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House of Sky and Breath: Part 2 – Chapter 45

“All right, so you’ll be charged with breaking and entering, and probably theft. Tell me again how you think you’ve still got grounds to go after this old creep?” Declan’s boyfriend, Marc, leaned against the couch cushions, muscled arms crossed as he grilled Ithan.

Ithan blew out a breath. “When you put it like that, I can see what you mean about it being a tough case to win.”

Flynn and Declan, beside them, attempted to murder each other in a video game, both cursing under their breath. “It’s admirable,” Marc admitted. The leopard shifter frowned toward the small black box Ithan had taken from the Astronomer’s lair. “But you just waded knee-deep into shit.”

“It’s not right that she’s trapped in there. What choice did she even have as a kid?”

“No arguments from me against that,” Marc said. “But there’s a legal contract involved, so she’s technically owned by the Astronomer. She’s not a slave, but she might as well be, legally. And theft of slaves is a big fucking crime.”

“I know,” Ithan said. “But it feels wrong to leave her there.”

“So you took the fire sprites instead?” Marc arched a brow. “You wanna take a guess at how much they cost?” He nodded at the box in the center of the table. “What were you even thinking?”

“I wasn’t thinking,” Ithan muttered, swigging from his beer. “I was pissed.”

Declan cut in, not tearing his attention from the screen and his shooting, “There were no cameras, though, right?”

“None that I saw.”

“So it all comes down to whether the girl in the tank tells on you,” Declan said, thumbs flying against the controller. Flynn swore at whatever Dec did to his avatar.

“You could return them,” Marc suggested. “Say you were drunk, apologize, and send them back.”

Ithan opened his mouth, but the box on the table rattled.

Rattled. Like the beings inside had heard. Even Declan and Flynn paused their game.

“Um,” Declan said, wincing.

“Hello?” Flynn said, eyeing the box.

It rattled again. They all flinched.

“Well, someone has an opinion,” Marc said, chuckling softly, and leaned forward.

“Careful,” Dec warned. Marc threw him a wry look and opened the black box.

Light, golden and red, erupted, washing over the walls and ceiling. Ithan shielded his eyes, but the light was immediately sucked back in, revealing four rings nestled in black velvet, the tiny glass bubbles atop them glowing.

The glow inside faded and faded, until …

Declan and Marc glanced at each other in horror.

“Solas,” Flynn swore, tossing aside his controller. “That old fuck should be crucified for this.”

“All right,” Marc murmured to Ithan. “I get why you took them.”

Ithan grunted in answer, and peered at the four female figures inside the rings. He’d never met Lehabah face-to-face, as Bryce had never let him into the library beneath the gallery, but he’d seen Bryce’s photos.

Three of the sprites were just like her—flames shaped into female bodies. Two were slim, one as sinfully curvy as Lehabah had been. The fourth globe was pure fire.

That fourth ring rattled. Ithan recoiled. That was clearly the one who’d shaken the box.

“So do we let them out?” Flynn asked, studying the box and the sprites trapped inside.

“Fuck yeah, we do,” Declan said, shooting to his feet.

Ithan stared at the sprites, especially the fourth, radiant one who seemed so … angry. He didn’t blame her. He murmured to his roommates, “You sure you’re cool with freeing a bunch of pissed-off fire sprites in your house?”

But Flynn waved him off. “We’ve got sprinklers and smoke alarms.”

“I’m not reassured,” Marc said.

“Got it,” Declan called, trotting from the kitchen with a hammer.

Marc rubbed his temples and leaned back against the cushions. “This cannot end well.”

“Ye of little faith,” Flynn said, catching the hammer as Declan tossed it to him.

Ithan winced. “Just … be careful.”

“I don’t think that word’s in either of their vocabularies,” Marc quipped, earning an elbow in the ribs from Declan as the male settled onto the couch beside him.

Flynn tugged the box toward him and said to the sprites, “Cover your heads.” The three visible ones crouched down. The fourth one remained a ball of flame, but shrank slightly.

“Careful,” Ithan warned again. Flynn, with a snap of the wrist, cracked the top of the first ring. It splintered, and he tapped it again. It broke into three pieces on the third rap of the hammer, but the sprite remained crouched.

Flynn moved onto the next, then the next.

By the time he’d cracked open the third ring, the sprites were poking their fiery heads out like chicks emerging from eggs. Flynn moved the hammer above the fourth one. And as it came down, Ithan could have sworn one of the sprites shouted, in a voice almost too hoarse to hear, “Don’t!

Too late.

All it took was one crack, and the flame within shoved outward, rupturing the glass.

They all leapt over the couch with a shout, and fuck, it was hot and bright and wind was roaring and something was screeching—

Then something heavy thudded on the coffee table. Ithan and the others peeked over the couch.

“What the fuck?” Flynn breathed, smoke curling from where the shoulders of his shirt had been singed.

The three sprites cowered in their shattered orbs. All shrinking from the naked, human-sized female smoldering on the coffee table beside them.

The female pushed up onto her arms, hair like darkest iron falling in curling waves around her delicately featured face. Her tan body simmered, the wood table beneath her charring everywhere her nude, luscious form touched. She lifted her head, and her eyes—fucking Hel.

They blazed crimson. More boiling blood than flame.

Her back heaved with each long, sawing breath, ripples of what seemed like red-and-gold scales flowing beneath her skin.

“He is going to kill you,” she said in a voice rasping with disuse. But her eyes weren’t on Ithan. They were on Flynn, his hammer raised again, as if it would do anything against the sort of fire she bore. “He is going to find you and kill you.”

But Flynn, stupid, arrogant asshole that he was, got to his feet and grinned cheerfully down at the curvy female on the coffee table. “Good thing a dragon now owes me a debt.”

Athalar was a time bomb—one that Ruhn had no idea how to defuse. He supposed that honor went to his sister, who kept a step away from the angel, one eye on him and the other on the unfolding race for the seafloor.

His sister was mated. It was rare enough among the Fae, but finding a mate who was an angel … His mind reeled.

Ruhn shook off the thought, approaching Commander Sendes and saying, “I don’t hear any engine noise.”

“You won’t,” Sendes said, opening an air lock door at the end of the long glass tunnel. “These are stealth ships, fueled by the Ocean Queen’s power.”

Tharion whistled, then asked, “So you think we can outrun an Omega in something this big?”

“No. But we’re not outrunning it.” She pointed through a wall of thick glass to the dimness below. “We’re going into the Ravel Canyon.”

“If you can fit,” Ruhn challenged, hoisting Cormac up a little higher as the male groaned, “then so can the Omega-boats.”

Sendes gave him a secret, knowing smile. “Watch.”

Ruhn nodded to the prince hanging off his shoulder. “My cousin needs a medwitch.”

“One is already coming to meet us,” Sendes said, opening another air lock. The tunnel beyond was massive, with halls branching out in three directions like the arteries of a mighty beast. The hall directly ahead … “Well, that’s a sight,” Ruhn murmured.

A cavernous biodome bloomed at the end of the hall, brimming with lush tropical trees, streams winding through the fern-covered floor, and orchids blooming in curling mists. Butterflies flitted around, and hummingbirds sipped from the orchids and neon-colored flowers. He could have sworn he spied a small, furred beast running beneath a drooping fern.

“We have desalinators on this ship,” Sendes explained, pointing to the biodome, “but should they ever fail, this is a wholly separate ecosystem that generates its own fresh water.”

“How?” Tharion asked, but Sendes had halted at the intersection of the three halls. “The River Queen has a similar one, but nothing that can do this.”

“I doubt your bleeding friend would appreciate the lengthy explanation right now,” Sendes said, turning down the hallway to their right. People—mer, from their scents—walked past them, a few gaping, a few throwing confused looks their way, some waving to Sendes, who waved back.

Their surroundings had the air of a corporate building—or a city block. People going about their days, dressed in business or casual clothes, some exercising, some sipping from coffee cups or smoothies.

Bryce’s head swiveled this way and that, taking it all in. Athalar just kept crackling with lightning.

“No one’s concerned about who’s on our tail?” Ruhn asked Sendes.

She halted before another massive window, again pointing. “Why should they be?”

Ruhn braced his feet as the ship plowed right for a dark, craggy wall rising from the seafloor. But as easy as a bird shifting directions, it pulled up alongside the wall and drifted down—then halted, hovering.

Ruhn shook his head. “They’ll find us like this.”

“Look down the body of the ship.”

Pressing against the glass, Cormac a ballast on his other side, Ruhn obeyed. Where a mammoth ship had been, now … there was only black rock. Nothing else.

“This ship can become invisible?”

“Not invisible. Camouflaged.” Sendes smiled with pride. “The Ocean Queen imbued her vessels with many gifts from the seas. This one has a squid’s ability to blend into its surroundings.”

“But the lights inside—” Tharion started.

“The glass is one-way. It blocks the light and any glimpse within once the camouflaging is activated.”

“What about radar?” Ruhn asked. “You might be invisible to the naked eye, but surely the imperial ships would pick you up.”

Another one of those proud smiles. “Again, the Ocean Queen’s power fuels our ship, not the firstlight that the Omega radar is programmed to pick up. We register no signs of life, either—not even as a whale or a shark might on a radar. We are completely undetectable. To a passing Omega-boat, we are only a cluster of rock.”

“What if they run into you?” Tharion asked.

“We can simply drift up or down, to avoid it.” She pointed again. “Here they come.”

Ruhn’s heart leapt into his throat. Athalar’s lightning snaked along his body once more. Bryce muttered something to him that apparently did nothing to calm the angel down.

But Ruhn was too busy monitoring the enemy’s approach. Like a wolf stepping from the shadows of a kelp forest, the Omega-boat stalked for the canyon. Its firstlights blared into the dark, broadcasting its location.

People continued walking past, a few glancing to the enemy closing in, but not paying it much mind.

What the actual fuck.

The imperial ship plunged right after them. A wolf on the hunt, indeed.

“Watch,” Sendes said.

Ruhn held his breath, as if it’d somehow keep them from detection, as the Omega-boat crept closer. A slow, strategic sweep.

He could make out the paint along its sides—the imperial insignia flaking off—the slices and dents from previous battles. Along its hull was written, SPQM Faustus.

“The Faustus,” Tharion breathed, dread in his voice.

“You know the ship?” Sendes asked him.

“Heard of it,” Tharion said, monitoring the warship inching past. Utterly unaware of them. “That vessel alone has downed sixteen rebel ships.”

“At least they sent someone impressive after us this time,” Sendes said.

Tharion ran a hand through his damp hair, claws retracting. “They’re drifting right by us. This is incredible.”

Cormac grunted, stirring in Ruhn’s arms, “Does Ophion know about this?”

Sendes stiffened. “We are not aligned with Ophion.” Thank fuck. Bryce sagged, and Hunt’s lightning dimmed slightly.

“What about the Asteri? Are they aware of this technology?” Ruhn asked, gesturing to the boat around them, now vanishing into the deep, the Omega-boat blindly passing overhead.

Sendes continued walking, and they followed her. “No. And given the circumstances under which we found you, I trust you will not pass on the information. Just as we shall keep your presence confidential.”

You fuck us, we’ll fuck you. “Got it,” Ruhn said, offering a smile that Sendes didn’t return. The ship began drifting farther into the canyon’s depths.

“Here she is,” Sendes announced as a medwitch came running, a team of three with a stretcher close behind her.

“Cthona spare me,” Cormac muttered, managing to lift his head. “I don’t need all that.”

“Yes, you do,” Tharion and Ruhn said together.

If the medwitch and her team recognized any of them, they didn’t let on. The next few minutes were a flurry of getting Cormac onto the stretcher and bustled to the medical center, with a promise that he’d be out of surgery within an hour and they could see him soon after that.

Through it all, Bryce kept back with Athalar. Lightning still skimmed over his wings, sparked at his fingertips.

Calm down, Ruhn said into Athalar’s mind.

Thunderstorms boomed in answer.

All right, then.

The city-ship began sailing along the floor of the canyon, the seabed unusually flat and broad between the towering cliffs. They passed a half-crumbling pillar, and—

“Are those carvings?” Ruhn asked as Sendes led them back down the hall.

“Yes,” she said a shade softly. “From long, long ago.”

Tharion said, “What was down here?” He scanned the passing walls of the canyon floor—all of them carved with strange symbols.

“This was a highway. Not as you will find above the surface, but a grand avenue the mer once used to swim between great cities.”

“I never heard of anything out here.”

“It’s from long ago,” she said again, a bit tightly. Like it was a secret.

Bryce said from the back, “I used to work in an antiquities gallery, and my boss once brought in a statue from a sunken city. I always thought she was fudging the dates, but she said it was almost fifteen thousand years old. That it came from the original Beneath.” As old as the Asteri—or at least their arrival in Midgard.

Sendes’s expression remained neutral. “Only the Ocean Queen can verify that.”

Ruhn peered through the glass again. “So the mer once had a city down here?”

“We once had many things,” Sendes said.

Tharion shook his head at Ruhn, a silent warning to lay off the subject. Ruhn nodded back. “Where are we going, exactly?” Ruhn asked instead.

“I assume you want to rest for a moment. I’m bringing you to private quarters in our barracks.”

“And from there?” Ruhn dared ask.

“We need to wait until the Omegas have cleared the area, but once that has happened, we’ll return you wherever you wish.”

“The mouth of the Istros,” Tharion said. “My people can meet us there.”

“Very well. We shall likely arrive at dawn, given our need for secrecy.”

“Get me a radio and I’ll put out a coded signal.”

She nodded, and Ruhn admired the mers’ innate trust in one another. Would she have so easily let him use a radio to contact anyone beyond this ship? He doubted it.

But Bryce halted at the hallway intersection. Glanced at Hunt before saying to Sendes, “You mind if me and my glowing friend here go into the biodome for a while?”

Sendes warily considered Hunt. “I’ll close it to the public temporarily. As long as he does no harm in there.”

Hunt bared his teeth, but Bryce smiled tightly. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t.”

Sendes’s gaze drifted down to the scar on her chest. “When you are done, ask for Barracks Six, and someone will point you that way.”

“Thanks,” Bryce said, then pivoted to Ruhn and Tharion. “Stay out of trouble.”

“You too,” Ruhn said, arching a brow.

Then Bryce was walking toward the lush biodome, Hunt trailing, lightning in his wake.

Sendes pulled a radio from her pocket. “Clear the biodome and seal off its doors.”

Ruhn started. “What?”

Sendes continued onward, boots clicking on the tiled floors. “I think she and the angel should have a little privacy, don’t you?”


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