Home > House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)(5)

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)(5)
Author: Sarah J. Maas

Danika’s smile faded. “I know. We’ll keep pushing them off until it’s sorted out.” Thank Cthona for Danika—she always had a plan for everything.

Bryce slid her phone into her purse, leaving her mother’s message unanswered.

When they reached the Gate at the heart of the Old Square, its quartz archway as clear as a frozen pond, the sun was just hitting its upper edge, refracting and casting small rainbows against one of the buildings flanking it. On Summer Solstice, when the sun lined up perfectly with the Gate, it filled the entire square with rainbows, so many that it was like walking inside a diamond.

Tourists milled about, a line of them snaking across the square itself, all waiting for the chance at a photo with the twenty-foot-high landmark.

One of seven in this city, all carved from enormous blocks of quartz hewn from the Laconian Mountains to the north, the Old Square Gate was often called the Heart Gate, thanks to its location in the dead center of Lunathion, with the other six Gates located equidistant from it, each one opening onto a road out of the walled city.

“They should make a special access lane for residents to cross the square,” Bryce muttered as they edged around tourists and hawkers.

“And give tourists fines for slow walking,” Danika muttered back, but flashed a lupine grin at a young human couple that recognized her, gawked, and began snapping photos.

“I wonder what they’d think if they knew that nightstalker’s special sauce is all over you,” Bryce murmured.

Danika elbowed her. “Asshole.” She threw a friendly wave to the tourists and continued on.

On the other side of the Heart Gate, amid a small army of vendors selling food and touristy crap, a second line of people waited to access the golden block sticking out of its southern side. “We’ll have to cut through them to get across,” Bryce said, scowling at the tourists idling in the wilting heat.

But Danika halted, her angular face turned to the Gate and the plaque. “Let’s make a wish.”

“I’m not waiting in that line.” Usually, they just shouted their wishes drunkenly into the ether late at night when they were staggering home from the White Raven and the square was empty. Bryce checked the time on her phone. “Don’t you have to get over to the Comitium?” The Governor’s five-towered stronghold was at least a fifteen-minute walk away.

“I’ve got time,” Danika said, and grabbed Bryce’s hand, tugging her through the crowds and toward the real tourist draw of the Gate.

Jutting out of the quartz about four feet off the ground lay the dial pad: a solid-gold block embedded with seven different gems, each for a different quarter of the city, the insignia of each district etched beneath it.

Emerald and a rose for Five Roses. Opal and a pair of wings for the CBD. Ruby and a heart for the Old Square. Sapphire and an oak tree for Moonwood. Amethyst and a human hand for Asphodel Meadows. Tiger’s-eye and a serpent for the Meat Market. And onyx—so black it gobbled the light—and a set of skull and crossbones for the Bone Quarter.

Beneath the arc of stones and etched emblems, a small, round disk rose up slightly, its metal worn down by countless hands and paws and fins and any other manner of limb.

A sign beside it read: Touch at your own risk. Do not use between sundown and sunrise. Violators will be fined.

The people in line, waiting for access to the disk, seemed to have no problem with the risks.

A pair of giggling teenage male shifters—some kind of feline from their scents—goaded each other forward, elbowing and taunting, daring the other to touch the disk.

“Pathetic,” Danika said, striding past the line, the ropes, and a bored-looking city guard—a young Fae female—to the very front. She fished a badge from inside her leather coat and flashed it at the guard, who stiffened as she realized who’d cut the line. She didn’t even look at the golden emblem of the crescent moon bow with an arrow nocked through it before stepping back.

“Official Aux business,” Danika declared with an unnervingly straight face. “It’ll just be a minute.”

Bryce stifled her laughter, well aware of the glares fixed on their backs from the line.

Danika drawled to the teenage boys, “If you’re not going to do it, then clear off.”

They whirled toward her, and went white as death.

Danika smiled, showing nearly all her teeth. It wasn’t a pleasant sight.

“Holy shit,” whispered one of them.

Bryce hid her smile as well. It never got old—the awe. Mostly because she knew Danika had earned it. Every damned day, Danika earned the awe that bloomed across the faces of strangers when they spotted her corn-silk hair and that neck tattoo. And the fear that made the lowlifes in this city think twice before fucking with her and the Pack of Devils.

Except for Philip Briggs. Bryce sent a prayer to Ogenas’s blue depths that the sea goddess would whisper her wisdom to Briggs to keep his distance from Danika if he ever really did walk free.

The boys stepped aside, and it only took a few milliseconds for them to notice Bryce, too. The awe on their faces turned to blatant interest.

Bryce snorted. Keep dreaming.

One of them stammered, turning his attention from Bryce to Danika, “My—my history teacher said the Gates were originally communication devices.”

“I bet you get all the ladies with those stellar factoids,” Danika said without looking back at them, unimpressed and uninterested.

Message received, they slunk back to the line. Bryce smirked and stepped up to her friend’s side, peering down at the dial pad.

The teenager was right, though. The seven Gates of this city, each set along a ley line running through Lunathion, had been designed as a quick way for the guards in the districts to speak to each other centuries ago. When someone merely placed a hand against the golden disk in the center of the pad and spoke, the wielder’s voice would travel to the other Gates, a gem lighting up with the district from which the voice originated.

Of course, it required a drop of magic to do so—literally sucked it like a vampyr from the veins of the person who touched the pad, a tickling zap of power, gone forever.

Bryce raised her eyes to the bronze plaque above her head. The quartz Gates were memorials, though she didn’t know for which conflict or war. But each bore the same plaque: The power shall always belong to those who give their lives to the city.

Considering it was a statement that could be construed as being in opposition to the Asteri’s rule, Bryce was always surprised that they allowed the Gates to continue to stand. But after becoming obsolete with the advent of phones, the Gates had found a second life when kids and tourists began using them, having their friends go to the other Gates in the city so they could whisper dirty words or marvel at the sheer novelty of such an antiquated method of communication. Not surprisingly, come weekends, drunk assholes—a category to which Bryce and Danika firmly belonged—became such a pain in the ass with their shouting through the Gates that the city had instituted hours of operation.

And then dumb superstition grew, claiming the Gate could make wishes come true, and that to give over a droplet of your power was to make an offering to the five gods.

It was bullshit, Bryce knew—but if it made Danika not dread Briggs’s release so much, well, it was worth it.

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