House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City) (44 page)

BOOK: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City)
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No one and nothing existed but this—but her.

He never heard the night-dark bushes behind him rustling. Never heard the branches cracking.

Not until the kristallos crashed into him and sank its teeth into his shoulder.

 

46

T
he kristallos slammed into Hunt with the force of an SUV.

Bryce knew he only had enough time to either draw a weapon or shove her out of the way. Hunt chose her.

She hit the asphalt several feet from him, bones barking, and froze. Angel and demon went down, the kristallos pinning Hunt with a roar that sent the night garden shuddering.

It was worse. So much worse than that night.

Blood sprayed, and a knife glinted as Hunt pulled it from its sheath and plunged it into the grayish, near-translucent hide.

Veins of lightning wreathed Hunt’s hands—and faded into blackness.

People screamed and bolted down the path, cries to
run!
ringing through the glowing flora. Bryce barely heard them as she climbed to her knees.

Hunt rolled, flipping the creature off him and onto the pathway, wrenching his knife free in the process. Clear blood dripped down the blade as Hunt angled it in front of himself, his shredded arm outflung to protect Bryce. Lightning flared and sputtered at his fingertips.

“Call for backup,” he panted without taking his focus off the demon, who paced a step, a clawed hand—crystalline talons glinting—going to the wound in its side.

She’d never seen anything like it. Anything so unearthly, so primal and raging. Her memory of that night was fogged with rage and grief and drugs, so this, the real, undiluted thing—

Bryce reached for her phone, but the creature lunged for Hunt.

The angel’s blade drove home. It made no difference.

They again toppled to the path, and Hunt bellowed as the demon’s jaws wrapped around his forearm and
crunched
.

His lightning died out entirely.

Move.
Move
, she had to
move

Hunt’s free fist slammed into the creature’s face hard enough to crack bone, but the crystal teeth remained clamped.

This thing pinned him down so easily. Had it done just this to Danika? Shredding and shredding?

Hunt grunted, brow bunched in pain and concentration. His lightning had vanished. Not one flicker of it rose again.

Every part of her shook.

Hunt punched the demon’s face again, “
Bryce
—”

She scrambled into movement. Not for her phone, but for the gun holstered at Hunt’s hip.

The blind demon sensed her, its nostrils flaring as her fingers wrapped around the handgun. She freed the safety, hauling it up as she uncoiled to her feet.

The creature released Hunt’s arm and leapt for her. Bryce fired, but too slow. The demon lunged to the side, dodging her bullet. Bryce fell back as it roared and leapt for her again—

Its head snapped to the side, clear blood spraying like rain as a knife embedded itself to the hilt just above its mouth.

Hunt was upon it again, drawing another long knife from a hidden panel down the back of his battle-suit and plunging the blade right into the skull and toward the spine.

The creature struggled, snapping for Bryce, its clear teeth stained red with Hunt’s blood. She’d wound up on the pavement somehow, and crawled backward as it tried to lunge for her. Failed to, as Hunt wrapped his hands around the blade and
twisted
.

The crack of its severing neck was muffled by the moss-shrouded trees.

Bryce still aimed the handgun. “Get out of the way.”

Hunt released his grip, letting the creature slump to the mossy path. Its black tongue lolled from its clear-fanged mouth.

“Just in case,” Bryce said, and fired. She didn’t miss this time.

Sirens wailed, and wings filled the air. Ringing droned in her head.

Hunt withdrew his blade from the creature’s skull and brought it down with a mighty, one-armed sweep. The severed head tumbled away. Hunt moved again, and the head split in half. Then quarters.

Another plunge and the hateful heart was skewered, too. Clear blood leaked everywhere, like a spilled vial of serum.

Bryce stared and stared at its ruined head, the horrible, monstrous body.

Powerful forms landed among them, that black-winged malakh instantly at Hunt’s side. “Holy shit, Hunt, what—”

Bryce barely heard the words. Someone helped her to her feet. Blue light flared, and a magi-screen encompassed the site, blocking it from the view of any who hadn’t yet fled. She should have been screaming, should have been leaping for the demon, ripping apart its corpse with her bare hands. But only a thrumming silence filled her head.

She looked around the park, stupidly and slowly, as if she might see Sabine there.

Hunt groaned, and she whirled as he tumbled face-first to the ground. The dark-winged angel caught him, her powerful body easily bearing his weight. “Get a medwitch here
now
!”

His shoulder was gushing blood. So was his forearm. Blood, and some sort of silvery slime.

She knew the burn of that slime, like living fire.

A head of sleek black curls streamed past, and Bryce blinked as a curvy young woman in a medwitch’s blue jumpsuit unhooked the bag across her chest and slid to her knees beside Hunt.

He was bent over, a hand at his forearm, panting heavily. His gray wings sagged, splattered with both clear and red blood.

The medwitch asked him something, the broom-and-bell insignia
on her right arm catching the blue light of the screens. Her brown hands didn’t falter as she used a pair of tweezers to extract what looked to be a small worm from a glass jar full of damp moss and set it on Hunt’s forearm.

He winced, teeth flashing.

“Sucking out the venom,” a female voice explained beside Bryce. The dark-winged angel. Naomi. She pointed a tattooed finger toward Hunt. “They’re mithridate leeches.”

The leech’s black body swiftly swelled. The witch set another on Hunt’s shoulder wound. Then another on his forearm.

Bryce said nothing.

Hunt’s face was pale, his eyes shut as he seemed to focus on his breathing. “I think the venom nullified my power. As soon as it bit me …” He hissed at whatever agony worked through his body. “I couldn’t summon my lightning.”

Recognition jolted through her. It explained so much. Why the kristallos had been able to pin Micah, for one thing. If it had ambushed the Archangel and gotten a good bite, he would have been left with only physical strength. Micah had probably never even realized what happened. Had likely written it off as shock or the swiftness of the attack. Perhaps the bite had nullified the preternatural strength of Danika and the Pack of Devils, too.

“Hey.” Naomi put a hand on Bryce’s shoulder. “You hurt?”

The medwitch peeled a poison-eating leech from Hunt’s shoulder, threw it back in the glass jar, then replaced it with another. Pale light wreathed her hands as she assessed Hunt’s other injuries, then began the process of healing them. She didn’t bother with the vials of firstlight glowing in her bag—a cure-all for many medics. As if she preferred using the magic in her own veins.

“I’m fine.”

Hunt’s body might have been able to heal itself, but it would have taken longer. With the venom in those wounds, Bryce knew too well that it might not really heal at all.

Naomi ran a hand over her inky hair. “You should let that medwitch examine you.”

“No.”

Her onyx eyes sharpened. “If Hunt can let the medwitch work on him, then you—”

Vast, cold power erupted through the site, the garden, the whole quarter of the city. Naomi whirled as Micah landed. Silence fell, Vanir of all types backing away as the Archangel prowled toward the fallen demon and Hunt.

Naomi was the only one with enough balls to approach him. “I was on watch right before Hunt arrived and there was no sign—”

Micah stalked past her, his eyes pinned on the demon. The medwitch, to her credit, didn’t halt her ministrations, but Hunt managed to lift his head to meet Micah’s interrogation.

“What happened.”

“Ambush,” Hunt said, his voice gravelly.

Micah’s white wings seemed to glow with power. And for all the ringing silence in Bryce’s head, all the distance she now felt between her body and what remained of her soul, she stepped up. Like Hel would this jeopardize Micah’s bargain with Hunt. Bryce said, “It came out of the shadows.”

The Archangel raked his eyes over her. “Which one of you did it attack?”

Bryce pointed to Hunt. “Him.”

“And which one of you killed it?”

Bryce began to repeat “Him,” but Hunt cut in, “It was a joint effort.” Bryce shot him a look to keep quiet, but Micah had already pivoted to the demon’s corpse. He toed it with his boot, frowning.

“We can’t let the press get wind of this,” Micah ordered. “Or the others coming in for the Summit.” The unspoken part of that statement lingered.
Sandriel doesn’t hear a word.

“We’ll keep it out of the papers,” Naomi promised.

But Micah shook his head, and extended a hand.

Before Bryce could so much as blink, white flame erupted around the demon and its head. Within a second, it was nothing more than ash.

Hunt started. “We needed to examine it for evidence—”

“No press,” Micah said, then turned toward a cluster of angel commanders.

The medwitch began removing her leeches and bandaging Hunt. Each of the silk strips was imbued with her power, willing the skin and muscle to knit back together and staving off infection. They’d dissolve once the wounds had healed, as if they’d never existed.

The pile of ashes still lay there, mockingly soft considering the true terror the kristallos had wrought. Had this demon been the one to kill Danika, or merely one of thousands waiting on the other side of the Northern Rift?

Was the Horn here, in this park? Had she somehow, unwittingly, come near it? Or maybe whoever was looking for it—Sabine?—simply sent the kristallos as another message. They were nowhere near Moonwood, but Sabine’s patrols took her all over the city.

The sting of the gun still bit into Bryce’s palms, its kickback zinging along her bones.

The medwitch removed her bloody gloves. A crackle of lightning at Hunt’s knuckles showed his returning power. “Thanks,” he said to the witch, who waved him off. Within a few seconds, she’d packed the poison-swollen leeches in their jars and swept behind the magi-screens.

Hunt’s stare met Bryce’s. The ashes and busy officials and warriors around them faded away into white noise.

Naomi approached, braid swaying behind her. “Why’d it target you?”

“Everyone wants to take a bite out of me,” Hunt deflected.

Naomi gave them both a look that told Bryce she didn’t buy it for one second, but moved off to talk to a Fae female in the Aux.

Hunt tried to ease to his feet, and Bryce stepped in to offer a hand up. He shook his head, grimacing as he braced a hand on his knee and rose. “I guess we hit a nerve with Sabine,” he said. “She must have figured out we’re onto her. This was either a warning like the club bombing or a failed attempt to take care of a problem like she did with the acolyte and guard.”

She didn’t answer. A wind drifted by, stirring the ashes.

“Bryce.” Hunt stepped closer, his dark eyes clear despite his injury.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” she whispered at last. “You—we killed it so quickly.”

Hunt didn’t reply, giving her the space to think through it, to say it.

She said, “Danika was strong. Connor was strong. Either one of them could have taken on that demon and walked away. But the entire Pack of Devils was there that night. Even if its venom nullified some of their powers, the entire pack could have …” Her throat tightened.

“Even Mic—” Hunt caught himself, glancing toward the Archangel still talking to commanders off to the side. “He didn’t walk away from it.”

“But I did. Twice now.”

“Maybe it’s got some Fae weakness.”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so. It just … it’s not adding up.”

“We’ll lay it all out tomorrow.” Hunt nodded toward Micah. “I think tonight just proved it’s time to tell him our suspicions about Sabine.”

She was going to be sick. But she nodded back.

They waited until most of Micah’s commanders had peeled off on their various assignments before approaching, Hunt wincing with each step.

Hunt grunted, “We need to talk to you.”

Micah only crossed his arms. And then Hunt, briskly and efficiently, told him. About the Horn, about Sabine, about their suspicions. About the Horn possibly being repaired—though they still didn’t know why she’d want or need to open a portal to another world.

Micah’s eyes went from annoyed to enraged to outright glacial.

When Hunt was done, the Governor looked between them. “You need more evidence.”

“We’ll get it,” Hunt promised.

Micah surveyed them, his face dark as the Pit. “Come to me when you have concrete proof. Or if you find that Horn. If someone’s gone to so much trouble over it, there’s a damn good chance
they’ve found a way to repair it. I won’t have this city endangered by a power-hungry bitch.” Bryce could have sworn the thorns tattooed across Hunt’s brow darkened as his eyes met the Archangel’s. “Don’t fuck this up for me, Athalar.” Without a further word, he flapped his wings and shot into the night sky.

Hunt blew out a breath, staring at the pile of ashes. “Prick.”

Bryce rubbed her hands over her arms. Hunt’s eyes darted toward her, noting the movement. The cold creeping over her that had nothing to do with the spring night. Or the storm that was moments from unleashing itself.

“Come on,” he said gently, rotating his injured arm to test its strength. “I think I can manage flying us back to your place.”

She surveyed the busy crew, the tracker shifters already moving off into the trees to hunt for prints before the rain wiped them away. “Don’t we need to answer questions?”

He extended a hand. “They know where to find us.”

Ruhn got to the night garden moments after his sister and Athalar left, according to Naomi Boreas, captain of the 33rd’s infantry. The take-no-shit angel had merely said both of them were fine, and pivoted to receive an update from a unit captain under her command.

All that was left of the kristallos was a burnt stain and a few sprayed drops of clear blood, like beaded rainwater on the stones and moss.

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