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House of Sky and Breath: Part 3 – Chapter 69

Ruhn found Cormac sitting alone in an Old Square dive bar, face stony as he watched the late-night news show, a glossy-haired celebrity laughing her way through some interview—a shameless promo for her recent movie.

“What are you doing here?” the Avallen Prince asked him as Ruhn slid onto the stool beside him.

“Flynn was notified of your location. Thought I’d see why you were up so late. Considering our appointment tomorrow.”

Cormac studied him sidelong, then drained his beer. “I wanted some quiet.”

“And you came to a dive in the Old Square for that?” Ruhn indicated the blasting music, the wasted patrons around them. The sylph puking green liquid into the trash can by the pool table in the back.

His cousin said nothing.

Ruhn sighed. “What’s wrong?”

“Does it matter to you?” Cormac signaled for another beer.

“It matters to me when we’re relying on you tomorrow.” When Day and Bryce were relying on the prince to be alert and ready.

“This isn’t my first big … appointment.” Ruhn glanced at the male—the immaculate blond hair, the unfailingly arrogant angle of his chin.

Cormac caught him looking and said, “I don’t know how your father never managed to do it.”

“Do what?” Ruhn leaned his forearms on the oak bar.

“Break you. The kindness in you.”

“He tried,” Ruhn choked out.

“My father did, too. And won.” Cormac snorted, taking his fresh beer from the bartender. “I wouldn’t have bothered to check on you.”

“Yet you expended a lot of time and risk on finding … her.”

The prince shrugged. “Perhaps, but deep down, I am what I’ve always been. The male who would have gladly killed you and your friends.”

Ruhn tugged on his lip ring. “You’re telling me this right before we head off?”

“I suppose I’m telling you this to … to apologize.”

Ruhn tried not to gape. “Cormac—”

His cousin blankly watched the TV. “I was jealous of you. Then and now. For your friends. For the fact that you have them. That you don’t let your father … corrupt what is best in you. But had I been forced to marry your sister …” His mouth twisted to the side. “I think, with time, she might have undone the damage my father did to my soul.”

“Bryce has that effect on people.”

“She will be a good princess. As you are a good prince.”

“I’m starting to get disturbed by all this niceness.”

Cormac drank again. “I’m always pensive the night before an appointment.”

For a glimmer, Ruhn could see the male his cousin might have become—might yet become. Serious, yes, but fair. Someone who understood the cost of a life. A good king.

“When all this shit is done,” Ruhn said hoarsely, tucking even thoughts of Day aside as he settled himself more comfortably on the stool, “I want us to start over.”


“You and me. Prince to prince. Future king to future king. Screw the past, and screw that shit with the Starsword. Screw our fathers. We don’t let them decide who we get to be.” Ruhn extended his hand. “We’ll carve our own paths.”

Cormac smiled almost sadly. Then took Ruhn’s hand, clasping firmly. “It’d be an honor.”

The barracks were dim. No one lounged in the common area, from what Hunt could tell down the hall as he entered his room.

Good. No one but the cameras to see him come and go.

He’d left Quinlan sleeping, and hadn’t told anyone where he was going.

His room was cold and soulless as he shut the door behind him. Just as he’d been when he’d first met Quinlan. He’d displayed no traces of his life, put no art on the walls, done absolutely nothing to declare that this space was his. Perhaps because he’d known it truly wasn’t.

Hunt strode to his desk, setting his empty duffel on it. He made quick work of loading up the extra knives and guns he’d kept in here, not wanting to be noticed checking out a stock of weapons from the armory. Thank the gods Micah had never bothered with enforcing the sign-out rules. Hunt had enough here to … well, to sneak into the crystal palace, he supposed.

He zipped the duffel, his gaze catching on the helmet on his desk. The skull painted on its front stared at him, unholy Hel in its black pits for eyes. The face of the Umbra Mortis.

Hunt picked up the helmet and set it on his head, the world shading into hues of red and black through the visor. He didn’t let himself second-guess it as he stalked out of his room and into the night.

Celestina was standing at the elevator bay.

Hunt drew up short. Did she know? Had someone tipped her off? The duffel of weapons burned against his hip. He reached to pull off the helmet.

“Leave it,” she said, and though her words were firm, her expression was contemplative. “I’ve always wondered what it looked like.”

Hunt lowered his hand. “Everything all right?”

“I’m not the one sneaking in at five in the morning.”

Hunt shrugged. “I couldn’t sleep.” The Archangel remained in front of the elevator bay, blocking his access. Hunt asked, “How are things with Ephraim?”

Her wings snapped shut. A clear warning. Whether it was to keep his mouth shut about Hypaxia or something else, he didn’t know. Celestina only said, “He departs tomorrow. I shall visit his keep next month if there is not … a change in my situation by then.”

If she hadn’t gotten pregnant.

“Your silence speaks volumes about your dismay, Athalar.” Power crackled in her voice. “I go to the mating bed willingly.”

Hunt nodded, even as disgust and rage curled through him. The Asteri had ordered this, done this. They’d make Celestina keep going to Ephraim until she was pregnant with the child they wanted her to bear. Another little Archangel for them to mold into a monster. Would Celestina fight to keep her child free from their influence? Or would Ephraim hand the kid over to the Asteri and the secretive training centers they had for young Archangels? Hunt didn’t want to know.

Celestina asked, “Why couldn’t you sleep?”

He blew out a breath through his nose. “Is it pathetic to say it’s because of the prince stuff?”

She offered him a pitying wince. “I thought that might come up.”

Hunt tapped the side of his helmet. “I … weirdly missed it. And I wanted to clear out the last of my stuff from the room before it became a public spectacle.” It was partially true.

She smiled softly. “I haven’t had the chance to ask, but will you be leaving us?”

“I honestly have no idea. Bryce and I are giving the Autumn King a few days to cool down before asking him to define my royal duties. The thought of having to act fancy and take meetings with a bunch of assholes makes me want to puke.”

Another quiet laugh. “But?”

“But I love Bryce. If doing that shit is what will allow us to be together, then I’ll grin and bear it.”

“Does she want to do such things?”

“Hel no. But … we don’t really get much say. The Autumn King forced her hand. And now we’re pretty much stuck with things as they are.”

“Are you? The Umbra Mortis and the Starborn Princess don’t seem the types to accept things as they are. You proved that with your surprise at the party.”

Was there an edge to her voice? A gleam of suspicion?

They’d trusted Hypaxia not to say a word of their activities to her lover, had believed the witch when she said Celestina didn’t know, but … the gods knew he talked when Bryce fucked the Hel out of him. Mistakes happened. Especially with a gorgeous set of tits involved.

But he made himself shrug again. “We’re trying to get a better picture of the battle ahead before deciding where to start fighting the royal nonsense.”

Her mouth quirked to one side. “Well, I hope that if you need an ally, you’ll come to me.”

Was that code for something? He scanned her face but could pick up nothing beyond reserved concern. He had to get out of here. So Hunt bowed his head. “Thank you.”

“A prince doesn’t need to bow to a Governor, you know.” She walked over to the landing veranda doors, opening them for him. All right. He’d fly home.

Hunt stalked into the night, that bag of weapons a millstone hanging off his shoulder. He spread his wings. “Old habits.”

“Indeed,” she said, and a shiver went down his spine.

He didn’t look back as he launched skyward.

Hunt slowly sailed over the city. Dawn remained a whisper on the horizon, and only a few delivery trucks rumbled along to bakeries and coffee shops. He had the skies to himself.

Hunt tugged off his helmet, tucking it into the crook of his elbow, and breathed in the open, clean breeze off the Istros. In a few hours, they’d leave for Pangera—Tharion had already reached out to Commander Sendes and arranged for transport across the ocean.

By tomorrow morning, they’d reach the Eternal City.

Tomorrow morning, he’d again wear this helmet. And pray that he and his mate walked away alive.


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