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Chapter no 10

House of Flame and Shadow (Crescent City, #3)

Tharion knew this wouldn’t end well. Not with Flynn and Dec pointing guns at the Hind, Marc’s claws gleaming and poised to shred flesh. Not with Holstrom crouched, teeth bared, angled in front of Sigrid. The Fendyr heir glanced between them all with predatory assessment, understanding a threat at hand but not what it was.

Well, fuck. That left him as the voice of reason.

So Tharion did what he did best: dragged up the smile of the person he’d once been and sauntered over to Tristan Flynn.

He laid a claw-tipped finger on the barrel of the Fae lord’s gun, pushing it down. “Take a breath,” Tharion crooned. “We’re all on neutral territory. Even Lidia wouldn’t be so stupid as to harm you here.” He winked at the Hind, though his insides trembled. “Would you?”

The Hind’s face held no emotion, but her chin dipped.

Sigrid stepped forward. “Who are you?”

The Hind’s golden eyes swept over the female wolf. Her nostrils flared delicately. “I think,” she murmured quietly, “the better question is who are you?”

“None of your business,” Ithan cut in.

The Hind gave him a look that said she had her suspicions but it wasn’t her priority—yet. She said to the Fendyr heir, “A moment of privacy, if you will.”

Holstrom growled. “Whatever you have to say, you can say it in front of her.”

Declan said quietly, “Holstrom, maybe she can … go join the dragon for a minute.”

Ithan turned outraged eyes on Declan but then seemed to relent. If this was about Ruhn, if the only way for the Hind to talk was to get Sigrid out of earshot …

Tharion chimed in, “Ari locked her door, so I’m pretty sure that means alone time.” He nodded to the door beside Ari’s. “But go ahead and take my room.”

Sigrid scoffed. “I’m not some pup to be ordered about—”

“Please,” Declan said with a helpless gesture. Marc again laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.

There was a moment, then, when Ithan and Sigrid looked at each other—when Tharion could have sworn some sort of battle of wills passed between them.

Sigrid bristled, then spat, “Fine,” and stalked off toward Tharion’s bedroom.

The sprites zoomed after her, but the Hind halted them. “You three—wait.”

Sasa, Malana, and Rithi turned, wide eyes on the Hind. But she didn’t speak again until Sigrid had slammed the door to Tharion’s room. Perhaps a bit petulantly.

Tharion didn’t miss Ithan’s sigh.

The Hind glanced at her watch, likely calculating how much time remained until the Viper Queen returned, then said to Flynn and Dec, “I went looking for you two, but no one was at your … house.” Her tone dripped with enough disdain that it was clear what she thought of their house off Archer Street. “But I knew that Ketos had defected and come to the Meat Market for refuge—so I guessed you might be hiding here as well.”

“Guessed?” Declan demanded. “Or someone sold us out?”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” the Hind said, crossing her arms. “You’re extremely predictable.”

“Well, you’re fucking wrong,” Flynn said, still not holstering his gun. “We’re not here to hide.”

Declan coughed, as if to say, This is what you choose to lie about? Marc hid a smile.

“I don’t care why you’re here,” the Hind said. “We don’t have much time. Ruhn’s life depends on you listening to me.”

“What the fuck have you done to Ruhn?” Flynn cut in.

Tharion could have sworn something like pain flashed across the Hind’s face. “Ruhn lives. As do Athalar and Argos.”

“Bryce?” Ithan asked hoarsely.

“I don’t know. She …” The Hind shook her head.

But Declan asked, “Baxian got involved? The Helhound?”

Before she could finish, Flynn demanded, “Why are you here?” His voice broke. “To arrest us? To rub our failure in our faces?”

The Hind pivoted to the Fae lord, and—yes, that was pain shining in her eyes. “I’m here to help you rescue Ruhn.”

Even Tharion blinked.

“This is a trap,” Declan said.

“It’s no trap.” The Hind surveyed them bleakly. “Athalar, Baxian, and Ruhn are being held in the dungeons beneath the Asteri’s palace. The Hammer and the Hawk torture them daily. They …” A muscle ticked in her slim jaw. “Your friends haven’t talked. But I’m not sure how much longer the Asteri will be entertained by their suffering.”

“I’m sorry,” Declan spat, “but aren’t you their lead interrogator?”

The Hind turned her unnaturally perfect face toward the Fae warrior. “The world knows me as such, yes. I don’t have time to tell you everything. But I require your help, Declan Emmet. I’m one of a few people on Midgard who can get into those dungeons unchallenged. And I’m the only one who can get them out. But I need you to help hack the cameras in the palace. I know you’ve done so once before.”

“Yeah,” Dec muttered. “But even with the cameras hacked, our plans haven’t exactly turned out great lately. Ask Cormac how well our last big adventure went.”

The words pelted Tharion like stones. The memory of the Fae Prince immolating himself slammed into him. A flash, and Cormac was dead—

“It only failed because Rigelus knew they were coming,” the Hind said, not unkindly. “Celestina sold them out.”

Shock rippled through the room. But Marc murmured to Declan, “I told you: Archangels are creeps.”

Flynn threw up his hands. “Am I the only one who feels like they’re on a bad acid trip?”

Tharion scrubbed at his face. “I’m still on one, I think.” Flynn snorted, but Tharion mastered himself, clearing his throat before saying to the Hind, “Allow me to clarify a few things: You are the Asteri’s most skilled interrogator and spy-breaker. You and your dreadwolves tormented us nonstop not so long ago, in this very city. You are, not to put too fine a point on it, pretty much the soul of evil. Yet you’re asking us to help you free our friends. And you expect us not to be suspicious?”

She surveyed them all for a long moment, and Tharion had the good sense to sit down before she said evenly, “I’m Agent Daybright.”

“Bullshit,” Flynn spat, angling his gun at her again.

Daybright, who was high up in the Asteri’s innermost circles. Daybright, who knew of their plans before the Asteri ever acted. Daybright, the most vital link in the rebels’ information chain …

“She smells like Ruhn,” Ithan murmured. They all blinked at him. The wolf sniffed again. “Just barely. Smell her—it’s there.”

To Tharion’s shock, a bit of color stained the Hind’s cheeks. “He and I …”

“Don’t for one fucking second believe this,” Flynn snapped. “She probably rolled around in his blood in the dungeons.”

Her teeth flashed in a snarl, the first hint of a crack in that cool exterior. “I would never hurt him. Everything I’ve done recently, everything I’m doing now, has been to keep Ruhn alive. Do you know how hard it is to keep Pollux at bay? To convince him to go slow? Do you have any idea what that’s like?” She screamed the last part at Flynn, who backed away a step. The Hind heaved a breath, shaking. “I need to get him out. If you don’t help me, then his death is on you. And I will destroy you, Tristan Flynn.”

Flynn slowly shook his head, confusion and disbelief stark on his face.

The Hind turned to Tharion, and he withstood her blazing look. “I made sure the Depth Charger was there to pick you up after Agent Silverbow sacrificed himself, trying to bring the Asteri down with him; I filled Commander Sendes in about Ruhn and Athalar and Baxian being captured, and Bryce going missing. I’m the one who’s kept Rigelus off your scent, kept the Asteri from killing anyone who has ever meant anything to Ruhn, Bryce, or Athalar.”

“Or you’re the one,” Tharion said, “who got the information out of the real Agent Daybright and are here to entrap us, too.”

“Believe what you want,” the Hind said, and true exhaustion slumped her shoulders. For a heartbeat, Tharion pitied her. “But in three days, I am going to free them. And I will fail if I don’t have your help.”

“Even if we believe you,” Declan said, “we have families who the Asteri would kill without a thought. People we love.”

“Then use this time to get them into hiding. But the more people who know, the more likely we will be discovered.”

“You can’t be fucking serious,” Flynn said to Declan. “You’re trusting this monster?”

Declan met the Hind’s eyes, and Tharion knew he was weighing whatever he found there. “It makes sense, Flynn. Everything Ruhn told us about Daybright … it adds up.”

“Does Ruhn know what you are?” Flynn spat.

Lidia ignored him, and instead looked to Tharion. “I need you, too, Ketos.”

Tharion shrugged with a nonchalance he didn’t feel. “Unfortunately, I can’t leave the building.”

“Find a way out. I need you to be my ally and advocate on the Depth Charger after we have completed the rescue.”

Holstrom said, “The Viper Queen’s apparently your drug dealer—why don’t you ask her to let Tharion go?”

Lidia held his stare with a dominance that belied her deer-shifter heritage. “Why don’t you, Ithan Holstrom?”

There was something in her voice that Tharion didn’t quite understand—a challenge, perhaps. A gauntlet thrown.

“Does Ruhn know?” Flynn demanded again.

“Yes,” the Hind said. “He, Athalar, and Bryce know. Baxian doesn’t.”

Flynn’s throat bobbed. “You lied to Ruhn.”

“We lied to each other,” she said, some sort of emotion flickering in her golden eyes. “Our identities weren’t supposed to be revealed. We both … went too far.”

“Why bother to save them?” Declan asked. “Ruhn and Hunt have no value to Ophion, other than being good fighters. And Argos isn’t connected with Ophion at all.”

“Hunt Athalar is valuable to Bryce Quinlan, and to activating her power. Baxian Argos is a powerful warrior and skilled spy. He is therefore valuable to all of us.”

“And Ruhn?” Ithan asked, brows high.

“Ruhn is valuable to me,” the Hind said without an ounce of doubt. “At sunrise in two days’ time, a skiff will be waiting for you at Ionia’s harbor, at the very end of the north dock. Get on it, and the captain will take you a few miles offshore. Throw this into the water and wait.” She chucked a small white stone to Tharion.

He’d seen one like it before—that day in the sea off Ydra. She’d thrown one into the water then, and the Depth Charger had appeared.

She must have noted his shock, because she said, “I summoned the ship that day after what happened at Ydra. Drop that stone into the ocean, and the Depth Charger will come again and carry you to Pangera.”

Silence filled the room.

Lidia looked to the sprites crouching at Flynn’s neck and said, “I have questions for you three.”

“Us?” Sasa squawked, ducking behind Flynn’s left ear. Her flame illuminated it, casting his skin a glowing red.

Lidia said, “About your queen.”

“Irithys?” Malana said, flaring a deep violet. “Where—”

“I know where she is,” Lidia said calmly, though Tharion noted with surprise that her hands were shaking. “But I want to know what you know about her. Her temperament.”

“Where have the Asteri been keeping her?” Sasa demanded, turning white-hot with anger.

Lidia tipped her chin upward. “Answer my questions, and I’ll tell you.”

“We only know of her through rumor,” Rithi said, poking her head out from behind Flynn’s right ear. “She is noble, and brave—”

“Is she trustworthy?” Lidia asked.

Rithi ducked behind Flynn’s ear again, but Sasa snapped, “She is our queen. She is honor itself.”

Lidia looked coolly at the sprite. “I know plenty of rulers who don’t embody that virtue one bit.” Tharion could only stare at the Hind—Agent Daybright. Their … ally. “What else?”

“That is all we know,” Malana said, “all we have heard. Now tell us: Where is she?”

Lidia’s mouth curved upward. “Would you rush to free her?”

“Don’t patronize them,” Flynn snapped with rare gravitas. The sprites huddled closer to him.

To Tharion’s shock, Lidia inclined her head. “Apologies. Your courage and loyalty are commendable. I wish I had a thousand like you at my disposal.”

“To Hel with your compliments,” Sasa snarled, her flame blazing bright. “You promised—”

“The Asteri have her in their palace.”

“Beyond that!” Sasa cried, flaring white-hot again.

“You should have bargained better if you wanted to know more.”

Tharion tensed. This female might be an ally, but fuck, she was slippery.

In the furious silence, the Hind walked to the door. She halted before opening it, and didn’t turn around as she said to them all, “I know you don’t trust me. I don’t blame you. That you don’t tells me I’ve done my job very well. But …”

She looked over a shoulder, and Tharion saw her throat bob. “Ruhn and Athalar are in danger. As we speak, Rigelus is debating which one of them will die. It all boils down to how it might impact Quinlan. But once he decides, there will be nothing I can do to stop it. So I am …” Her voice caught. “I am begging you. Before it’s too late. Help me pull this off. Find a way out of this situation with the Viper Queen”—a nod to Tharion, then a nod to Declan—“be ready at a moment’s notice from me to hack into the cameras at the Eternal Palace”—and finally a look toward the rest of them—“and for Luna’s sake, be on that dock in two days’ time.”

With that, she left. For a long moment, none of them could speak.

“Well, Flynn,” Declan finally rasped, “looks like you got your wish.”

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