House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City) (68 page)

BOOK: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City)
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The sprite whirled, back pressed against the glass. She hissed at Micah, “This is for Syrinx.”

She slammed her little burning palm into the glass.

And a hundred thousand gallons of water exploded into the library.

 

80

F
lashing red lights erupted, casting the world into flickering color. A roar rose from below, the gallery shuddering.

Bryce knew.

She knew the tank had exploded, and that Lehabah had been wiped away with it. Knew the n
ø
kk, exposed to the air, had been killed, too. Knew that Micah would only be slowed for so long.

Syrinx was still whimpering in her arms. Glass littered the gallery floor, the window to Jesiba’s office shattered a level above.

Lehabah was dead.

Bryce’s fingers curled into claws at her side. The red light of the warning alarms washed over her vision. She welcomed the synth into her heart. Every destructive, raging, frozen ounce of it.

Bryce crawled for the front door, broken glass tinkling. Power, hollow and cold, thrummed at her fingertips.

She grabbed the handle and hoisted herself upright. Yanked the door open to the golden light of late afternoon.

But she did not go through it.

That was not what Lehabah had bought her time to do.

Hunt knew Lehabah was killed instantly, as surely as a torch plunged into a bucket of water.

The tidal wave threw the n
ø
kk onto the mezzanine, where it thrashed, choking on the air as it ate away its skin. It even blasted Micah back into the bathroom.

Hunt just stared and stared. The sprite was gone.

“Shit,” Ruhn was whispering.

“Where’s Bryce?” Fury asked.

The main floor of the gallery was empty. The front door lay open, but—

“Holy fuck,” Flynn whispered.

Bryce was sprinting up the stairs. To Jesiba’s office. Only synth fueled that sprint. Only that kind of drug could override pain. And reason.

Bryce set Syrinx on the ground as she entered the office—and then leapt over the desk. To the disassembled gun mounted on the wall above it.

The Godslayer Rifle.

“She’s going to kill him,” Ruhn whispered. “She’s going to kill him for what he did to Danika and the pack.” Before she succumbed to the synth, Bryce would offer her friends nothing less than this. Her final moments of clarity. Of her life.

Sabine was silent as death. But she trembled wildly.

Hunt’s knees buckled. He couldn’t watch this. Wouldn’t watch it.

Micah’s power rumbled in the library. Parted the water as he plowed across the space.

Bryce grabbed the four parts of the Godslayer Rifle mounted on the wall and chucked them onto the desk. Unlocked the safe door and reached inside. She pulled out a glass vial and knocked back some sort of potion—another drug? Who knew what the sorceress kept in there?—and then pulled out a slender golden bullet.

It was six inches long, its surface engraved with a grinning, winged skull on one side. On the other, two simple words:

Memento Mori
.

Remember that you will die.
They now seemed more of a promise than the mild reminder from the Meat Market.

Bryce clenched the bullet between her teeth as she hauled the first piece of the rifle toward her. Fitted the second.

Micah surged up the stairs, death incarnate.

Bryce whirled toward the open interior window. She threw out a hand, and the third piece of the rifle—the barrel—flew from the desk into her splayed fingers, borne on magic she did not naturally possess, thanks to the synth coursing through her veins. A few movements had her locking it into place.

She ran for the shattered window, assembling the rifle as she went, summoning the final piece from the desk on an invisible wind, that golden bullet still clenched in her teeth.

Hunt had never seen anyone assemble a gun without looking at it, running toward a target. As if she had done it a thousand times.

She had, Hunt remembered.

Bryce might have been fathered by the Autumn King, but she was Randall Silago’s daughter. And the legendary sharpshooter had taught her well.

Bryce clicked the last piece into place and dropped into a slide, finally loading the bullet. She careened into a stop before the gaping window, rising onto her knees as she braced the Godslayer against her shoulder.

And in the two seconds it took Bryce to line up her shot, in the two seconds it took for her to loose a steadying breath, Hunt knew those seconds were Lehabah’s. Knew that’s what the sprite’s life had bought her friend. What Lehabah had offered to Bryce, and Bryce had accepted, understanding.

Not a chance to run. No, there would never be any escaping Micah.

Lehabah had offered Bryce the two extra seconds needed to kill an Archangel.

Micah exploded out of the iron door. Metal embedded in the wood paneling of the gallery. The Governor whirled toward the open front door. To the trap Bryce had laid in opening it.

So he wouldn’t look up. So he didn’t have time to even glance in Bryce’s direction before her finger curled on the trigger.

And she shot that bullet right through Micah’s fucking head.

 

81

T
ime warped and stretched.

Hunt had the distinct feeling of falling backward, even though he was already against a wall and hadn’t so much as moved a muscle.

Yet the coffee in the mug on the nearest table tilted, the liquid endlessly rocking, rocking, rocking to one side—

The death of an Archangel, of a world power, could shudder through time and space. A second could last an hour. A day. A year.

So Hunt saw everything. Saw the endlessly slow movements of everyone in the room, the gaping shock that rippled, Sandriel’s outrage, Pollux’s white-faced disbelief, Ruhn’s terror—

The Godslayer bullet was still burrowing through Micah’s skull. Still twisting through bone and brain matter, dragging time in its wake.

Then Bryce stood at the office’s blown-out window. A sword in both hands.

Danika’s sword—she must have left it in the gallery on her last day alive. And Bryce must have stashed it in Jesiba’s office, where it had stayed hidden for two years. Hunt saw every minute expression on Sabine’s face, the widening of her pupils, the flow of her corn-silk hair as she reeled at the sight of the missing heirloom—

Bryce leapt from the window and into the showroom below. Hunt saw each movement of her body, arcing as she raised the sword above her head, then brought it back down as she fell.

He could have sworn the ancient steel cut the very air itself. And then it cut through Micah.

Sliced his head in two as Bryce drove it through, the sword cleaving a path into his body. Peeling him apart. Only Danika’s sword would do for this task.

Hunt savored these final moments of her life, before the synth took over. Was this the first sign of it—this madness, this pure, frenzied rage?

Bryce. His Bryce. His friend and … everything they had that was more than that. She was his and he was hers, and he should have told her that, should have told her in the Comitium lobby that she was the only person who mattered, who would ever matter to him, and he’d find her again, even if it took him a thousand years, he’d find her and do everything Sandriel had mocked him about.

Bryce still leapt, still kept cutting through Micah’s body. His blood rained upward.

In normal time, it would have splattered. But in this warped existence, the Archangel’s blood rose like ruby bubbles, showering Bryce’s face, filling her screaming mouth.

In this warped existence, he could see the synth heal every sliced, bruised place on Bryce as she cut her way down through Micah. Cut him in half.

She landed on the green carpet. Hunt expected to hear bone cracking. But her calf was wholly healed. The last gift of the synth before it destroyed her. Yet in her eyes … he saw no haze of insanity, of self-destructive frenzy. Only cold, glittering vengeance.

The two halves of Micah’s body fell away from each other and Bryce moved again. Another swipe. Across his torso. And then another to his head.

The red alarm lights were still blaring, but there was no mistaking the blood on Bryce. The white shirt that was now crimson. Her eyes remained clear, though. Still the synth did not take control.

Hypaxia murmured, “The antidote is working. It’s working on her.”

Hunt swayed then. He said to the witch, “I thought you were only sending over the venom.”

Hypaxia didn’t take her eyes off the screen. “I figured out how to stabilize the venom without needing to be present, and—I sent the antidote to her instead. Just … just in case.”

And they’d watched Bryce down it like a bottle of whiskey.

It had taken almost three minutes for the antidote to wholly destroy the synth in Hypaxia’s clinic. Neither Hunt nor the witch-queen took their eyes off Bryce long enough to count the minutes until the synth had vanished from her body entirely.

Bryce walked calmly to the hidden supply closet. Pulled out a red plastic container. And dumped the entire gallon of gasoline on the Governor’s dismembered corpse.

“Holy fuck,” Ruhn whispered, over and over. “Holy fuck.”

The rest of the room didn’t so much as breathe too loudly. Even Sandriel had no words as Bryce grabbed a pack of matches from a drawer in her desk.

She struck one, and tossed it onto the Governor’s body.

Flames erupted. The fireproofing enchantments on the art around her shimmered.

There would be no chance of salvation. Of healing. Not for Micah. Not after what he had done to Danika Fendyr. To the Pack of Devils. And Lehabah.

Bryce stared at the fire, her face still splattered with the Archangel’s blood. And finally, she lifted her eyes. Right to the camera. To the world watching.

Vengeance incarnate. Wrath’s bruised heart. She would bow for no one. Hunt’s lightning sang at the sight of that brutal, beautiful face.

Time sped up, the flames devouring Micah’s body, crisping his wings to cinders. They spat him out as ashes.

Sirens wailed outside the gallery as the Auxiliary pulled up at last.

Bryce slammed the front door shut as the first of the Fae units and wolf packs appeared.

No one, not even Sandriel, spoke a word as Bryce took out the vacuum from the supply closet. And erased the last trace of Micah from the world.

 

82

A
gas explosion, she told the Aux through the intercom, who apparently hadn’t been informed of the details by their superiors. She was fine. Just a private mess to deal with.

No mention of the Archangel. Of the ashes she’d vacuumed, then dumped in the bin out back.

She’d gone up to Jesiba’s office afterward, to hold Syrinx, stroking his fur, kissing his still-damp head, whispering repeatedly, “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

He’d eventually fallen asleep in her lap, and when she’d assured herself that his breathing was unlabored, she’d finally pulled her phone from the pocket in the back of her leggings.

She had seven missed calls, all from Jesiba. And a string of messages. She barely comprehended the earlier ones, but the one that had arrived a minute ago said,
Tell me that you are all right.

Her fingers were distant, her blood pounded in her ears. But she wrote back,
Fine. Did you see what happened?

Jesiba’s reply came a moment later.

Yes. The entire thing.
Then the sorceress added,
Everyone at the Summit did
.

Bryce just wrote back,
Good
.

She put her phone on silent, tucking it back in her pocket, and ventured down to the watery ruin of the archives.

There was no trace of Lehabah in the mostly submerged library. Not even a smudge of ash.

The n
ø
kk’s corpse lay sprawled on the mezzanine, its dried-out skin flaking away, one clawed hand still gripping the iron bars of the balcony rail.

Jesiba had enough spells on the library that the books and the small tanks and terrariums had been shielded from the wave, though their occupants were near-frantic, but the building itself …

The silence roared around her.

Lehabah was gone. There was no voice at her shoulder, grousing about the mess.

And Danika … She tucked away the truth Micah had revealed. The Horn on her back, healed and functional again. She felt no different—wouldn’t have known it was awake were it not for the horrific blast the Archangel had unleashed. At least a portal hadn’t opened. At least she had that.

She knew the world was coming. It would arrive on her doorstep soon.

And she might very well burn for what she’d just done.

So Bryce trudged back upstairs. Her leg was healed. Every ache was gone; the synth was cleansed from her system—

Bryce puked into the trash can beside her desk. The venom in the antidote had burned as fiercely as it had gone down, but she didn’t stop. Not until there was nothing left but spittle.

She should call someone. Anyone.

Still, the doorbell did not ring. No one came to punish her for what she’d done. Syrinx was still sleeping, curled into a tight ball. Bryce crossed the gallery and opened the door for the world.

It was then that she heard the screaming. She grabbed Syrinx and ran toward it.

And when she arrived, she realized why no one had come for her, or for the Horn inked in her flesh.

They had far bigger problems to deal with.

Chaos reigned at the Summit. The Asterian Guard had flown off, presumably to get instructions from their masters, and Sandriel just gaped at the feed that had shown Bryce Quinlan casually vacuuming up the ashes of a Governor as if she’d spilled chips on the carpet.

She was distracted enough that Hunt was able to finally move. He slid into the empty seat beside Ruhn and Flynn. His voice was low. “This just went from bad to worse.”

Indeed, the Autumn King had Declan Emmet and two other techs on six different computers, monitoring everything from the gallery to the news to the movements of the Aux through the city. Tristan Flynn was again on his phone, arguing with someone in the Fae command post.

Ruhn rubbed his face. “They’ll kill her for this.”

For murdering a Governor. For proving a sprite and a half-human woman could take on a Governor and win. It was absurd. As likely as a minnow slaying a shark.

Sabine still stared at the screens, unseeing as the ancient Prime, currently dozing in his chair beside her. A tired, weary wolf ready for his last slumber. Amelie Ravenscroft, still pale and shaky, handed Sabine a glass of water. The future Prime ignored it.

Across the room, Sandriel rose, a phone to her ear. She looked at none of them as she ascended the steps out of the pit and left, her triarii falling into rank around her, Pollux already mastering himself enough to recover his swagger.

Hunt’s stomach churned as he wondered if Sandriel was moments away from being crowned Archangel of Valbara. Pollux was grinning widely enough to confirm the possibility. Fuck.

Ruhn glanced at Hunt. “We need to figure out a plan, Athalar.”

For Bryce. To somehow shield her from the fallout of this. If such a thing were even possible. If the Asteri weren’t already moving against her, already telling Sandriel what to do. To eliminate the threat Bryce had just made herself into, even without the Horn inked in her back.

At least Micah’s
experiment
had failed. At least they had that.

Ruhn said again, more to himself, “They’ll kill her for this.”

Queen Hypaxia took a seat at Hunt’s other side, giving him a warning look as she held up a key. She fitted it into Hunt’s manacles and the gorsian stones thumped to the table. “I believe they have bigger issues at hand,” she said, gesturing to the city cameras Declan had pulled up.

Quiet rippled through the conference room.

“Tell me that’s not what I think it is,” Ruhn said.

Micah’s experiment with the Horn hadn’t failed at all.

BOOK: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City)
13.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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