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House of Sky and Breath: Part 3 – Chapter 50

Bryce struggled to breathe. “How did Danika and Sofie know each other?”

“Danika found Sofie using her Vanir powers,” Emile said. “She could smell Sofie’s gift, or something. She needed Sofie to do something for her—Danika couldn’t do it because she was too recognizable. But Sofie …” Emile toed the carpet. “She wasn’t …”

Bryce cut in, “Sofie was a human. Or passed as one. She’d be ignored by most. What did Danika need her to do?”

Emile shook his head. “I don’t know. I wasn’t able to talk to Sofie for very long when we were in Kavalla.”

Hunt’s wide eyes shone with surprise, his anger at her seemingly forgotten for the moment. She pulled a slip of paper from her pocket. “These letters and numbers were found on your sister’s body. Any idea what they mean?”

Emile bounced his knee. “No.”

Damn it. Bryce twisted her mouth to the side.

Head bowed, Emile whispered, “I’m sorry I don’t know anything else.”

Hunt cleared his throat. Reached in front of Bryce to clasp the boy’s shoulder. “You did good, kid. Really good. We owe you.”

Emile offered Hunt a wobbly smile.

Yet Bryce’s mind spun. Danika had needed Sofie to find something big. And though it had taken her years after Danika had died, Sofie had finally found it. And it had indeed been big enough that the Hind had killed her, rather than risking Sofie spreading it …

Hunt said, drawing her from her thoughts, “Bryce.”

Her mate nodded pointedly to the window a few feet away.

“Give us a minute,” she said to Emile with a smile, and walked over to the window, Hunt trailing her.

Hunt whisper-hissed, “What do we do with him now? We can’t leave him here. It’s only a matter of time until the Viper Queen figures out that he doesn’t have powers. And we can’t bring him with us. Pippa might very well come sniffing now that we destroyed that suit and they really do need a thunderbird’s power—”

“Pippa Spetsos is a bad woman,” Emile said from the couch, paling. Hunt had the good sense to look embarrassed that his little fit had been overheard. “Sofie warned me about her. After I got on the boat, she wanted to question me … I ran the moment no one was looking. But she and her Lightfall unit tracked me—all the way to the marshes. I hid in the reeds and was able to shake them there.”

“Smart.” Bryce pulled out her phone. “And we know all about Pippa, don’t worry. She won’t get anywhere near you.” She glared at Hunt. “You really think I didn’t plan this out?”

Hunt crossed his arms, brows high, but Bryce was already dialing. “Hey, Fury. Yeah, we’re here. Bring the car around.”

“You brought Axtar into this?”

“She’s one of the few people I trust to escort him to his new home.”

Fear flooded Emile’s eyes. Bryce walked back to the couch and ruffled his hair. “You’ll be safe there. I promise.” She gave Hunt a warning look over her shoulder. She wasn’t going to reveal more until they’d left. But she said to Emile, “Go use the bathroom. You’re in for a long ride.”

Hunt was still sorting through his racing feelings when they walked out of the Meat Market, Emile hidden beneath the shadows of a hooded sweatshirt. As promised, the Viper Queen had let them leave, no questions asked.

She’d only smiled at Bryce. Hunt suspected, with a sinking feeling, that she already knew Emile had no powers. That she’d taken in the kid because, despite his potential, there was one thing that might be more valuable to her one day: Bryce owing her a favor.

Hel yeah, he was going to have his little alphahole fit.

But he tucked away the thoughts when he found Fury Axtar leaning against a sleek black sedan, her arms crossed. Emile stumbled a step. Hunt didn’t blame the kid.

Bryce threw her arms around her friend, saying, “Thank you so much.”

Fury pulled back and turned to survey Emile as if she were looking at a particularly nasty bug. “Not much meat on him.”

Bryce nudged her with an elbow. “So get him some snacks on the road.”

“Snacks?” Fury said, but opened one of the rear doors.

“You know,” Bryce drawled, “garbage food that provides zero nutrition for our bodies, but lots of nutrition for our souls.”

How could she be so … glib about what she’d done? Any number of people would likely kill her for it. If not Cormac, then the River Queen or Ophion or the Hind—

Fury shook her head, chuckling, but beckoned to the boy. “In you go.”

Emile balked.

Fury flashed a feral smile, “You’re too short for the front. Airbag safety regulations.”

“You just don’t want him messing with the radio,” Bryce muttered. Fury didn’t deny it, and Emile didn’t say anything as he climbed into the back seat. He had no bag, no belongings.

Hunt remembered that feeling. After his mother had died, he’d had no traces or reminders or comforts of the child he’d been, the mother who had sung him to sleep.

Nausea churned in his gut. Hunt said to the kid, “Don’t let Fury boss you around.”

Emile lifted wide, pleading eyes to Hunt. Gods, how had everyone forgotten that he was only a kid? Everyone except Bryce.

Shahar would never have done something like this, risked so much for someone who could do her absolutely no good. But Bryce … Hunt couldn’t stop himself from stepping closer to her. From brushing his wing against her in a silent apology.

Bryce stepped beyond his reach. Fair enough. He’d been an asshole. She asked Fury, “You’ve got the address?”

“Yes. We’ll be there in eight hours. Seven, if we don’t bother with snacks.”

“He’s a kid. He needs snacks,” Hunt cut in.

But Fury ignored him and stalked around the car, sliding into the driver’s seat. Two handguns were buckled to her thighs. He had a feeling more were in the glove compartment and trunk. And then there was whatever Vanir power she possessed that made Fury Axtar, well … Fury Axtar. “You’re lucky I love you, Quinlan. And that Juniper didn’t want this kid here for another minute.”

Hunt caught the way Bryce’s throat bobbed, but she lifted a hand in farewell. Then she approached the still-open back door, where she said to Emile, “Your name isn’t Emile Renast anymore, okay?”

Panic sparked in the kid’s face. Bryce touched his cheek, as if she couldn’t help it. The last of Hunt’s anger dissolved entirely.

Bryce was saying, “All the documents will be waiting for you. Birth certificate, adoption papers …”

“Adoption?” Emile croaked.

Bryce grinned winningly at the kid. “You’re part of the Quinlan-Silago clan now. We’re a crazy bunch, but we love each other. Tell Randall to make you chocolate croissants on Sundays.”

Hunt had no words. She hadn’t only found a place for this lost kid. She’d found him a new family. Her family. His throat tightened to the point of pain, his eyes stinging. But Bryce kissed Emile’s cheek, shut the door, and thumped the car roof. Fury sped off down the cobblestone street, hooked a sharp left, and was gone.

Slowly, Bryce turned back to him.

“You’re sending him to your parents,” he said quietly.

Her eyes iced over. “Did I miss the memo where I needed your approval to do so?”

“For Urd’s sake, that’s not why I was mad.”

“I don’t care if you’re mad,” she said, flickering with light. “Just because we’re fucking doesn’t mean I answer to you.”

“Pretty sure it’s a little bit more than fucking.”

She bristled, and his anger bristled with it. But he remembered where they were—right in front of the Viper Queen’s headquarters. Where anyone might see. Or try to start shit.

“I have to go to work,” Bryce said, practically biting out each word.

“Fine. So do I.”

“Fine.” She didn’t wait for him before striding off.

Hunt rubbed his eyes and shot skyward. He knew Bryce was well aware that he trailed her from above as she wove through the tangle of streets that made up the Meat Market, banking northward toward the CBD only when she’d crossed Crone Street into the safety of the Old Square.

But she didn’t look up. Not once.

“I only have ten minutes before I need to go to the archives,” Bryce said to her brother as he ushered her into his house an hour later. “I’m already behind as Hel at work.”

Steaming at Hunt, she’d used the long walk to process all that had happened with Emile and the Viper Queen. To pray that Fury didn’t scare the living daylights out of the kid before he reached her parents’ house in Nidaros. And contemplate whether she’d maybe overreacted a smidgen to Hunt’s anger at her not telling him.

Bryce had been just turning down the block to the archives when Ruhn called with his vague request to come over immediately. She’d thumbed in a quick message to her boss about a doctor’s appointment running late, and raced right over here.

She dumped her purse beside the front door. “Please start explaining why this was so urgent that you needed me to— Oh.”

She’d assumed it had something to do with Ithan, or that maybe Declan had found something. Which was why she’d sprinted from FiRo, in her stupid heels, in the stupid heat, and was now a sweaty mess.

She hadn’t expected a beautiful female clad in nothing but a blanket, standing against the foyer wall like some trapped animal. Her crimson eyes narrowed with warning.

Bryce offered a smile to the female against the wall. “Uh, hey. Everything … all right?” She hissed to Ruhn over her shoulder, “Where are her clothes?

She wouldn’t wear them,” Ruhn hissed back. “Believe me, Dec tried.” He pointed to an untouched pile of male clothes by the stairs.

But the female was scanning Bryce from her heels to her head. “You came to see the mystics. You blazed with starlight.”

Bryce peered back. It wasn’t the female mystic, but … she turned to see Ithan, looking guilty, on the couch. With three fire sprites floating around his head.

Her blood turned to acid. A plump sprite sprawled on his knee, beaming at Bryce. The memory of Lehabah burned bright and searing.

“So, Ithan might have gotten pissed when he went back to the Astronomer and found out that the female mystic is a wolf,” Ruhn was saying, “and he might have done something rash and taken something he shouldn’t have, and then these morons freed them from the rings …”

Bryce whirled to the female against the wall. “You were in one of the rings?”

The red eyes flared again. “Yes.”

Bryce asked Ithan, “Why did you go back there?”

“I wanted to be sure about Connor,” he said. She didn’t miss the tone of accusation—that she hadn’t been as concerned as he was. Neither did Ruhn, who tensed at her side.

Bryce swallowed hard. “Is he … okay?”

Ithan dragged a hand through his hair. “I don’t know. I need to find out.”

Bryce nodded gravely, then managed to face the three sprites in the living room. Managed to lift her chin and ask, voice shaking only slightly, “Do you know a sprite named Lehabah?”

“No,” said Malana, the full-bodied sprite so similar to Lele that Bryce could barely stand to face her. “What clan is she?”

Bryce inhaled a shuddering breath. The males had hushed. “Lehabah claimed she was a descendant of Queen Ranthia Drahl, Queen of Embers.”

One of the slender sprites—Rithi, maybe?—puffed with red flame. “An heir of Ranthia?”

A chill went down Bryce’s arms. “She said so.”

“Fire sprites do not lie about their lineage,” said the third sprite, Sasa. “How do you know her?”

“I knew her,” Bryce said. “She died three months ago. She gave her life to save mine.”

The three sprites floated toward Bryce. “The Drahl line has long been scattered to the winds,” Sasa said sadly. “We don’t know how many remain. To lose even one …” She bowed her head, flame dimming to a soft yellow.

The dragon in the hall said to Bryce, “You were a friend to this sprite.”

Bryce twisted to the female. “Yes.” Damn her tight throat. To the three sprites, she said, “I freed Lehabah before she died. It was her …” She could barely get the words out. “It was her first and final act of freedom to choose to save me. She was the bravest person I’ve ever met.”

Malana drifted to Bryce, pressing a warm, burning hand to her cheek. “In her honor, we shall call you an ally of our people.”

Bryce didn’t miss the slave tattoo on Malana’s wrist. The other two sprites bore the same marking. She slowly turned to Ithan. “I’m glad you stole them from that creep.”

“It didn’t feel right to leave them.”

Something in her chest melted, and she suppressed the urge to hug her old friend, to cry at the glimmer of the male she’d once known. Bryce asked Ruhn instead, “Can’t we find some way out of this, Mr. Fancy Prince?”

“Marc’s on it,” Declan said, holding up his phone. “He thinks you two might be able to use your royal sway to either commandeer them on behalf of the royal household or get the Astronomer to accept payment for them rather than press charges.”

“Payment?” Bryce blurted.

“Relax,” Flynn said, smirking. “We got the money, Princess.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen your daddy’s fancy house,” Bryce quipped, earning a scowl from Flynn and an oooooh from the sprites.

Bryce suppressed her smile and lifted a brow at Ruhn. She’d fucked up one friendship thanks to pulling princess rank, but this … For Lehabah, she’d do it. “You in, Chosen One?”

Ruhn’s mouth quirked to the side. “Hel yeah, Starborn.”

Bryce waved him off and turned fully to the dragon in the hallway. “I’m guessing you cost … a lot.”

“More than even a prince and princess can afford,” the dragon said with a note of bitterness. “I was a gift to the Astronomer from an Archangel.”

“Must have been some reading the Astronomer did for them,” Flynn muttered.

The dragon hedged, “It was.”

Her eyes cooled to jet-black cinders. To leave her at the Astronomer’s mercy, to go back into that tiny little ring to sit on his filthy old fingers …

“Look,” Bryce said, “if Marc’s right about the commandeering slaves thing for royal services, then Ruhn and I can make up some shit to explain why we need you.”

“Why help me?” the dragon asked.

Bryce tapped her wrist. “My mate was a slave. I can’t turn a blind eye to it anymore. No one should.” And since she’d already helped out one lost soul today, why not add a few more?

“Who is your mate?” the dragon said.

“Wait,” Flynn objected. “You guys are mates? Like, mates-mates?”

“Mates-mates,” Ruhn said.

“Does the Autumn King know?” Declan asked.

Bryce could have sworn Ruhn glanced at Ithan, who was busy with something on his phone, before she said, “Let’s say it was officially confirmed last night.”

Flynn whistled.

Bryce rolled her eyes, but faced the dragon again. “His name is Hunt Athalar.”

Recognition kindled in the dragon’s eyes. “Orion Athalar?”

“One and the same,” Bryce said. “You know him?”

Her mouth pressed into a thin line. “Only by reputation.”

“Ah.” Bryce asked, a shade awkwardly, “What’s your name?”


“Ari for short,” Flynn chimed in.

“Never Ari,” the dragon snapped.

Bryce’s mouth twitched. “Well, Ariadne, expect these idiots to piss you off on an hourly basis. But try not to burn the place down.” She winked at the dragon. “Feel free to toast Flynn when he’s a smart-ass, though.”

Flynn flipped her off, but Bryce turned toward the door—only to find three sprites in her face. “You should speak to our queen about Lehabah’s bravery,” Sasa said. “Irithys is not a descendant of Ranthia, but she would like to hear your tale.”

“I’m pretty busy,” Bryce said quickly. “Gotta go to work.”

But Malana said to her sister, “She’d need to find Irithys first.” She explained to Bryce, “Last we heard, before we went into the rings all those years ago, she had been sold to one of the Asteri. But perhaps they’d let you speak to her.”

“Why would I need to speak to her?” Bryce asked as she kept heading for the door, aware of Ariadne’s keen gaze.

“Because princesses need allies,” Rithi said, and Bryce halted.

Bryce sighed. “I’m going to need a really big drink after work,” she said, and walked out the door, her phone already at her ear.

“What?” Jesiba said by way of answering.

“The Astronomer. You know him?” Bryce had zero idea what the old male was, but … he seemed like he’d be in the House of Flame and Shadow.

There was silence from the sorceress before she said, “Why?”

“Looking for some strings to pull.”

Jesiba laughed quietly. “You’re the one who stole his rings?”

Maybe they had some sorcerer message-board support group. “Let’s say a friend did.”

“And now you want—what? My money to pay for them?”

“I want you to convince him to accept the money my friends will pay for them.”

“One of those rings is priceless.”

“Yeah, the dragon. Ariadne.”

“Is that what she calls herself?” A low laugh. “Fascinating.”

“You know her?”

“Of her.”

Bryce crossed a busy intersection, keeping her head down as a passing tourist gawked too long in her direction. At least no dreadwolves prowled the streets. “So? Can you help or not?”

Jesiba grunted. “I’ll make a call. No promises.”

“What are you going to say?”

“That he owes me a favor.” Dark promise glittered in the words. “And now you do, too.”

“Get in line,” Bryce said, and hung up.

By the time Bryce reached her little office in the archives, relieved she hadn’t needed to pull her princess rank again, she was ready to bask in the AC and kick back in her chair. Ready to maybe send a message to Hunt to feel out whether he was still pissed. But all plans vanished at the sight of the envelope on her desk.

It contained an analysis of dragon fire, dating back five thousand years. It was in a language Bryce didn’t know, but a translation had been included. Jesiba had scribbled Good luck at the top.

Well, now she knew why the Astronomer kept Ariadne in a ring. Not for light—but for protection.

Among its many uses, the ancient scholar had written, dragon fire is one of the few substances proven to harm the Princes of Hel. It can burn even the Prince of the Pit’s dark hide.

Yeah, Ariadne was valuable. And if Apollion was readying his armies … Bryce had no intention of letting the dragon return to the Astronomer’s clutches.


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