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House of Sky and Breath: Part 2 – Chapter 32

Hunt screamed as Bryce leapt in front of his power. As his lightning hit the black blade, exploding from the metal, flowing up into her arm, her body, her heart. Light flashed, blinding—

No, that was Bryce.

Power crackled from every inch of her, and from the Starsword she clenched in one hand as she barreled toward the Shepherd. It split into three hounds again, and as the first beast landed, Bryce struck. The glowing Starsword pierced the thick hide. Lightning exploded across the beast’s body. The other two screamed, and Reapers began scattering into the mist beyond the obelisks.

Bryce whirled as Hunt reached her and said, eyes white with light, “Watch out!”

Too late. The beast who’d fallen snapped its tail at Hunt, catching him in the gut and hurling him into the Dead Gate. He hit the stone and crumpled, his power fizzing out.

Bryce shouted his name as she held her ground against the remaining two beasts. The one she’d injured died, twitching on the ground. Hunt gasped for breath, trying to rise.

She lifted the sword, crackling with remnants of power. Not much. Like the first blow had exhausted most of it. Hunt braced a hand on the Dead Gate’s brass plaque as he tried to raise himself once more.

Power sucked from his fingers, pulled into the stone. He snatched his hand back. One of the beasts lunged for Bryce, but bounced away at a swipe of her sword. She needed more power—

Hunt peered at the Dead Gate’s archway above him. Firstlight flowed both ways. Into the Dead Gate and out of it.

And here, where the last power of the dead was fed into it … here was a well, like the one Bryce had used during the attack last spring.

Sofie and Emile Renast could channel energy, too—and lightning. Hunt was no thunderbird, but could he do the same?

Lightning flowed in his veins. His body was equipped to handle raw, sizzling energy. Was this what Apollion had hinted at—why the prince wanted not only him and Bryce, but Emile and Sofie? Had the Prince of the Pit engineered this situation, manipulating them into coming to the Bone Quarter so that Hunt would be forced to realize what he could do with his own power? Perhaps Emile hadn’t even come here at all. Perhaps the Reapers had lied about that at Apollion’s behest, just to get them here, to this place, this moment—

Bryce angled her sword higher, ready to fight until the end. Hunt gazed at her for a moment, an avenging angel in her own right—and then slammed his hand onto the brass plaque of the Dead Gate.

Bryce dared only a glance behind her as Hunt bellowed again. He was standing, but his hand …

White, blinding firstlight—or was it secondlight?—flowed from the Dead Gate up his arm. Up his shoulder. And on the other side of the archway, the stone began to go dark. As if he were draining it.

The two hounds of the Shepherd merged back together, anticipating the next strike. Hunt’s voice was a thunderclap as he said behind her, “Light it up, Bryce.”

The words bloomed in Bryce’s heart at the same moment Hunt shot a bolt of his power—the Dead Gate’s power—into her. It burned and roared and blinded, a writhing ball of energy that Bryce broke to her will and funneled into the Starsword.

Forks of lightning cracked from Hunt, from her, from the sword.

The Shepherd turned tail and fled.

Bryce ran after it.

Wings flapped behind her, and then she was in Hunt’s arms. He carried her high above the beast’s back, then plunged down, lightning streaming around them, a meteorite crashing—

They slammed into the creature, and Bryce drove the sword into the Shepherd’s nape. Into the skull beneath. Lightning and firstlight blasted through it, and the hound exploded into smoking smithereens.

Bryce and Hunt hit the ground panting and steaming, soaked with the Shepherd’s blood. But Hunt was up again in a moment, running, a hand on Bryce’s back as he hauled her with him. “The river,” he panted, lightning skittering across his teeth, his cheeks. His wings drooped like he was wholly exhausted. Like flying was beyond him.

Bryce didn’t waste breath to answer as they raced through the mist toward the Istros.

“Two more Vanir bodies this morning, Your Excellency,” Tharion said by way of greeting, bowing at the waist as he stood in his queen’s private study.

It was more biodome than study, really, full of plants and a deep, winding stream, studded with large pools. The River Queen swam among the lily pads, her black hair trailing like ink in the water behind her. Her day of meetings might require her to be inside the building, but she took all of them here, sitting in her element.

She turned toward Tharion, hair plastered down her ample, heavy breasts, her brown skin gleaming with water. “Tell me where.” Her voice was lovely, but subdued. Cold.

“One left hanging upside down in an olive grove north of the city—drained and shot the same way as the selkie—the other crucified on the tree next to him. Also shot, with a slit throat. They’d clearly been tortured. Two human scents were present. Seems like this happened yesterday.”

He’d gotten the report this morning over breakfast. Hadn’t bothered to go to the sites or ask Holstrom to come with him, not when the Aux had been the ones to get the call, and would be the ones to handle the bodies.

“And you still believe the rebel Pippa Spetsos is behind these killings.”

“The style is in line with what her Lightfall squad does to its victims. I think she’s on Emile Renast’s trail, and is torturing anyone who helped him on his way.”

“Is the boy here, then?”

“Considering the proximity of the latest site, I have good reason to believe he has arrived.” An otter looped and twirled past the windows, a message clenched in his fangs, neon-yellow vest glaringly bright in the cobalt blue.

“And Sofie Renast?” The River Queen toyed with a pink-and-gold lily that brushed against her soft stomach, running her elegant fingers over its petals. “Any sightings of her?”

“Not a ripple.” No need to mention Bryce and Athalar going to the Bone Quarter for answers. There was nothing to tell yet. He could only hope the two of them would emerge alive.

“The Hind is here, in Lunathion. Do you believe she’s also tracking Emile?”

“She’s only arrived today.” He’d gotten reports already that her wolves prowled the city, along with the Harpy. At least the Hawk, his spies said, had remained behind in Pangera, left to guard Ephraim’s roost, apparently. “Her whereabouts have been public for the last few days—she doesn’t have a human scent, and also wasn’t in the city to commit these murders. All signs point to Pippa Spetsos.”

The river-spirit plucked the lily and tucked it behind her ear. It glowed as if lit by a kernel of firstlight. “Find that boy, Tharion.”

He bowed his head. “What about Ophion Command? If they find out we have Emile …”

“Make sure they don’t find out.” Her eyes darkened, and storms threatened. Lightning lashed the surface high above. “We are loyal to the House of Many Waters first and foremost.”

“Why the boy?” he finally dared ask. “Why do you want him so badly?”

“You question me?” Only the Ocean Queen, Lady of Waters, Daughter of Ogenas, had that right. Or the Asteri. Tharion bowed.

Lightning illuminated the surface again, and Tharion’s brows lowered. That wasn’t his queen’s power. And since the forecast hadn’t called for storms …

Tharion bowed again. “I apologize for the impertinence. Your will is mine,” he said, the familiar words falling from his lips. “I’ll update you when I’ve apprehended the boy.”

He made to leave, risking doing so without dismissal, and had nearly made it to the archway before the River Queen said, “Did you enjoy your punishment last night?”

He closed his eyes for a moment before he turned to face her.

She’d lowered herself into the stream again, no more than a dark, beautiful head among the lily pads. Like one of her sobeks, waiting to make a meal of the unworthy dead.

Tharion said, “It was a wise and fitting punishment for my ignorance and transgression.”

Her lips curled upward, revealing slightly pointed white teeth. “It is diverting to see you tug at the leash, Tharion.”

He swallowed his retort, his rage, his grief, and inclined his head.

More lightning. He had to go. Knew better than to reveal his impatience, though. “I have only your daughter’s best interests in my heart.”

Again, that ancient, cruel smile that informed him she’d seen too many males—some far smarter than he—come and go. “I suppose we shall see.” With that, she dipped beneath the water, vanishing under the lily pads and among the reeds.

Hunt could barely stand.

The firstlight had flayed him, leaving a smoking ruin inside his body, his mind. But it had worked. He’d taken the power and converted it into his own. Whatever the fuck that meant. Apollion had known—or guessed enough to be right. And Bryce … the sword …

She’d been a conduit to his power. Fucking Hel.

They staggered through the mists, the obelisks. Screeching and hissing rose around them. Reapers. Would anyplace in Midgard be safe now, even after death? He sure as fuck didn’t want his soul in the Bone Quarter.

The bone gates appeared overhead, carved from the ribs of some ancient leviathan, and beyond them, the steps to the river. Hunt’s knees nearly buckled as he spied a familiar wave skimmer and the mer male atop it, beckoning frantically as he pivoted the wave skimmer toward Lunathion proper.

“I thought that was you, with all the lightning,” Tharion panted as they rushed toward him and leapt down the steps. He slipped off the wave skimmer to make room for them, shifting as he went. The mer looked like Hel: haunted and tired and bleak.

Bryce climbed on first, and Hunt joined her, clasping her from behind. She gunned the engine and sped off into the mist, Tharion shooting under the surface beside them. Hunt nearly collapsed against her back, but Bryce veered to the left, so sharply he had to clutch her hips to keep from falling into the water. “Fuck!” she shouted as scaly, muscled backs broke the surface.


Only the nutritious souls went to the Under-King. The ones given over to the beasts were snacks. Junk food. A broad snout full of thick, daggerlike fangs shot from the water.

Blood sprayed before the creature could rip into Hunt’s leg. Bryce zigged to the right, and Hunt twisted to see Tharion on their tail, a deadly plume of water aimed above him. Pressurized, like a water cannon. So intense and brutal that it had carved a hole right through a sobek’s head.

Another beast lunged for them, and again, Tharion struck, water breaking flesh as surely as it could eat away at stone.

A third, and Tharion attacked with brutal efficiency. The other beasts halted, tails lashing the water.

“Hang on!” Bryce shouted toward Tharion, who gripped the side of the wave skimmer as she hurtled them toward the Black Dock. The mist fell away behind them, and a wall of sunshine blinded Hunt.

They didn’t stop, though. Not when they hit the dock. Not when Tharion leapt from the water and shifted, grabbing a spare Blue Court aquatic uniform from the seat-hatch in the wave skimmer. The three of them hurried down the streets to Bryce’s apartment.

In the safety of her home, Bryce knelt on the floor, wet and bloody and panting. The slice along her spine was long but mercifully shallow, already clotting. It had missed the Horn tattoo by millimeters. Hunt had enough sanity remaining to avoid the white couch as Tharion said, “What happened? Any sign of Emile or Sofie?”

“No—we were stupid to even look for them in the Bone Quarter,” Hunt said, sitting at the dining table, trying to reel his mind back in. Bryce filled the mer in on the rest.

When she finished, Tharion dropped onto one of the counter stools, face white. “I know I should be disappointed that Emile and Sofie weren’t hiding in the Bone Quarter, but … that’s what awaits us in the end?”

Hunt opened his mouth, but Bryce asked, “Where’s Ruhn? He and Ithan should be back.”

Hunt narrowed his eyes. “Call them.”

Bryce did, but neither answered. Hunt fished out his phone, grateful he’d gotten the water-repellent spell Quinlan had needled him into purchasing. News alerts and messages filled the screen.

Hunt said a shade hoarsely, “Ephraim just got here. With the Hind.”

Tharion nodded grimly. “She brought her pack of dreadwolves with her.”

Bryce checked the clock on her phone again. “I need to find Ruhn.”


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