House of Sky and Breath: Part 3 – Chapter 67


Tharion burst into the Viper Queen’s nest. He had only minutes until all Hel broke loose.

Ariadne was sprawled on her belly on the carpet, a book splayed open before her, bare feet bobbing above her ample backside. The sort of ample backside that on any other day, he’d truly appreciate. The dragon didn’t remove her focus from her book as she said, “She’s in the back.”

Tharion ran for the rear room. The Viper Queen lounged on a couch before the window overlooking the fighting pit where the current match was unfolding, reading something on her electronic tablet. “Mer,” she said by way of greeting.

“I want to be one of your prize fighters.”

She slowly turned her head toward him. “I don’t take freelancers.”

“Then buy me.”

“You’re not a slave, mer.”

“I’ll sell myself to you.”

The words sounded as insane as they felt. But he had no other options. His alternative was another form of slavery. At least here, he’d be away from that stifling court.

The Viper Queen set down her tablet. “A civitas selling himself into slavery. Such a thing is not done.”

“You’re law unto yourself. You can do it.”

“Your queen will flood my district for spite.”

“She isn’t dumb enough to fuck with you.”

“I take it that’s why you’re rushing into my care.”

Tharion checked his phone. Ten minutes left at most. “It’s either be trapped in a palace down there or trapped up here. I choose here, where I won’t be required to breed some royal offspring.”

“You are becoming a slave. To be free of the River Queen.” Even the Vipe looked like she was wondering if he’d gone mad.

“Is there another way? Because I’m out of ideas.”

The Viper Queen angled her head, bob shifting with the movement. “A good businessperson would tell you no, and accept this absurd offer.” Her purple lips parted in a smile. “But …” Her gaze swept across the room, to the Fae males standing guard by an unmarked door. He had no idea what lay beyond. Possibly her bedchamber. Why it needed to be guarded when she wasn’t inside was beyond him. “They defected from the Autumn King. Swore allegiance to me. They’ve proved loyal.”

“So I’ll do it. I hereby defect. Give me some way to immerse myself in water once a day and I’m set.”

She chuckled. “You think you’re the first mer fighter I’ve had? There is a tub a few levels down, with water piped in right from the Istros. It’s yours. But defecting … That is not as easy as simply saying the words.” She stood, rolling back the sleeve of her black jumpsuit to expose her wrist. A tattoo of a snake twining around a crescent moon lay there. She lifted her wrist to her mouth and bit, and blood—darker than usual—welled where her teeth had been. “Drink.”

The floor began rumbling, and Tharion knew it wasn’t from the fight. Knew something ancient and primordial was coming for him, to drag him back to the watery depths.

He grabbed her wrist and brought it to his mouth.

If he defected from the River Queen, then he could defect from the Viper Queen one day, couldn’t he?

He didn’t ask. Didn’t doubt it as he laid his lips on her wrist, and her blood filled his mouth.

Burned his mouth. His throat.

Tharion staggered back, choking, grabbing at his neck. Her blood, her venom dissolved his throat, his chest, his heart—

Cold, piercing and eternal, erupted through him. Tharion crashed to his knees.

The rumbling halted. Then retreated. Like whatever it had been hunting for had vanished.

Tharion panted, bracing for the icy death that awaited him.

But nothing happened. Only that vague sense of cold. Of … calm. He slowly lifted his eyes to the Viper Queen.

She smiled down at him. “Seems like that did the trick.” He struggled to his feet, swaying. He rubbed at the hollow, strange place in his chest. “Your first fight is tonight,” she said, still smiling. “I suggest you rest.”

“I need to help my friends finish something first.”

Her brows rose. “Ah. This business with Ophion.”

“Of a sort. I need to be able to help them.”

“You should have bargained for that freedom before swearing yourself to me.”

“Allow me this and I’ll come back and fight for you until I’m chum.”

She laughed softly. “Fine, Tharion Ketos. Help your friends. But when you are done …” Her eyes glowed green, and his body turned distant. Her will was his, her desires his own. He’d crawl through coals to fulfill her orders. “You return to me.”

“I return to you.” He spoke in a voice that was and wasn’t his own. Some small part of him screamed.

The Viper Queen flicked a hand toward the archway. “Go.”

Not entirely of his own volition, he stalked back down the hallway. Each step away from her had that distance lessening, his thoughts again becoming his own, even as …

Ariadne peered up from her book as he stalked past. “Are you mad?”

Tharion retorted, “I could ask the same of you.” Her face tightened, but she returned to her book.

With each step toward his friends, he could have sworn a long, invisible chain stretched. Like an endless leash, tethering him—no matter where he went, no matter how far—back to this place.

Never to return to the life he’d traded away.

Ithan sat on a park bench in Moonwood, a few blocks from the Den, still reeling from the world-shattering revelation the Prime had dropped on him.

The wolf mystic was a Fendyr. An Alpha Fendyr.

Ithan hadn’t been able to get any more than that out of the Prime before the male’s gaze had gone murky, and he’d needed to sit down again. Hypaxia had worked some healing magic to ease whatever pains ailed him, and he’d been asleep at his desk a moment later.

Ithan breathed in the fall day. “I think I’ve put her in grave danger.”

Hypaxia straightened. “In what way?”

“I think Sabine knows. Or has already guessed.” Another Alpha in the heritage bloodline could destroy the wolves. But how the fuck had she wound up in that tank? And in Nena? “Sabine will kill her. Even if Sabine thinks she might be a Fendyr Alpha, if there have been rumors about it before now … Sabine will destroy any threat to her power.”

“So the mystic isn’t some sister or long-lost daughter?”

“I don’t think so. Sabine had an elder brother, but she defeated him in open combat decades before I was born. Took his title as Prime Apparent and became Alpha. I thought he died, but … maybe he was exiled. I have no idea.”

Hypaxia’s face turned grave. “So what can be done?”

He swallowed. “I don’t like going back on my promises.”

“But you wish to leave my side to look into this.”

“Yes. And”—he shook his head—“I can’t go to Pangera with the others. If there’s a Fendyr heir who isn’t Sabine …” It might mean that the future Danika had hoped for could come to pass. If he could find some way to keep the mystic alive. And get her free of the Astronomer’s tank.

“I need to stay here,” he said finally. “To guard her.” He didn’t care if he had to camp on the street outside of the Astronomer’s place. Wolves didn’t abandon each other. Granted, friends didn’t abandon each other, either, but he knew Bryce and the others would get it.

“I need to find the truth,” Ithan said. Not just for his people. But for his own future.

“I’ll tell the others,” Hypaxia offered. “Though I’ll miss you as my guard.”

“I’m sure Flynn and his backup singers will be happy to protect you.” Hypaxia laughed softly. But Ithan said, “Don’t tell them—don’t tell Bryce, I mean. About the other Fendyr heir. She’d be distracted by it, at a time when she needs to focus elsewhere.”

And this task … this task was his.

He hadn’t been there to help Danika that night she’d died. But he was here now. Urd had left him alive—perhaps for this. He’d fulfill what Danika had left unfinished. He’d protect this Fendyr heir—no matter what.

“Just tell the others that I need to stay here for wolf stuff.”

“Why not tell them yourself?”

He got to his feet. He might already be too late. “There’s no time to waste,” he said to the queen, and bowed to her. “Thanks for everything.”

Hypaxia’s mouth curled upward in a sad smile. “Be careful, Ithan.”

“You too.”

He broke into a jog, pulling out his phone as he did. He sent the message to Bryce before he could second-guess it. I’ve got something important to do. Hypaxia will fill you in. But I wanted to say thanks. For not hating my guts. And having my back. You always had my back.

She replied immediately. Always will. She added a few hearts that had his own cracking.

Pocketing his phone, breathing in that old ache, Ithan shifted.

For the first time in weeks, he shifted, and it didn’t hurt one bit. Didn’t leave him feeling the ache of exile, of being packless. No, his wolf form … it had focus. A purpose.

Ithan darted through the streets, running as fast as he could toward the Astronomer’s place to begin his long watch.

Ruhn hadn’t seen Day since the night of the ball. Since he’d kissed her. Since that other male had dragged her away, and pain had filled her voice.

But now she sat on the couch before him. Quiet and wary.

“Hey,” Ruhn said.

“I can’t see you anymore,” she said in answer.

Ruhn drew up short. “Why?”

“What happened between us on the equinox is never to happen again.” She rose. “It was dangerous, and reckless, and utter madness. Pippa Spetsos was in your city. Attacked your temple with her Lightfall unit. Lunathion is soon to become a battlefield.”

He crossed his arms. Drew his focus inward, to the instinctual veil of night and stars. He’d never figured out where it had come from, why his mind had automatically hidden him, but—there. A neat little knot in his mind.

A tug on it, and it fell away, dropping all the night and stars. Letting her see all of him. “What happened to you? Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine.” Her voice was tight. “I can’t jeopardize all I’ve sacrificed for.”

“And kissing me is a threat to that?”

“It distracts me from my purpose! It throws me from my vigilance! It will catch up to me.” She paced a few feet. “I wish I were normal. That I had met you under any other circumstances, that I had met you long ago, before I got tangled in this.” Her chest heaved, flames flickering. She lifted her head, no doubt meeting his stare through the barrier of flames. “I told you that you remind me that I am alive. I meant that. Every word. But it’s because of that feeling that I’ll likely wind up dead, and you with me.”

“I don’t understand the threat,” he said. “Surely a kiss that’s good enough to distract you isn’t a bad thing.” He winked, desperate for her to smile.

“The male who … interrupts us. He will slaughter you if he finds out. He’ll make me watch.”

“You fear him.” Something primal stirred in Ruhn.

“Yes. His wrath is terrible. I’ve seen what he does to enemies. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.”

“Can’t you leave him?”

She laughed, harsh and hollow. “No. My fate is bound to his.”

“Your fate is bound to mine.” The words echoed into the darkness.

Ruhn reached for her hand. Took the flames within his own. They parted enough for him to see her slim, fiery fingers as he stroked his thumb over them. “My mind found yours in the darkness. Across an ocean. No fancy crystal required. You think that’s nothing?”

He glimpsed enough of her eyes to see that they were closed. Her head bowed. “I can’t.”

But she didn’t stop him when he stepped closer. When his other hand slid around her waist. “I’m going to find you,” he said against her burning hair. “I’ll find you one day, I promise.” She shuddered, but melted into him. Like she’d yielded any attempt at restraint. “You remind me that I’m alive, too,” he whispered.

Her arms came around him. She was slender—on the taller side, but with a delicate frame. And insane curves. Lush hips, full breasts that pushed against his chest with tantalizing softness. That sweet, tempting ass.

She murmured against his pec, “I never told you the ending of the story from the other night.”

“With the witch-turned-monster?”

“It didn’t end badly.” He didn’t dare breathe. “As the witch fell to the earth, the prince’s arrow through her heart, the forest transformed her into a monster of claws and fangs. She ripped the prince and his hounds to shreds.” Her fingers began trailing up his spine. “She remained a monster for a hundred years, roaming the forest, killing all who drew near. A hundred years, so long that she forgot she had once been a witch, had once possessed a home and a forest she loved.”

Her breath was warm against his chest. “But one day, a warrior arrived in the forest. He’d heard of the monster so vicious none could kill it and live. She set out to slaughter him, but when the warrior beheld her, he was not afraid. He stared at her, and she at him, and he wept because he didn’t see a thing of nightmares, but a creature of beauty. He saw her, and he was not afraid of her, and he loved her.” She released a shuddering breath. “His love transformed her back into a witch, melting away all that she’d become. They dwelled in peace in the forest for the rest of their immortal lives.”

“I like that ending much better,” he said, and she huffed a soft laugh.

He dipped his head, kissing her neck, breathing in the subtle scent of her. His cock instantly hardened. Fuck yes. This scent, this female—

A sense of rightness settled into his bones like a stone dropped in a pond. Her hand began stroking up his spine again. His balls tightened with each trailing caress.

Then her mouth was on his pec, flaming lips grazing over the swirling tattoo there. The pierced nipple on his left pec. Her tongue flicked at the hoop, and his brain went haywire as he realized he was naked, or had somehow willed his clothes gone, because that was his bare skin she was touching, kissing.

And she … He ran his hands over her waist again. Smooth, velvety soft skin greeted him.

“You want to do this?” he ground out.

She kissed his other nipple. “Yes.”

“I’m not even sure we can have sex like this.”

“I don’t see why not.” Her fingers skated down to the top of his ass, taunting.

Ruhn’s cock throbbed. “Only one way to find out,” he managed to say.

Day huffed another breathy laugh and lifted her head. Ruhn just took her face between his hands and kissed her. She opened for him, and their tongues met, and she was as sweet as summer wine, and he needed to be in her, needed to touch and savor all of her.

Ruhn hoisted her up, and she wrapped her legs around his middle, his cock dangerously close to where it wanted to be. But he carried her to the fainting couch, gently laying her down before climbing atop her. “Let me see your face,” he breathed, sliding a hand between her legs.

“Never,” she said, and Ruhn didn’t care, not as his fingers slicked through her soaked sex. Utterly ready for him.

He spread her knees and knelt between them. Dragged his tongue up her center—

He bucked, like his cock had a mind of its own, like it needed to be in her, or it was going to fucking erupt right there—

Ruhn fisted himself, pumping slowly as he licked her again.

Day moaned, her chest heaving, and he was rewarded with the sight of her breasts. Then her arms. Then her stomach and legs, and finally—

She was still crafted of fire, but he could clearly see the body now. Only her head remained in those flames, which shrank until they were no more than a mask over her features.

Long hair cascaded down her torso, and he ran a hand through it. “You’re beautiful,” he said.

“You haven’t seen my face.”

“I don’t need to,” he said. He laid a hand on her heart. “What you do, every minute of every single day … I’ve never met anyone like you.”

“I’ve never met a male like you, either.”

“Yeah?”

Yeah,” she said, and he punished her for the sass in her voice by licking her again, drawing another gasp. “Ruhn.”

Fuck, he loved his name on her lips. He slipped a finger into her, finding her mind-meltingly tight. She was going to drive him wild.

She tugged on his shoulders, hauling him up. “Please,” she said, and he hissed as her fingers wrapped around his cock and guided him to her entrance.

He halted there, poised on the brink. “Tell me what you like,” he said, kissing her neck. “Tell me how you want it.”

“I like it true,” she said, hands running down his face. “I want it real.”

So Ruhn slid home, crying out at the sheer perfection of her. She groaned, arching, and Ruhn stilled. “Did I hurt you?”

“No,” she whispered, hands framing his face as he hovered above her. “No. Not at all.”

The pressure of her around his cock was too much, too gloriously intense—“I can go slow.” He couldn’t. He really fucking couldn’t, but for her, he’d try.

She laughed softly. “Please don’t.”

He withdrew nearly to the tip and pushed back in with a smooth, steady thrust. He nearly leapt out of his skin at the rippling pleasure.

Her hands dug into his shoulders, and Day said, “You feel better than I even dreamed.”

Ruhn smiled into her neck. “You dreamed about this?”

He thrust again, sinking to the hilt, and she gasped. “Yes,” she said, as if his cock had wrung the word from her. “Every night. Every time I had to …” She trailed off. But Ruhn claimed her mouth, kissing her as deeply as he fucked her. He didn’t need her to say the rest, the part that would smash something in his chest.

Ruhn angled her hips so he could drive deeper still, and she reached up above her to clutch at the rolled arm of the chaise. “Ruhn,” she moaned again, a warning that she was close—and echoed it with a flex of her delicate inner muscles.

The squeeze had him grabbing her hands in his and slamming home. Her hips undulated in perfect rhythm with his, and nothing had ever felt so good, so real as their souls twining here—

“Come for me,” he breathed against her mouth, as he reached between them to rub the bud of her clit in a taunting circle.

Day cried out, and those inner muscles fluttered and clenched around his cock, milking him—

Release barreled through him, and Ruhn didn’t hold back as he pounded into her, wringing the pleasure from both of them. They kept moving, one orgasm rolling into the next, and he had no fucking idea how it was even possible, but he was still hard, still going, and he needed more and more and more of her—

He erupted again, hauling her with him.

Their breaths echoed against each other like crashing waves, and she was shaking as she held him. He lowered himself so his head rested upon her chest. Her heartbeat thundered into his ear, and even the melody of that was beautiful.

Her fingers tangled in his hair. “I …”

“I know,” Ruhn said. It had never been like that with anyone. Sex had been good, yeah, but this … He was fairly certain his soul lay in splinters around them. He kissed the skin above her breast. “I should have asked you if you had anything to report first.”

“Why?”

“Because my mind’s too fried to remember anything after this point.”

Another one of those soft laughs. “All is quiet. No word on Pippa Spetsos after she eluded capture at Urd’s Temple.”

“Good. Though I guess we could use a distraction to keep attention elsewhere.”

“From what?”

Ruhn toyed with the strands of her long hair, trying to make out the texture, the color. All was pure flame. “I’m coming your way.”

She stilled. “What do you mean?”

“We need to get into the Asteri Archives.”

“Why?”

“The vital intel Sofie Renast possessed is likely in one of the rooms there.”

She pushed up onto her elbows. “What?”

He pulled out of her and said, “Any intel on the layout of the crystal palace or the archives, since you’re so familiar with them … we’d appreciate it.”

“You’re going to break into the crystal palace. Into the archives.”

“Yes.”

“Ruhn.” She grabbed his face in her hands. “Ruhn, do not go there. They will kill you. All of you.”

“Hence the need for attention to be elsewhere while we break in.”

Her fingers dug into his cheeks, and her heart pounded so wildly he could hear it. “It’s got to be a trap.”

“No one knows except people I trust. And now you.”

She shot to her feet, again wholly veiled in flame. “If you’re caught, I cannot help you. I won’t be able to risk saving you. Or your sister. You’re on your own.”

His temper began simmering. “So you won’t tell me anything useful about the layout.”

“Ruhn, I—”

Again, that awful hiss of surprise and pain. That glance behind her.

To him. The male.

Ruhn grabbed her hand, like she could stay with him. But she began panting, wild and frantic. Terrified. “Ruhn, they know. I—” Her voice cut out for a moment. “The dungeons—”

She vanished.

Like she’d been snatched away.

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