Queen that she was under arrest on behalf of the River Queen. Distantly aware of the Viper Queen chuckling.

But all she heard was Hunt breathe, “Bryce.”

“What the fuck is this?” she whispered. Rain slashed her face. She couldn’t hear, couldn’t get any air down, couldn’t think as she said again, her voice breaking, “What the fuck is this, Hunt?”

“It is exactly what it looks like,” a cold, deep voice said behind her.

In a storm of white wings, Micah emerged from the mists and landed, flanked by Isaiah, Naomi, and six other angels, all armed to the teeth and in legion black. But they made no move to incapacitate the Viper Queen or her cronies.

No, they all faced Hunt and his companions. Aimed their guns toward them.

Hunt looked at the Governor—then at the Viper Queen. He snarled softly, “You fucking bitch.”

The Viper Queen chuckled. She said to Micah, “You owe me a favor now, Governor.”

Micah jerked his chin in confirmation.

Viktoria hissed at her, halo crinkling on her brow, “You set us up.”

The Viper Queen crossed her arms. “I knew it would be worth my while to see who came sniffing around for this shit when word leaked that I got my hands on a shipment,” she said, motioning toward the synth. Her smile was pure poison as she looked at Hunt. “I was hoping it’d be you, Umbra Mortis.”

Bryce’s heart thundered. “What are you talking about?”

Hunt pivoted to her, his face bleak in the floodlights. “It wasn’t supposed to go down like this, Bryce. Maybe at first, but I saw that video tonight and I tried to stop it, stop them, but they wouldn’t fucking listen—”

“These three thought synth would be an easy way to regain what was taken from them,” the Viper Queen said. A vicious pause. “The power to overthrow their masters.”

The world shifted beneath her. Bryce said, “I don’t believe you.”

But the flicker of pain in Hunt’s eyes told her that her blind, stupid faith in his innocence had gutted him.

“It’s true,” Micah said, his voice like ice. “These three learned of the synth days ago, and have since been seeking a way to purchase it—and to distribute it among their fellow would-be rebels. To attain its powers long enough to break their halos, and finish what Shahar started on Mount Hermon.” He nodded toward the Viper Queen. “She was gracious enough to inform me of this plan, after Justinian tried to recruit a female under her … influence.”

Bryce shook her head. She was trembling so hard that Tharion gripped her around the waist.

“I told you I’d figure out your asking price, Athalar,” the Viper Queen said.

Bryce began crying. She hated every tear, every shuddering, stupid gasp. Hated the pain in Hunt’s eyes as he stared at her, only her, and said, “I’m sorry.”

But Bryce just asked, “Days ago?”

Silence.

She said again, “You knew about the synth days ago?”

Her heart—it was her stupid fucking heart that was cracking and cracking and cracking …

Hunt said, “Micah assigned me some targets. Three drug lords. They told me that two years ago, a small amount of synth leaked from the Redner lab and onto the streets. But it ran out fast—too fast. They said that finally, after two years of trying to replicate it, someone had figured out the formula at last, and it was now being made—and would be capable of amping up our power. I didn’t think it had anything to do with the case—not until recently. I didn’t know the truth of what the Hel it could even do until I saw that footage of the trials.”

“How.” Her word cut through the rain. “How did it leak?”

Hunt shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”

Micah said coldly, “Danika Fendyr.”

Bryce backed up a step, into Tharion’s grip. “That’s not possible.”

Hunt said with a gentleness that decimated her, “Danika sold it, Bryce. It’s why she was spotted on that boat with the crate of it. I figured it out nearly a week ago. She stole the formula for it, sold the stock, and—” He stopped himself.

“And what?” Bryce whispered. “And what, Hunt?”

“And Danika used it herself. Was addicted to it.”

She was going to be sick. “Danika would never have done that. She never would have done any of this.”

Hunt shook his head. “She did, Bryce.”

“No.”

When Micah didn’t interrupt them, Hunt said, “Look at the evidence.” His voice was sharp as knives. “Look at the last messages between you. The drugs we found in your system that night—that was standard shit for you two. So what was one more kind of drug? One that in small doses could give an even more intense high? One that could take the edge off for Danika after a long day, after Sabine had ripped her apart yet again? One that gave her a taste of what it’d be like to be Prime of the wolves, gave her that power, since she was waiting to make the Drop with you?”

No.”

Hunt’s voice cracked. “She took it, Bryce. All signs point to her killing those two CCU students the night the Horn was stolen. They saw her stealing the Horn and she chased them down and killed them.”

Bryce remembered Danika’s pallor when she’d told her about the students’ deaths, her haunted eyes.

“It’s not true.”

Hunt shook his head. As if he could undo it, unlearn it. “Those drug lords I killed said Danika was seen around the Meat Market. Talking about synth. It was how Danika knew Maximus Tertian—he was an addict like her. His girlfriend had no idea.”

“No.”

But Hunt looked to Micah. “I assume we’re going now.” He held out his wrists. For cuffs. Indeed, those were gorsian stones—thick, magic-killing manacles—gleaming in Isaiah’s hands.

The Archangel said, “Aren’t you going to tell her the rest?”

Hunt stilled. “It’s not necessary. Let’s go.”

“Tell me what,” Bryce whispered. Tharion’s hands tightened on her arms in warning.

“That he already knows the truth about Danika’s murder,” the Archangel said coldly. Bored. As if he’d done this a thousand times, in a thousand variations. As if he’d already guessed.

Bryce looked at Hunt and saw it in his eyes. She began shaking her head, weeping. “No.”

Hunt said, “Danika took the synth the night she died. Took too much of it. It drove her out of her mind. She slaughtered her own pack. And then herself.”

Only Tharion’s grip was keeping her upright. “No, no, no—”

Hunt said, “It’s why there was never any audio of the killer, Bryce.”

“She was begging for her life—”

“She was begging herself to stop,” Hunt said. “The only snarls on the recording were hers.”

Danika. Danika had killed the pack. Killed Thorne. Killed Connor.

And then ripped herself to shreds.

“But the Horn—”

“She must have stolen it just to piss off Sabine. And then probably sold it on the black market. It had nothing to do with any of this. It was always about the synth for her.”

Micah cut in, “I have it on good authority that Danika stole footage of the synth trials from Redner’s lab.”

“But the kristallos—”

“A side effect of the synth, when used in high doses,” Micah said. “The surge of powerful magic it grants the user also brings the ability to open portals, thanks to the obsidian salt in its formula. Danika did just that, accidentally summoning the kristallos. The black salt in the synth can have a mind of its own. A sentience. Its measurement in the synth’s formula matches the unholy number of the kristallos. With high doses of synth, the power of the salt gains control and can summon the kristallos. That’s why we’ve been seeing them recently—the drug is on the streets now, in doses often higher than recommended. Like you suspected, the kristallos feeds on vital organs, using the sewers to deposit bodies into the waterway. The two recent murder victims—the acolyte and the temple guard—were the unfortunate victims of someone high on the synth.”

Silence fell again. And Bryce turned once more to Hunt. “You knew.”

He held her stare. “I’m sorry.”

Her voice rose to a scream. “You knew!”

Hunt lunged—one step toward her.

A gun gleamed in the dark, pressed against his head, and halted him in his tracks.

Bryce knew that handgun. The engraved silver wings on the black barrel.

“You move, angel, and you fucking die.”

Hunt held up his hands. But his eyes did not leave Bryce as Fury Axtar emerged from the shadows beyond the crates of synth.

Bryce didn’t question how Fury had arrived without even Micah noticing or how she knew to come. Fury Axtar was liquid night—she’d made herself infamous for knowing the world’s secrets.

Fury edged around Hunt, backing up to Bryce’s side. She pocketed the gun in the holster at her thigh, her usual skintight black suit gleaming with rain and her chin-length black hair dripping with it, but said to the Viper Queen, “Get the fuck out of my sight.”

A sly smile. “It’s my boat.”

“Then go somewhere I can’t see your face.”

Bryce didn’t have it in her to be shocked that the Viper Queen obeyed Fury’s order.

Didn’t have it in her to do anything but stare at Hunt. “You knew,” she said again.

Hunt’s eyes scanned hers. “I never wanted you to be hurt. I never wanted you to know—”

“You knew, you knew, you knew!” He’d figured out the truth, and for nearly a week, he’d said nothing to her. Had let her go on and on about how much she loved her friend, how great Danika had been, and had led her in fucking circles. “All your talk about the synth being a waste of my time to look into …” She could barely get the words out. “Because you realized the truth already. Because you lied.” She threw out an arm to the crates of drugs. “Because you learned the truth and then realized you wanted the synth for yourself? And when you wanted to help the medwitch find an antidote … It was for yourself. And all of this for what—to rebel again?”

Hunt slid to his knees, as if he’d beg her forgiveness. “At first, yes, but it was all just based on a rumor of what it could do. Then tonight I saw that footage you found, and I wanted to pull out from the deal. I knew it wasn’t right—any of it. Even with the antidote, it was too dangerous. I realized all this was the wrong path. But you and me, Bryce … You are where I want to end up. A life—with youYou are my fucking path.” He pointed to Justinian and Viktoria, stone-faced and handcuffed. “I messaged them that it was over, but they got spooked, contacted the Viper Queen, and insisted it was going down tonight. I swear, I came here only to stop it, to put a fucking end to it before it became a disaster. I never—”

She grabbed the white opal from her pocket and hurled it at him.

Hurled it so hard it slammed into Hunt’s head. Blood flowed from his temple. As if the halo itself were bleeding.

“I never want to see you again,” she whispered as Hunt gazed at the blood-splattered opal on the deck.

“That won’t be a problem,” Micah said, and Isaiah stepped forward, gorsian stone manacles gleaming like amethyst fire. The same as those around Viktoria’s and Justinian’s wrists.

Bryce couldn’t stop shaking as she leaned back into Tharion, Fury a silent force beside her.

“Bryce, I’m sorry,” Hunt said as a grim-looking Isaiah clapped the shackles on him. “I couldn’t bear the thought of you—”

“That’s enough,” Fury said. “You’ve said and done enough.” She looked to Micah. “She’s done with you. All of you.” She tugged Bryce toward her wave skimmer idling beside Tharion’s, the mer male guarding their backs. “You bother her again and I’ll pay you a visit, Governor.”

Bryce didn’t notice as she was eased onto the wave skimmer. As Fury got on in front of her and gunned the engine. As Tharion slipped onto his and trailed, to guard the way back to shore.

“Bryce,” Hunt tried again as she wrapped her arms around Fury’s tiny waist. “Your heart was already so broken, and the last thing I ever wanted to do was—”

She didn’t look back at him as the wind whipped her hair and the wave skimmer launched into the rain and darkness.

BRYCE!” Hunt roared.

She didn’t look back.


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