House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City) (6 page)

BOOK: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City)
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“Are you on this side of the Haldren or the wrong one?”

“I’m in Five Roses.” The flat, cool voice was laced with a hint of amusement—practically outright laughter, coming from Fury. “But I’m not watching television with the pups.”

“Who the Hel would want to do that?”

A pause on the line. Bryce leaned against the pale stone exterior of the Pearl and Rose. “I thought you had a date with what’s-his-face.”

“You and Danika are the worst, you know that?”

She practically heard Fury’s wicked smile through the line. “I’ll meet you at the Raven in thirty minutes. I need to finish up a job.”

“Go easy on the poor bastard.”

“That’s not what I was paid to do.”

The line went dead. Bryce swore and prayed Fury wouldn’t reek of blood when she got to their preferred club. She dialed another number.

Juniper was breathless when she picked up on the fifth ring, right before it went to audiomail. She must have been in the studio, practicing after-hours. As she always did. As Bryce loved to do whenever she had a spare moment herself. To dance and dance and dance, the world fading into nothing but music and breath and sweat. “Oh, you dumped him, didn’t you?”

“Did motherfucking Danika send a message to
everyone
?”

“No,” the sweet, lovely faun replied, “but you’ve been on your date for only an hour. Since the recap calls usually happen the morning after …”

“We’re going to the Raven,” Bryce snapped. “Be there in thirty.” She hung up before Juniper’s quicksilver laugh set her cursing.

Oh, she’d find a way to punish Danika for telling them. Even though she knew it’d been meant as a warning, to prepare them for any picking up the pieces, if necessary. Just as Bryce had checked in with Connor regarding Danika’s state earlier that evening.

The White Raven was only a five-minute walk away, right in the heart of the Old Square. Which left Bryce with enough time to either really, truly get into trouble, or face what she’d been avoiding for an hour now.

She opted for trouble.

Lots of trouble, enough to empty out the seven hard-earned gold marks in her purse as she handed them over to a grinning draki female, who slipped everything Bryce asked for into her waiting palm. The female had tried to sell her on some new party drug—S
ynth will make you feel like a god
, she said—but the thirty gold marks for a single dose had been well above Bryce’s pay grade.

She was still left with five minutes. Standing across from the White Raven, the club still teeming with revelers despite Briggs’s failed plan to blast it apart, Bryce pulled out her phone and opened the thread with Connor. She’d bet all the money she’d just blown on mirthroot that he was checking his phone every two seconds.

Cars crawled past, the bass of their sound systems thumping over the cobblestones and cypresses, windows down to reveal passengers eager to start their Thursday: drinking; smoking; singing along to the music; messaging friends, dealers, whoever might get them into one of the dozen clubs that lined Archer Street. Queues already snaked from the doors, including the Raven’s. Vanir peered up in anticipation at the white marble facade, well-dressed pilgrims waiting at the gates of a temple.

The Raven was just that: a temple. Or it had been. A building now encased the ruins, but the dance floor remained the original, ancient stones of some long-forgotten god’s temple, and the carved stone pillars throughout still stood from that time. To dance inside was to worship that nameless god, hinted at in the age-worn carvings of satyrs and fauns drinking and dancing and fucking amid
grapevines. A temple to pleasure—that’s what it had once been. And what it had become again.

A cluster of young mountain-lion shifters prowled past, a few twisting back to growl in invitation. Bryce ignored them and sidled over to an alcove at the left of the Raven’s service doors. She leaned against the slick stone, tucked the wine into the crook of her arm, braced a foot on the wall behind her as she bobbed her head to the music pouring out of a nearby car, and finally typed:
Pizza. Saturday night at six. If you’re late, it’s over
.

Instantly, Connor began typing in reply. Then the bubble paused. Then started again.

Then finally, the message came.

I’ll never keep you waiting.

She rolled her eyes and wrote,
Don’t make promises you can’t keep
.

More typing, deleting, typing. Then,
You mean it—about the pizza?

Do I look like I’m joking, Connor?

You looked delicious when you left the apartment.

Heat curled in her, and she bit her lip. Charming, arrogant bastard.
Tell Danika I’m going to the Raven with Juniper and Fury. I’ll see you in two days
.

Done. What about what’s-his-face?

REID is officially dumped
.

Good. I was getting worried I’d have to kill him.

Her gut churned.

He quickly added,
Kidding, Bryce. I won’t go alphahole on you, I promise
.

Before she could answer, her phone buzzed again.

Danika, this time.
HOW DARE YOU GO TO THE RAVEN WITHOUT ME. TRAITOR.

Bryce snorted.
Enjoy Pack Night, loser.

DO NOT HAVE FUN WITHOUT ME. I FORBID YOU.

She knew that as much as it killed Danika to stay in, she wouldn’t leave the pack. Not on the one night they all had together, the night they used to keep the bonds between them strong. Not after this shitstorm of a day. And especially not while Briggs was on the loose, with a reason to get back at the whole Pack of Devils.

That loyalty was why they loved Danika, why they fought so fiercely for her, went to the mat for her again and again when Sabine publicly wondered if her daughter was worthy of the responsibilities and status as second in line. The power hierarchy among the wolves of Crescent City was dictated by dominance alone—but the three-generation lineage that made up the Prime of the wolves, Prime Apparent, and whatever Danika was (the Apparent Prime Apparent?) was a rarity. Powerful, ancient bloodlines was the usual explanation.

Danika had spent countless hours looking into the history of the dominant shifter packs in other cities—why lions had come to rule in Hilene, why tigers oversaw Korinth, why falcons reigned in Oia. Whether the dominance that determined the Prime Alpha status passed through families or skipped around. Non-predatory shifters could head up a city’s Aux, but it was rare. Honestly, most of it bored Bryce to tears. And if Danika had ever learned why the Fendyr family claimed such a large share of the dominance pie, she’d never told Bryce.

Bryce wrote back to Connor,
Good luck handling Danika
.

He simply replied,
She’s telling me the same about you
.

Bryce was about to put her phone away when the screen flashed again. Connor had added,
You won’t regret this. I’ve had a long while to figure out all the ways I’m going to spoil you. All the fun we’re going to have.

Stalker.
But she smiled.

Go enjoy yourself. I’ll see you in a few days. Message me when you’re home safe.

She reread the conversation twice because she really was an absolute fucking loser, and was debating asking Connor to skip waiting and just meet her
now
, when something cool and metal pressed against her throat.

“And you’re dead,” crooned a female voice.

Bryce yelped, trying to calm the heart that had gone from stupid-giddy to stupid-scared in the span of one beat.

“Don’t fucking
do
that,” she hissed at Fury as the female lowered the knife from Bryce’s throat and sheathed it across her back.

“Don’t be a walking target,” Fury said coolly, her long onyx hair tied high in a ponytail that brought out the sharp lines of her light brown face. She scanned the line into the Raven, her deep-set chestnut eyes marking everything and promising death to anyone who crossed her. But beneath that … mercifully, the black leather leggings, skintight velvet top, and ass-kicking boots did
not
smell of blood. Fury gave Bryce a once-over. “You barely put on any makeup. That little human should have taken one look at you and known you were about to dump his ass.”

“He was too busy on his phone to notice.”

Fury glanced pointedly at Bryce’s own phone, still clenched in a death grip in her hand. “Danika’s going to nail your balls to the wall when I tell her I caught you distracted like that.”

“It’s her own damn fault,” Bryce snapped.

A sharp smile was her only response. Bryce knew Fury was Vanir, but she had no idea what kind. No idea what House Fury belonged to, either. Asking wasn’t polite, and Fury, aside from her preternatural speed, grace, and reflexes, had never revealed another form, nor any inkling of magic beyond the most basic.

But she was a civitas. A full citizen, which meant she had to be something they deemed worthy. Given her skill set, the House of Flame and Shadow was the likeliest place for her—even if Fury was certainly not a daemonaki, vampyr, or even a wraith. Definitely not a witch-turned-sorceress like Jesiba, either. Or a necromancer, since her gifts seemed to be taking life, not illegally bringing it back.

“Where’s the leggy one?” Fury asked, taking the wine bottle from Bryce and swigging as she scanned the teeming clubs and bars along Archer Street.

“Hel if I know,” Bryce said. She winked at Fury and held up the plastic bag of mirthroot, jostling the twelve rolled black cigarettes. “I got us some goodies.”

Fury’s grin was a flash of red lips and straight white teeth. She reached into the back pocket of her leggings and held up a small bag of white powder that glittered with a fiery iridescence in the glow of the streetlamp. “So did I.”

Bryce squinted at the powder. “Is that what the dealer just tried to sell me?”

Fury went still. “What’d she say it was?”

“Some new party drug—gives you a godlike high, I don’t know. Super expensive.”

Fury frowned. “Synth? Stay away from it. That’s some bad shit.”

“All right.” She trusted Fury enough to heed the warning. Bryce peered at the powder Fury still held in her hand. “I can’t take anything that makes me hallucinate for days, please. I have work tomorrow.” When she had to at least pretend she had some idea how to find that gods-damned Horn.

Fury tucked the bag into her black bra. She swigged from the wine again before passing it back to Bryce. “Jesiba won’t be able to scent it on you, don’t worry.”

Bryce linked elbows with the slender assassin. “Then let’s go make our ancestors roll over in their graves.”

 

5

G
oing on a date with Connor in a few days didn’t mean she had to behave.

So within the inner sanctum of the White Raven, Bryce savored every delight it offered.

Fury knew the owner, Riso, either through work or whatever the Hel she did in her personal life, and as such, they never had to wait in line. The flamboyant butterfly shifter always left a booth open for them.

None of the smiling, colorfully dressed waiters who brought over their drinks so much as blinked at the lines of glittering white powder Fury arranged with a sweep of her hand or the plumes of smoke that rippled from Bryce’s parted lips as she tipped her head back to the domed, mirrored ceiling and laughed.

Juniper had a studio class at dawn, so she abstained from the powder and smoke and booze. But it didn’t stop her from sneaking away for a good twenty minutes with a broad-chested Fae male who took in the dark brown skin, the exquisite face and curling black hair, the long legs that ended in delicate hooves, and practically begged on his knees for the faun to touch him.

Bryce reduced herself into the pulsing beat of the music, to the euphoria glittering through her blood faster than an angel diving out of the sky, to the sweat sliding down her body as she writhed
on the ancient dance floor. She would barely be able to walk tomorrow, would have half a brain, but holy shit—
more, more, more
.

Laughing, she swooped over the low-lying table in their private booth between two half-crumbling pillars; laughing, she arched away, a red nail releasing its hold on one nostril as she sagged against the dark leather bench; laughing, she knocked back water and elderberry wine and stumbled again into the dancing throng.

Life was good. Life was fucking
good
, and she couldn’t gods-damn wait to make the Drop with Danika and do this until the earth crumbled into dust.

She found Juniper dancing amid a pack of sylph females celebrating a friend’s successful Drop. Their silvery heads were adorned with circlets of neon glow sticks chock-full of their friend’s designated allotment of her own firstlight, which she’d generated when she successfully completed the Drop. Juniper had managed to swipe a glow-stick halo for herself, and her hair shone with blue light as she extended her hands to Bryce, their fingers linking as they danced.

Bryce’s blood pulsed in time to the music, as if she had been crafted just for this: the moment when she
became
the notes and rhythm and the bass, when she became song given form. Juniper’s glittering eyes told Bryce that she understood, had always understood the particular freedom and joy and unleashing that came from dancing. Like their bodies were so full of sound they could barely contain it, could barely stand it, and only
dance
could express it, ease it, honor it.

Males and females gathered to watch, their lust coating Bryce’s skin like sweat. Juniper’s every movement matched hers without so much as a lick of hesitation, as if they were question and answer, sun and moon.

Quiet, pretty Juniper Andromeda—the exhibitionist. Even dancing in the sacred, ancient heart of the Raven, she was sweet and mild, but she shone.

Or maybe that was all the lightseeker Bryce had ingested up her nose.

Her hair clung to her sweaty neck, her feet were utterly numb
thanks to the steep angle of her heels, her throat was ravaged from screaming along to the songs that blasted through the club.

She managed to shoot a few messages to Danika—and one video, because she could barely read any of what was coming in anyway.

She’d be so royally fucked if she showed up at work tomorrow unable to
read
.

Time slowed and bled. Here, dancing among the pillars and upon the timeworn stones of the temple that had been reborn, no time existed at all.

Maybe she’d live here.

Quit her job at the gallery and live in the club. They could hire her to dance in one of the steel cages dangling from the glass ceiling high above the temple ruins that made up the dance floor. They certainly wouldn’t spew bullshit about a
wrong body type
. No, they’d pay her to do what she loved, what made her come alive like nothing else.

It seemed like a reasonable enough plan, Bryce thought as she stumbled down her own street later with no recollection of leaving the Raven, saying goodbye to her friends, or of how the Hel she’d even gotten here. Taxi? She’d blown all her marks on the drugs. Unless someone had paid …

Whatever. She’d think about it tomorrow. If she could even sleep. She wanted to stay awake, to dance for-gods-damn-
ever
. Only … oh, her feet fucking
hurt
. And they were near-black and
sticky

Bryce paused outside her building door and groaned as she unstrapped her heels and gathered them in a hand. A code. Her building had a code to get in.

Bryce contemplated the keypad as if it’d open a pair of eyes and tell her. Some buildings did that.

Shit. Shiiit. She pulled out her phone, the glaring screen light burning her eyes. Squinting, she could make out a few dozen message alerts. They blurred, her eyes trying and failing to focus enough to read one single coherent letter. Even if she somehow managed to call Danika, her friend would rip her head off.

The screech of the building buzzer would piss off Danika even more. Bryce cringed, hopping from foot to foot.

What was the code? The code, the code, the cooooode …

Oh, there it was. Tucked into a back pocket of her mind.

She cheerfully punched in the numbers, then heard the buzz as the lock opened with a faint, tinny sound.

She scowled at the reek of the stairwell. That gods-damned janitor. She’d kick his ass. Impale him with these useless, cheap stilettos that had wrecked her feet—

Bryce set a bare foot on the stairs and winced. This was going to hurt. Walking-on-glass hurt.

She let her heels clunk to the tile floor, whispering a fervent promise to find them tomorrow, and gripped the black-painted metal banister with both hands. Maybe she could straddle the banister and scoot herself up the stairs.

Gods, it stunk. What did the people in this building
eat
? Or, for that matter,
who
did they eat? Hopefully not wasted, stupid-high, half-Fae females who couldn’t manage to walk up the stairs.

If Fury had laced the lightseeker with something else, she’d fucking
kill
her.

Snorting at the idea of even attempting to kill the infamous Fury Axtar, Bryce hauled herself up the stairs, step by step.

She debated sleeping on the second-level landing, but the stench was overwhelming.

Maybe she’d get lucky and Connor would still be at the apartment. And then she’d
really
get lucky.

Gods, she wanted good sex. No-holds-barred, scream-your-lungs-out sex. Break-the-bed sex. She knew Connor would be like that. More than that. It’d go far beyond the physical with him. It might honestly melt whatever was left of her mind after tonight.

It was why she’d been a coward, why she’d avoided thinking about it from the moment he’d leaned in her doorway five years ago, having come to say hi to Danika and meet her new roommate, and they’d just … stared at each other.

Having Connor living four doors down freshman year had been
the worst sort of temptation. But Danika had given the order to stay away until Bryce approached
him
, and even though they hadn’t yet formed the Pack of Devils, Connor obeyed. It seemed Danika had lifted the order tonight.

Lovely, wicked Danika. Bryce smiled as she half crawled onto the third-floor landing, found her balance, and dug her keys out of her purse—which she’d managed to hold on to by some miracle. She took a few swaying steps down the hall they shared with one other apartment.

Oh, Danika was going to be so pissed.
So
pissed that Bryce had not only had fun without her, but that she’d gotten so wasted she couldn’t remember how to read. Or the code to the building.

The flickering firstlight stung her eyes enough that she again squinted them to near-darkness and staggered down the hall. She should shower, if she could remember how to operate the handles. Wash off her filthy, numb feet.

Especially after she stepped in a cold puddle beneath some dripping ceiling pipe. She shuddered, bracing a hand on the wall, but kept staggering ahead.

Fuck. Too many drugs. Even her Fae blood couldn’t clear them out fast enough.

But there was her door. Keys. Right—she had them in her hand already.

There were six. Which one was hers? One opened the gallery; one opened the various tanks and cages in the archives; one opened Syrinx’s crate; one was to the chain on her scooter; one was
to
her scooter … and one was to the door. This door.

The brass keys tinkled and swayed, shining in the firstlights, then blending with the painted metal of the hall. They slipped out of her slackening fingers, clanking on the tile.

“Fuuuuuuck.”
The word was a long exhale.

Bracing a hand on the doorframe to keep from falling clean on her ass, Bryce stooped to pick up the keys.

Something cool and wet met her fingertips.

Bryce closed her eyes, willing the world to stop spinning. When she opened them, she focused on the tile before the door.

Red. And the smell—it wasn’t the reek of before.

It was blood.

And the apartment door was already open.

The lock had been mangled, the handle wrenched off completely.

Iron—the door was
iron
, and enchanted with the best spells money could buy to keep out any unwanted guests, attackers, or magic. Those spells were the one thing Bryce had ever allowed Danika to purchase on her behalf. She hadn’t wanted to know how much they’d cost, not when it was likely double her parents’ annual salary.

But the door now looked like a crumpled piece of paper.

Blinking furiously, Bryce straightened. Fuck the drugs in her system—fuck Fury. She’d promised no hallucinations.

Bryce was
never
drinking or polluting her body with those drugs
ever again
. She’d tell Danika first thing tomorrow. No more. No. More.

She rubbed her eyes, mascara smearing on her fingertips. On her blood-soaked fingertips—

The blood remained. The mangled door, too.

“Danika?” she croaked. If the attacker was still inside …“Danika?”

That bloody hand—her own hand—pushed the half-crumpled door open farther.

Blackness greeted her.

The coppery tang of blood, and that festering odor, slammed into her.

Her entire body seized, every muscle going on alert, every instinct screaming to
run, run, run

But her Fae eyes adjusted to the dark, revealing the apartment.

What was left of it.

What was left of them.

Help—she needed to get
help
, but—

She staggered into the trashed apartment.

“Danika?” The word was a raw, broken sound.

The wolves had fought. There wasn’t a piece of furniture that was intact, that wasn’t shredded and splintered.

There wasn’t a body intact, either. Piles and clumps were all that remained.

“DanikaDanikaDanika—”

She needed to call someone, needed to scream for help, needed to get Fury, or her brother, her father, needed Sabine—

Bryce’s bedroom door was destroyed, the threshold painted in blood. The ballet posters hung in ribbons. And on the bed …

She knew in her bones it was not a hallucination, what lay on that bed, knew in her bones that what bled out inside her chest was her heart.

Danika lay there. In pieces.

And at the foot of the bed, littering the torn carpet in even smaller pieces, as if he’d gone down defending Danika … she knew that was Connor.

Knew the heap just to the right of the bed, closest to Danika … That was Thorne.

Bryce stared. And stared.

Perhaps time stopped. Perhaps she was dead. She couldn’t feel her body.

A clanging, echoing
thunk
sounded from outside. Not from the apartment, but the hall.

She moved. The apartment warped, shrinking and expanding as if it were breathing, the floors rising with each inhale, but she managed to move.

The small kitchen table lay in fragments. Her blood-slick, shaking fingers wrapped around one of its wooden legs, silently lifting it over her shoulder. She peered into the hall.

It took a few blinks to clear her contracting vision. The gods-damned drugs—

The trash chute hatch lay open. Blood that smelled of wolf coated the rusty metal door, and prints that did not belong to a human stained the tile floor, aiming toward the stairs.

It was real. She blinked, over and over, swaying against the door—

Real. Which meant—

From far away, she saw herself launch into the hallway.

Saw herself slam into the opposite wall and rebound off it, then scramble into a sprint toward the stairwell.

Whatever had killed them must have heard her coming and hidden inside the trash chute, waiting for the chance to leap out at her or slink away unnoticed—

Bryce hit the stairs, a glowing white haze creeping over her vision. It blazed through every inhibition, disregarded every warning bell.

The glass door at the bottom of the stairs was already shattered. People screamed outside.

Bryce leapt from the top of the landing.

Her knees popped and buckled as she cleared the stairs, her bare feet shredding on the glass littering the lobby floor. Then they ripped open more as she hurtled through the door and into the street, scanning—

People were gasping to the right. Others were screaming. Cars had halted, drivers and passengers all staring toward a narrow alley between the building and its neighbor.

Their faces blurred and stretched, twisting their horror into something grotesque, something strange and primordial and—

This was no hallucination.

Bryce sprinted across the street, following the screams, the
reek

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