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House of Sky and Breath: Part 2 – Chapter 30

Ruhn had grown up in Crescent City. He knew it had places to avoid, yet it had always felt like home. Like his.

Until today.

“Ephraim must have arrived,” Ithan murmured as they waited in the dimness of a dusty alley for Cormac to finish making the information drop. “And brought the Hind with him.”

“And she brought her entire pack of dreadwolves? To what end?” Ruhn toyed with the ring through his bottom lip. They’d seen two of the elite imperial interrogators on the way to the meet-up near the Old Square.

Ruhn had veiled himself and Holstrom in shadows while Cormac spoke at the other end of the alley with the cloaked, hooded figure disguised as a begging vagrant. Ruhn could make out the outline of a gun strapped to the figure’s thigh beneath the threadbare cloak.

Ithan eyed him. “You think the Hind’s onto us?”

Us. Fuck, just that word freaked him out when it came to consorting with rebels. Ruhn monitored the bright street beyond the alley, willing his shadows to keep them hidden from what prowled the sidewalks.

Tourists and city dwellers alike kept a healthy distance from the dreadwolves. The wolf shifters were exactly as Ruhn had expected: cold-eyed and harsh-faced above their pristine gray uniforms. A black-and-white patch of a wolf’s skull and crossbones adorned that uniform’s left arm. The seven golden stars of the Asteri shone on a red patch above their hearts. And on their starched, high collars—silver darts.

The number varied on each member. One dart for every rebel spy hunted down and broken. The two that Ruhn had passed had borne eight and fifteen darts, respectively.

“It’s like the city’s gone quiet,” Ithan observed, head cocked. “Isn’t this the least safe place for this meet-up?”

“Don’t be paranoid,” Ruhn said, though he’d thought the same.

Down the alley, Cormac finished and strode back to them. Within a blink, the hunched figure was gone, swallowed into the crowds teeming on the main avenue, all too focused on the dreadwolves slinking among them to remark on a hobbling vagrant.

Cormac had veiled his face in shadows, and they pulled away now as he met Ruhn’s stare. “The agent told me they think the Asteri suspect that Emile came here after he fled Ophion. It’s possible the Hind brought the dreadwolves to hunt for him.”

“The sight of those wolves in this city is a disgrace,” Ithan snarled. “No one’s going to stomach this shit.”

“You’d be surprised what people will stomach when they find their families threatened,” Cormac said. “I’ve seen cities and towns fall silent in the wake of a dreadwolf pack’s arrival. Places as vibrant as this, now warrens of fear and mistrust. They, too, thought no one would tolerate it. That someone would do something. Only when it was too late did they realize that they should have done something.”

A chill ran up Ruhn’s arms. “I have to make some calls. The Aux and the 33rd run this city. Not the Hind.” Shit, he’d have to see his father. He might be a bastard, but the Autumn King wouldn’t appreciate having the Hind infringe on his turf.

Ithan’s jaw twitched. “I wonder what Sabine and the Prime will do about them.”

“No loyalty among wolves?” Cormac asked.

We are wolves,” Ithan challenged. “The dreadwolves … they’re demons in wolves’ fur. Wolves in name only.”

“And if the dreadwolves request to stay at the Den?” Cormac asked. “Will the Prime or Sabine find their morals holding firm?”

Ithan didn’t answer.

Cormac went on, “This is what the Asteri do. This is Midgard’s true reality. We believe we are free, we are powerful, we are near-immortals. But when it comes down to it, we’re all the Asteri’s slaves. And the illusion can be shattered this quickly.”

“Then why the fuck are you trying to bring this shit here?” Ithan demanded.

“Because it has to end at some point,” Ruhn murmured. He shuddered inwardly.

Cormac opened his mouth, surprise lighting his face—but whirled as a male—towering and muscle-bound and clad in the impeccable uniform of the dreadwolves—appeared at the other end of the alley. So many silver darts covered his collar that from a distance, it looked like a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth around his neck.

“Mordoc,” Ithan breathed. Genuine fear laced his scent. Cormac motioned for the wolf to be silent.

Mordoc … Ruhn scanned his memory. The second in command to the Hind. Her chief butcher and enforcer. The dreadwolf monitored the alley with golden, glowing eyes. Dark claws glinted at his fingertips. As if he lived in some state between human and wolf.

Cormac’s nose crinkled. The prince trembled, anger and violence leaking from him. Ruhn gripped his cousin’s shoulder, fingers digging into the hard muscle.

Slowly, Mordoc prowled down the alley. Noting the brick walls, the dusty ground—

Fuck. They’d left tracks all over this alley. None of them dared to breathe too loudly as they pressed into the wall.

Mordoc angled his head, scalp gleaming through his buzzed hair, then crouched, muscles flexing beneath his gray uniform, and ran a thick finger through a footprint. He lifted the dirt to his nose and sniffed. His teeth—slightly too long—gleamed in the dimness of the alley.

Mind-to-mind, Ruhn asked Cormac, Does Mordoc know your scent?

I don’t think so. Does he know yours?

No. I’ve never met him.

Ruhn said to Ithan, who jolted slightly at the sound of Ruhn’s voice in his mind, Do you know Mordoc? Have you met him before?

Ithan’s gaze remained on the powerful male now rising to sniff the air. Yes. A long time ago. He came to visit the Den.


Ithan at last responded, eyes wide and pained. Because he’s Danika’s father.

Bryce had enough presence of mind to draw the Starsword. To rally her power even though the thing before them … Oh gods.

“Allow me to introduce my shepherd,” the Under-King said from the mist ahead, standing beside a ten-foot-tall black dog. Each of its fangs was as long as one of her fingers. All hooked—like a shark’s. Designed to latch into flesh and hold tight while it ripped and shredded. Its eyes were milky white—sightless. Identical to the Under-King’s.

Her light would have no effect on something that was already blind.

The dog’s fur—sleek and iridescent enough that it almost resembled scales—flowed over bulky, bunched muscle. Claws like razor blades sliced into the dry ground.

Hunt’s lightning crackled, skittering at Bryce’s feet. “That’s a demon,” he ground out. He’d fought enough of them to know.

“An experiment of the Prince of the Ravine’s, from the First Wars,” the Under-King rasped. “Forgotten and abandoned here in Midgard during the aftermath. Now my faithful companion and helper. You’d be surprised how many souls do not wish to make their final offering to the Gate. The Shepherd … Well, it herds them for me. As it shall herd you.”

“Fry this fucker,” Bryce muttered to Hunt as the dog snarled.

“I’m assessing.”

“Assess faster. Roast it like a—

“Do not make a joke about—”

“Hot dog.”

Bryce had no sooner finished saying the words than the hound lunged. Hunt struck, swift and sure, a lightning bolt spearing toward its neck.

It screamed, dodging to the left, an obelisk crumbling beneath it. Bryce pivoted to where the Under-King had been, but only mist remained.


Hunt struck again, forked lightning splitting the sky before it slammed into the creature’s back, but it rolled once more, shaking off the lightning.

“The fuck,” Hunt panted, drawing his sword and gun as he moved in front of Bryce. The Shepherd halted, eyeing them. Then the hound peeled apart.

First its head split, two other heads joining the first. And then the three-headed dog continued to separate until three hounds snarled at them. Three beasts that shared one mind, one goal: Kill.

“Run,” Hunt ordered, not taking his focus from the three dogs. “Get back to the river and fucking swim.”

“Not without you.”

“I’ll be right behind.”

“Just fly us—”

The dog to the left snarled, bristling. Bryce faced it, and in that blink, the one on the right leapt. Hunt’s lightning snapped free, and Bryce didn’t hesitate before she turned and ran.

Mist swallowed her, swallowed Hunt until he was nothing but light rippling behind her. She sped past obelisks and stone mausoleums. Resting places for the dead, or mere cages to keep them until they could become food, valuable for their firstlight? Secondlight.

Thunderous steps crunched behind her. She dared a glance over her shoulder.

One of the hounds rampaged at her heels, closing the distance. Hunt’s lightning flashed behind it, along with his bellow of rage. That was her mate she was leaving behind—

Bryce cut inland. The beast, apparently convinced she was making a run for the river, pivoted too slowly. It crashed into a mausoleum, sending both structure and hound sprawling. Bryce kept running. Sprinted as fast as she could back toward Hunt.

But the mist was a labyrinth, and Hunt’s lightning seemed to launch from everywhere. Obelisks loomed like giants.

Bryce slammed into something hard and smooth, her teeth punching through her lower lip and the Starsword clattering out of her hand. The coppery tang of blood filled her mouth as she hit the ground. Flipping over, she peered up to find herself sprawled before a crystal archway.

The Dead Gate.

A snarl rumbled the earth. Bryce twisted, crawling backward to the Gate. The Shepherd emerged from the mist.

And in the grayish dirt between them lay the Starsword, glowing faintly.

Ruhn’s blood iced over at Ithan’s declaration. Did Bryce know Mordoc was Danika’s father? She’d have mentioned it if she did, right?

It wasn’t spoken of, Ithan explained. Sabine and the others tried to forget. Danika refused to acknowledge Mordoc. Never said his name, or that she even had a father. But a few of us were at the Den the only time he came to see his daughter. She was seventeen and refused to even see him. Afterward, she wouldn’t talk about it except to say that she was nothing like him. She never mentioned Mordoc again.

The male approached, and Ruhn scanned for any hint of Danika Fendyr in him. He found none. They don’t resemble each other at all.

Ithan said warily, sadly, The similarities run beneath the surface. Ruhn waited for the blow. Knew it was coming even before Ithan explained, He’s a bloodhound.

Ruhn said to Cormac, Teleport us the fuck out of here. He should have done it the moment they saw Mordoc coming.

I can only take one at a time.

Mordoc drew closer. Take Ithan and go.

I won’t be able to pinpoint you in the shadows when I return, Cormac answered. Be ready to run to the avenue on my signal. Then he grabbed Ithan and vanished.

Ruhn kept perfectly still as the wolf prowled near. Sniffing, head swaying from side to side.

“I can smell you, Faeling,” Mordoc growled, voice like stones cracking against each other. “I can smell the coffee on your breath.”

Ruhn kept his shadows tight around him, blending into the dimness along the alley’s far wall. He made each step silent, though the dusty ground threatened to betray him.

“What were you doing here, I wonder,” Mordoc said, halting to turn in place. Tracking Ruhn. “I saw your agent go in—the vagabond. He slipped my net, but why did you stay?”

Where the Hel was Cormac? Considering that Bryce and Hunt were currently in the Bone Quarter, Ruhn had expected them to be the ones in major peril today.

He kept moving, slowly and silently. The bright, open street lay beyond. The crowd might hide him, but not his scent. And his shadows would be of no use out in the sunny open.

“Hunting you all down like vermin shall be diverting,” Mordoc said, pivoting in place as if he could see Ruhn through the shadows. “This city has been coddled for far too long.”

Ruhn’s temper unsheathed its talons, but he willed it down.

“Ah, that annoys you. I can smell it.” A savage smile. “I shall remember that smell.”

At the other end of the alley, Ruhn’s magic picked up the flicker of Cormac arriving—only long enough to scuff his shoes in the dirt—and then vanish.

Mordoc whirled toward it, and Ruhn ran, dropping the shadows around himself.

Cormac appeared in a writhing nest of darkness, grabbed his arm, and teleported them out. Ruhn could only pray to Luna that by the time Mordoc had faced the street again, nothing remained of his scent for the bloodhound to detect.


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