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House of Sky and Breath: Part 2 – Chapter 47

The morgue was cold and quiet and empty, save for the female corpse lying on the chrome table, covered by a black cloth.

Bryce stood by the doorway as Cormac knelt beside the body, preserved by a medwitch until the ship could hand Sofie over to the Ophion rebels for claiming. The prince was silent.

He’d been this way since Sendes had come to his room.

And though Bryce’s body still buzzed with all she and Hunt had done, seeing that slender female body on the table, the prince kneeling, head bowed … Her eyes stung. Hunt’s fingers found hers and squeezed.

“I knew,” Cormac said roughly. His first words in minutes. “I think I always knew, but …”

Ruhn stepped to his cousin’s side. Put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

Cormac leaned his brow against the rim of the examination table. His voice shook. “She was good, and brave, and kind. I never deserved her, not for one minute.”

Bryce’s throat ached. She let go of Hunt’s hand to approach Cormac, touching his other shoulder. Where would Sofie’s soul go? Did it linger near her body until they could give her a proper Sailing? If she went to one of the resting places, they’d be dooming her to a terrible fate.

But Bryce didn’t say any of that. Not as Cormac slid his fingers beneath the black cloth and pulled out a blue-tinged, stiff hand. He clasped it in his own, kissing the dead fingers. His shoulders began to shake as his tears flowed.

“We met during a recon report to Command,” Cormac said, voice breaking. “And I knew it was foolish, and reckless, but I had to speak to her after the meeting was over. To learn everything I could about her.” He kissed Sofie’s hand again, closing his eyes. “I should have gone back for her that night.”

Tharion, who’d been poring over the coroner’s files on Sofie at the desk by the far wall, said gently, “I’m sorry if I gave you false hope.”

“It kept her alive in my heart a little longer,” Cormac said, swallowing back his tears. He pressed her stiff hand against his brow. “My Sofie.”

Ruhn squeezed his shoulder.

Tharion asked carefully, “Do you know what this means, Cormac?” He rattled off a series of numbers and letters.

Cormac lifted his head. “No.”

Tharion held up a photo. “They were carved on her upper biceps. The coroner thinks she did it while she drowned, with some sort of pin or knife she might have had hidden on her.”

Cormac shot to his feet, and Bryce stepped into Hunt’s awaiting arms as the Fae Prince folded back the sheet. Nothing on the right arm he’d held, but the left—

The assortment of numbers and letters had been carved roughly an inch below her shoulder, left unhealed. Cut deep.

“Did she know someone was racing to save her?” Hunt asked.

Cormac shook his head. “I have no idea.”

“How did the mer know to pick her up?”

“She could have signaled them with her light,” Cormac mused. “Or maybe they saw Emile’s, like they did with Bryce’s. It lit up the whole sea taking down those Omegas. It must have signaled them somehow.”

Bryce made a note to ask Commander Sendes. She said to Hunt, “Do those numbers and letters mean anything to you?”

“No.” He stroked his thumb over Bryce’s hand, as if reassuring himself that she stood there, and wasn’t the one on that table.

Cormac covered Sofie with the sheet again. “Everything Sofie did, it was for a reason. You remind me of her in some ways.”

Ruhn said, “I’ll put Declan on the hunt as soon as we’re home.”

“What about the Ophion rebels and Pippa?” Bryce asked. “And the Hind?”

Hunt said, “We’re everyone’s enemy now.”

Cormac nodded. “We can only meet the challenge. But knowing for sure that Sofie is gone … I must redouble my efforts to find Emile.”

“Pippa seemed to know where he was lying low,” Tharion said. “No idea if that’s the safe place that Danika mentioned, though.”

Cormac’s eyes flashed. “I’m not letting him fall into your queen’s hands. Or Ophion’s control.”

“You ready to be a single dad?” Bryce drawled. “You’re just going to take the kid in and what … bring him to Avallen? That’ll be a really great place for him.”

Cormac stiffened. “I hadn’t planned that far. Are you suggesting I leave that child alone in the world?”

Bryce shrugged, studying her nails. Felt Hunt looking at her closely. “So do we warn our families?” Gods, if the Hind had already headed to her mom’s house—

“The Hind won’t go after them,” Cormac consoled her. Then amended, “Not yet. She’ll want you in her clutches first, so she can breathe in your suffering while you know she’s hunting them down.”

“So we go home and pretend nothing happened?” Ruhn asked. “What’s to stop the Hind from arresting us when we get back?”

“Do you think we could get away with convincing the Asteri that we were at the rebel base to stop Pippa and Ophion?” Bryce asked.

Hunt shrugged. “I blasted the shit out of that base, so the evidence is in our favor. Especially if Pippa is now hunting us.”

“The Hind won’t buy that,” Cormac challenged.

But Bryce said, smiling faintly, “Master of spinning bullshit, remember?”

He didn’t smile back. Just looked at Sofie, dead and gone before him.

So Bryce touched the prince’s hand. “We’ll make them all pay.”

The star on her chest glowed in promise.

The Depth Charger glided between the darkest canyons of the seafloor. In the glass-domed command center, Tharion hung back by the arching doorway into the bustling hall beyond and marveled at the array of tech and magic, the uniformed mer operating all of it.

Sendes lingered at his side, approval on her face as she monitored the team keeping the ship operational.

“How long have you guys had these ships?” Tharion asked, his first words in the minutes since Sendes had invited him down here, where only high-ranking mer officials were allowed. He supposed that being the River Queen’s Captain of Intelligence granted him access, but … he’d had no idea any of this existed. His title was a joke.

“Around two decades,” Sendes said, straightening the lapel of her uniform. “They took twice that to conceptualize and build, though.”

“They must have cost a fortune.”

“The ocean deeps are full of priceless resources. Our queen exploited them cleverly to fund this project.”


She faced him fully. She had a wonderfully curvy body, he’d noticed. With the sort of ass he’d like to sink his teeth into. But … the River Queen’s cold face rippled through his mind, and Tharion turned to the windows behind the commander.

Beyond the wall of glass, a bioluminescent cloud—some sort of jellyfish—bobbed by. Suitably unsexy.

Sendes asked, “Why does your queen involve herself with the rebels?”

“She’s not involving herself with them. I think she merely wants something that they want.” Or used to want, if Pippa was to be believed—though after they’d blown the suit to pieces, maybe Ophion would be back on the hunt for the kid. “I don’t think her motivations for wanting it are necessarily to help people, though.” He winced as he said it. Too bold, too reckless—

Sendes huffed a laugh. “Your opinion is safe here, don’t worry. The Ocean Queen is aware that her sister in the Blue River is … moody.”

Tharion blew out a breath. “Yeah.” He took in the control room again. “So all this … the ships, the rescuing of rebels … Is it because the Ocean Queen wants to overthrow the Asteri?”

“I’m not close enough to her to know whether that’s her true motive, but these ships have indeed aided the rebels. So I’d say yes.”

“And she intends to make herself ruler?” Tharion asked carefully.

Sendes blinked. “Why would she ever do that?”

“Why not? That’s what the River Queen would do.”

Sendes stilled, completely earnest as she said, “The Ocean Queen would not set herself up as a replacement for the Asteri. She remembers a time before the Asteri. When leaders were fairly elected. That is what she wishes to achieve once more.”

The dark ocean passed beyond the glass. Tharion couldn’t suppress his bitter laugh. “And you believe her?”

Sendes gave him a pitying look. “I’m sorry that the River Queen has abused your trust so much that you don’t.”

“I’m sorry that you’re naïve enough to believe everything your queen says,” he countered.

Sendes gave him that pitying look again, and Tharion tensed. He changed the subject, though. “What are the odds that either you guys or Cormac will release Sofie’s body to me?”

Her brows lifted. “Why do you want it?”

“My queen wants it. I don’t get to ask questions.”

Sendes frowned. “What use could she have with a thunderbird’s corpse?”

He doubted Cormac would appreciate Sofie being referred to as a corpse, but he said, “Again, no idea.”

Sendes fell silent. “Does … does your queen have any necromancers in her employ?”

Tharion started. “What? No.” The only one he knew was hundreds of miles away, and she sure as shit wasn’t going to help out the River Queen. “Why?”

“It’s the only reason I can think of to go to such lengths to retrieve a thunderbird’s body. To reanimate it.”

Cold horror sluiced through him. “A weapon without a conscience or soul.”

Sendes nodded gravely. “But what does she need it for?”

He opened his mouth, but shut it. Speculating on his queen’s motives in front of a stranger, even a friendly one, would be foolish. So he shrugged. “Guess we’ll find out.”

Sendes saw right through him, though. “We have no claim on the body, but Prince Cormac, as her lover and a member of Ophion, does. You’ll have to take it up with him.”

Tharion knew precisely how that would end. With a giant, burning NO. So, short of becoming a body snatcher—not high on his list of life goals—he wasn’t delivering the goods. “Time to begin the spin cycle,” Tharion murmured, more to himself than to Sendes. He’d have to either lie about ever finding Sofie’s body or lie about why he couldn’t steal it. Fuck.

“You could be more, you know,” Sendes said, seeming to read the dread on his face. “At a place like this. We don’t need to lie and scheme here.”

“I’m content where I am,” Tharion said quickly. His queen would never let him leave anyway.

But Sendes inclined her head knowingly—sadly. “You ever need anything, Captain Ketos, we’re here for you.”

The kindness stunned him enough that he had no reply.

Sendes was called over by one of the deck officers, and Tharion observed the mer at the controls. Serious, but … smiling. No tension, no walking on eggshells.

He glanced at the clock. He should go back to the sleeping quarters Sendes had arranged for them. Check in with the others.

Yet once he did, he’d sleep. And when he woke, he’d return to Lunathion.

To the Blue Court.

It was getting harder to ignore the part of him that didn’t want to go home at all.

Ruhn slept miles beneath the surface, a fitful sort of slumber from which he rose frequently to ensure his companions were all piled into the small room with him on the cots and bunk beds. Cormac had opted to remain in the morgue with Sofie, wanting to mourn in private, to say all the prayers to Cthona and Luna that his lover was owed.

Tharion dozed on the bottom bunk across from Ruhn’s, sprawled across the top of the sheets. He’d wandered off after dinner to explore the ship, and returned hours later, quiet. He hadn’t said anything about what he’d seen other than It’s mer-only.

So Ruhn had sat with the lovebirds, Bryce nestled between Hunt’s legs as they ate dinner on the floor of the room, the sea drifting by their window. They’d reach the mouth of the Istros at dawn, and Tharion’s people would be waiting there to transport them upriver to Lunathion.

What would happen then … Ruhn could only pray it’d work out in their favor. That Bryce could play their cards well enough to avoid their doom.


Day’s voice floated into his mind, faint and—worried.

He let his mind relax, let himself find that bridge, the two couches. She already sat on hers, burning away. “Hey.”

“Are you all right?”

“Worried about me, huh?”

She didn’t laugh. “I heard about an attack on the rebel base on Ydra. That people were killed, and the shipment of ammo and the suit destroyed. I … thought you might have been among the ones lost.”

He surveyed her.

“Where are you now?” she asked.

He let her change the subject. “Somewhere safe.” He couldn’t say more. “I watched Pippa Spetsos and the Ophion rebels kill innocent Vanir in cold blood today. You want to tell me what the fuck that’s about?”

She stiffened. “Why did she kill them?”

“Does it matter?”

She considered. “No. Not if the victims were innocent. Pippa did it herself?”

“A group of soldiers under her command did.”

Her flame guttered to hottest blue. “She’s a fanatic. Dedicated to the rebel cause, yes—but to her own cause most of all.”

“She was a friend of Agent Cypress, apparently.”

“She was no friend to Sofie. Or anyone.” Her voice had gone cold. Like she was angry enough that she forgot to use Sofie’s code name.

“Sofie’s dead, by the way.”

Day started. “You’re sure of this?”

“Yes. She drowned.”

“She …” Day’s legs curled beneath her. “She was a brave agent. Far better and braver than Ophion deserved.” Genuine sorrow laced Day’s words.

“You liked her.”

“She went into the Kavalla death camp to save her brother. Did everything the Ophion commanders asked her just so she could get scraps of information about him. If Pippa serves only herself, then Sofie was her opposite: all the work she did was for others. But yes. I did like her. I admired her courage. Her loyalty. She was a kindred spirit in many ways.”

Ruhn slumped against the back of his couch. “So, what—you hate Pippa and Ophion, too? If everyone hates her and the group, why the fuck do you bother working with them?”

“Do you see anyone else leading the cause? Has anyone else stepped up to the line?”

No. No one else would dare.

Day said, “They’re the only ones in recent memory to have ever mustered such a force. Only Shahar and General Hunt Athalar ever did anything close, and they were decimated in one battle.”

And Athalar had suffered for centuries afterward.

Day went on, “To be free of the Asteri, there are things that we all must do that will leave a mark on our souls. It’s the cost, so that our children and their children won’t ever need to pay it. So they’ll know a world of freedom and plenty.”

The words of a dreamer. A glimpse beneath that hard-ass facade.

So Ruhn said, the first time he’d said it aloud, “I’m not going to have children.”


“I can’t.”

She angled her head. “You’re infertile?”

He shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t know. The Oracle told me when I was a kid that I was to be the last of my bloodline. So either I die before I can sire a child, or … I’m shooting blanks.”

“Does it bother you?”

“I’d prefer not to be dead before my time, so if her words just mean that I’m not going to be a father … I don’t know. It doesn’t change a lick of who I am, but I still try not to think about it. No one in my life knows, either. And considering the father I have … maybe it’s good that I won’t be one. I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to be a decent dad.”

“That doesn’t seem true.”

He snorted. “Well, anyway, that was my stupid way of saying that while I might not be having kids, I … I get what you’re saying. I have people in my life who will, and for their kids, their families … I’ll do whatever I have to.”

But she was having none of his deflecting. “You are kind, and caring. And seem to love those around you. I can’t think of anything else needed to be a father.”

“How about growing the Hel up and not partying so much?”

She laughed. “All right. Maybe that.”

He smiled slightly. Faint, distant stars glowed in the darkness around them.

She said, “You seem unsettled.”

“I saw a bunch of fucked-up shit today. I was having a hard time sleeping before you knocked.”


“Whatever you want to call it. Summoned me.”

“Shall I tell you a story to help you sleep?” Her voice was wry.

“Yeah.” He’d call her bluff.

But she only said, “All right.”

He blinked. “Really?”

“Why not?” She motioned for him to lie down. So Ruhn did, closing his eyes.

Then, to his shock, she came and sat beside him. Brushed a burning hand through his hair. Warm and gentle—tentative.

She began, “Once upon a time, before Luna hunted the heavens and Solas warmed Cthona’s body, before Ogenas blanketed Midgard with water and Urd twined our fates together, there lived a young witch in a cottage deep in the woods. She was beautiful, and kind, and beloved by her mother. Her mother had done her best to raise her, with her only companions being the denizens of the forest itself: birds and beasts and the babbling brooks …”

Her voice, lovely and fair and steady, flowed through him like music. Her hand brushed through his hair again and he reined in his purr.

“She grew older, strong and proud. But a wandering prince passed by her clearing one day when her mother was gone, beheld her beauty, and wanted her desperately to be his bride.”

“I thought this was supposed to be a comforting story,” Ruhn muttered.

She laughed softly, tugging on a strand of his hair. “Listen.”

Ruhn figured to Hel with it and shifted, laying his head on her lap. The fire did not burn him, and the thigh beneath was firm with muscle, yet supple. And that scent …

Day went on, “She had no interest in princes, or in ruling a kingdom, or in any of the jewels he offered. What she wanted was a true heart to love her, to run wild with her through the forest. But the prince would not be denied. He chased her through the wood, his hounds following.”

Ruhn’s body relaxed, limb by limb. He breathed in her scent, her voice, her warmth.

“As she ran, she pleaded with the forest she loved so dearly to help her. So it did. First, it transformed her into a deer, so she might be as swift as the wind. But his hounds outraced her, closing in swiftly. Then the forest turned her into a fish, and she fled down one of the mountain streams. But he built a weir at its base to trap her. So she became a bird, a hawk, and soared for the skies. But the prince was a skilled archer, and he fired one of his iron-tipped arrows.”

Ruhn drifted, quiet and calm. When was the last time anyone had told him a story to lull him to sleep?

“It struck her breast, and where her blood fell, olive trees sprouted. As her body hit the earth, the forest transformed her one last time …”

Ruhn woke, still on the mind-bridge. Day lay on the couch across from him, asleep as well, her body still veiled with flame.

He stood, crossing the distance to her.

A princess of fire, sleeping, waiting for a knight to awaken her. He knew that story. It tugged at the back of his mind. A sleeping warrior-princess surrounded by a ring of fire, damned to lie there until a warrior brave enough to face the flames could cross them.

Day turned over, and through the flame, he glimpsed a hint of long hair draped over the arm of the couch—

He backed away a step. But somehow she heard, and shot upright. Flame erupted around her as Ruhn retreated to his own couch. “What were you doing?”

Ruhn shook his head. “I … I wanted to know how the story ended. I fell asleep as the witch was pierced with an arrow.”

Day jumped up from her couch, walking around it—putting it between them. Like he’d crossed some major line.

But she said, “The forest turned the witch into a monster before she hit the earth. A beast of claws and fangs and bloodlust. She ripped the prince and hounds who pursued her into shreds.”

“And that’s it?” Ruhn demanded.

“That’s it,” Day said, and walked into the darkness, leaving only embers drifting behind.


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