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House of Sky and Breath: Part 2 – Chapter 40

Nothing of Danika showed in Mordoc’s craggy face. Not one shade or curve or angle.

Only—there. The way the wolf captain pushed off the wall and approached. She’d seen Danika make that movement with the same power and grace.

Ithan and Tharion fell into place beside her. Allies again, if only for this.

“What do you want, Mordy?” Tharion drawled, again that irreverent, charming mer.

But the wolf only sneered at Bryce. “Curious, for a little princess to visit a place like this.”

Bryce admired her nails, grateful her hands weren’t shaking. “I needed some questions answered. I’m getting married, after all. I want to know if there are any blemishes on my future husband’s pristine reputation.”

A harsh laugh with too many teeth. “I was warned you had a mouth on you.”

Bryce blew him a kiss. “Happy not to disappoint my fans.”

Ithan cut in, snarling softly, “We’re going.”

“The disgraced pup,” Mordoc said, his chuckle like gravel. “Sabine said she’d thrown you out. Looks like you landed right with the trash, eh? Or is that from lurking in so many alleys lately? Care to explain that?”

Bryce sighed as Ithan bristled and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Before Mordoc could reply, Tharion said with that winning smile, “Unless you have some sort of imperial directive to interrogate us, we’re done here.”

The wolf grinned back at him. “I ran a mer male like you to shore once. Drove him into a cove with a net and learned what happens to mer when they’re kept a few feet above the water for a day. What they’ll do to reach one drop so they don’t lose their fins forever. What they’ll give up.”

A muscle ticked in Tharion’s jaw.

Bryce said, “Awesome story, dude.”

She looped arms with Tharion, then Ithan, and hauled them down the alley with her. She might be pissed as fuck at the former, but she’d take the mer any day over Mordoc. They’d always be allies against people like him.

Danika’s father … She started shaking when they turned the block’s corner, leaving Mordoc in the shadows of the alley. She could only pray the Astronomer was as discreet as rumor claimed. Even in the face of one of the empire’s worst interrogators.

They walked in silence back into the bustling heart of the Old Square, most of the tourists too busy snapping photos of the various decorations in honor of Celestina and Ephraim to notice them. A block away from the Heart Gate, Bryce halted, turning to Tharion. He looked at her with a frank, cool assessment. Here was the male who’d ruthlessly ripped apart his sister’s murderer. The male who …

Who had jumped right into Fury’s helicopter to come help during the attack last spring.

“Aw, Legs,” Tharion said, reading her softening features. He reached out a hand to toy with the ends of her hair. “You’re too nice to me.”

She quirked her mouth to the side. Ithan remained a few steps away, and made himself busy scrolling through his phone. She said to Tharion, “I’m still mad at you.”

Tharion grinned crookedly. “But you also still love me?”

She huffed a laugh. “We didn’t get answers about Emile.” Only more questions. “Are you going back there?”

“No.” Tharion shuddered. She believed him.

“Let me know if you come up with any ideas about where the kid might be hiding.”

He tugged on her hair. “I thought we weren’t working together anymore.”

“You’re on probation. You can thank your abs for that.”

He took her face in his hands, squeezing her cheeks as he pressed a chaste kiss to her brow. “I’ll send you some photos later. Don’t show Athalar.”

Bryce shoved him. “Send me an otter and we’ll be even.” She might not approve or agree with Tharion’s methods, might not entirely trust him, but they had far more dangerous enemies at their backs. Sticking together was the only choice.

“Done.” Tharion flicked her nose with a long finger. He nodded at Ithan. “Holstrom.” Then he sauntered down the street, presumably back to the Istros to check in with his queen.

Alone with Ithan on the sun-baked sidewalk, Bryce asked the wolf, “Where are you going now? Back to Ruhn’s?”

Ithan’s face was shadowed. Bleak. “I guess. You going to search for Emile?”

She pulled a postcard from her purse. Ithan’s eyes brightened with recognition at her old tradition. “I’m actually sending this off to my mom.” She studied her once-friend as he again turned solemn. “You all right?”

He shrugged. “I got my answers, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, but …” She rubbed at her forehead, skin sticky with the remnants of sweat from her dance class hours ago. Years ago, it seemed.

“I mean, it all sounds fine, doesn’t it? Connor’s in the Bone Quarter, and with a don’t-touch order, so …”

But she could tell, from the way he paced a step, that this didn’t sit well. She squeezed his shoulder. “We’ll find something. Some way to help him.” And everyone else trapped in the eternal slaughterhouse.

It might have been the worst lie she’d ever told, because as Ithan left, he looked like he actually believed her.

“Two weeks isn’t that long,” Isaiah consoled Hunt from across the glass table in the 33rd’s private cafeteria in the Comitium. They sat at the table reserved exclusively for the triarii, next to the wall-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city.

Normally, Hunt didn’t bother with the cafeteria, but Isaiah had invited him for an early lunch, and he’d needed to talk. He’d barely sat down when he burst out with his recap of his conversation with Celestina.

Hunt bit into his turkey-and-Brie sandwich. “I know it’s not long,” he said around the food, “but …” He swallowed, turning pleading eyes to his friend. “Bryce and I decided not to wait until Winter Solstice.”

Isaiah burst out laughing, the sound rich and velvety. A few soldiers turned their way, then quickly resumed eating their meals. It might have bothered Hunt any other day, but today … “I’m glad you find my blue balls amusing,” he hissed at his friend.

Isaiah laughed again, handsome as Hel in his suit. Given how many meetings he attended with Celestina—and now Ephraim—it was a miracle from Urd that his friend had found the time today to grab lunch with him. “I never thought I’d see the day when the Umbra Mortis came crying to me about a relatively light punishment because it interferes with his sex life.”

Hunt drained his water. Isaiah had a point there. Of all the punishments he’d ever been given, this was the mildest.

Isaiah sobered, voice quieting. “So what happened last night? Everything okay?”

“It’s fine now. Sabine came to the apartment looking for Ithan Holstrom. Bryce got spooked. I arrived in time to convince Sabine not to start shit.”

“Ah,” Isaiah said. Then asked, “And Baxian?”

“He took it upon himself as my so-called partner to provide backup. However unwanted.”

Isaiah snorted. “Points for trying?”

Hunt chuckled. “Sure.”

Isaiah dug into his own food, and for a moment, Hunt’s chest strained with the effort of keeping every truth inside. Isaiah had been with him throughout the Fallen’s rebellion. He’d have valuable insight into this shit with Ophion. Even if his advice was to stay the fuck out of it.

“What’s wrong?” Isaiah asked.

Hunt shook his head. His friend was too good at reading him. “Nothing.” He scrambled for another truth. “It’s weird to think that two weeks without Bryce is a punishment. If I so much as blinked at Sandriel the wrong way, she pulled out my feathers one by one.”

Isaiah shivered. “I remember.” His friend had been the one to bandage his ravaged wings again and again, after all.

“You like working for her? Celestina, I mean?”

Isaiah didn’t hesitate. “Yes. A great deal.”

Hunt blew out a long breath. He couldn’t tell Isaiah. Or Naomi. Because if they knew, even if they agreed to keep the shit with the rebels secret and stay out of it … they’d be killed, too. As it was, they might be tortured a little, but it’d become clear they knew nothing. And they might stand a chance.

“You know you can talk to me about anything, right?” Isaiah asked. Kindness shone in his dark eyes. “Even stuff with Celestina. I know it’s weird with the rankings between us, but … I’m the middle man between the 33rd and her. Whatever you need, I’m here.”

He’d never really deserved a friend like Isaiah. “It’s not weird with the rankings between us,” he said. “You’re the leader of the 33rd. I’m happy to work for you.”

Isaiah studied him. “I’m not the one who wields lightning. Or the one with a fancy nickname.”

Hunt waved off the weight of what his friend said. “Trust me, I’d rather you be in charge.”

Isaiah nodded, but before he could reply, silence rippled through the cafeteria. Hunt looked up on instinct, past all the wings and armor. “Great,” he muttered. Baxian, tray in hand, walked toward them. Ignored the soldiers who gave him a wide berth or fell silent entirely as he passed by.

“Play nice,” Isaiah murmured back, and made a show of beckoning the male over. Not for Baxian’s sake, but for that of all the people witnessing this. The soldiers who needed to be presented with a unified leadership.

Hunt finished off his sandwich just as the shape-shifting angel slid into a chair beside Isaiah. Hunt met his stare. “How’d it go with the Hind?” He knew the male could read between his words. Did you talk, you fucker?

“Fine. I know how to handle Lidia.” No, I didn’t, you asshole.

Hunt found Isaiah watching them with raised brows. “What happened with Lidia?”

The Helhound answered smoothly, “She wanted to grill me about why I left last night. I didn’t feel like explaining to her that I’m Athalar’s understudy, and where he goes, I go.”

Isaiah’s eyes darkened. “You weren’t so antagonistic toward her under Sandriel’s rule.”

Baxian dug into his platter of lamb kofta and herbed rice. “You’ve been in Lunathion for a while, Tiberian. Things changed after you left.”

Isaiah asked, “Like what?”

Baxian gazed toward the glistening city roasting in the midday heat. “Things.”

“I think that means we should mind our own fucking business,” Hunt said.

Isaiah snickered. “He’s taking a page out of your book, Hunt.”

Hunt grinned. “You’re confusing me with Naomi. I at least will tell you straight up to mind your own business. She’ll only imply it.”

“With a death glare.”

“And maybe a gun set on the table for emphasis.”

They laughed, but Hunt sobered as he noted Baxian observing their volley, something like envy on his face. Isaiah noted it, too, because he said to the Helhound, “You can laugh, you know. We do that kind of stuff here.”

Baxian’s mouth pressed into a thin line. “You’ve had more than ten years here. Forgive me if it takes a while to forget the rules of Sandriel’s territory.”

“As long as you don’t forget that you’re in Lunathion now.” The threat of violence rumbled in Isaiah’s every word, belying the impeccable suit he wore. “That scar Athalar put on your neck will be nothing compared to what I do to you if you hurt anyone in this city.”

Baxian’s eyes glittered. “Just because you weren’t interesting enough to merit being part of Sandriel’s triarii, don’t take it out on me with bullshit threats.”

Isaiah’s teeth gleamed. “I had no interest in getting that close to a monster.”

Hunt tried not to gape. He’d seen Isaiah lay down the law countless times. His friend wouldn’t have gotten to where he was without the ability to draw a line and hold it. But it was rare these days to see that vicious warrior shine through. Soldiers were turning their way.

So Hunt cut in, “Sandriel would be thrilled to know that she’s still pitting us against each other all these years later.”

Isaiah blinked, as if surprised he’d tried to intervene. Baxian watched him cautiously.

Hunt took another deep breath. “Fuck, that sounded preachy.” Baxian let out a snort, and the tension dissolved.

Isaiah threw Hunt a grateful smile, then rose. “I need to head out. I have a meeting with the Aux Heads.”

Hunt winked. “Give Ruhn my love.”

Isaiah laughed. “Will do.”

With that, his friend strode off toward the trash receptacles. Angels lifted their heads as he passed; a few waved at him. The white-winged angel waved back, pausing at various tables to swap pleasantries. Isaiah’s smile was wide—genuine.

Baxian said quietly, “Your friend was born for this.”

Hunt grunted his agreement.

“No interest in leading again?” Baxian asked.

“Too much paperwork.”

Baxian smirked. “Sure.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You led once, and it went poorly. I don’t blame you for not stepping up again.”

Hunt clenched his jaw but said nothing else as he finished off his meal. Baxian was right on his heels as they strode to empty their plates and dump their trays. Hunt didn’t dare turn to tell the Helhound to back the fuck off. Not with so many eyes on them. He could hear soldiers whispering as they passed.

Hunt didn’t bother to engage as Isaiah had. He couldn’t bear to look at the other soldiers. The people who’d be summoned to fight against Ophion.

People he’d kill if they threatened Bryce. Fuck, if he replicated what he’d done at the Bone Quarter, he could fry them all in a second. No wonder the Asteri had considered the thunderbirds a threat—that kind of power was nothing short of lethal.

If Ophion got their hands on Emile … Yeah, that was a weapon to kill for.

Hunt reached the elevator bay beyond the doors. The five angels clustered there quickly aimed for the stairs.

“Tough crowd, huh?” Baxian said behind him as Hunt stepped into the elevator. To his displeasure, the Helhound got in with him. The space was wide enough to accommodate many beings with wings, but Hunt kept his tucked in tight.

“You get used to it,” Hunt said, pushing the button for the triarii’s barracks. He might as well assess his room to see what weapons he had left. What clothes he needed to send for. Knowing Bryce, she’d send him a pair of her underwear along with them.

“I thought you were Mr. Popular,” Baxian said, watching the rising numbers above them.

“What the fuck would make you think that?” Hunt didn’t wait for a reply as the elevator doors opened and he stepped into the quiet hall.

“You seem friendly with everyone outside this place.”

Hunt arched a brow, pausing outside his old room. “What does that mean?”

Baxian leaned against his own door, across from Hunt’s. “I mean, I hear you party with Prince Ruhn and his friends, you have a girlfriend, you seem to be on good terms with the wolves … But not the angels?”

“Isaiah and I are on good terms.” And Naomi.

“I mean the others. The grunts. No friends there?”

“Why the Hel do you care?”

Baxian casually pulled in his wings. “I want to know what’s in it for me. What kind of life I can look forward to.”

“It’s what you make of it,” Hunt said, opening his door. Stale, dusty air greeted him. A far cry from the scent of coffee that filled Bryce’s apartment.

He peered over a shoulder to find Baxian surveying his room. The emptiness of it. A peek into Baxian’s room across the hall revealed an identically empty space.

Hunt said, “That’s what my life was like, you know.”

“Like what?”


“Then what happened?”

“Bryce happened.”

Baxian smiled slightly. Sadly. Was it—was it possible the Helhound was lonely?

“I’m sorry you have to stay apart from her for so long.” Baxian sounded like he meant it.

Hunt’s eyes narrowed. “Did Celestina punish you?”

“No. She said it was your bad influence, so it was your punishment to take.”

Hunt chuckled. “Fair enough.” He stepped into his room and made quick work of assessing his weapons and clothes.

When he reemerged into the hallway, Baxian was sitting at the pine desk in his room, going over what appeared to be reports. Every instinct screamed at Hunt to walk out and not say anything, to Hel with this male who’d been more of an enemy than a friend over the years, but …

Hunt braced a hand on the doorjamb. “What do they have you working on?”

“Progress reports for the new recruits. Seeing if there are any promising angels to pull up through the ranks.”

“Are there?”


“Angels like us don’t come around that often, I guess.”

“Apparently not.” Baxian went back to his paperwork.

The quiet of the hall, the room, settled on Hunt. Pushed on him. He could hear Bryce saying, Come on. Try. It won’t kill you. She bossed him around even in his imagination. So Hunt said, “We’ve still got twenty minutes left of lunch. Want to play some SUL Sunball?”

Baxian turned. “What’s that?”

“You really don’t know anything about modern life, huh?” Baxian gave him a flat look. “SUL,” Hunt explained. “Sunball United League. It’s their video game. You can play from the point of view of any player, on any team. It’s fun.”

“I’ve never played a video game.”

“Oh, I know.” Hunt grinned.

Baxian surveyed him, and Hunt waited for the rejection, but Baxian said, “Sure. Why not?”

Hunt headed for the common room. “You might regret that in a few.”

Indeed, ten minutes later, Baxian was cursing, fingers stumbling over the controller clenched in his hands. Hunt nimbly dodged Baxian’s avatar.

“Pathetic,” Hunt said. “Even worse than I thought.”

Baxian growled, “This is so stupid.”

“And yet you keep playing,” Hunt countered.

Baxian laughed. “Yeah. I guess I do.”

Hunt scored. “It’s not even satisfying playing against a novice.”

“Give me a day and I’ll wipe the floor with you, Athalar.” Baxian’s thumbs flicked the controls. His avatar ran right into a goalpost and rebounded, sprawling onto the grass.

Hunt snickered. “Maybe two days.”

Baxian glanced at him sidelong. “Maybe.” They kept playing, and when the clock above the door read twelve, Baxian asked, “Time to work?”

Hunt listened to the quiet dorm around them. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”

“Didn’t I prove this morning that I’m the soul of discretion?”

“I’m still waiting for your motive, you know.”

“I’m not here to make an enemy of you.”

“I don’t get why.”

Baxian ran into the goalpost again, his avatar ricocheting onto the field. “Life’s too short to hold grudges.”

“That’s not a good enough reason.”

“It’s the only one you’ll get.” Baxian managed to gain control of the ball for all of ten seconds before Hunt took it from him. He cursed. “Solas. You can’t go easy on me?”

Hunt let the subject drop. The gods knew he’d had plenty he hadn’t wanted to talk about when he first arrived here. And the gods knew he’d done plenty of terrible shit on Sandriel’s orders, too. Maybe he should take his own advice from earlier. Maybe it was time to stop letting Sandriel’s specter haunt them.

So Hunt smiled roughly. “Where would the fun be in that?”

“This sucks,” Bryce muttered into the phone that night, splayed out on her bed. “You really aren’t allowed to leave?”

“Only for official 33rd work,” Hunt said. “I forgot how crappy the barracks are.”

“Your sad little room with its lack of posters.”

His laugh rumbled in her ear. “I’m going to be extra good so she’ll let me go early.”

“I won’t have anyone to watch Beach House Hookup with. You sure I can’t come over there?”

“Not with Pollux and the Hind here. No fucking way.”

Bryce toyed with the hem of her T-shirt. “Even if we stayed in your room?”

“Oh?” His voice dropped low, getting the gist of what she was suggesting. “To do what?”

She smiled to herself. She needed this, after the insanity of today. She hadn’t even dared tell Hunt what had happened with the mystics, not over the phone, where anyone could listen in. But the next time she saw him face-to-face, she’d tell him about everything.

Including the otter Tharion had sent to her two hours ago, as promised, with a note that said, Forgive me yet, Legs? Shall we kiss and make up? She’d laughed—but sent a note back with the screamingly cute otter: Start with kissing my ass and we’ll see how it goes. Another otter had arrived before ten with a note that said, With pleasure.

Now Bryce said to Hunt, mood significantly lifted despite the news, “Things.”

His wings rustled in the background. “What kind of things?”

Her toes curled. “Kissing. And … more.”

“Hmm. Explain what more means.”

She bit her lip. “Licking.”

His laugh was like dark velvet. “Where would you like me to lick you, Quinlan?”

They were doing this, then. Her blood heated. Syrinx must have scented what was up, and took it upon himself to leap off the bed and head into the living room.

Bryce swallowed. “My breasts.”

“Mmm. They are delicious.”

She slickened between her thighs, and rubbed her legs together, nestling further into the pillows. “You like to taste them?”

“I like to taste all of you.” She could barely get a breath down. “I like to taste you, and touch you, and when I can leave these barracks again, I’m going to fly in a straight line to wherever you are so I can thoroughly fuck you.”

She whispered, “Are you touching yourself?”

A hiss. “Yes.”

She whimpered, rubbing her thighs together again.

“Are you?”

Her hand drifted beneath the waistband of her shorts. “Now I am.”

He groaned. “Are you wet?”


“Gods,” he begged. “Tell me what you’re doing.”

She flushed. She’d never done anything like this, but if she and Hunt couldn’t be together … she’d take what she could get.

She slid her finger into her sex, moaning softly. “I’m … I have a finger inside myself.”


“I wish it was yours.”


Was he close, then? “I’m adding another,” she said as she did, and her hips bucked off the bed. “It still doesn’t feel as good as you.”

His breathing turned sharp. “Open up that nightstand, sweetheart.”

Frantic, she grabbed a toy from the drawer. She shimmied off her shorts and her drenched underwear and positioned the vibrator at her entrance. “You’re bigger,” she said, the phone discarded beside her.

Another primal sound of pure need. “Yeah?”

She pushed the vibrator in, her back arching. “Oh gods,” she panted.

“When we fuck for the first time, Quinlan, do you want it hard or do you want a long, smooth ride?”

“Hard,” she managed to say.

“You want to be on top?”

Release gathered through her body like a wave about to break. “I want my turn on top, and then I want you behind me, fucking me like an animal.”

Fuck!” he shouted, and she heard flesh slapping against flesh in the background.

“I want you to ride me so hard I’m screaming,” she went on, driving the vibrator in and out. Gods, she was going to explode—

“Anything you want. Anything you want, Bryce, I’ll give it to you—”

That did it. Not the words, but her name on his tongue.

Bryce moaned, deep in her throat, her pants coming quick and wild, her core clenching around the vibrator as she pumped it in and out, working through her climax.

Hunt groaned again, cursing, and then he fell silent. Only their breathing filled the phone. Bryce lay limp against the bed.

“I want you so badly,” he ground out.

She smiled. “Good.”


“Yeah. Because I’m going to fuck your brains out when you come home to me.”

He laughed softly, full of sensual promise. “Likewise, Quinlan.”

Tharion sat atop the smooth rock half-submerged by a bend in the middle of the Istros and waited for his queen to respond to his report. But the River Queen, lounging on a bed of river weeds like a pool float, kept her eyes closed against the morning sun, as if she hadn’t heard a single word of what he’d been explaining about the Bone Quarter and the Under-King.

A minute passed, then another. Tharion asked at last, “Is it true?”

Her dark hair floated beyond her raft of weeds, writhing over the surface like sea snakes. “Does it disturb you, to have your soul sent back into the light from whence it came?”

He didn’t need to be Captain of Intelligence to know she was avoiding his question. Tharion said, “It disturbs me that we’re told we rest in peace and contentment, yet we’re basically cattle, waiting for the slaughter.”

“And yet you have no problem with your body being sent back to feed the earth and its creatures. Why is the soul any different?”

Tharion crossed his arms. “Did you know?”

She cracked open a warning eye. But she propped her head on a fist. “Perhaps there is something beyond the secondlight. Someplace our souls go even after that.”

For a glimmer, he could see the world she seemed to want: a world without the Asteri, where the River Queen ruled the waters, and the current system of soul-recycling remained, because hey, it kept the lights on. Literally.

Only those in power would change. Perhaps that was all she wanted Emile for: a weapon to ensure her survival and triumph in any upcoming conflict between Ophion and the Asteri.

But Tharion said, “The search for Emile Renast continues. I thought I had an easier way to find him, but it was a dead end.” Tracking Pippa’s string of bodies would have to remain his only path toward the kid.

“Report when you have anything.” She didn’t look back at him as the river weeds fell apart beneath her and she gently sank into the blue water.

Then she was gone, dissolving into the Istros itself and floating away as glowing blue plankton—like a trail of stars soared through the river.

Was a rebellion worth fighting, if it only put other power-hungry leaders in charge? For the innocents, yes, but … Tharion couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better way to fight this war. Better people to lead it.


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