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House of Sky and Breath: Part 3 – Chapter 70

Tharion had commanded plenty of raids for the River Queen. He’d gone in solo, led teams small and large, and usually emerged unscathed. But riding shotgun beside Prince Cormac in the open-air jeep as they approached the security checkpoint down the cypress-lined road, he had the distinct feeling that he might not get so lucky today.

The imperial uniform they each wore lay heavy and smothering in the sun, but at least the hot day would disguise any glimmer of nervous sweat on them.

No one had seemed to notice the change he felt with every breath: the invisible tether, now stretched tight, linking whatever remained of his heart—that cold, dead thing—to the Viper Queen in Valbara. A constant reminder of his promise. His new life.

He tried not to think of it.

He’d been grateful for the wonders of the Depth Charger’s swift submersible-pod as it hurtled their group across the ocean. Sendes had told him when he contacted her that the city-ship was too slow to make it in time, but one of its makos—sleek little transport pods—could do it. So they’d boarded the pod at the coast, then spent their time either planning or sleeping, keeping themselves mostly separate from the mer who steered the ship.

Cormac waved with impressive casualness to the four guards—ordinary wolves, all of them—at the gate. Tharion kept his right hand within swift reach of the gun strapped to the side of his seat.

“Hail the Asteri.” Cormac spoke with such offhanded ease that Tharion knew he’d said it a thousand times. Perhaps in similar settings.

“Hail the Asteri,” the female guard who stepped forward said. She sniffed, marking what her eyes confirmed: a Fae male and a mer male, both in officer’s uniforms. She saluted, and Tharion nodded for her to stand down.

Cormac handed over their forged papers. “We’re to meet with Doctor Zelis. Have they radioed that he’s ready?”

The guard scanned the clipboard in her hands. The three others with her didn’t take their attention off the car, so Tharion gave them a glare he usually reserved for field agents who’d royally fucked up. The wolves, however, didn’t back down.

“There’s no appointment on here with Zelis,” the guard said.

Tharion drawled, “It wouldn’t be in writing.”

She studied him, and Tharion smirked. “Rigelus’s orders,” he added.

The female’s throat bobbed. To question the actions of an Asteri, or to risk letting two officers in who weren’t on the security roster …

Cormac pulled out his phone. “Shall I call him?” He showed her a contact page that merely read: Bright Hand.

The wolf paled a little. But she saluted again, waving them through.

“Thank you,” Cormac said, gunning the engine and driving through the gates before they’d finished lifting.

Tharion didn’t dare speak to Cormac. Not with the wolves so nearby. They just stared ahead at the dirt road winding through the forest. At the sprawling concrete compound that appeared around the next bend, where guards were already waving them through the barbed-wire fencing.

He had to keep an eye on the clock today. The spray of the water from the mako’s passage had extended the amount of time he could stay Above, but a familiar itching had started an hour ago. Another fucking headache to deal with: five more hours until he had to truly submerge. The coast was a two-hour drive from here. So … they’d better get this shit done within three. Two, to be safe.

Tharion nodded to the wolves in front of the lab and took in the enormous, low building. It hadn’t been built for beauty, but for function and storage.

Smokestacks billowed behind the lab, which seemed to be at least half a mile long and perhaps twice as wide. “Look at this place,” Tharion murmured as Cormac pulled up to the steel front doors. They opened as if by invisible hands—another guard must have pressed the security button to allow them in. Tharion whispered, “You think Pippa’s going to come?” How the Hel would she get in?

Cormac cut the engine and threw open his door, stepping crisply into the morning sun. “She’s already here.”

Tharion blinked, but followed Cormac’s military-precise motions as he climbed from the car. Cormac turned toward the open doors to the lab. “They’re in the trees.”

Declan had spent the previous day covertly planting information on rebel networks: the anti-Ophion rebels who’d destroyed the base on Ydra were making a move on this lab before Pippa and her agents could do so. She must have had Lightfall hauling ass to get here in time.

Tharion suppressed the urge to peer into the trees. “What about the dreadwolves?”

“This place reeks of humans, can’t you smell it?”


Cormac stalked toward the open doors, black boots shining. “They’re using human labor. Carted in and out every dawn and dusk. Pippa would have timed their arrival with it, so their scents are hidden from the dreadwolves below.”

Solas. “So why wait for us to arrive, then?”

Cormac growled, “Because Pippa has a score to settle.”

Bryce had no idea why anyone would want to live in the Eternal City. Not simply because it lay in the shadow of the crystal palace of the Asteri, but because it was … old. Dusty. Worn. No skyscrapers, no neon lights, no music blasting from passing cars. It seemed to have been trapped in time, stuck in another century, its masters unwilling to bring it forward.

As she, Hunt, and Ruhn lurked in the shadows of an olive grove a mile to the west of the palace, she steadied her nerves by imagining the Asteri as a bunch of cranky old people, shouting for everyone to keep the noise down, complaining that the lights were too bright and the youngsters too whippersnappery.

It definitely helped. Just a little.

Bryce glanced at Hunt, who kept his attention on the olive grove, the skies. He’d worn his black battle-suit, along with the Umbra Mortis helmet, to her shock. A warrior going back into battle.

Was this the right move? This risk, this danger they were plunging into? Maybe they’d have been better off staying in Lunathion, keeping their heads down.

Maybe she was a coward for thinking that.

She flicked her attention to Ruhn, her brother’s face tight as he monitored the olive grove as well. He’d worn his Aux battle-suit, too, his black hair tied back in a braid that flowed down his spine, along the length of the Starsword strapped there. He clutched the comm-crystal in a fist, occasionally opening his fingers to study it. As if it might offer some hint about Day’s welfare. He’d said he hadn’t used it since that first contact with her, but he’d grabbed it before they left in case it could help locate her, if she had its twin on her.

Ruhn shifted from foot to foot, black boots crunching on the rocky, dry earth. “Cormac should be here by now.”

She knew every second since Agent Daybright had gone dark pressed on her brother. Bryce didn’t want to think about what was probably happening to the agent Ruhn seemed to care so much for. If they were lucky, she’d be alive. If they were luckier, there would be enough of her to salvage. Any attempts Ruhn had made to contact her—even going so far as to use the crystal—had been futile.

“Give him a minute,” Bryce said. “It’s a long jump.” Too far for her to make—or attempt. Especially with others in tow. She needed all her strength for what was to come.

“You’re a teleporting expert now?” Ruhn asked, brows high. The ring in his bottom lip glinted in the hot morning light. “Dec’s on standby. I don’t want to throw off his calculations. Even by a minute.”

Bryce opened her mouth, but Cormac appeared in the small clearing ahead. They’d studied a satellite map of the grove yesterday and Cormac had committed the location to memory, plotting out the jumps he’d need to make to get here from the lab. And the jumps he’d need to make from this grove into the palace itself.

Cormac announced, “We’re in. Tharion’s in the waiting room. I slipped off to the bathroom. All plans are a go. Ready, Athalar?” Hunt, then Bryce, then Ruhn. That had been the order they’d settled on, after an hour of arguing.

Hunt drew his gun, keeping it at his thigh. That helmeted head turned to Bryce, and she could feel his gaze even through the visor. “See you on the other side, Quinlan,” Hunt said, taking Cormac’s gloved hand.

Prince to prince. She marveled at it.

Then they were gone, and Bryce struggled to get down a breath.

“I feel like I can’t breathe, either,” Ruhn said, noticing. “Knowing that Day’s in there.” He added, “And knowing that you’re about to go in there, too.”

Bryce gave him a wobbly smile. And then decided to Hel with it and threw her arms around her brother, squeezing him hard. “Team Fuck-You, remember? We’ll kick ass.”

He chuckled, holding her tightly. “Team Fuck-You forever.”

She pulled away, scanning her brother’s violet-blue eyes. “We’ll get her out. I promise.”

Ruhn’s golden skin paled. “Thanks for helping me, Bryce.”

She nudged him with an elbow. “We Starborn have each other’s backs, you know?”

But her brother’s face turned grave. “When we get home, I think we need to talk.”

“About what?” She didn’t like that serious expression. And didn’t like that Cormac was taking so long.

Ruhn’s mouth tightened. “All right, since we might very well die in a few minutes—”

“That is so morbid!”

“I wanted to wait until shit had calmed down, but … You outrank the Autumn King in power.”


“I think it’s time his reign comes to an end, don’t you?” He was completely serious.

“You want me to back you in a coup? A Fae coup?”

“I want to back you in a Fae coup. I want you as Autumn Queen.”

Bryce recoiled. “I don’t want to be a queen.”

“Let’s ditch the whole reluctant royal thing, okay? You saw what the Fae did during the attack this spring. How they shut out innocents and left them to die, with our father’s blessing. You mean to tell me that’s the best our people can do? You mean to tell me that’s what we’re supposed to accept as normal Fae behavior? I don’t buy that for a second.”

You should be king.”

“No.” Something else shone in his eyes, some secret she didn’t know, but she could sense. “You have more power than I do. The Fae will respect that.”

“Maybe the Fae should rot.”

“Tell that to Dec. And Flynn. And my mother. Look at them and tell me that the Fae aren’t worth saving.”

“Three. Out of the entire population.”

Ruhn’s face turned pleading, but then Cormac appeared, panting and covered in sweat. “Athalar’s waiting.”

“Think about it,” Ruhn murmured as she approached Cormac. “All clear?”

“No issues. The intel was right: they don’t even have wards around the place,” Cormac reported. “Arrogant worms.” He extended a hand to Bryce. “Hurry.”

Bryce grabbed the prince’s hand. And with a last look at her brother, she vanished into wind and darkness, stomach whipping around and around. Cormac said over the roaring of the space between places, “He asked you to be queen, didn’t he?”

Bryce blinked up at him—though it was difficult with the force of the storm around them. “How did you know?”

“I might have caught the end of your conversation.” Bryce clung harder as the wind pressed. Cormac said, “He’s right.”

“Spare me.”

“And you were right, too. When we first met, and you said the Oracle’s prophecy was vague. I understand that now. She didn’t mean our union in marriage would bring prosperity to our people. She meant our union as allies. Allies in this rebellion.”

The world took form at the edges of the darkness.

“But after today …” Cormac’s words grew heavy. Weary. “I think the choice about whether to lead our people forward will be up to you.”

Hunt couldn’t shake the tremor from his hands. Being here, in this palace …

It smelled the same. Even in the hallway directly outside the archives, where he hid in an alcove, the stale odor of this place dragged claws down his temper, set his knees wobbling.

Screaming, pain blinding as they sawed off his wings slowly—

Shahar was dead, her broken body still dust-covered from Sandriel dragging it through the streets on her way in here—

Pollux laughing as he pissed on Shahar’s corpse in the middle of the throne room—

His wings, his wings, his wings—

Hunt swallowed, shutting out the memories, focusing his mind on the hall. No one was around.

Bryce and Cormac appeared, and she’d hardly thanked him before he vanished, off to grab Ruhn before teleporting back to the lab. Sweat gleamed on the prince’s face, his skin sallow. He had to be exhausted.

“All right?” Hunt murmured, brushing back her hair with a gloved hand. She nodded, eyes full of worry—and something else. But Hunt flicked her chin and went back to monitoring.

They stood in tense silence, and then Ruhn was there, Cormac with him. Cormac’s skin was ashen now. He disappeared immediately, back to the lab.

“Tell Declan we’re a go,” Hunt said.

Ruhn’s shadows cloaked them from sight as he thumbed in a message on a secure phone that Declan had retrofitted against tracking. In five minutes, Tharion would contact them on it to tell them whether or not to move.

Bryce’s fingers slid into Hunt’s, clutching tight. He squeezed back.

He had no idea how five minutes passed. He was barely breathing, monitoring the hall ahead. Bryce held his gloved hand through all of it, her jaw tense.

Then Ruhn lifted his head. “Tharion said Cormac just blew up the jeep.”

Hunt nudged her with a wing. “Your turn, Quinlan.”

Ruhn said, “Remember: Every minute in there risks detection. Make them count.”

“Thanks for the pep talk,” she said, but smiled grimly up at Hunt. “Light it up, Athalar.”

Hunt pressed a hand to her heart, his lightning a subtle flare that was sucked into the scar. As the last of it faded, Bryce teleported into the archives.

To find whatever truth might lie within them.


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