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House of Sky and Breath: Part 2 – Chapter 43

Hunt breathed in the cool air off the turquoise sea, admiring the pristine water, so clear that he could see the corals and rocks and the fish darting among them.

Down in the quay, hidden in a massive cavern, the cargo ship was still being unloaded. The sea cave, tucked into an isolated, arid part of Ydra, one of the more remote Coronal Islands, ran at least a mile inland. It had been selected because the water flowing within it ran so deep—deep enough for massive cargo ships to slide into its stone-hewn dock and unload their contraband.

Hunt stood in the shadows just within the mouth of the cave, focusing on the bright, open water ahead and not the reek of the oil on the ancient mech-suits currently helping to unload the ship into the fleet of awaiting vehicles: laundry trucks, food trucks, moving trucks … anything that might reasonably inch along one of the island’s steeply curving roads or board one of the auto-ferries shuttling vehicles between the hundred or so islands of this archipelago without raising too much suspicion.

Cormac had teleported everyone to Ydra an hour ago. Hunt had nearly puked during the five-minute-long trip with several stops—when they’d finally arrived, he’d sat his ass on the damp concrete, head between his knees. Cormac had gone back, again and again, until all of them were here.

And then the poor fuck had to go head-to-head with whoever was in charge from Command, to convince them Pippa Spetsos shouldn’t be anywhere near this shit.

Cormac had been unsteady on his feet, pale from the teleporting, but had left them with the promise to return soon. Bryce, Tharion, and Ruhn all sat on the ground—apparently not trusting their legs yet, either. Hunt hadn’t failed to notice that Ruhn kept reaching over his shoulder—as if to seek the reassuring presence of the Starsword. But the prince had left the blade back in Lunathion, not wanting to risk losing it here if all Hel broke loose. It seemed the male was missing his security blanket as their stomachs and minds settled.

“I shouldn’t have eaten breakfast,” Tharion was saying, a hand on his abs. He wore only tight black aquatic leggings, equipped along the thighs with holsters for knives. No shoes or shirt. If he needed to shift into his mer form, he’d said upon arriving at Bryce’s place this morning, he didn’t want to lose much.

Tharion’s timing had been unfortunate—he’d arrived at the apartment right after Hunt. Bryce was already propped up on the counter, gripping Hunt’s shoulders while he lazily licked up her neck. Tharion’s knock on the door was … unwelcome.

That would all have to wait. But his mate had gotten him out of the barracks—he’d repay her generously tonight.

Bryce now patted Tharion’s bare shoulder. “I’m weirdly satisfied that a mer can get airsick, considering how many of us suffer from seasickness.”

He’s still green, too,” Tharion said, pointing to Hunt, who grinned weakly.

But Tharion went back to idly observing the cave around them. Perhaps too idly. Hunt knew Tharion’s main objective: get Pippa to talk about Emile. Whether that interrogation would be friendly was up to the mer captain.

Ruhn murmured, “Incoming.”

They all turned toward the cargo ship to see Cormac striding over to them. Still pale and drained—Hunt had no idea how he’d get them all out of here when this was over.

But Hunt tensed at the fury simmering off Cormac. “What’s up?” Hunt said, eyeing the cave interior beyond Cormac. Tharion’s attention drifted that way as well, his long body easing into a crouch, ready to spring into action.

Cormac shook his head and said, “Pippa’s already got her claws in them. They’re all eating out of her hand. The weapons are hers, and she’s now in charge of the Valbaran front.”

Tharion frowned, but scanned the space behind the Avallen Prince. “Anything about Emile or Sofie?”

“No. She didn’t say a word about them, and I couldn’t risk asking. I don’t want her to know we’re on the hunt as well.” Cormac paced. “A confrontation about Emile in front of the others would likely lead to bloodshed. We can only play along.”

“Any chance of isolating her?” Tharion pressed.

Cormac shook his head. “No. Believe me, she’ll be on her guard as much as we are. You want to drag her off for questioning, you’re going to have a battle on your hands.”

Tharion swore, and Bryce patted his knee in what Hunt could only guess was an attempt at consolation.

Cormac faced Hunt. “Athalar, you’re up.” He jerked his head to the massive ship. “They’re unloading the new prototype right now.”

In silence, they followed the prince, Hunt keeping close to Bryce. The rebels—all in black, many with hats or masks on—stared at them as they passed. None of them smiled. One man grumbled, “Vanir pricks.”

Tharion blew him a kiss.

Ruhn growled.

“Play nice,” Bryce hissed at her brother, pinching his side through his black T-shirt. Ruhn batted her away with a tattooed hand.

“Real mature,” Hunt muttered as they halted at the foot of the loading platform. Ruhn subtly flipped him off. Bryce pinched Hunt’s side, too.

But Tharion let out a low whistle as four rusty mech-suits emerged from the ship’s hold, each carrying the corner of a massive box.

It looked like a metal sarcophagus, carved with the insignia of the Asteri: seven stars around SPQM. The humans piloting the old-model mech-suits didn’t so much as glance to the side as they carried the box down the ramp, the ground thudding beneath the machines’ massive feet.

“Those suits are for battle, not manual labor,” Tharion murmured.

“Twelve-gunners. They’re the strongest of the human models.” Hunt inclined his head to the twin double guns at the shoulder, the guns on each of the forearms. “Six visible guns, six hidden ones—and one of those is a cannon.”

Bryce grimaced. “How many of these suits do the humans have?”

“A few hundred,” Cormac answered. “The Asteri have bombed enough of our factories that these suits are all old, though. The imperial prototype that they’re carrying could give us new technology, if we can study it.”

Bryce murmured, “And no one is worried about giving this stuff over to trigger-happy Pippa?”

“No,” Cormac replied gravely. “Not one of them.”

“But they’re cool with us examining the suit?” Bryce asked.

“I told them Athalar would have some insight into how they’re constructed.”

Hunt clicked his tongue. “No pressure, huh?” He suppressed the memory of Sandriel’s face, her cruel amusement as she watched what he’d done to the suits on her orders.

The suits and their pilots reached the concrete quay, and someone barked an order that dispersed the various rebels working the docks until only a unit of twelve rebels—all humans—lingered behind Hunt and the others.

Hunt liked that about as much as the fact that they were here at all, on a fucking rebel base. Officially aiding Ophion. He kept his breathing slow and steady.

The unit of rebels marched past them, climbing into the vessel, and the mech-pilots stomped off, leaving the sarcophagus behind. A heartbeat later, a human female, brown-haired and freckled, emerged from the shadows beside the boat.

From the way Cormac tensed, Hunt knew who it was. He noted that she wore the uniform of the Lightfall squadron. All the rebels who’d gone by had borne armbands with the sinking sun emblem.

Hunt put his hand in easy reach of the gun at his thigh, lightning writhing in his veins. Bryce angled her body, already eyeing up the best shot. Tharion drifted a few feet to the left, positioning Pippa between himself and the water. As if he’d tackle her into it.

But Pippa moved casually to the other side of the sarcophagus as she said to Cormac, “The code to that box is seven-three-four-two-five.”

Her voice was smooth and fancy—like she was some rich Pangeran kid playing at being a rebel. She said to Hunt, “We’re waiting with bated breath for your analysis, Umbra Mortis.” It was practically an order.

Hunt stared at her from under lowered brows. He knew he was recognizable. But the way she said his name definitely carried a threat. Pippa shifted her attention to Cormac. “I wondered when you’d try to turn them against me.”

Hunt and Bryce drew close, guns at their fingertips now. Ruhn kept a step back, guarding their rear. And Tharion …

The mer had silently shifted positions again, putting himself within a few easy bounds of tackling Pippa.

“I haven’t said anything to them about you yet,” Cormac said with impressive iciness.

“Oh? Then why were you in such a rush to get here? I can only assume it was for one of two reasons: to convince them to put you in charge of the Valbaran front, presumably by slandering me, or to try to capture me so I can tell you everything I know about Emile Renast.”

“Who says both can’t be true?” Cormac countered.

Pippa grunted. “You needn’t have bothered with capturing me. I would have worked with you to find him. But you wanted the glory for yourself.”

“We’re talking about a child’s life,” Cormac snarled. “You only want him as a weapon.”

“And you don’t?” Pippa sneered at them all. “It must make it easier for you if you pretend you’re better than I am.”

Tharion said, deadly soft, “We’re not the ones torturing people to death for intel on the kid.”

She frowned. “Is that what you think I’ve been up to? Those gruesome murders?”

“We found human scents and a piece of one of your soldiers on the kid’s trail,” Tharion growled, a hand drifting to his knives.

Her lips curved into a cold smile. “You arrogant, narrow-minded Vanir. Always thinking the worst of us humans.” She shook her head in mock sympathy. “You’re too coiled up in your own snake’s nest to see the truth. Or to see who among you has a forked tongue.”

True to form, Bryce stuck out her tongue at the soldier. Pippa only sneered.

“Enough, Pippa.” Cormac punched the code into the small box at the foot of the sarcophagus. Bryce’s eyes had narrowed, though. She held Pippa’s gaze—and a chill went down Hunt’s spine at the pure dominance in Bryce’s face.

Pippa drawled, “It is of no concern now. anyway. The boy has been deemed a waste of resources. Especially now that we have … better weapons to wield.”

As if in answer, the lid popped open with a hiss, and Hunt threw an arm in front of Bryce as it slid aside. Smoke from dry ice billowed out, and Cormac cleared it away with a brush of his hand.

Pippa said, “Well, Umbra Mortis? I await your insights.”

“I’d mind how you speak to him, Pippa,” Cormac warned her, voice sharp with authority.

Pippa faced Bryce, though. “And you’re Cormac’s bride, yes?” No kindness, no warmth filled her tone.

Bryce flashed the female a smile. “You can have the job if you want it so badly.”

Pippa bristled, but Cormac gestured Hunt forward as the last of the smoke cleared.

Hunt surveyed the suit in the box and swore. “The Asteri designed this?” he asked. Pippa nodded, lips pursed tight. “For Vanir to pilot?” he pushed.

Another nod. Pippa said, “I don’t see how it can possess more power than ours, though. It’s smaller than our models.” The quicksilver-bright suit would stand about seven feet high.

“You know what you’re looking at?” Ruhn asked Hunt, scratching his head.

“It’s like a robot,” Bryce said, peering into the box.

“It’s not,” Hunt said. He rocked back on his heels, mind racing. “I heard rumors about this kind of thing being made, but I always thought it was a long shot.”

“What is it?” Pippa demanded.

“Impatient, are we?” Hunt mocked. But he tapped a finger on the suit. “This metal has the same makeup as gorsian stones.” He nodded to Bryce. “Like what they did with the synth—they were seeking ways to weaponize the gorsian stones.”

“We already have them in our bullets,” Pippa said smugly.

He ground out, “I know you do.” He had a scar on his stomach from one.

Perhaps that threat alone was what had kept Tharion from making his move. The mer had a clear shot toward Pippa. But could he run faster than she could draw her gun? Hunt and Bryce could help him, but … Hunt really didn’t want to outright attack an Ophion leader. Let Tharion and the River Queen deal with that shit.

Pippa shifted a few inches out of Tharion’s range once more.

Hunt went on, “This metal … The Asteri have been researching a way to make the gorsian ore absorb magic, not suppress it.”

Ruhn said, “Seems like ordinary titanium to me.”

“Look closer,” Hunt said. “There are slight purple veins in it. That’s the gorsian stone. I’d know it anywhere.”

“So what can it do?” Bryce asked.

“If I’m right,” Hunt said hoarsely, “it can draw the firstlight from the ground. From all the pipes of it crisscrossing the land. These suits would draw up the firstlight and turn it into weapons. Brimstone missiles, made right there on the spot. The suit would never run out of ammo, never run out of battery life. Simply find the underground power lines, and it’d be charged up and ready to kill. That’s why they’re smaller—because they don’t need all the extra tech and room for the arsenal that the human suits require. A Vanir warrior could climb inside and essentially wear it like an exoskeleton—like armor.”


Pippa said, voice full of awe, “Do you know what this would mean for the cause?”

Bryce said dryly, “It means a Hel of a lot more people would die.”

“Not if it’s in our hands,” Pippa said. That light in her eyes—Hunt had seen it before, in the face of Philip Briggs.

Pippa went on, more to herself than to any of them, “We’d at last have a source of magic to unleash on them. Make them understand how we suffer.” She let out a delighted laugh.

Cormac stiffened. So did Tharion.

But Hunt said, “This is a prototype. There might be some kinks to work out.”

“We have excellent engineers,” Pippa said firmly.

Hunt pushed, “This is a death machine.”

“And what is a gun?” Pippa snapped. “Or a sword?” She sneered at the lightning zapping at his fingertips. “What is your magic, angel, but an instrument of death?” Her eyes blazed again. “This suit is simply a variation on a theme.”

Ruhn said to Hunt, “So what’s your take on it? Can Ophion use it?”

“No one should fucking use it,” Hunt growled. “On either side.” He said to Cormac, “And if you’re smart, you’ll tell Command to track down the scientists behind this and destroy them and their plans. The bloodshed on both sides will become monstrous if you’re all using these things.”

“It’s already monstrous,” Cormac said quietly. “I just want it ended.”

But Pippa said, “The Vanir deserve everything that’s coming to them.”

Bryce grinned. “So do you, terrorizing that poor boy and then deciding he’s not worth it.”

“Emile?” Pippa laughed. “He’s not the helpless baby you think he is. He found allies to protect him. By all means, go retrieve him. I doubt he’ll help the Vanir win this war—not now that we have this technology in our hands. Thunderbirds are nothing compared to this.” She ran a hand over the rim of the box.

Tharion cut in, “Where’s the kid?”

Pippa smirked. “Somewhere even you, mer, would fear to tread. I’m content to leave him there, and so is Command. The boy is no longer our priority.”

Bryce seethed, “You’re deluded if you think this suit is anything but a disaster for everyone.”

Pippa crossed her arms. “I don’t see how you have any right to judge. While you’re busy getting your nails painted, Princess, good people are fighting and dying in this war.”

Bryce wiggled her nails at the rebel. “If I’m going to associate with losers like you, I might as well look good doing it.”

Hunt shook his head, cutting off Pippa before she could retort. “We’re talking machines that can make brimstone missiles within seconds and unleash them at short range.” His lightning now sizzled at his hands.

“Yes,” Pippa said, eyes still lit with predatory bloodlust. “No Vanir will stand a chance.” She lifted her attention to the ship above them, and Hunt followed her focus in time to see the crew appearing at the rails. Backs to them.

Five mer, two shifter-types. None in an Ophion uniform. Rebel sympathizers, then, who’d likely volunteered their boat and services to the cause. They raised their hands.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Hunt growled, just as Pippa lifted her arm in a signal to the human Lightfall squadron standing atop the ship. Herding the Vanir crew to the rails.

Guns cracked.

Blood sprayed, and Hunt flung out a wing, shading Bryce from the mist of red.

The Vanir crumpled, and Ruhn and Cormac began shouting, but Hunt watched, frozen, as the Lightfall squadron on deck approached the fallen crew, pumping their heads full of bullets.

“First round is always a gorsian bullet,” Pippa said mildly in the terrible silence that followed as the Lightfall soldiers drew long knives and began severing heads from necks. “To get the Vanir down. The rest are lead. The beheading makes it permanent.”

“Are you fucking insane?” Hunt burst out, just as Tharion spat, “You’re a murdering psycho.”

But Cormac snarled at Pippa, getting in her face, blocking Tharion’s direct path. “I was told the crew would be unharmed. They helped us out of their belief in the cause.”

She said flatly, “They’re Vanir.”

“And that’s an excuse for this?” Ruhn shouted. Blood gleamed on his neck, his cheek, from where it had sprayed down. “They’re Vanir who are helping you.”

Pippa only shrugged again. “This is war. We can’t risk them telling the Asteri where we are. The order to put the crew down came from Command. I am their instrument.”

“You and Command are going to lead these people to ruin.” Shadows gathered at Ruhn’s shoulders. “And like Hel am I going to help you do it.”

Pippa only snickered. “Such lofty morals.” A phone buzzed in her pocket, and she checked the screen before saying, “I’m due to report to Command. Care to join me, Cormac?” She smiled slightly. “I’m sure they’d love to hear your concerns.”

Cormac only glared, and Pippa let out a sharp whistle—an order. With that, she sauntered down the quay toward the side cavern, where the rest of the rebels had gone. A moment later, the human Lightfall squadron walked off the ship, guns at their sides. Ruhn snarled softly, but they followed Pippa without so much as glancing toward them.

The humans were bold as Hel to stride past them, putting their backs to Vanir after what they’d done.

When Pippa and Lightfall had vanished, Tharion said, “She knows where Emile is.”

“If you can trust her,” Bryce countered.

“She knows,” Cormac said. He gestured to Tharion. “You want to interrogate her, go ahead. But with her and Lightfall now in charge of the Valbaran front, your queen will have a mess on her hands if you move against them. I’d think twice if I were you, mer.”

Bryce hummed her agreement, mouth twisting to the side. “I’d stay the Hel away from her.”

Hunt tucked in his wings. Assessed his mate.

She slid her gaze to him. Innocently. Too innocently.

She knew something.

She dropped the Who, me? expression and glared at him. As if to say, Don’t you fucking rat me out, Athalar.

He was stunned enough that he inclined his head. He’d get the truth out of her later.

Tharion was asking, “All this ammo they unloaded … Ophion is bringing it into this region. To do what—stage some big battle?”

“No one would tell me,” Cormac said. “If they let Pippa have free rein, she’ll commit atrocities that will make that leopard massacre seem merciful.”

“You think she’d start shit in Lunathion?” Ruhn asked.

“I don’t see why you’d bring in guns and missiles for a tea party,” Tharion said, rubbing his jaw. Then he added, “They already had this base set up. How long has it been here on Ydra?”

“Not sure,” Cormac said.

“Well, with Pippa at the helm, it seems like they’re ready to strike,” Ruhn said.

Hunt said, “I can’t let them do that. Even if I wasn’t in the 33rd, I can’t let them attack innocent people. They want to go head-to-head on some muddy battlefield, fine, but I’m not going to let them hurt anyone in my city.”

“Me neither,” Ruhn said. “I’ll lead the Aux against you—against Ophion. Tell Command that if they make one move, they can say goodbye to their contact with Daybright.”

Tharion didn’t say anything. Hunt didn’t blame him. The mer would have to follow the River Queen’s orders. But his face was grim.

Cormac said, “You warn anyone in Lunathion, they’ll ask how you know.”

Hunt observed the bodies slumped against the boat railing. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take. And one of us is a master of spinning bullshit.” He pointed to Bryce.

Bryce scowled. Yeah, she knew he didn’t just mean spinning lies for the authorities about their involvement with the rebels. As soon as we’re out of here, he silently conveyed, I want to know everything you know.

She glowered, even if she couldn’t read his thoughts. But that glower turned into icy determination as the others noticed the look. She lifted her chin. “We can’t let the Asteri get this suit. Or Ophion—especially the Lightfall squadron.”

Hunt nodded. At least on this, they were on the same page. “They’re going to be so fucking pissed.”

“I guess that means it’s business as usual,” Bryce said, winking despite her pale face. She said to him, “Light it up, Hunt.”

Cormac whirled. “What are you—”

Hunt didn’t give the prince time to finish before he laid a hand on the suit and blasted it apart with his lightning.

Hunt didn’t stop at destroying the suit. His lightning slammed the parked trucks, too. Every single one of them. Bryce couldn’t help but marvel at the sight of him—like a god of lightning. Like Thurr himself.

He looked exactly like that statuette that had sat on her desk a couple weeks ago—

Ruhn bellowed at her to get down, and Bryce hit the ground, covering her head with her arms as truck after truck exploded across the cavern. The walls shook, stones falling, and then there were wings blocking her, protecting her.

“There are brimstone missiles on those trucks!” Cormac roared.

Bryce raised her head as Hunt pointed to the untouched truck marked Pie Life. “Only on that one.” He must have somehow figured it out during the few minutes they’d been here. Hunt grinned wickedly at Tharion. “Let’s see what you got, Ketos.”

Tharion grinned back, pure predator. The male behind the charming mask.

A wall of water slammed into the pie truck, sending it toppling over the quay. Tharion’s power sucked it swiftly and deeply below, and then created a small eddy, forming an open tunnel to the truck—

Hunt’s lightning speared through it. The water slammed shut in its wake, covering the lightning’s path as the truck exploded beneath the surface.

Water sprayed through the cave, and Bryce ducked again.

People were shouting now, rushing from far inside the cave, guns pointed toward where the trucks burned, a wall of flame licking toward the cave’s distant ceiling.

“Time to go,” Hunt said to Cormac, who was gaping at them. He hadn’t gone for his sword, which was a good sign, but—

The prince whirled to the rebels, shouting across the chaos, “It was an accident!”

There was no use in covering their asses, Bryce thought as Hunt grabbed her to him, wings spreading in anticipation of a mad dash through the cave and out into the open air. Like he wouldn’t wait for Cormac to teleport them.

“We’re leaving,” Hunt ordered Ruhn, who fell into a defensive position behind him. Hunt said to Tharion, “You want Pippa, it’s now or never.”

Tharion scanned the chaos beyond the trucks, the rebels advancing with their guns. No sign of Pippa. “I’m not running a foot closer to that shit,” Tharion murmured.

Cormac had raised his hands as he approached his Ophion allies. The prince shouted to them, “The suit came to life, and launched its power—”

A gunshot cracked. Cormac went down.

Ruhn swore, and Hunt held Bryce tight to his side as Cormac struggled on the ground, a hand to his shoulder. No exit wound.

“Fuck,” Cormac cursed as Pippa Spetsos emerged from the shadows. She likely wanted the Avallen Prince alive for questioning.

And if Hunt flew into the air … he’d be an easy target. Especially while still inside the confines of the cave, no matter how massive. Tharion went for a knife at his side. Water wreathed his long fingers.

“Don’t be dumb,” Hunt warned Tharion. He whirled on Cormac. “Teleport us out.”

“Can’t,” Cormac panted. “Gorsian bullet.”

“Fuck,” Bryce breathed, and Hunt prepared to take their chances in the sky, bullets be damned. He was a fast flier. He’d get her out. Then return to help the others. He just had to get her to safety—

Pippa snarled from across the cavern, “You are all dead, Vanir filth.” Hunt’s back muscles tensed, wings readying for a mighty leap upward, then a sharp bank to the left.

But at that moment, Bryce began glowing. A light that radiated from her star, then outward through her body. “Run on my mark,” she said quietly, sliding her hand into Hunt’s.

“Bryce,” Ruhn started.

Stars glinted in Bryce’s hair. “Close your eyes, boys.”

Hunt did, not waiting to see if the others followed. Even with his eyes shut, he could see light sparking, blinding. Humans screamed. Bryce shouted, “Go!”

Hunt opened his eyes to the fading brightness, clenched her still-glowing hand, and ran toward the wide cave entrance and open sea.

“Grab that boat!” Tharion said, pointing toward a skiff moored a few yards inside the cave—presumably how so many rebels had arrived secretly.

Hunt swept Bryce into his arms and jumped into the air, flapping for it, reaching the boat and untying it before the others could arrive, then gunning the engine. It was ready to go by the time they leapt in, and he made sure Bryce was securely seated before speeding off.

“This boat won’t make it back to the coast,” Tharion said, taking over the steering. “We’ll need to stop at a fuel dock.”

Cormac gazed toward the billowing smoke rippling from the broad cave mouth. Like some giant was exhaling a mouthful of mirthroot. “They’ll hunt us down and kill us.”

“I’d like to see them try,” Bryce spat, wind whipping her hair. “Psychotic assholes.” She seethed at the prince, “You want to fight alongside those people? They’re no better than Philip fucking Briggs!”

Cormac shot back, “Why do you think I was doing all I could to find Emile? I don’t want him in their hands! But this is a war. If you can’t handle the game, then stay the fuck out of it.”

“Their methods mean that even if they do win,” Bryce shouted, “there will be nothing left of them that’s human at all!”

“This was a bad day,” Cormac said. “This whole encounter—”

A bad day?” Bryce yelled, pointing to the smoldering cave. “All those people just got murdered! Is that how you treat your allies? Is that what you’ll do to us when we have no more value to you? We’ll be pawns for you to murder and then you’ll manipulate some other decent people into helping you? You’re Vanir, for fuck’s sake—don’t you realize they’ll do this to you as well?”

Cormac only stared at her.

Bryce hissed at Cormac, “You can fuck off. You and Pippa and the rebels. Let the Hind tear you to shreds. I want nothing to do with this. We’re done.” She said to Tharion, “And I’m done with helping you and your queen, too. I’m done with all of this.”

Hunt tried not to sag with relief. Maybe they could now wipe their hands clean of any damning association.

Tharion said nothing to her, to any of them, his face grave.

Bryce turned on Ruhn. “I’m not going to tell you what to do with your life, but I’d think twice about associating with Agent Daybright. She’ll stab you right in the back, if the way these people treat their allies is any indication.”

“Yeah,” Ruhn said, but he didn’t sound convinced.

For a moment, it seemed like she might fight him on it, but she kept quiet. Thinking it through, no doubt. Along with whatever other secrets she’d been keeping.

Hunt turned to monitor the island’s shoreline. No boats came after them, and nothing lay ahead except open water. But—

He went still at the sight of the sleek black dog running along one of the dry, white cliffs of the island. Its coat was a strange, matte black.

He knew that dog. That particular shade of black. Like the wings it bore in its other form. The hound ran along the cliffs, barking.

“Fuck,” Hunt said softly.

He lifted an arm to signal to the dog that he’d seen it. Seen him. The dog pointed with a massive paw westward, the direction they were headed. He barked once. As if in warning.

“Is that—” Ruhn asked, seeing the dog as well.

“Baxian.” Hunt scanned the western horizon. “Head northward, Tharion.”

“If Baxian’s on those cliffs …” Bryce looped an arm through Hunt’s and pressed tight.

Hunt could think of only one enemy Baxian might be summoned to work alongside. “The Hind can’t be far away.”


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