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House of Sky and Breath: Part 2 – Chapter 39

A shuddering inhale was the only sign of discomfort Bryce would allow herself as she stared at the hologram displayed in the center of the orrery. The male now contained inside its dark border.

Thanatos’s tightly curled black hair was cropped close to his head, displaying the handsome, unsmiling face above the powerful body bedecked in dark, ornate armor. He gazed right at Bryce. As if he could indeed see through the mystic’s eyes.

The Astronomer fell back a step, murmuring a prayer to Luna.

The feed kept going, in time to Thanatos’s moving mouth. Hunger filled the demon’s expression.

I can smell the starlight on you.

The Prince of the Ravine knew her. Somehow.

The Astronomer took another step back, then another, until he was pressed against the wall behind him, shaking in terror.

Thanatos’s dark eyes pierced to her soul. You’re the one my brothers speak about.

Ithan and Tharion glanced between her and the demon, hands within easy reach of their weapons—little as they could do.

“I came to ask about a friend’s soul. I don’t know why I’m talking to you,” Bryce said, and added a bit quietly, “Your Highness.”

I am a Prince of Death. Souls bow to me.

This male had none of Aidas’s slickness or what Hunt had told her of Apollion’s smug arrogance. Nothing that indicated mercy or humor.

Ithan blurted, teeth clattering with the cold, “Can you tell if Connor Holstrom’s soul somehow got lost in Hel?”

Thanatos frowned at his knee-high boots, like he could see all the way down to the Pit levels below.

The wolf is your brother, I take it, he said to Ithan.

“Yes.” Ithan’s throat bobbed.

His soul is not in Hel. He is … His attention snapped again to Bryce. Ripped away skin and bone to the being beneath. You slew one of my creations. My beloved pet, kept for so long on your side of the Crossing.

Bryce managed to ask, breath clouding in front of her, “You mean the Reapers? Or the Shepherd?” A shepherd of souls—for a prince who peddled them. “The Under-King said you abandoned it after the First Wars.”

Abandoned, or intentionally planted?

Great. Fantastic.

“I had no interest in being its lunch,” Bryce said.

Thanatos’s eyes flared. You cost me a key link to Midgard. The Shepherd reported faithfully to me on all it heard in the Bone Quarter. The souls of the dead talk freely of their world.


You mock a Prince of Hel?

“I just want answers.” And to get the fuck out of here.

Thanatos studied her again—as if he had all the time in the universe. Then he said, I will give them to you only out of respect for a warrior capable of slaying one of my creations. Shall I meet you on the battlefield, however, I will take vengeance for the Shepherd’s death.

Bryce’s mouth dried out. “It’s a date.”

Connor Holstrom remains in the Bone Quarter. My Shepherd observed him on its rounds the night before you slew it. Unless … Ah, I see now. His eyes went distant. An order was dispatched from the dark. He shall be left alone with the others until the usual amount of time has passed.

“Who gave the order?” Ithan demanded.

It is not clear.

Bryce demanded, “Is there a way to help souls like Connor?” Whether he was ushered through the Dead Gate tomorrow or in five hundred years, it was a horrible fate.

Only the Asteri would know.

Tharion—the asshole—cut in, “Can you determine the location of a human boy named Emile Renast in Lunathion?”

Bryce stiffened. If Apollion was actually seeking Emile … had they just dragged another Prince of Hel into the hunt?

“That is not how this works,” the Astronomer hissed from where he still cowered by the wall.

I do not know this name or person.

Thank the gods. And thank the gods the prince’s words held no hint of awareness about what Emile was, or what Apollion might want from him.

Tharion drawled, “Know anyone who might?”

No. Those are matters of your world.

Bryce tried and failed to calm her racing heartbeat. At least Connor remained in the Bone Quarter, and they’d gotten a cease-fire.

“Kid’s a thunderbird,” Tharion said. “Ring any bells?”

“Tharion,” Ithan warned, apparently on the same page as Bryce.

I thought the Asteri destroyed that threat long ago.

Bryce cleared her throat. “Maybe,” she hedged. “Why were they a threat?”

I grow tired of these questions. I shall feast.

The room plunged into blackness.

The Astronomer whispered, “Luna guard me, your bow bright against the darkness, your arrows like silver fire shooting into Hel—”

Bryce lifted a hand wreathed in starlight, casting the room in silver. In the space where Thanatos’s hologram had been, only a black pit remained.

The male mystic jerked violently, submerging and arching upward. Red liquid splashed. The other two lay still as death. The machine began blaring and beeping, and the Astronomer halted his praying to rush to the controls. “He has snared him,” the male gasped, hands shaking.

Bryce flared her light brighter as the feed began running again.

It has been a long while since a mortal fly buzzed all the way down to Hel. I will taste this one’s soul, as I once sipped from them like fine wine.

Frost spread over the floor. The male mystic arched again, thin arms flailing, chest rising and falling at a rapid pace.

“Cut him loose!” Bryce barked.

Please, the mystic begged.

How sad and lonely and desperate you are. You taste of rainwater.

Please, please.

A little more. Just a taste.

The Astronomer began typing. Alarms wailed.

“What’s happening?” Tharion shouted. Down below, the ice crept over the other two mystics in their tubs.

The prince continued, You have gone too deep. I think I shall keep you.

The male thrashed, sending waves of red water cascading into the void below.

“Turn off the machines,” Ithan ordered.

“I cannot—not without the proper extraction. His mind might shatter.”

Bryce protested, “He’s fucked if you don’t.”

The Prince of the Ravine said, I do not care for my brothers’ agenda. I do not heed their rules and restraints and illusions of civilization. I shall taste all of you like this—you and your masters—once the door between our worlds is again open. Starting with you, Starborn.

Ice exploded across the walls, crusting over the submerged mystics. The machines groaned, planets flickering, and then—

Every firstlight and piece of tech went out. Even Bryce’s starlight vanished. Bryce swore. “What—”

The Astronomer panted in the darkness. Buttons clacked hollowly. “Their respirators—”

Bryce yanked out her phone and fumbled for its light. It was dead. Another curse from Tharion, and she knew his was, too. Every muscle and tendon in her body went taut.

Shimmering, golden light glowed from the Astronomer’s upraised hand. The fire sprites trapped in his rings simmered steadily.

Apparently, it was all Ithan needed to see by as he launched himself over the rail and aimed for the male’s iced-over tub. He landed gracefully, balancing his feet on either side. A pound of his fist had the ice cracking.

The male was convulsing, no doubt drowning without a functioning respirator. Ithan hauled him up, ripping the mask from his face. A long feeding tube followed. The male gagged and spasmed, but Ithan propped him over the rim, lest he slide back under.

Leaping with that athletic grace, Ithan reached the tub in the middle, freeing the mystic within. Then on to the female in the third.

The Astronomer was shrieking, but it seemed Ithan barely heard the words. The three mystics shook, soft cries trembling from their blue mouths. Bryce shook with them, and Tharion put a hand on her back.

Something groaned below, and the lights sputtered back on. Metal whined. The floor began to rise, pulling toward the tubs again. The sun fixture descended from the ceiling as the Astronomer hobbled down the walkway, cursing.

“You had no right to pull them out, no right—”

“They would have drowned!” Bryce launched into motion, storming after the male. Tharion stalked a step behind her.

The female stirred as the slate floor locked into place around the tubs. On reed-thin arms, she raised up her chest, blinking blearily at Ithan, then the room.

“Back,” the mystic wheezed, her voice broken and raspy. Unused for years. Her dark eyes filled with pleading. “Send me back.”

“The Prince of the Ravine was about to rip apart your friend’s soul,” Ithan said, kneeling before her.

Send me back!” she screamed, the words barely more than a hoarse screech. “Back!

Not to Hel, Bryce knew—not to the Prince of the Ravine. But into the watery, weightless existence. Ithan got to his feet, inching away.

“Get out,” the Astronomer seethed, hurrying toward his mystics. “All of you.”

Bryce reached the bottom of the ramp, the Astronomer’s still-glowing rings blazing bright. Fury boiled in her chest. “You would have sacrificed them—”

BACK!” the female screamed again. The other two mystics stirred to consciousness, moaning. Bryce reached Ithan’s side and looped her arm through his, pulling him toward the doors. The wolf gaped at the mystics, the mess they’d made.

The Astronomer knelt by the female, reaching for the tubes that Ithan had ripped free. “They cannot exist in this world anymore. Do not want to exist in this world.” He glared at her, cold fire in his pale gray eyes.

Bryce opened her mouth, but Tharion shook his head, already heading to the exit. “Sorry for the trouble,” he said over a broad shoulder.

Send me back,” the female whimpered to the Astronomer.

Bryce tried to hustle Ithan along, but the wolf gazed at the female, at the old male. His muscles tensed, like he might very well throw the Astronomer off the girl and haul her away.

“Soon,” the old male promised, stroking the young woman’s wet hair. “You’ll be drifting again soon, my lamb.” Each of his rings glimmered, projecting rays around the mystic’s head like a corona.

Bryce stopped tugging on Ithan’s arm. Stopped moving as she saw the pleading little hands pushing against the glass orbs on the Astronomer’s fingers.

Do something. Be something.

But what could she do? What authority did she have to free the sprites? What power could she wield beyond blinding him and snatching the rings off his fingers? She’d make it a block before the Aux or 33rd were called in, and then she’d have a fucking mess on her hands. And if Hunt was the one called to apprehend her … She knew he’d back her in an instant, but he also answered to the law. She couldn’t make him choose. Not to mention that they couldn’t afford the scrutiny right now. In so many ways.

So Bryce turned, hating herself, towing Ithan along. He didn’t fight her this time. The Astronomer was still murmuring to his charges when Ithan shut the heavy doors behind them.

The street seemed unchanged in the light summer rain that had started. Tharion’s face was haunted. “You were right,” he admitted. “It was a bad idea.”

Bryce opened and closed her fingers into fists. “You’re a fucking asshole, you know that?”

Tharion threw her a mocking grin. “You’re in the gray with us, Legs. Don’t get boring now that you’ve got a fancy crown.”

A low growl slipped from her throat. “I always wondered why the River Queen made you her Captain of Intelligence. Now I know.”

“What does that mean?” Tharion advanced a step, towering over her.

Like Hel would she back down. “It means that you pretend to be Mr. Charming, but you’re just a ruthless backstabber who will do anything to achieve his ends.”

His face hardened. Became someone she didn’t know. Became the sort of mer that people wisely stayed away from. “Try having your family at the mercy of the River Queen and then come cry to me about morals.” His voice had dropped dangerously low.

“My family is at the mercy of all Vanir,” she snapped. Starlight flared around her, and people down the alley paused. Turned their way. She didn’t care. But she kept her voice whisper-soft as she hissed, “We’re done working with you. Go find someone else to drag into your shit.”

She turned to Ithan for backup, but the wolf had gone pale as he gazed toward a brick wall across the alley. Bryce followed his stare and went still. She’d seen the male before them on the news and in photos, but never in the flesh. She immediately wished she still had the distance of a digital screen between them. Her starlight guttered and went out.

Mordoc smiled, a slash of white in the shadows. “Causing trouble so early in the day?”


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